Soar to Forever Avalon with a new book cover

Forever Avalon by Mark Piggott, cover at by Mark Alexander McLish (IG @markmakesart247)

I want to start by saying that I’ve always loved my original cover for Forever Avalon. Since it was first published in 2009, the artwork done for my cover brought my story to life. Seeing the flying ships I dreamed about, which I wrote about in my first fantasy novel, was breathtaking. It made the story real to me.

But since I’ve started attending festivals, conventions, and other book signing events, I realized that my first covers were “cartoony” in their appearance. My wife told me that repeatedly, but I fought her on it. Then, when a few people stopping by my booth wondered if Forever Avalon was a children’s story, I changed my tune. If I’m going to sell my books, it makes it less of a “drawn out” pitch when I don’t have to repeatedly explain that it’s not a children’s book. So, I am happy to reveal my brand new cover for Forever Avalon by artist Mark Alexander McLish.

The cover still evokes my dreams of Avalon . . . the flying airships, the floating dragon island of Emmyr, dragons flying around the sky, and the city of Port Charles inviting the ships into port. It’s a perfect vision for my new cover, and great to debut a new edition of Forever Avalon. Now, it’s available as a hardback novel for purchase. The first book I published is now a hardcover, a paperback, an ebook, and an audiobook. This is so special for me, and it’s amazing to think about where I started and am today.

I really want to thank Mark Alexander McLish for the great cover design. I met Mark through our publisher, Curious Corvid. He is an award-winning novelist and an incredible artist. He not only redesigned my cover for Forever Avalon, but he also did the cover for my new fantasy novella, The River of Souls.

So, you can buy Forever Avalon on Amazon in all four formats or, come out to one of my future events to pick up a SIGNED copy from yours truly. The Williamsburg Book Festival this weekend was postponed due to Hurricane Ian. Keep an eye out on my Events for when they reschedule the festival. If you can make it, I’ll be at the 2nd Sundays Williamsburg Arts and Music Festival on Sunday, October 9, and at the Southern Maryland Comic-Con at the Capital Clubhouse in Waldorf, MD, on Saturday, October 15. I hope to see you there.

In the meantime, get started into your next fantasy book series with a copy of Forever Avalon.

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Mark Piggott is an award-winning independent author of several fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. A 23-year U.S. Navy veteran, his stories will take you from the shores of eternal Avalon to a dystopian steampunk future and other worlds.

The Forever Avalon fantasy book series—including Forever Avalon, The Dark Tides, and The Outlander War—is available online at Amazon and other booksellers. His fantasy steampunk novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart, is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for The River of Souls fantasy novella from Curious Corvid Publishing. Coming in 2023 from Curious Corvid—the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel. Stay tuned for more new fantastic stories from the imagination of Mark Piggott.

Cross the eternal cosmic lifestream and wade into the river of souls from curious corvid publishing

The River of Souls fantasy novella from award-winning author Mark Piggott featuring poetry by Ashley Valitutto from Curious Corvid Publishing

This is the moment in an author’s life that we live for. Getting your book in the mail and seeing your words in print is one thing, but when the book is finally published and “live,” it’s a whole new experience. I have gone through this four times now, and the fifth one is just as sweet as the previous four . . . if not sweeter! This is my FIRST book published through a publishing house—Curious Corvid Publishing. I’ve submitted many of my manuscripts to publishers and agents for consideration. The River of Souls was the first time someone said YES to me!

This was not a single piece of work. I had the pleasure of collaborating with a wonderful poet, Ashley Valitutto, to help tell the story through her poems. The idea was that war, strife, and bigotry weighs heavy on a person. For many people, poetry is a way of expression and therapy in hopes of dealing with pain. Her words brought my story together better than I could imagine.

I also want to thank Ravven White and Curious Corvid Publishing for taking me on as one of their authors. I met Ravven over a Zoom call, and we talked for more than an hour about my writing career, previously published books, and my works in progress. After she told me all about Curious Corvid, she offered to bring me on board. I wanted to jump out of my chair and scream to the highest mountaintop. After more than ten years of wandering the wilderness as a self-published author, I made it to nirvana. If you get a chance, visit Curious Corvid Publishing to and check out the myriad of authors writing fantasy, sci-fi-, horror, paranormal, and poetry “from the dark side” of literature.


Across The River of Souls, the boundless cosmic lifestream that connects all worlds, a young man lay dying underneath a crumpled automobile. He hears a voice crying out for help, begging not to be left alone. Desperate to make something of his life, he offers himself to God to be there for her.

On a distant world, Malcolm Seger, a human, and his wife Alyssa, a dragonkin, moved to the parish of Fairhaven to begin a new life together after serving in what the people of Fawleen called “The Endless War.” But just when they settled in, Malcolm succumbs to deadly “dragon dust” and lies near death. Grief-stricken, Alyssa uses her magic to save her true love through the spell of restoration, powerful magic combining two souls into one. He died in one world and was reborn in another.

Now begins their new life together in a land filled with distrust, bigotry, and hatred between races. Can two people from different worlds find love and peace to show what lies beyond The River of Souls?


The River of Souls officially releases on Sunday, August 21, but you can pre-order it now at Amazon. Pick up your copy or download the ebook today!

# # #

Mark Piggott is an award-winning independent author of several fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. A 23-year U.S. Navy veteran, his stories will take you from the shores of eternal Avalon to a dystopian steampunk future and other worlds.

The Forever Avalon fantasy book series—including Forever Avalon, The Dark Tides, and The Outlander War—is available online at Amazon and other booksellers. His fantasy steampunk novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart, is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for The River of Souls fantasy novella from Curious Corvid Publishing. Coming in 2023 from Curious Corvid—the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel. Stay tuned for more new fantastic stories from the imagination of Mark Piggott.

Cross over The River of Souls, coming August 21

My fantasy novella “The River of Souls” with poetry by Ashley Valitutto from Curious Corvid Publishing.

We are a month away from the release of my next novel, The River of Souls. This is my first novella, but it was not the length of the story but how I told it that was important to me. I wanted to include poetry in the story to give it some breadth and a deeper meaning to the themes behind the story itself. Thankfully, I met a great poet in Ashley Valitutto who saw my vision behind the story and wrote some wonderful prose for my novella. It was a collaboration that brought this story to life, and it was this story that brought me to the attention of Ravven White and Curious Corvid Publishing. This is my first step in being a published author, not a self-published author.

Official trailer for “The River of Souls” from Nights with Ebon Pinion YouTube page.

From award winning author Mark Piggott comes a dark fantasy novella of love and triumph . . .

“Reach beyond heavens veil; do not let death prevail. Instead, open the door through God’s grace; let this not be his final resting place!”

Fawleen and Drogon fought what people called “The Endless War,” as it went on for more than 300 years. The humans of Fawleen and the Dragonkin of Drogon clashed over borderlands, water rights, trade disputes, and the biased views of leaders on both sides of the conflict. Four generations fought and died in the war. That all changed when one sect of Drogon—the Oracles of Delphis Kai—joined Fawleen against their people and worked to end the war. The Oracles were healers and pacifists, the opposite of the Acolytes of Hecat Tei and their dark chaos magic that ruled Drogon. In the end, it was the deciding factor that brought peace to the troubled land.

Malcom Seger, a human Magi-Gunner, and his wife Alyssa, a dragonkin of the Oracles of Delphis Kai, moved to the parish of Fairhaven to begin a new life together. But just when they were getting settled in, Malcom succumbs to deadly “dragon dust” and lies near death. Grief stricken, Alyssa uses her magic to save her true love through the spell of restoration, powerful magic combining two souls into one.

Across the river of souls, the boundless cosmic lifestream that connects all worlds, a young man lay dying underneath a crumpled automobile. He hears a voice, crying out for help, begging not to be left alone. Desperate to make something of his life, he offers himself to God to cross the river of souls to be there for her.

Now begins their new life together in a world filled with distrust, bigotry, and hatred between races. Can two people from different worlds find love and peace to show what truly lies beyond THE RIVER OF SOULS.

From Nights with Ebon Pinion YouTube page

Sign up for the Curious Corvid newsletter and follow me, Ashley, and CCP on social media for updates on this epic adventure!

I will be hosting a special preview for The River of Souls on Sunday, August 14, at 2nd Sundays Williamsburg Arts and Music Festival. I hope to have some of the first copies of my new book (fingers crossed) at the festival, so please stop by and pick up a signed copy!

# # #

Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available as a paperback/ebook at iUniverse Publishing,  Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series, is available as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart, is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for The River of Souls fantasy novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid Publishing along with the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky PiratesThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of his current fantasy book series, plus so much more coming soon.

July is going to be hot in more ways than one

Sorry to be AWOL for a while, but its been a busy start to my summer, and its not over yet. I traveled from Virginia to Manchester, Connecticut, for the Book Fiends Readers Festival, June 25. It was a long weekend but I met so many wonderful steampunk writers, artists, crafters and performers. It was a great experience (thank you Oddball Newt)!

Now, we’re in July and I have two new events coming up for this award-winning steampunk fantasy author. If you are in the area, please stop by and pick up some great books to take to the beach or read in bed during a stormy night. Either way, I’d be honored to be included on your bookshelf.

Every second Sunday, from July through December, you’ll find me at 2nd Sundays Williamsburg Arts and Music Festival on North Boundary Street in historic Williamsburg, Virginia. My first one is this Sunday, July 10, from 11am to 5pm. Williamsburg, Virginia’s only ALMOST Year ‘Round Arts & Street Festival! This Street Fair of over 115 unique artisans, musicians, street performers and food vendors in six blocks along N Boundary Street from Richmond Rd to Lafayette Street, along Scotland from Armistead to N. Henry and in the 400 block of Prince George Street in Williamsburg, VA, on the 2nd Sunday of each month. This festival is a great time for family and friends alike so I hope you’ll stop by! Visit 2ndSundayswilliamsburg.com for more information.

Next, I’ll be at the Historic Moravian Book Shop in “the Christmas City” of Bethlehem, PA, signing copies of my novels The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart and The Outlander War: Book 3 of the Forever Avalon Series on Sunday, July 17, from 1-3pm. Founded in 1745, the Moravian Book Shop is the oldest bookstore in America, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world and home to the Moravian University student bookstore. For nearly three centuries, booklovers near and far have looked to the Moravian Book Shop for its curated selection of books and iconic Moravian- and Bethlehem-themed gifts. This is my second visit to the Moravian Book Store and I appreciate their continued support for independent, self-published authors like me.

The River of Souls by Mark Piggott, poetry by Ashley Valitutto, from Curious Corvid Publishing.

I also want to mention my upcoming release from Curious Corvid Publishing. The River of Souls is my first PUBLISHED novel (not self-published) through my new publisher, coming out on August 21! Across the River of Souls, the boundless cosmic lifestream that connects all worlds, a young man lay dying underneath a crumpled automobile. He hears a voice, crying out for help, begging not to be left alone. Desperate to make something of his life, he offers himself to God to cross the River of Souls to be there for her. Now begins their new life together in a world filled with distrust, bigotry, and hatred between races. Can two people from different worlds find love and peace to show what truly lies beyond THE RIVER OF SOULS. This fantasy novella includes poetry by Ashley Valitutto, a great collaboration between author and poet. I hope you pick up my new fantasy read on AUGUST 21 from Curious Corvid Publishing.

Stay tuned here at authormarkpiggott.com (make note of the NEW website address) for more information on upcoming events and releases. I will be at 2nd Sundays for the rest of the year ( August 14, September 11, October 9, and November 13) and I have two major book signing events in October. More to come!

# # #

Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available as a paperback/ebook at iUniverse Publishing,  Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series, is available as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart, is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for The River of Souls fantasy novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid Publishing along with the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky PiratesThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of his current fantasy book series, plus so much more coming soon.

PART 6 OF A TALE OF LOG HORIZON-THE GUNSLINGER, A DUKE, AND A PRINCESS

I had a little extra time to finish up the next installment in my Log Horizon fan fiction project. This is starting to take me a little more time. There are things in the light novels and manga that were not in the anime, so I am trying to represent things as accurately as possible. There is not a lot written or represented on Plant Hwyaden or its members in Minami. This means a lot more research and a little speculation on my part. In any case, the adventures of Gideon Hawkmoon continues on his first mission in Yamato. Here’s Part Six of A Tale of Log Horizon—The Gunslinger, a Duke and a Princess.

* * *

Part Five Recap: In the world of Elder Tales, more than 70,000 Japanese players found themselves trapped inside the world of their favorite MMORPG. In the adventurer’s town of Akiba, the Round Table Conference maintains the peace amongst the guilds calling this city home. After a year-long journey across the ocean and four continents, Gideon Hawkmoon, the sorcerer gunslinger from America, reunited with his wife, Henrietta of the Crescent Moon Alliance. Plant Hwyaden took advantage of the Round Table’s absence to once again attempt to kidnap high-level adventurers for Jered Gan’s experiment. Luckily, Gideon stepped in to stop them with the help of his sister, Celeste, and the Eagle Mountain Guild from North America. Using a new invention called a Fairy Ring Chronometer, they navigated the teleportation circles to arrive in Yamato. Now, as a new alliance was forged between the Round Table and Eagle Mountain, Plant Hwyaden decided to negotiate for peace while continuing their dark schemes behind the scenes. Gideon was given his first mission to see if this conference between Westlande and Eastal was possible.

* * *

Gideon and Henrietta flew through the air on the wings of the giant golden eagle. It took them an hour to reach the Palace of Eternal Ice at Maihama. They continued to discuss the mission ahead of their arrival during the flight.

“So, what kind of resistance can we expect from the nobles, darlin’?”

“Well, Lord Cowen has always been straightforward and honest in our negotiations,” Henrietta explained, raising her voice over the howling wind. “Some of the other nobles have a higher degree of self-interest, so they will only act if it’s to their benefit.”

“I see, yellow-bellied cowards worried about their own pocketbooks, am I right?” Henrietta sighed at his lack of manners when it came to nobility.

“Gideon, dear, please refrain from calling the nobility names like that while we’re negotiating with them. To quote your sister, ‘you attract more bees with honey than vinegar’ or something like that.”

“Yeah, that sounds like Celeste. Alright, Henrietta, I get what you’re laying down. I’ll behave like a tamed pony while we’re here. Besides, I wouldn’t want to start a tussle on our honeymoon.”

“Honeymoon? What makes you think this is our honeymoon?” Henrietta asked, shocked by his absurd assumption. “If you’re going to take me on a honeymoon, it’ll be something more romantic, not a near-death experience.”

“Well, darlin’, I think this is romantic,” Gideon explained. “I can’t think of anything more like a paperback romance novel than being with the one you love, fighting side by side for the benefit of our family and friends. I’ll be spending tonight in the Palace of Eternal Ice with my wife. You can’t get any better than that!”

Henrietta couldn’t fault his logic, as misguided as it was. She held on tight and leaned her head against him, comforted that they were together and that was all that mattered. “I guess you’re right.” She cooed. “But still, I would prefer a honeymoon somewhere private and out of the way.”

“Oh, you mean like that weekend we spent at the spa resort on Yakushima Island. That was a helluva weekend, honeybell. I never realized how flexible you can be.”

Henrietta blushed bright red before smacking Gideon for his comment. “Just when I think you’ve grown up, you slip back into your old self. No wonder you and Naotsugu are friends.”

“Now, Henrietta, I am nowhere near the level of repressed panty perversion that is Naotsugu. I merely affirmed my appreciation for your many mental and physical talents,” he teased, earning him another smack from Henrietta. They both suddenly broke out in laughter. It was silly little moments like this that brought them closer together.

Soon, the duo arrived at the Maihama and the Palace of Eternal Ice. It was an enormous castle built by the ancient Alvs on a lakebed of magical ice that never melted. It glittered like a jewel in the sunlight as the massive structure was surrounded by mystical ice pillars.

Gideon couldn’t believe it when he saw the palace. It was different seeing this in person than it was in the game. He circled around the castle, causing a bit of a stir at the sight of a giant eagle circling overhead. Soon, he spotted Isaac waiting on a small platform near the main entrance.

The guildmaster of the Black Sword Knights was a regular in Maihama, assigned to protect Prince Itherus, the next heir of the Cowen family. After a failed assassination attempt, the Black Sword Knights relocated to Maihama to safeguard Itherus and train the Knights of Maihama.

Gideon landed his giant eagle on the open area with a furious downdraft. While other knights braced from the gust of wind, Isaac stood there unfazed. He walked over as Gideon helped Henrietta down from the saddle.

“So, this is the famous giant eagle you get from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre raid. Damn, that’s one helluva prize you got there, Gideon. I would love to take on that raid with the Black Sword Knights.”

“Well, you can always take a raiding party over to the North American server, Isaac, whenever the fairy rings are aligned. I’m sure my sister would be honored to host you for that event.”

“Yeah, maybe when the kid is older. I can’t take any chances with Prince Itherus right now,” the guildmaster explained. “Anyway, let’s get you two settled in before I take you to see the old man.”

Gideon removed the saddle and sent his golden eagle off before the group headed into the palace. The sheer size and opulence of the castle intimidated the American cowboy. There was nothing like it on the North American server that could compare. Yet, despite all the pomp and circumstances surrounding their arrival, Gideon hated the clothes most.

He wore the traditional uniform of the Round Table Conference, a long blue coat with an ascot emblazoned with the symbol of the Round Table—a crossed sword and a wrench over a circle. It was pretty fancy and tight around the collar for someone like Gideon, but he put up with it for Henrietta’s sake.

As they walked through the palace to their meeting with Lord Cowen, Gideon fussed with his collar to no end, tugging at it to give him some breathing room. “Dang nabbit, this thing is tighter than a girdle before church on Sunday,” he remarked before Henrietta smacked his hand.

“Quit fidgeting, Gideon. There’s no need to be nervous. Lord Cowen isn’t going to roast you alive. He’s just going to ask you some questions. So, be polite and be yourself . . . Well, not completely yourself, but a more dignified version.”

“Thanks, darlin’, that makes me feel much better,” Gideon sassed. “How do you do this, Isaac? Meeting with the Duke of Maihama all the time?”

 “I drink a lot. That’s what gets me through these little sessions,” Isaac remarked. “I don’t let it bother me.” Henrietta stepped in before Gideon could reply, wagging her finger in his face.

“No, you will not be drinking anything except tea during these negotiations,” she warned. “All I need is a little alcohol loosening your tongue and watching as you open upon an unsuspecting audience.”

Gideon laughed when he realized how right she was. That’s one of the reasons he loved her so much . . . They knew each other inside and out, so much so that they kept one another in check. He hated these backroom politics, but he always did what he set out to do, so there was no backing down.

Isaac knocked on the door and opened it, stepping aside to let Henrietta and Gideon go in first. He stood there like a towering monument to freedom. His white hair and beard showed age but did not diminish his strength. He wore regal robes with adornments and a crown signifying his station as the Duke of Maihama and Lord of the Freedom Cities of Eastal—High Lord Sergiad Cowen. Surprisingly, waiting with him was his eldest daughter, Lady Saraliya Tsuleu-Arte Cowen, Lenessia’s mother and a regular advisor to her father. She appeared just like her daughter to Gideon but older and more refined like a vintage wine. Her beauty and intelligence were unmatched amongst the nobles of Maihama, who knew better than to cross swords or wit with her.

However, her presence in this meeting did concern Henrietta. Well, this just got complicated, she thought. If Lady Saraliya is here, we’re in for some serious negotiations. I hope Gideon is up for this.

After introductions and a flurry of opening questions, Gideon regaled the two about life on the North American server. He spoke at length about the essential guilds, the People of the Land, how the regions are governed, and what royalty existed. The sorcerer gunslinger followed Henrietta’s instructions to the letter. He was clear, concise, and used very little of his western vocabulary. Gideon even gave them a slight overview of life in Russia, China, and Korean servers from his travels.

Lord Cowen listened intently while Lady Saraliya seemed only mildly interested as she drank her tea. Henrietta didn’t know what to make of her ignorance. It was totally out of character for the woman she heard so much about from Lenessia. Gideon, however, saw right through her act. He knew a “snake in the grass” when he saw one. She was just waiting for her chance to strike.

“So, if I understand you correctly, this Fairy Ring Chronometer of yours has its limits. Your sister’s guild can’t be here at a moment’s notice if Westlande decided to invade,” Lady Saraliya queried.

“Yes, ma’am, your right, but the chronometer was only a temporary solution. Einstein is already working on a more permanent method of transportation,” Gideon said. His response caught everyone off-guard, but none more than Isaac and Henrietta.

“And what is that?” Saraliya asked, fixing her gaze at Gideon.

“While they were in Akiba, Einstein conferred with the bigwigs in Roderick’s Merchant and the other crafting guilds. They discussed the possibility that a fairy ring could be used as the basis for a permanent gate between servers, like our intercity transport gates across Yamato. It’s just a theory right now, but they are working toward a practical application.”

“So, it seems the issue still remains. The Freedom Cities of Eastal cannot rely on this alliance between the Round Table Conference and Eagle Mountain for security concerns, can we? Without those assurances, why would we even consider entering a peace accord that can’t be supported by our allies from Akiba?”

“With all due respect, Lady Saraliya, that’s about as crazy as a rattlesnake at a square dance,” Gideon replied, causing Isaac to spit out his drink. Henrietta started to apologize for Gideon’s remark. However, the cowboy held up his hand to stop her as he continued to speak. “You’ll never gonna have that perfect scenario where Westlande doesn’t get an opportunity to backstab the Freedom Cities. Those tin hustlers are as crooked as a dog’s hind legs.”

“I understand what you’re trying to convey, even with your own unique way of saying it, but that doesn’t convince me to support this conference.”

“And no one here is saying you should,” Gideon interrupted. “Hell, I wouldn’t trust them either. They’re about as reliable as a freight train on a dirt road. But . . . I have to wonder why they’re asking for this little hoedown? Neither me nor Eagle Mountain alone didn’t get their panties in a bunch . . .” He paused before realizing his improper way of communicating his point. “Pardon my French, Lady Saraliya . . . I meant to say it caused them to swallow their pride and sue for peace. There’s some ulterior motive behind this, and the only way to find out is to play along.”

“You mean to accept the invitation and use it to get more information and see where it leads us,” Lord Cowen interjected, nodding his head to the idea. “That’s a promising concept, but I doubt the nobles would support letting adventurers negotiate for them.”

“The Round Table Conference would leave the negotiations up to the representatives of the Freedom Cities of Eastal,” Henrietta finally spoke up. “We would only take part in areas where adventurers are concerned.”

“We’ve already established a mutual security and trade partnership,” Isaac said. “All we’re trying to do is prevent future attempts on Itherus’ life or attacks on cities like Saphir from happening again.”

“Besides, what will you do if they perfect this deep sleep drug?” Gideon concluded. “If they can take out adventurers that easily, then you’ll have to rely on your own forces to battle both Westlande’s army and the adventurers of Plant Hwyaden. Are you willing to take that chance?”

Lady Saraliya nodded her head in approval, agreeing with the uncharacteristic logic coming from the western cowboy. “I must say, Master Gideon, even with your peculiar backward way of speaking, you are quite capable of giving a compelling argument.”

“Well, thank you, ma’am. My mama says I can be slow as molasses in winter at times, but I always tell the truth, straight from the heart. We need to make this little conference happen if only to find out what shenanigans those rascals are planning.”

Lady Saraliya finished her tea before she stood up to leave. All the men rose to their feet politely to see her out. “Hang onto your husband tightly, Henrietta; marry him again if you have to. He’s definitely one of the good ones,” she said. Henrietta smiled and nodded in agreement. “I’ll let you explain things to the nobles, father, but you can tell them that I approve of this plan. We need to find out exactly what Westlande is planning, and this conference may be the best way to do that.”

After Lady Saraliya left, Lord Cowen personally thanked everyone before the party broke up. “It may take a day or two to get the consensus of the nobles,” he began. “In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy your time in Maihama.”

“Thank you kindly, Lord Cowen, sir. I genuinely appreciate the hospitality,” Gideon said. “It’s my first time at the Palace of Eternal Ice, so I intend to make the most of it.”

Lord Cowen gave a silent nod before leaving the room. He was not one for many words. While some may see it as rude, it was simply his way. On the other hand, Isaac just took the opportunity to pour himself another drink.

“Well, that went as well as expected,” Isaac said before gulping down the liquid. “I thought your little sass of Lady Saraliya put a kibosh on the whole thing.”

“Yes, so did I,” Henrietta interjected. “You pulled out of that quite masterfully, Gideon.”

“Well, shucks, darlin’, it was easier than tracking an elephant in the snow,” he laughed it off. “Sometimes, you need to show people what will happen if they don’t act rather than if they do act. Attending these negotiations is no skin off their backs, but ignoring them could cost a lot of intel. They just needed to see that.”

“Yes, but now it’s up to Lord Cowen to get the nobles on board. All we can do is sit and wait,” Henrietta fumed. “I’ll contact Master Shiroe and tell him how things went.”

“If you got time, Gideon, I’d like you to come down to the training field and teach the Knights of Maihama about combat against sorcerers,” Isaac asked. “My Black Sword Knights have been focusing on their fighting skills, so a little training with a magic caster like you would help.”

“Sure, Isaac, I’d be happy to show them a few tricks to look out for,” Gideon happily exclaimed. He was itching for a chance to get out of these fancy Round Table clothes and into his leathers.

“Just don’t overdo it too much, Gideon. We still have a lot more ‘honeymoon’ left . . .” Henrietta left with a sly grin on her face. Gideon laughed at her little joke, but it confused Isaac.

* * *

Henrietta woke up from her slumber, reaching across the bed to curl up next to her husband to take away the chill of the night air, but he wasn’t there. His absence startled her awake as she sat up and looked around for him. She spied him across the room, sitting on the windowsill as he stared out across Maihama. The moonlight illuminated his muscular frame, deep in thought, sitting there in simple pajama pants. She got out of bed and pulled on her robe before saying anything.

“Gideon, are you alright?”

“Yeah, darlin’, sorry if I woke you,” he replied as he stared out the window.

“It’s fine, can’t you sleep? What time is it?”

“Oh, about two in the morning. Naw, I’m fine, just a lot on my mind.”

Henrietta sat down across from him, curious about what he was looking at. The palace and all of Maihama glowed in the moonlight. The eternal ice scattered around the castle, and the warm lights from the various buildings added to the sparkle. You could hear sounds of song and drink as the taverns were still active with customers.

“I know you’re worried about heading out to Minami, confronting Plant Hwyaden, but we’ll be alright. Even Westlande has to abide by the honors and courtesies concerning messengers.”

“Aw, that crazy bunch of wahoos doesn’t bother me, Henrietta,” Gideon answered, brushing off her concern. “To be honest, something happened today to make me see this world differently.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I was working with Isaac in training the knights of Maihama, I couldn’t believe how dedicated and driven those greenhorns were. This was just a game to us, and we were having fun, living it out; but for the People of the Land, it’s life or death. They aspire to be what we are, but to be honest, I would love to live the simple life that they do.

“Then I look out at this Palace of Eternal Ice,” he continued. “I’ve seen some amazing things since the Apocalypse . . . The Cathedral of Czar Romanov in Russia, The Gates of the Golden Dragons in Korea, and the Steps of Heaven’s Blessing in China. This world is so beautiful, seeing it here rather than through a computer monitor. I don’t think we realize how lucky we are to be here.”

His eloquent heartfelt words impressed Henrietta. She rarely heard Gideon speak this way. He was indeed coming into his own. The men of both worlds—the two she fell in love with—merged into one.

“Henrietta, let’s get married!” Gideon announced. His question surprised her as both peculiar and unnecessary.

“Gideon, darling, we are married, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“No, I mean to get married in this world. I never gave you the big wedding I promised you, and I think it would show everyone our commitment to each other and our life together in this world. I love you, darlin’, and I want to give you everything you deserve. Besides, it would be a first in Akiba.”

Henrietta considered everything he was saying. It would be nice to have the big wedding she’s always wanted, but it was also a lot of work and money, limiting things. Gideon could see her trepidations on the subject, so he appealed to her other side.

“Let me put it to you this way, darlin’. . . A big outdoor wedding under the White Tree. Now, picture Akatsuki and all the other cuties in Akiba lined up wearing bridesmaid’s dresses of your choosing!” That’s all he had to say, and Henrietta went crazy, thinking about all the adorable girls in ruffled dresses. In all the excitement, she nearly passed out. She hugged and kissed Gideon repeatedly, agreeing to his wedding proposal.

“Absolutely, yes, I will marry you! Anything to see my adorable little Akatsuki, Serara, and Minori in cute bridesmaid’s dresses. Oh, and Marielle as my maid of honor, will absolutely be thrilled. You could make Naotsugu your best man, oh, Marielle would love that too, and . . .”

“Whoa, hold your horses, darlin’. . . Let’s postpone planning things until we get back to Akiba,” Gideon said, bringing her back to her senses. “We can surprise everyone with our announcement once we return. For now, let’s focus on our mission.”

Henrietta saw the truth in his words and calmed down. She caressed his face as if she was falling in love with him again. “And here I thought you were just a prairie dog from Texas,” she joked. “You have such a kind heart, husband of mine. I am so glad you came back to me.”

She kissed him, a tender, loving kiss that flowed with the passion they shared for life, love, and each other. Gideon pulled her close and held onto her tightly, laying her head against his chest. “So am I, darlin’. . . so am I!”

* * *

It didn’t take long for the nobles to agree to the peace conference with Westlande. Knowing that Lady Saraliya was behind this meeting convinced them to support the proposal to hopefully hash out the differences between the two feuding territories within Yamato. Gideon and Henrietta took off on his giant eagle with the signed agreement in hand. They headed south, past the Titan Arsenal and around Mountain Kurama, to the adventurer’s city of Minami. Gideon landed far enough outside the city to not announce their arrival too soon. Plus, he didn’t want to give Indix and others in Plant Hwyaden a chance to prepare.

They walked a couple of miles until they reached the north gate into Minami. Both adventurers from Plant Hwyaden and Westlande knights manned the checkpoint, keeping tight security on both adventurers and People of the Land entering and leaving the city. Gideon looked around and didn’t see KR waiting for them like Shiroe said he would.

“Well, ain’t this is some bad juju,” Gideon remarked. “That rustler KR is nowhere to be seen. This could get a little dicey, Henrietta darlin’.”

“Well, let’s try simple diplomacy first,” she advised. “If that doesn’t work, we can always use the ‘call to home’ spell to take us back to Maihama.”

“Yeah, but that would extend our trip even longer. We could use the inter-city transport gate to enter Minami, but . . .”

“But they could be waiting for us there too,” Henrietta replied. “Like you say, Gideon, ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t.'”

“Hell’s Bells, darlin’, it’s unlike you to swear like a sailor on liberty,” Gideon joked.

“Well, that just shows you how serious this is,” Henrietta said. “Now, let me do the talking, okay?”

“I always do, honeybell. Remember to whistle up those bard incantations once we enter the city, just like I showed you.”

“You don’t need to repeat your instructions with me, Gideon, darling. You should know that I’m always one step ahead of you.”

Gideon tipped his hat, acknowledging her superior intuition, as they moved toward the checkpoint. The adventurers around the gate consisted of a guardian, assassin, a druid, and a summoner, overall level 60 or higher. The guardian, a wolf-fang in heavy plate armor smoking a cigar, held up his hand to stop them as they approached.

“And just who the hell are you people? I’ve never seen you here before,” he growled.

“We’re representatives of the Round Table Conference from Akiba with a message from the Freedom Cities of Eastal for Princess Nureha. If you please, we would like to . . .”

“Look, sweet cheeks, I don’t care who you are, but you don’t just waltz up here and demand to see Princess Nureha,” he interrupted, blowing smoke. “Now, why don’t you and your little cowboy get outa my face before I. . .”

Before he could say another word, the guardian was impaled with icicles on his feet, causing him to fall backward, grasping his bleeding extremities in pain. Gideon used his silent casting oral art to fire off his Icicle Impale spell before bringing his foot on the armored guardian’s chest and drawing one of his six-shooters. He made sure the wolf-fang saw the threat before he spoke.

“First off, hoss, you need to learn some manners. So, I expect you to apologize to my wife for blowing your nasty cigar smoke in her face and insulting her like you did,” Gideon began. “If you don’t, I will send your fat ass to the cathedral seven ways from Sunday and twice on Tuesday, understand?”

Henrietta shook her head in her hand. She appreciated her husband standing up for her, but not at the cost of this mission. The other adventurers at the gate got ready to fight until one of them finally recognized who they were dealing with. “Holy cow, that’s Gideon Hawkmoon, the sorcerer gunslinger from America! He’s here in Minami?”

Upon hearing his name, the other adventurers quaked with fear, but the wolf-fang guardian laughed at it. “I’d put away that peashooter, cowboy, unless you think you can take all of Plant Hwyaden yourself?” Gideon didn’t say a word. He just cocked the hammer on his gun and stuck it right between the eyes of the knight. His sly grin quickly disappeared.

“Do I look like I’m afraid of you? I ain’t afraid of a bunch of lily-livered cowards, especially with a bard as talented and beautiful as my wife by my side. On my way to Yamato, I took on 200 gnolls crossing the Mountain of the Monkey King on the China server with only a guardian and a healer in my party.”

Henrietta perked up when she heard Gideon say that, but she felt more relieved when she saw KR walking toward them. “If I were you, I wouldn’t even think about attacking Gideon,” KR said, interrupting the fiasco. “He has an itchy trigger finger and an oral art that can’t be beaten.”

“Well, looky here . . . If it ain’t my number five favorite summoner,” Gideon remarked, holstering his weapon and stepping off the massive guardian. “How you doin’, KR?”

“Much better than you, it seems. Not very smart attacking our gate guards as soon as you arrive in Minami,” KR replied. “And when did I drop to number five? I thought I was a solid number two?”

“You were, but I haven’t seen you since our Tea Party days, so things change,” Gideon explained. “And I didn’t start this little bunkhouse brawl. Your gate guards insulted Henrietta and weren’t expecting our arrival.”

KR glared at the wolf-fang guardian when he heard that revelation, but it was his dragon companion, Ga-Tan, who reacted. She looked like a little girl with flowing red hair, and dragon-fin ears, wearing a simple white dress. However, she was an ancient Garnet Dragon who liked to lash out at humans.

“Didn’t you idiots get the warning to be on the lookout for messengers from Akiba?” she screamed, kicking the wolf-fang guardian in the shin. It nearly broke his leg as he hopped around on one foot in pain. The other gate guards cowered behind him, afraid of KR’s tiny companion.

“We’re sorry! Please don’t hurt us!” they all shouted in unison, bowing their heads while begging for forgiveness.

“Now apologize!” Ga-Tan shouted, threatening to kick out his good leg.

“Sorry! I’m sorry, please forgive me!” the wolf-fang guardian said, hoping to avoid another assault from the little dragon girl.

“Sorry about that. Things can get jumbled in situations like this,” KR apologized. “It’s good to see you again, Gideon, although I must be losing my touch on information gathering. I had no idea you were married.” KR politely bowed to Henrietta.

“Well, we kept that out of the game until the Apocalypse happened. Henrietta, this is KR, one of my friends from the Debauchery Tea Party days. And you must be Ga-Tan. Nice to meet you, little lady!”

Ga-Tan smiled at Gideon as KR held out his hand to Henrietta, but she completely ignored him. She was instantly enamored with Ga-Tan as her cute and cuddly quirk quickly kicked in.

“Oh my God, you are the most adorable little dragon girl I have ever seen!” she screamed. Unlike some of the girls in Akiba, Ga-Tan smiled brightly. She appreciated and reveled in the adulation being heaped upon her. “What is this rag you’re wearing? It’s absolutely unbecoming for someone like you to be wearing a plain white dress!”

“That’s what I keep telling ‘Mr. Cheapskate’ over here, but he won’t get me anything else to wear!” Ga-Tan said, pointing to KR.

“You’re a dragon. What more do you need?” he countered before Henrietta pulled out an assortment of frilly, ruffled dresses from her magic bag. She always carried a few with her, just for emergencies like this.

“Oh, that will not do! Here, try one of these on for size. They will look absolutely stunning on you!” Ga-Tan loved the dresses as Henrietta helped her try them on. KR looked befuddled at Gideon over what was transpiring with his dragon companion.

“Gideon, what’s going on? What is your wife doing to Ga-Tan?”

“I wouldn’t fret over it if I were you, KR. It’s times like this that I just let Henrietta do her thing. You know the old saying . . . ‘Happy wife, happy life!'”

Ga-Tan finished changing, and Henrietta showed her off, now wearing a pink princess-style dress with white ruffles, complete with a big bow in her hair. The other adventurers gathered about “oohed and ahhed” at the new and improved Ga-Tan. KR just hung his head in shame, embarrassed by his frilly dragon companion. Gideon chuckled under his breath before patting his friend on the shoulder.

“Why don’t we head in now, KR, before this gets worse,” Gideon said sarcastically. KR simply nodded his head before leading them inside the city walls. As the group made their way through the city, they definitely turned some heads—both Gideon in all his western regalia and Ga-Tan in her poofy pink dress. KR could only groan in embarrassment at the comments about his dragon companion looking like a miniature pageant queen. Gideon could see his friend suffering, and he enjoyed it a little bit, but the sights around Minami disturbed him even more.

It seemed like a military state rather than an adventurer’s city to Gideon. The fun and laughter that filled Akiba were not present here as if the joy of life had been removed for order and discipline. It was not what Gideon expected of people like KR and Kazuhiko to be involved with this place.

“I can’t believe you’re wrapped up in these shenanigans, KR. It’s not like you to go over to the dark side,” Gideon remarked.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” KR responded. “We maintain order and ask for a little obedience and cooperation. Is that bad?”

“It is when you sacrifice freedom for security. Look, partner, I’m from the place where freedom is a guaranteed right, endowed by our creator, for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it.”

“Then why are you here, agreeing to these peace negotiations?” KR asked with a sly grin. He was trying to get under Gideon’s skin and doing an excellent job. Still, the sorcerer gunslinger was having none of it.

“I declare, KR, you wouldn’t have enough power to blow your nose if your brains were dynamite,” Gideon lashed out. “To quote the great John Lennon, I’m here to ‘give peace a chance, but if I find out your little Ten Seat Council is up to no good . . .”

He drew one of his guns and cocked it. “Well then, to quote the legendary John Wayne, ‘a gun that’s unloaded and cocked ain’t good for nothing.'” He lowered the hammer before twirling the gun and slung it back into his holster. KR swallowed hard once he realized why Shiroe sent Gideon on this mission. In many respects, he was a lot like Shiroe—bright, looked at the big picture, and not easily manipulated—but Gideon had the firepower to back that up.

“Unless you want the Royal Guard sending your sorry ass to the cathedral, I suggest you keep your weapons holstered, cowboy,” Kazuhiko said. He slowly approached Gideon with two other members of the Wolves of Mibu.

“Well, look who’s got a bee in his bonnet, airin’ his lungs like a flannel mouth hazin’ a tenderfoot,” Gideon insulted. He walked over and got right in Kazuhiko’s face. The assassin stared at him in the eye, not intimidated by the sorcerer gunslinger. Everyone held their breath at this confrontation on the streets of Minami.

“I hope you didn’t come here empty-handed,” Kazuhiko warned. “That would be seriously detrimental to your well-being.”

“Come on, Kazuhiko, you know I am never empty-handed,” Gideon replied before he pulled out a bottle of whiskey from his saddlebag. Kazuhiko looked at the bottle carefully.

“Kentucky Bourbon?”

“Is there any better?” Gideon handed the bottle to Kazuhiko before the assassin took his hand in friendship and smiled. “It’s good to see you, Kazuhiko!”

“You too, Gideon, you too . . .” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the two friends started laughing and exchanging pleasantries, especially Henrietta, who feared the worst. Kazuhiko looked over at her and gave a polite bow. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Henrietta. Gideon’s told me a lot about you, and you are definitely everything I expected and more.”

Henrietta smiled at the courteous respect coming from the elite assassin of Plant Hwyaden. “Thank you, Master Kazuhiko,” she replied, bowing politely. “Unfortunately, Gideon has told me very little about you or your friendship.”

“There’s not much to tell, darlin’. . . It involves an appreciation for fine whiskey and baseball,” Gideon replied with a pat on the back. “Last time Kazuhiko and I ran into each other was when the Texas Rangers were playing the Hanshin Tigers in an exhibition game.”

“And if I remember correctly, the Tigers beat them handily 6-to-3,” Kazuhiko reminded Gideon.

“You know as well as I do that exhibition games are stage follies for the fans,” Gideon snapped back. Gideon seemed closer to Kazuhiko than he was toward Naotsugu. As the two argued semantics, Henrietta could see why these two men were such good friends.

“I hate to break up the reunion, but we’re expected upstairs,” KR reminded them. The two finished their squabble to move back toward their destination, but not before Kazuhiko noticed Ga-Tan in a frilly new dress. He wanted to laugh but was reserved.

“Nice dress, Ga-Tan. KR must be going all out to keep you happy.” Kazuhiko’s comments made the little dragon girl smile as she twirled about in her new dress. On the other hand, KR hung his head in shame at the continued humiliation.

* * *

The members of the Ten Seat Council waited patiently for the arrival of their guests from Akiba, but their patience grew thin. They gathered in the council chamber as soon as KR informed them the messengers had arrived thirty minutes ago. They even sent Kazuhiko to find out what was delaying them, but he had yet to return.

Indix impatiently looked at the tiny watch that hung from a chain around her neck. She wanted to get this over as quickly as possible, but their lack of punctuality earned them her ire. Indix would make sure they understood that before they left Minami.

It also irked her that KR didn’t tell them who these messengers were. Was it Shiroe or someone else from the Round Table Conference? The lack of information was troublesome for the second seat on the Ten Seat Council.

“What is taking them so long?” Mizufa Trude complained. The red-haired warlord strummed her fingers impatiently across the arm of her chair. She was itching for a fight, and these messengers would soon face her wrath if they kept her waiting any longer. “I don’t give a damn about these negotiations. It’s a waste of time.”

“Calm down, Mizufa. The princess and the senate agreed to broach these negotiations with Eastal. We will follow her orders,” Roreil Dawn said in his soft-spoken voice. The cleric was the Captain of the Royal Guard in Minami and one of the few nobles from the People of the Land in Plant Hwyadenn. He was loyal as the day was long, but solely to Princess Nureha.

“I agree with Mizufa on this. It does seem like a waste of our time,” Nakarunado exclaimed. The large wolf-fang guardian and former guildmaster of Howling commanded Plant Hwyaden’s army. In contrast, Mizufa Trude commanded the Army of Westlande. Both of them preferred fighting over talking. “Let’s fight it out and let the battle decide the ruler of Yamato.”

“It’s not that simple, Nakarunado,” Indix interjected. “There are too many variables for a simple fight. We must apply caution for the time being. These ‘talks’ will allow us to gain further insight into the relationship between the Round Table Alliance and Eastal. I doubt it runs as deep as the bond between Westlande and Plant Hwyaden.”

“You can be sure of that,” Zeldys proclaimed. The Ritian cleric was fond of strategy and saw the upcoming conference as a bold move by Princess Nureha. “Still, one has to wonder what, if these representatives of the Round Table will be up to our standards in Plant Hwyaden.”

“I assure you, Zeldys, that these low-life adventurers from Akiba are no match for anyone on the Ten Seat Council or Plant Hwyaden,” Indix replied.

“Oh, I beg to differ, Indix. From where I’m standin’, you’re just a mudsill dragging a yellowbelly into the daylight,” Gideon interrupted as he stepped into the room. The council chamber went quiet except for the click of spurs on the floor as the sorcerer gunslinger walked in with Henrietta. His presence quickly enraged Indix, his southern twang like nails on a chalkboard to the usually reserved second seat of the Ten Seat Council.

Indix rushed Gideon, drawing one of her silver knives as she aimed for his throat. Her advance halted when Henrietta stepped in front of her husband with an arrow nocked in her compound bow. Indix stopped in her tracks as she stared down the length of the shaft as a perturbed Henrietta glared back at her.

“Now, Indix, is that any way to greet an old friend?” Gideon joked, which angered her even more. Henrietta, on the other hand, was more diplomatic about the situation.

“Is this how the Ten Seat Council treats royal messengers, or would you rather we go over your heads directly to the Westlande Senate?” Henrietta questioned, keeping the draw tight on her bowstring. Indix snarled, realizing she had no choice but to back off. As she stepped away, Henrietta lowered her bow. Gideon stood there and smiled through the entire exchange.

“Hiding behind women will not enhance your already deplorable reputation, Gideon,” Indix remarked. Gideon scoffed at the insinuation.

“First off, Indix, my reputation is as clean as a Baptist preacher at revival,” he began. “Second, I am not hiding behind anyone. Henrietta is just a little overprotective of me. Wives are funny that way.”

“Wife? Really?” Indix replied, shocked like some of the others in the chamber. “I’m surprised that you found someone to put up with your outrageous behavior. Still, I guess even cheaters need love.”

“Gideon is not a cheater!” Henrietta insisted. “He understood the system and used it to his advantage as a player, nothing more.”

“Exactly, a cheater . . .”

“See, there you go again with your rambling balderdash about me cheating,” Gideon retorted. “Why don’t you ask Quon there about it. He officiated many of those disputes you refer to as ‘cheatin’ in my favor when he was a gamemaster. Ain’t that right, Quon?”

Quon slowly stirred from his peaceful rest to the stares of the entire room bearing down on him. “Look, don’t drag me into this. That was long ago, and my bosses approved all my decisions.”

“Look, I’m not here to be a hellion in the stew. Indix has had a burr up her girdle about me since our Tea Party days . . .” Gideon began until Indix abruptly interrupted him.

“You were never part of the Debauchery Tea Party!” she shouted.

“No, I was not an ‘official’ member,” Gideon replied using air quotes. “But I remember someone needing my help on the Island of Sleeping Times.”

“Kanami asked you to join in that raid when Yuko couldn’t make it, not me,” Indix interjected.

“Do you really want to keep rehashing the past, Indix?” Kazuhiko inquired. “Gideon is here for a reason, so let’s get on with it.”

“I actually have a couple of questions for Gideon Hawkmoon,” Princess Nureha said as she finally entered the chamber. She sauntered up to Gideon, swaying seductively as she stepped into him. Henrietta didn’t appreciate how close and intimate Nureha was to her husband. Still, she tolerated it for the sake of this mission. Indix gruffed at the situation but relented, just to Gideon out of Minami as quickly as possible.

“First, why did Shiroe choose you to deliver this message? Intimidation, perhaps?”

“Not really. I doubt anyone here would find themselves intimidated by little ole me,” Gideon confessed. “It was more of a mutual understanding to clear any doubts about the true intent of this conference.”

“So, you have your doubts, or does Shiroe?” Nureha queried as she continued to circle Gideon.

“Well, you see, princess, my pappy always told me to keep skunks, lawyers, and bankers at a distance,” Gideon said, confusing and insulting some of those in the room. “But honestly, I wanted to see things for myself . . . what’s going on in Minami. I mean, ya’ll be actin’ like someone stole your rudder. I’m curious as to whether that’s intentional or plain reckless.”

“I see . . . And have you reached a conclusion?”

“Not yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, you can keep your little paradise to yourselves. This place is creepier than a buzzard on a hearse,” Gideon extolled. “I’m a firm believer in freedom, which people in Minami seem to have very little of.”

“People are free to do whatever they want, as long as it benefits the rest of Plant Hwyaden,” Nureha added. “Perhaps I can change your mind with a little wager.”

“Oh, what do you have in mind, princess?”

“You’re the number one PvP in all of Elder Tales, so let’s see if you live up to your reputation,” Nureha said. “I want to see you fight one of the Ten Seat Council. If you win the match, I’ll accept these negotiations without any reservations or conditions.”

“And if your person beats me?”

Nureha laughed as she leaned into Gideon, dragging her delicate fingers across his lips. “Then you will agree to join Plant Hwyaden,” she said. Her proposal shocked everyone, especially Indix and Henrietta, who both shouted simultaneously.

“Absolutely not!”

It was Gideon’s turn to laugh under his breath at the leader of Plant Hwyaden. “I’ve got to say, Nureha, you’re a pistol-packin’ petticoat, ain’tcha?”

“How dare you speak to the princess that way!” Roreil Dawn angrily shouted as he leaped to his feet to defend his guildmaster.

“Cool your jets, hoss. That was a compliment to the princess,” Gideon explained. “She’s not the pampered priss I thought her to be. You’ve got fire water running through your veins, Your Highness.”

“So, do you accept my challenge?” Gideon thought about it for a moment. He knew it was a ploy to trap him into joining Plant Hwyaden, and Shiroe would have his head if he lost. So, Gideon knew he couldn’t lose.

“Alright, Princess Nureha, I accept. So, who will it be? Indix? Kazuhiko?”

“No,” Mizufa Trude said confidently as she stood up. “That task is mine, adventurer!” Gideon sized her up, remembering what Chief Nyanta told him about his fight with the warlord general during Operation Red Night. For one of the People of the Land, she was a formidable fighter, capable of holding her own against any adventurer. Gideon smiled at the challenge.

“Okay, Red, I accept!”

* * *

Stay tuned for the next chapter in the Log Horizon fan fiction, The Gunslinger vs. The Warlord, to see the Gideon Hawkmoon’s fate in Yamato. And you can catch up on the entire story on my Fan Fiction page.

Con or not to Con? That is the question for independent authors everywhere

This weekend, I attended Katsucon 2022 at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, MD. I picked it because (a) it was close to home, and (b) fantasy is a big part of anime. I figured I would fit right in with my fantasy books . . . I was wrong. It seems people who cosplay as elves, knights, and wizards don’t really want to read about them in books.

First off, my sales barely covered the cost of my booth fee, parking, and food costs for the weekend. I took a loss for something I thought would be a major convention. Second, my location in the vendor hall really sucked. My booth was not in the artists alley, as promised, but between an earring and toy vendor, just two spots down from the Hentai booth affectionately known as the “Smut Hut” (their words, not mine!) Not a good place to be. I was told they wanted to “sprinkle” the authors amongst the rest of the vendors. Hide us was more like it.

On the positive side, I met and spoke with a lot of great people. I love attending events like this where people are excited about all things fantasy, steampunk, and sci-fi, and Katsucon was no exception. I mean, a lot of the younger people just walked by, more interested in anime plushies, statues, and posters, but there were several who bought my books or just picked up a bookmark or postcard with my website and other social media on it. I will have to wait and see if the convention translates to other online sales in ebooks or audiobooks. It’s still great when somebody stands at your table and keeps repeating “Wow! Wow!” as they read the synopsis on the back cover.

I think multiple day conventions like Katsucon are not for authors. I’ve been to more single day events and sold more books at those events than during my three days at a big convention like Katsucon. I need to focus on conventions and festivals specific to my genre and/or books in general. I know many people from my generation who are fans of anime, comic books, and movies are also avid readers. I think that gets a little lost with some, not all, of the younger generation. They are more visual with their books, like comic books, graphic novels, and manga.

I will stick to my upcoming steampunk festivals (Watch City in Waltham, MA) and the Imaginarium Fantasy Book Festival in Washington, D.C. My fellow fantasy authors also turned me on to a Facebook Group, Author Events Around the World, for various book festivals supportive of independent authors. This group is a great resource for various book events across the country.

So, word of advice to self-published independent authors looking for venues to sign and sell their books… Pick and choose your events carefully. Not all conventions are made alike and, before you pay for that booth, make sure your know all the details. I know that these things cost an independent author, and maybe it will result in more attention to your books or social media. Only time will tell…

# # #

Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, coming soon from Revolutionary Press; and The River of Souls novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid PublishingThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of my current fantasy book series, coming soon.

Put a little fantasy into your holiday gifts this year with these wonderful books

Lorden Awakening by Krislee Ellsworth, On the Edge by M.J. Glenn, Jax Marlin by T.K. Toppin, Bound in Darkness by Kim ten Tusscher, and The Publishing Room’s From Dark Corners

Most authors would put a shameless plug in for their own fantasy books, but I want to highlight some great books from some of my fellow independent authors that I read in 2021. I would highly recommend any one of their books for the fantasy or sci fi lover and avid book reader in your home. I met all of these wonderful authors through our independent author social media connections and it has been an absolute joy getting to know them and reading their books.

On the Edge by M.J. Glenn is the first book in the Dweller Hunter series. The novel tells the story of Ebony Wick, who for two years has survived alone as an outlaw and highwaywoman in Rundlewood Forest. She doesn’t need people. She only needs to survive. But when Hunter Sparrow breaks into her camp and invites her to join his gang, the Bounty Hunters, she finds herself facing a difficult choice. With a burning desire for revenge against a powerful enemy, Ebony must choose between reason and instinct. But in doing so, she discovers a long-hidden secret that will change her world forever. I loved this story and how independent minded Ebony is, even when confronted by a haunting past and revelations that change her world forever. I am looking forward to reading more of this series and the continuing adventures of Ebony Wick!

Bound in Darkness by Kim ten Tusscher is the first book in the Lilith Trilogy. I have only read the first book and just started reading the second, Broken in Twilight, so I will just cover Book One. This is the story of Lilith, a woman who has only ever lived with anger and destruction. The sole dragon shifter known to humankind, she despises her life as an instrument of terror at the hands of a prophetic sorcerer. Finally fleeing years of abuse, she’s distraught when she’s captured for stealing food and forced to answer to a bitter king for her crimes. Hiding her fiery past from the monarch’s shrewd advisor, Lilith grits her teeth and endures brutal lashings to keep her powers secret. But when her former abductor sends spies to reclaim her and threatens carnage in the name of God, she’ll have to choose for which captor she’s willing to spill more innocent blood… Can the tortured woman escape to freedom before the land beneath her burns? You really feel for Lilith, the pain and suffering she’s endured, as you read each page of this wonderful novel. I am just getting into Book Two, and it is enthralling and captivating as the first.

Jax Marlin: The Complete Short Story Series by T.K. Toppin is my kind of sci fi noir novel. The vigilante, Jax Marlin, and the special inspector who chases her, Michael Pedroni, find themselves on a journey of deeper self-discovery and mutual understanding as they battle the criminals of the world. What was once black and white and by the book, no longer applies. The world is filled with myriad shades and perspectives, and in order to conquer evil, one must do what one must. Learning this prompts Pedroni to make a life-altering decision. As for Jax, her once-resolute focus wavers when her driving force, the fire inside her, takes over with violent results. She battles her inner demon in a life-long war, she realizes she can’t change who she is and what drives her: bad people must be punished. She must make the ultimate decision: destroy the beast within or continue down the destructive path of homicidal abandon. I love watching classic noir crime dramas on TV and reading this book was like stepping into one of those classic films. The no nonsense detective, the female fatal, the spark between them, and its all done with a sci-fi vibe that I love.

Lorden Awakening by Krislee Ellsworth was, I think, the highlight of my reading this year. Magic has not existed for three centuries, and the world is dying because of it. Anaver has never seen the sun through the foggy dome that surrounds the island of Tamrose. She’s heard tales of other lands and magic, but no one can prove that such things ever existed. When fate pulls her from her home and places her in a land of sun and starlight, she discovers that she harbors a power that can awaken the earth’s dormant magic. Rothrin has watched as the world around him fades away. The elements have long lost their state of Lorden, or harmony, which has caused a decades-long famine to sweep over the continent. All seems lost until he meets Anaver, and the elements begin to awaken. They set out on a quest in a land on the brink of collapse and starvation to unleash the earth’s power before time runs out. Like the other fantasy books in my list, Lorden Awakening has an original magic system that is captivating as the story itself. These are great characters that you’ll fall in love with and villains you’ll hate.

The last book I want to mention is a bit of a shameless plug, but not just for me, for the other authors in this anthology. From Dark Corners is a collection of horror short stories published by The Publishing Room. Their mission is “to ensure that anyone with a dream in publishing a book can accomplish their goals.” They also publish short stories from independent authors in various collections. I published with them previously in their fantasy anthology, On Distant Worlds. This time, I wrote a horror short story called The Chalice for this anthology, my first leap into the genre. Along with authors Samayra Rashid, Danni Grace, Ruchi Acharya, and Jesse Fletcher, this book is a great addition for any horror fans on your holiday gift list. They support independent authors like me, you can too!

Click on the links above to order these books and, if you’re interested, click on the links below to check out my other fantasy novels for your holiday gift list! By the way, I am always open to book review exchanges between authors. I love getting new books to read and helping out other independent authors.

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, coming soon from Revolutionary Press; and The River of Souls novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid PublishingThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of my current fantasy book series, coming soon.

This is a great winter season for geeking out on live-action anime, new fantasy series and movies

I love the holiday season! Not just for the joy of family, friends, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, but also for the new tv series and moves that premiere this time of the year. We have movie releases (Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home) and tv series streaming (Cowboy Bebop, Hawkeye, The Wheel of Time) it is a great time to be a fantasy/sci-fi nerd.

The big issue with the remakes and adaptations is how accurate is it to the comic or book series. Take the live action Cowboy Bebop on Netflix. First and foremost, the look is incredible. Great casting and set design that is so accurate to the anime. Now, is it perfect . . . No, it’s not. They are changing how the story is presented to make it fit into the shortened Netflix series. Spike’s backstory with the Syndicate is mixed in with each episode, which suits me fine. The fighting scenes are as animated as in the anime, so is the comedy banter. It’s not as good as the original anime, but it’s still fun to watch.

On a more serious note, Robert Jordan’s epic The Wheel of Time was finally made into a tv series. It’s hard to imagine this series laid out logically as a TV series, and watching has proven that. Instead of teenagers, the five dragon candidates are young adults, and they changed how they get from their village to the White Tower. When you’re taking 14 books and putting them into a shortened series, it makes sense. It still flows good and is watchable to me. I can’t help but enjoy it because I love these books and seeing them come to life is a dream come true. It’s a lot like when Game of Thrones was brought to television. You can’t follow the exact dimensions of such a rich story, but if it remains true to the essence of the novels, then it’s worth watching.

Rosamund Pike is great as Moiraine in the series. She is commanding, fierce and dedicated to her cause. Her magic is so powerful, flowing from the one source in such a beautiful visual effect. The first battle scene against the Trolloc’s was intense. It’s great that Amazon is taking a chance on this series, and they’ve already confirmed season 2.

And now, Disney Plus is coming out with Hawkeye as part of its ongoing MCU television series. I can’t say I’m overly excited for this series. It just doesn’t excite me like Loki, Wandavision, What If, or Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I will watch it, though, because it helps set up the next set of series coming out in 2022.

Speaking of the MCU, we’ve gotten three films in less than four months. Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings was a great introduction to a new hero, and the Eternals reset the cosmic powers of the Marvel Universe. Both of these movies set up new powers and heroes in the MCU coming in the next phase. I mean, the Black Knight, Blade, and others are coming our way. Then we have Spider-Man: No Way Home which brings us into the multiverse by setting up Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. I think just bringing all the villains from the other Spider-Man movies completes the transition from the “Sony-verse” to the MCU. Plus, it brings together the Sinister Six for the first time and that is just freakin’ awesome to see!

The Spider-Man movie not only completes Tom Holland’s trilogy, but it sets up so much more. Will he finish his run as the webhead or just prepare for the New Avengers in the next phase? Maybe we’ll get to see Miles Morales for the first time in a live movie! The possibilities are there, but we’ll have to wait and see!

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, coming soon from Revolutionary Press; and The River of Souls novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid PublishingThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of my current fantasy book series, coming soon.

The Last Magus joins The Outlander War as a 2021 Firebird Book Award winner

The Outlander War: Book 3 of the Forever Avalon Series, second-place winner in Fantasy, and The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart, first-place winner in Steampunk, for the 2021 Firebird Book Awards, sponsored by Speak-up Talk Radio.

The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart was just named as a 2021 Firebird Book Award winner, first place in the Steampunk category. The Firebird Book Awards are sponsored by Speak Up Talk Radio. This is my second book to be recognized by these annual awards. In April, The Outlander War earned second place for fantasy from the Firebird Book Awards.

“Book contests are a proven way to tell the world that you have taken the time and effort to submit your work to scrutiny. An award seal on a book opens doors to interviews, press coverage, and lends additional credibility to writing and artistic careers, and dare we say–can increase sales.

“We chose the firebird to symbolize the award because the firebird is known as a magical helper and is believed to drop pearls from its beak when passing over peasant villages, to give the poor something to trade for food and other necessities. We hope, in some small way, that we too can help others via the donation aspect of these book awards.

“At Speak Up Talk Radio, our mantra has always been this: Speak Up–your words can change the world. You never know how your words affect those you may never meet. And to help you become a magical helper, like the mighty firebird who drops pearls, your entry fee is used as a tax deductible charitable donation to brighten the rooms of women and children in homeless shelters.

“All entry donations fund Enchanted Makeovers 501(c)3 women and children’s long term shelters renovation and transformation project, naming you as the donor.”

Marcus Gideon awoke at the crossroads outside the border town of Armändis. Lost, with no memory of his past life, he was left for dead by brigands… Stabbed through the heart. His life was saved by a blacksmith’s kindness who replaced his damaged heart with a mechanical, magical miracle—a clockwork heart. The gears turned, the motor spun, and his heart was beating again, powered by his magical energy.

Gideon was alive, but his savior was no ordinary blacksmith. Henry Botàn was a Magus, hiding out in Armändis to protect the weapons within his magical armory. The swords, spears, and other-worldly artifacts were potent in their rights, some cursed and even forbidden to wield. His responsibility was to protect these weapons from falling into the wrong hands, but he was old and past his prime. He needed an apprentice, and Marcus Gideon may be the one he waited all these years.

Now begins a new adventure, as Gideon searches for clues to his past, looking ahead toward his future in Attlain as THE LAST MAGUS. The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available as a book or ebook from Lulu and other booksellers.!

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers. Get ready for The Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series, coming soon, and the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates.