My thoughts on the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, an inspiration to us all

Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms (6 February 1952 – 8 September 2022)

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, thus ended the reign of the longest reigning monarch of the modern era. For 70 years, we have only known one queen and her name was Elizabeth. She was not only the queen, but she was also a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. I am not a subject of Her Majesty, but I respect and want to honor her service to her country and the world. When she was only 21 years old, she pledged, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” She lived up to that pledge until the day she died.

As a fantasy author, monarchs are a part of my genre. I have loved the idea of a monarch since I first read the stories of King Arthur and Camelot, something I based my first novel, Forever Avalon, around. Britain and the monarchy are the stuff of legends, and Elizabeth II was no exception. She led Great Britain and the commonwealth by example in pursuit of nothing but the best for her people. She served in World War II at the tender age of 18 in the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a driver and a mechanic. Can you imagine, the future Queen of England driving an ambulance and performing tune ups on vehicles?

The world was a different place when she became queen. Women did not lead in many roles in our society in the 1950s and yet, she did it with steadfast determination. That’s the kind of inspiration a writer like me looks for in creating monarchs for my fantasy stories. Throughout my life, I have been surrounded by strong women, whether in my family or my military service, and Queen Elizabeth was a part of that. You can’t fake that kind of character when writing, you have to see it and experience it to believe it.

So now, we have a king, King Charles III. He has enormous shoes to fill to live up to the legacy his mother laid out for him, but at the same time, he had her as the best teacher possible. I hope and pray he will continue the great service of her life. These are trying times and leadership is desperately needed. Even as a writer, that continued inspiration is needed. In all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the eventual coronation of King Charles III, it fuels the fantasy stories within me. We live in an age where kings and queens, princes and princesses, and other royal titles are mostly found in storybooks.

Queen Elizabeth II was the true representation of what it meant to be a monarch. May she rest in peace. Thank you, ma’am, for your service to us all. God bless the Queen. God save the King.

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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.

Review: Star Trek goes back to basics with Strange New Worlds and it looks beautiful

Character poster for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on the Paramount + network.

I have not been been a big fan of all the new Star Trek series on the Paramount + network. Discovery was a time travel flip-flop that didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up while Picard gave a beloved character another chance by rehashing old storylines. Sorry, boring.

But then, I started watching the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God, they found a way to hack into Gene Roddenberry’s brain and pulled out a winner. THIS is what Star Trek was meant to be.

I think the biggest complaint from nerds like me is that writers don’t stick to the source material. They stray from the storyline that we, as the experts (nerds, geeks, fanboys) know is supposed to be (or should be) canon. They try too hard to incorporate modern issues into science fiction storytelling, and to do that, they stray into multiple tangents that ruin the source material. That’s been the problem with every reboot, upgrade, and reimagining done in TV and movies over the past 20 years.

But I digress . . .

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is everything I want in a Star Trek series rolled up into a neatly packaged weekly episode. No drawn out storylines, no complex back story to deal with. This is what Gene Roddenberry envisioned when he first started his trek more than sixty years ago (God, that makes me feel old) and its what’s been missing from these new series.

The casting is absolutely brilliant. Anson Mount is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. I loved him as Black Bolt in the very, very bad Inhumans TV series AND WAS ECSTATIC to see him reprise the role in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. His portrayal of Christopher Pike is spot on, on par with—if not better than—Jeffery Hunter (original Trek) and Bruce Greenwood (reboot J.J. Abrams movies). Watching him is like Kirk and Picard had a baby and it grew up to be the best captain in Star Fleet. Add Rebecca Romijin, Ethan Peck, and a host of others that fill out one of the most diverse crews in the Star Trek universe. The little twists of adding new characters like the blind, telepathic alien Hemmer and La’an Noonien-Singh (a descendant of KHAN, no shit!) with early reveals at how Uhura and Nurse Chapel came aboard Enterprise makes for a complete, well-rounded cast.

Then there’s the writing. First and foremost, they have updated things to modern standards by bringing in more sexual banter and uncomfortable situations, along with diversity and social justice issues, BUT the writers are not force-feeding it to the viewers (think Chris Chibnal and Doctor Who) rather integrating it in a way reminiscent of Roddenberry’s original storytelling. It’s woven into the storyline like a maestro conducting a symphony of science fiction. These stories are poignant and yet heartfelt and uplifting in the simplest of ways. Plus, they are telling us stories where we know the characters but never got to know who they truly are. I mean, we had an entire episode on the Gorn and it was better than the original introduction of the alien race in TOS (The Original Series for any noobs out there reading this).

USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Sailors of the Year for the Year meet cast members of the “Star Trek: Enterprise” television series. Pictured here on the set of the series are (from left) Conner Trinneer, who plays Chief Engineer Charles “Trip” Tucker, III; Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Robert S. Pickering, Sailor of the Year; Personnelman 3rd Class Sarah E. Pizzo, Blue Jacket of the Year; Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Timothy J. Whittington, Junior Sailor of the Year; and Scott Bakula, who plays Capt. Jonathan Archer.

I have had an ongoing love affair with the Star Trek universe, especially since the last ship I served on was the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and I got to meet the cast of Star Trek: Enterprise and see actual production of the series. Here’s a hint: Watch the episodes “Desert Crossing” and “First Flight” to see U.S. Navy Sailors of the Year as background characters. It was fun to watch the multiple takes necessary for just one scene in an episode. Plus I got to sit in the captain’s chair, bonus for me! That’s why I don’t get into the “Star Wars is better than Star Trek” BS argument. Not just because I love them both, but to me, Star Trek will always be the original OG. Roddenberry created a universe based on the human race, with all our flaws but also highlighting the best things about us. From broaching cultural boundaries (the kiss between Kirk and Uhura) to hidden commentary on the Vietnam War and the Cold War (i.e. the episode “The Omega Glory” where Kirk recites the Pledge of Allegiance and reads the U.S. Constitution. In 2015, Entertainment Weekly highlighted the scene where Kirk reads the United States Constitution as one of the most important moments in that character’s life.) I see the same spark in watching Strange New Worlds.

We know where this is heading. From episode one, and from the original series, we know what Captain Pike’s fate is (watch “The Menagerie” if you don’t know what I’m talking about). It’s enticing to see how this will progress as the series moves on. But I can say, without a doubt, that if your a “Trekkie” then you need to be watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It’s the series we’ve been waiting for.

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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 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, coming soon.

Part 5 of A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger’s First Mission

Thanks for your continued support on my pet project. I had one thought to clear up . . . Where does this story take place in the Log Horizon chronology. Well, it’s definitely after Season 3, The Destruction of the Round Table Arc, since we don’t know what happens next. As an author, this is what’s called “creative license” with a storyline. I didn’t want to try and rewrite what has already been done as that muddies the water too much. In any case, I’m about halfway through this story, and its growing on me. Without further adieu, here is Part 5 of my Log Horizon anime fan fiction, A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger’s First Mission.

* * *

Part Four 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. Gideon settled in Akiba, including opening his own forge so her could start making weapons again. But all that was interrupted when Dolce of the West Wind Brigade rushed in with a cry for help. They were ambushed by Plant Hwyaden, with three members drugged and kidnapped. With the Round Table in Suskino, it was up to Gideon to formulate a rescue. Akatsuki rushed off to stop them from leaving while Gideon went to get some help from an unlikely source . . . The Eagle Mountain guild from North America.

** * *

The mood inside the Ten Seat Council chamber soured with every word spoken by Jered Gan and Rezor Ginta. Indix sat quietly at her desk, strumming her fingers together as she absorbed the detailed report. Her silence added to the rage emanating from Indix as her eyes bulged and turned blood red while she stared down at the two. Rezor felt the pain of failure coming from Indix and the others in the room.

“This Gideon Hawkmoon was the cause of all these problems,” Jered Gan concluded. “He is as bothersome as you indicated, Indix.”

“Which was why I recommended you cease your experiments, for the time being, Jered Gan,” Kazuhiko interjected. “Once Gideon came into the picture, and the purpose of your deep sleep drug discovered, any aggression toward Akiba and the Round Table would be met with force.”

“Which is why I needed the Wolves of Mibu with me!” Gan countered. “If you wouldn’t have neglected your duties . . .” Before finishing his sentence, Kazuhiko had his blade drawn and under the elderly elf’s rather pronounced chin.

“You do not tell me what to do, old man!” Kazuhiko warned.

“That’s enough; sheath your blade, Kazuhiko!” Indix ordered. He glanced over at her before stepping back and sheathing his katana. “As for you, Jered Gan, I thought I gave you specific instructions to stay away from the guilds in Akiba. You could have gone after those idiot Odyssey Knights or some other traveling adventurers. Yet, you specifically chose to disobey my orders and go to Akiba.”

“I told you, Indix, that I need high-level adventurers to perfect my elixir. Only level 90 or higher will suffice, and the best supply outside of Minami is in Akiba.”

“And while that cheating dime store cowboy is there, you will stay away from Akiba! He will interject himself into our affairs at every opportunity. Now, we have the Ezzo Empire AND his pageant queen sister and her guild to contend with!”

“Lady Indix, you mustn’t blame Master Gan, he . . .” Rezor started to say, defending his master, but he was quickly silenced when Indix threw one of her silver knives into his throat. He grabbed his wound, gasping for air and unable to speak.

“You are not part of the Ten Seat Council, nor did I ask for your opinion, Rezor. Now get out of here before my next blade silences you for good!” Rezor pulled out the blade, dropping it on the floor as he grasped his wound tightly before he rushed out to find a healer to aid him.

“That was uncalled for, Indix! You cannot assault my personal guard with . . .” Gan ranted before she cut him off, pulling another blade out to threaten him.

“Would you like the next one between your beady little eyes?”

Gan shut up immediately, knowing her threat was real. “That’s enough, Indix!” Princess Nureha shouted as she walked down the broken escalator steps into the room. “We cannot focus on what happened; rather, we must deal with things as they are.”

Indix huffed at the puppet princess, interrupting her and taking over the council meeting. She used Nureha and her popularity to maintain control of the masses, but she grew in power. The nobles of Westlande split their support between Indix and Nureha, which infuriated her. Still, she knew when to fight back and keep quiet, which was one of those times for the latter.

“I told you to keep your research to a minimum distraction, Jered Gan. We want to win over the rest of Yamato through subterfuge, not outright attacks. If we win their hearts and minds, we win the war,” Nureha explained.

“Yes, but Princess Nureha, I . . .”

“Your deep sleep drug was never meant to be a permanent solution to the adventurers of Akiba, only a precaution against those who refuse to side with us.” Her logic and rule over Plant Hwyaden were absolute, so Jered Gan bowed politely as he backed away, realizing his argument was over.

“She sure told you, old man,” Quon smartly snapped but not before Jered Gan repeatedly whacked him on the head with his cane. The sixth seat of the council took his beating, too tired to fight back, apparent by his lackluster appearance and bags under his eyes from lack of sleep. All he wanted to hear was a call from a GM that never came.

“I, for one, would like to know how the Eagle Mountain guild arrived in Yamato from the North America server?” Nureha asked. The silence in the room showed their ignorance until KR finally spoke up.

“They used a device known as a Fairy Ring Chronometer to calculate the exact coordinates for a jump through a series of fairy rings from South Angel to Akiba,” he explained. “Apparently, one of their guild members developed it shortly after the Apocalypse.”

This revelation shocked everyone, mainly the adventurers in the council. “That’s impossible. The timing of fairy rings was controlled through detailed cheat sheets and changed with every lunar cycle,” Indix retorted. “How could one person put all that information into a single device?”

“Well, we are talking about Dr. Roberta Copernicus, the one they call Einstein. She’s a genuine rocket scientist from NASA. She was one of the smartest people ever to play Elder Tales, even before the Apocalypse. Imagine what someone like her is capable of doing in this world?”

“And how can we get our hands on one of these chronometers, KR?” Nureha asked.

“As far I can tell, she only made four: one for herself, her guildmaster, the deputy guildmaster, and one for Gideon,” KR answered. “Celeste Hawkmoon likes to keep tabs on her big brother.” His information-gathering skills were impeccable, so they knew it to be accurate.

“That would benefit us if we could get our hands on one,” General Mizufa Trudy noted. “It would make it even easier to invade territories across Yamato and beyond.” As a warlord and commander of Westlande’s army, she was always itching for a fight.

“So then, the best way to get a look at one is through Gideon Hawkmoon,” Nureha surmised.

“And how would you do that, Your Majesty? Hmmm? Invite him to Minami?” Indix rebutted sarcastically. Nureha smiled slyly at Indix. Her second seat in the guild really didn’t know how devious and cunning Nureha could be at times.

“That’s exactly what we’ll do . . .”

* * *

Following the incident with Plant Hwyaden, the Eagle Mountain guild members were treated to a heroes’ welcome in Akiba. The People of the Land and the adventurers were highly interested in the guild from North America. The West Wind Brigade offered to play host to the members of Eagle Mountain to show their appreciation for saving their guild members. The Round Table Conference even gave them their own private space in the guild hall to accommodate them whenever their guild members visited Akiba in the future.

Since they had time to kill before the proper alignment allowed them to return to South Angel, they spread out amongst the people of Akiba to give them a little southwest flair. King took to the stage in various restaurants and taverns around Akiba, letting his style of music speak for itself. On occasion, even Isuzu and the other bards joined in, adding some new music for the People of the Land while bringing down the house every night. Even Rudy tried to get in on the act as he admired and replicated King’s style into his wardrobe, much to Isuzu’s chagrin.

Veronika was right there with King, but not for support. Instead, she tried to outdrink, outmuscle and intimidate every man in Akiba. Veronika always enjoyed showing off her prowess with the sword. Still, she also loved to demonstrate her feminine wiles by seducing every man possible to satisfy her voracious appetites. Her ample assets, held up in a revealing corset, kept many men’s attention. The single men of Akiba appreciate her seductive ways. At the same time, the women did everything possible to keep their boyfriends and husbands away from her. Even Marielle attempted to hide Naotsugu to keep him out of her grasp.

Einstein kept busy at the crafting guilds—Roderick’s Merchant Guild, Marine Agency, and Commerce Street 8—by aiding them in the research and development, from improvements on their ships and engines to reworking the flavor texts and working to improve the defenses around Akiba. She also made sure to teach Gideon how to read his chronometer so he could navigate them without any hiccups. Sir Wayne was always right by her side as her guardian and protector. It was evident by his choice of armor who inspired his avatar. Many of the younger kids, like Touya, tried to get him to say famous catchphrases just for fun.

Brother Tate took his time in Akiba to spread the message of peace, love, and the power of positivity. He preached to anyone who would listen and gained a small following of clerics and even a few Kannagi to continue his message in Akiba after he left. Shiroe feared a “cult-like” atmosphere around Brother Tate. Still, Gideon assured him that the cleric was merely taking his professional life into his gaming one. Tate was a motivational speaker in the real world, helping people from all walks of life change their mindsets to achieve their goals. In this new world, he had even more challenges with people living with depression and the fear of being stuck here forever.

Celeste found herself torn between her official duties as a guildmaster and her hobby as a lover of all things cute and adorable. She found Akiba crowded with an abundance of cute and cuddly individuals—from Akatsuki and Serara to Ashlynn and Mikakage—so much that she felt impaired by the level of cuteness all around her. Even Princess Lenessia found herself a target of Celeste’s overactive affection. Without the help of Tom Redwood, who constantly reminded her about her duties as the guildmaster, she never would have gotten anything done. It took a whisper from Tom to keep her focused on the tasks at hand, from getting things situated in their new guild space to formalizing agreements with the Round Table Conference.

Gideon took the time to get caught up on things from his friends in Eagle Mountain about everything that happened back in the states. It also gave Henrietta a chance to know her sister-in-law and make new family bonds. She really didn’t have any close family to speak of outside of Gideon, Marielle, and the rest of her guild. Getting to know Celeste was a new experience for her, and she wanted to take advantage of every moment possible.

By the end of two weeks, various members of the Round Table Conferences and their guilds escorted Eagle Mountain to a fairy ring near the outskirts of Akiba to begin their journey home. They were parting ways with new friendships, insights, and relationships.

Celeste had quite a difficult time letting Akatsuki go. She even tried to put her into her own magic bag. Sister-in-law or no sister-in-law, Henrietta was not about to Celeste leave with her Akatsuki. For her part, Akatsuki was actually hanging on to Celeste by her leg. “You know, Akatsuki, I’m a little hurt. You put up more of a fuss with my affections than you do with Celeste,” Henrietta remarked.

“That’s because you’re not the number one assassin in Elder Tales,” she remarked. “You’re only married to her idiot brother.”

“You know, Akatsuki, you’re slowly moving down from my number four assassin right out of my top ten with remarks like that,” Gideon replied.

“Oh, don’t listen to him, my adorable little Akatsuki. His rating system is so skewed and one-sided, it isn’t really a good judge of character,” Celeste added as she hugged Akatsuki again.

“Keep talking, sis, and you’ll lose your number one spot to Leonardo.” Gideon’s remark caused his sister to huff at him.

“You would pick that frog over your darling sister? How rude, Jedidiah!” Before Gideon could snap back at her, Einstein interrupted their little quarrel.

“Guildmaster, it’s time to go!” she shouted, closing her chronometer and tucking it away before heading through the fairy ring. Celeste gave one last hug to Akatsuki before turning to Henrietta.

“It was great to finally meet you, Henrietta. Do your best to keep my big brother in check,” she sassed one last time at Gideon. “And I’ll bring some adorable outfits for you next time we come through, sweet little Akatsuki!” she said as she turned to leave. Before entering the fairy ring, a deluge of water dropped out of nowhere, smacking her squarely on the head. She spun about and glared at Gideon, who smiled and tipped his hat as Celeste slipped and fell backward into the fairy ring. As usual, he got the last laugh on his sister.

Everyone looked at Gideon, mouth agape, wondering how he pulled that off. There was no incantation or action on his part. He didn’t even snap his fingers like usual. It was a mystery indeed.

“Gideon!” Henrietta exclaimed.

“Dude, how did you . . .” Naotsugu started to ask, but Gideon simply smiled and walked away. Everyone stood there, scratching their heads, wondering how he pulled that off.

“My lord, how did he do that?” Akatsuki asked Shiroe, who only laughed at the situation.

“Man, he’s good . . . scary good.”

“What do you mean?” Akatsuki queried.

“Gideon was always someone who could manipulate the system to his advantage,” Shiroe explained. “That’s why so many players don’t like him. They called him a cheater.”

“But he doesn’t cheat, does he?” Marielle asked.

“No, he finds ways in the system to turn things to his advantage through countless hours of research and trial and error, like the foxfire bombs he created,” Shiroe continued. “He may act like a backwoods cowboy, but he’s actually quite clever.”

“So then, how did he douse Celeste with his Rainmaker spell?” Tetora inquired.

“If ya’ll need to be up to snuff, I’ll tell you. It’s my oral art,” Gideon interrupted. He’d been listening to their conversation the whole time and decided to let them in on his little secret. “My overskill is called ‘Silent Casting’. . . A little wrinkle-bob lets me cast my spells without an audible chant or activation sequence.”

Oral Arts, or Overskills, were unique to each individual, depending on their class and skills. Something like Silent Casting was an efficient and powerful tool for a sorcerer. Everyone was impressed with his ability.

“That’s amazing, Gideon,” Shiroe exclaimed.

“Yes, but as impressive as it is, husband, to douse your sister like that is completely uncalled for!” Henrietta admonished.

“Hey now, I’m just paying back that little wag-tail for the prank she pulled on me in high school,” Gideon recalled. “That little hussy put skunk oil in my cologne right before my senior prom. She completely ruined my date with Cynthia Parks. I smelled like a skunk for weeks. No girl would come near me for the rest of my senior year.”

While some of them felt sorry for Gideon and understood his predicament, others couldn’t help but chuckle under their breath. On the other hand, Henrietta walked over and touched him lovingly. “Well, I, for one, am happy she did that,” she said. “If it weren’t for Celeste and her little prank, you might be married to Cynthia Parks instead of me.”

Gideon appreciated her sentiment and realized she was right. Then, Henrietta grabbed his ear out of nowhere and gripped it tightly. “But from now on, darling, let’s reserve your oral art to combat and not stupid pranks, shall we?” she said, twisting his ear hard. He screamed in pain and immediately acquiesced to her demands.

“Okay! Okay! Whatever you say, darlin’!” he cried before she finally let go. Gideon may be a total badass with his reputation as a sorcerer gunslinger and the number one PvP in Elder Tales. His wife, however, had complete control over him with a simple twist of his ear.

“Master Shiroe!” The sudden appearance of Misa and Reize interrupted their amusement.

“Misa, Reize, what’s wrong?” Shiroe asked.

“Princess Lenessia needs to see you right away,” Misa explained, huffing.

“She received a message from His Royal Highness, Prince Utena Touri Saiguu of Westlande,” Reize added. “The Holy Empire of Westlande wants to hold negotiations with the Freedom Cities of Eastal to bring an end to the hostilities. Prince Touri offered to host the negotiations in Kyo.”

“For real?” Naotsugo questioned.

“But why would Westlande reach out for peace negotiations?” Tetora added.

“It sounds like their tryin’ to saw a tumbleweed with that yarn,” Gideon interjected. “Do you believe them, Shiroe?”

“I don’t know. It may be a trap, but we have to take a chance if it means peace between Westlande and Eastal. Besides, I trust Prince Touri.”

In the wake of the House of Saiguu’s dwindling political power in Westlande, Prince Touri thought of a way to unify Yamato and bring peace to the warring nations. He offered a title of nobility to Ains, the guildmaster of Honesty and founding member of the Round Table Conference, and his hand in marriage to Princess Lenessia. This would solidify his power in Eastal peacefully, forcing the Senate to stop their advances and power struggles to restore the Holy Empire of Westlande to glory. Fortunately, the Princess decided against marriage and sided with the Round Table, so an election was held to determine control of Akiba. The Round Table prevailed, and both Ains and Prince Touri departed for the Lake of Nio in Westlande, gracious even in defeat.

“Let’s see what Lenessia has to say before deciding,” Shiroe added as the group headed back to Akiba. “Plus, we’ll need assurances from her father, Lord Sergiatte Cowen, and the other nobles of Eastal before we can proceed. It’s a lot more complicated than it looks.”

“That’s why I leave all the politics to you, Shiroe,” Gideon replied. “Give me a straight-on fight any day over these backroom shenanigans.”

“Same here, pal, same here,” Shiroe said as they all laughed about it on their way back to Akiba.

* * *

Gideon pressed on in his work at the forge while at the same time training his apprentice. Touya was working on his first weapon, hammering away at the anvil. It was a simple kunai—a small throwing dagger with a circular pommel—but it was his first attempt at forging a blade. Touya tried not to rush it, precisely as his master instructed, so he carefully took his time.

“Watch your angle, Touya. You don’t want to flatten out the bevel you just made on the other side of the blade,” Gideon instructed as he pumped the bellows for his apprentice. He wanted to make sure the firepit was nice and hot when he needed it.

“I will, Master Gideon. This is not as easy as watching you forge a blade.”

“Time and patience are the keys to being a good bladesmith. You’ll learn that the more you work in the forge.” Gideon liked being able to pass on his knowledge to the next generation. In the past, others were too intimidated by him to even approach him for a question or help. It was much easier in this world than when it was a game.

“Hey, Touya, looking good!” Naotsugu remarked as he walked into the forge.

“Thanks, Master Naotsugu. I’m really trying!”

“What can I do for you, Naotsugu ole buddy?” Gideon asked. “Do you need something repaired?”

“Nah, I just came by to remind Touya of our training this afternoon with the rest of the guild,” he reminded the junior member of Log Horizon.

“I didn’t forget, Master Naotsugu. I just wanted to finish this kunai before we headed out.”

“No worries, little man, I know it’s hard to please two masters in two different disciplines,” Naotsugu smiled with a wink and a thumbs up.

“Remember what I said, Touya; time and patience run the forge,” Gideon added. “If you rush one for the other, you might have a bad blade. Now, go cool your metal and start grinding your edge.”

Touya ran off to do as Gideon instructed him while the two friends caught up. “So, what’s the word on this peace conference? Is it actually legit?”

“Seems so. Shiroe heard directly from Ains that Princess Nureha and the Westlande Senate are pushing for this to happen,” Naotsugu explained. “I think your little stunt bringing Eagle Mountain to Yamato put the fear of losing everything in them.”

“Yeah, but I don’t trust Nureha, Indix, or any rascals in Plant Hwyaden, even if KR and Kazuhiko are with them.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot how close you and Kazuhiko were,” Naotsugu recalled, thinking back to their days in the Debauchery Tea Party.

“Not close, Naotsugu, just drinkin’ buddies like you and me,” Gideon explained. “Kazuhiko has a thing for American bourbon, so we got to know each other over a tasting tour of the old South. Besides, he’s got a bit of a crush on my sister.”

“What? Kazuhiko? In love?”

“Not in love, but an overwhelming appreciation for her talents, both in and out of the game. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but Celeste was a successful businesswoman in her own rights. My sis operated a chain of high class ‘chi-chi’ pet grooming salons across the U.S. of A.”

“Pet grooming salons? Really?”

“Oh yeah, that’s where that little ‘cutie pie’ quirk of hers comes into play,” Gideon continued. “She loves turning ugly pets into adorable walking works of art.”

“Wow, you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. I mean, she’s one of the deadliest assassins to play the game, and she’s a dog groomer?” Naotsugu added.

“Yeah, that’s what makes my little sis such a firecracker, which I gander you got wind of while she was here.”

“All done, Master Gideon!” Touya interrupted, running up to proudly present his blade to Gideon. The weaponsmith took the kunai, carefully examining the weapon’s balance, weight, and edge. He spun it around in his hand, wielding it like an expert.

“Not bad for your first blade, Touya, not bad at all, except . . .” Gideon took the blade and slammed it against the anvil, which caused the tip of the blade to break off. Both Touya and Naotsugu were shocked until Gideon showed the inside of the metal to his apprentice.

“Look at the grain structure of the metal. What does that tell you?” Touya looked carefully at the striations in the metal and remembered what Gideon had taught him.

“It didn’t harden correctly because I overheated it and didn’t let it normalize before I quenched it. That made the metal soft and brittle.” Gideon gave his apprentice a pat on the head for recognizing his mistake.

“Don’t worry, hoss. I broke plenty of blades before I got it right. You’ll get there, partner. Just wait and see. Like I said, time and patience . . .”

Touya stepped back before he bowed to his master. “Thank you, Master Gideon. I will strive to improve my skills,” he said.

“Good on ya . . . I’ll take care of things here. Let’s call it a day in the forge. You go get ready for your training with Naotsugu, okay?” Touya nodded his head with a stern grin on his face, grateful for the lesson in the forge. He took off to the Log Horizon guild building to prepare for his afternoon training session.

“Wow, your damn good with the kid, Gideon. I’m impressed as to how you handled that,” Naotsugu complimented.

“Well, it’s like we’ve said, Naotsugu ole buddy. These kids are the next generation, and we have to teach them as we were shown. We’re no longer the newbies anymore. We’re veterans now, and those kids would be lost, confused, or hurt without us. As the great John Wayne once said, ‘Ya don’t get lard less’n you boil a hog!'”

“Yeah, you got that right,” Naotsugu agreed with a slightly confused look. “You know, sometimes your cowboy logic makes sense.”

“That’s because I only quote the best!” Gideon smirked, but then a ping went off in his ear as a call came through the telepathic link from Henrietta. “Well, hey, darlin’. . . Whatcha need?”

Gideon, I need you to come to the Luquenje Hall right away. Shiroe and the Round Table have a mission for you! They won’t tell me anything more until you get here, so hurry, please . . . Her communication seemed urgent, so he needed to recruit some help with the forge.

“Naotsugu, can you get Touya and the other kids to help shut down the forge? Shiroe wants me over at the Luquenje Hall. Henrietta said something about a mission.”

“Sounds like fun. You go ahead, Gideon, we got this!” Gideon gave his friend a pat on the shoulder before running of change. He’d never been in the Luquenje Hall before, but he knew it was where the Round Table had all their big meetings. If he was going to meet them there, something needed his attention and unique skills.

* * *

On the top floor of the Akiba guild building sat the Luquenje Hall. It was a meeting room with massive statues of the “Six Scrapped Princesses” surrounding the table where the Round Table Conference met. They held hands as they leaned over them as if their very presence intimidated the negotiations held there.

The legend of the Luquenje stated that around 300 years ago, after the war which destroyed the Alv Kingdom, these six descendants of the Alvs masterminded the long, terrible conflict between humans, dwarves, and elves for revenge. When defeat was imminent, the six princesses caused the First “World Fraction” spell—like the one that caused the Apocalypse—and the rise of the demi-human races as their final vengeance. This led to the deaths of over half the world’s population at the time.

Henrietta waited for Gideon outside the entrance. She was not part of the Round Table Conference, so she only entered or stayed inside the Luquenje Hall when asked. Henrietta looked at her watch, impatiently tapping her toes, wondering what took Gideon so long. She messaged him more than twenty minutes ago.

“Hey darlin’, been waiting long? Sorry, but I had to get Naotsugu to shut down the forge for me and clean up before I headed over here.” Gideon said as he rounded the corner.

Henrietta sighed audibly. She understood why he was delayed but wished Gideon would be more considerate sometimes. “It’s alright, my love, but try to be more prompt when I call.”

“You know me, Henrietta, I’m never late for dinner or love, but I don’t mind being late for my own hanging.”

“Hanging? Why do you say that?” Henrietta curiously asked.

“If the Round Table has been talking about this conference with Westlande, and they suddenly have a mission for me, I can only guess what that might be.” Henrietta realized what he meant and hoped that wasn’t the case. The last thing she wanted was to see Gideon put in danger.

“Well, let’s see what they have to say and go from there,” she said, opening the door to the Luquenje Hall. Gideon leaned down and gave her a peck on the cheek before he walked into the room, with Henrietta following close behind.

The seats around the table were occupied by the guild leader of the Round Table Conference: Shiroe of Log Horizon, Issac of the Black Sword Knights, Mishitaka of the Marine Agency, Marielle of the Crescent Moon Alliance, Soujiro of West Wind Brigade, Akaneya of Radio Market, Roderick of the Roderick Merchant Guild, William Massachusetts of Silver Sword, and Karashin of Commerce District 8. They were also joined by the People of the Land, including Princess Lenessia and Kinjo of the Kunie Tribe. Many of the guild deputies were standing behind them around the room.

“My apologies for dickerin’ about, everyone. I promise I wasn’t tangle-footed or taking French leave, but it took a bit of a spell to waltz into a Texas Cakewalk.”

Everyone started at Gideon as his unique vernacular still confused them from time to time. “You have a strange way of making excuses, cowboy,” Issac retorted, causing a few snickers.

“It’s alright, Gideon. I’m sure you’re wondering why we asked you here,” Shiroe began. “We’ve written up the final agreement for the conference with Westlande. Once we get the approval of the Freedom Cities of Eastal, it needs to be delivered to Minami. That’s where you come in.”

“I see, so you want me to be your Pony Express rider, am I right?” Gideon surmised.

“Yes, we’d like you to take it to Maihama to get Duke Sergiot Cowen’s approval before taking it to Minami,” Shiroe concluded. Henrietta was taken aback by their request, but Gideon took it in stride.

“My grandfather also wanted to meet you and learn more about the Eagle Mountain guild,” Princess Lenessia explained. “That might help sway the nobles to agree to this conference.”

“So, you’re sayin’ that they’re not behind this little monkey shines yet, are they?”

“Unfortunately, the nobles have not been convinced yet,” Karashin added. “They don’t trust the Senate . . .”

“And rightly so,” Gideon interjected. “Sorry, but this seems as dull as dishwater. This mugwump makes as much sense as a ten-dollar Stetson on a five-cent head.”

“I understand your misgivings, Gideon, but we’ve gotten assurances from our contacts in Westlande that this is legitimate,” Shiroe interrupted.

“Information out of all the major cities in Westlande—Minami, Ikoma, and Kyo—is that they want to pursue a peace accord,” Karashin concluded. “I think the idea of the biggest guild in North America coming to Yamato put fear in the Senate. They could lose everything if they keep pursuing a war footing.”

“That makes sense. After the failed attempt on Prince Itherus’ life, their little operations have had setback upon setback,” Issac mused.

“But sending in Gideon alone is a big risk, Master Shiroe,” Soujiro said. “He’s already got a big target on his back as the number one PvP.”

“Look, normally, I wouldn’t send anyone into the snake pit alone to use your own terminology,” Shiroe said, “But you can take care of yourself. I know you have your misgivings about this conference, so maybe you can gauge whether or not this is real. We trust you to carry out this mission.”

Gideon looked around the room and saw what he needed to see . . . a look of confidence in all their faces. They only knew Gideon by his reputation for a few short months, some longer. Still, many were new friends and acquaintances, except for Henrietta. It gave him a strong sense of pride and purpose with the Round Table.

“Well, to quote the famous Doc Holiday . . . I’m your huckleberry,” Gideon replied, tipping his hat. “I accept this quest from the Round Table.”

“And I’m going with you . . .” Henrietta spoke up, stepping forward next to her husband. Her announcement shocked everyone, none more than Gideon.

“What? No, you’re not!” he insisted.

“Oh yes, I am. If you think I’m going to let you go off by yourself into that den of vipers, you’ve got another thing coming. Besides, you’ve never dealt with the nobles in Mihama; I have. You need me there to help you navigate the honors and courtesies that your American sensibilities seem to have trouble with.”

“This is not like a simple hunting party, darlin’. We are going into the belly of the beast here!” he argued. “I am not about to put you in danger.”

“Oh, but you’ll gladly put yourself in the line of fire! Face it, husband, you’ve lost this argument. I’m coming with you!”

Gideon knew he couldn’t convince her otherwise, so he asked the others for help. “Shiroe, Marielle, Souji, make her listen to reason,” he asked. Everyone around the table turned away, not making eye contact, ignoring his request completely. “Ain’t you a bunch of lily-livered cowards!” he said. No one wanted to get into an argument between a husband and a wife.

Gideon realized he had no choice but to take Henrietta with him. “Alright, honeybell, you win, but understand this . . . You’ll do exactly what I say out there for once in our lives, especially if we get into a tussle. We’re skedaddling out of Minami at the first sign of trouble, no questions asked. Deal?” He held out his hand, but Henrietta ignored it and gave him a peck on the lips.

“Deal!” she said. Gideon knew she outsmarted and got the best of him. One of these days, he would have to find a better way to counter that.

* * *

At first light, the two adventurers headed out of Akiba, ready for their first quest together since Gideon arrived on Yamato. They walked out of town with Log Horizon and the Crescent Moon Alliance members to see them off. The once-bustling freeway overpass, now covered in grassy overgrowth with abandoned automobiles, was a reminder of the forgotten past of this world.

Once they reached a safe distance from Akiba, the two adventurers turned to say goodbye. Henrietta, not accustomed to leaving on quests, hugged her guild members—especially the cute ones—as they all shed a little tear. They were scared for her, and to be honest, so was Henrietta; but she couldn’t show that. She had faith in her husband that they would get through this together.

“You better make it back,” Marielle stressed as a wave of concern fluctuated in her voice. “I can’t run this guild all by myself.”

“Now, Marielle, darling, don’t worry. Eisel will help you while I’m gone,” she assured her friend with a hug. “I left detailed instructions on everything.”

“Don’t worry, Miss Marielle, we’ll be just fine,” Eisel added. The lanky half-Alv sorcerer towered over her guildmaster, but his calming presence reassured her. Meanwhile, Gideon received last-minute instructions from Shiroe.

“KR should meet you at the north end of Minami when you get there. That should get you into the city without any problem,” Shiroe advised.

“Sounds good, Shiroe. That two-timing hornswoggler better be there, or I’ll pin his ears back,” Gideon remarked.

“Don’t mew worry about KR. He’s always been the reliable sort,” Nyanta commented. “But keep an eye on Kazuhiko; mew don’t know what he’s going to do.”

“Well, I’ve got something that’ll settle that rascal down,” Gideon replied, patting his saddlebag. “Ready to go, Henrietta?” With one last hug to her guild members, she walked over to be with Gideon as he pulled out a whistle from his saddlebag. This was unique from other summoning whistles, carved with an elaborate eagle head.

“Master Gideon, are you going to summon a griffon like Masters Shiroe, Naotsugu, and Nyanta can?” Minori asked.

“Griffons? Minori, sweetheart, we don’t fly griffons in the U.S. of A.,” Gideon said sarcastically before blowing the whistle. It sounded similar to the griffon whistles Shiroe and the others used, but with a deeper resonance, like an eagle’s scream, and for a good reason. Suddenly, a golden eagle appeared in the sky before it soared down, landing near the ensemble. The beauty and majesty of this giant eagle shocked everyone except for Henrietta. She’d met Gideon’s eagle before as she walked over to it unafraid and gently stroked its feathers.

“Hello, Goldie! It’s been too long,” she said as the golden eagle nuzzled her back. 

 “It’s beautiful!” Marielle exclaimed. “Did you get that whistle for beating the Helios raid?”

“Naw, on the North American server, you get the eagle summoning whistle when you beat the Treasure of the Sierra Madre raid,” Gideon explained. “Without Goldie here, we wouldn’t have been able to cross the Aleutians Islands or the Bering Sea to Russia. She’s a real lifesaver.”

Gideon pulled out a saddle and, with Naotsugu’s help, strapped it on the giant eagle. Once he saddled up, Gideon helped Henrietta behind him on the eagle. “I’d step back, ya’ll. Goldie kicks up a helluva downdraft when she takes off.”

Everyone did as he instructed before Goldie spread its wings to take off. “Let us know how things go in Mihama before you head to Minami, Gideon!” Shiroe shouted his last-minute instructions.

“Hell’s Bells, guildmaster, keep your britches on,” Gideon replied sarcastically. “You keep worrying like that, and your face will be puckered like a wet sheepskin before a hot fire.” Shiroe didn’t know what to say until he looked down at Akatsuki, pointing to her forehead. She constantly reminded Shiroe not to worry so much because it gave him what she called “old man wrinkles” on his forehead.

Goldie beat its wings before letting out a loud screech as they took off into the air. “Next stop, the Palace of Eternal Ice!” Gideon shouted as they flew off toward their first stop on this dangerous mission.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 6 of A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger, a Duke, and a Princess. Check out my fan fiction page if you want to catch up on the whole story.

Part 4 of A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger and Eagle Mountain

Thanks for your continued support on my pet project. To be honest, it’s fun to write because I’ve already watched all three seasons multiple times so this keeps me hyped for more. Plus, they walk about all the servers in the Log Horizon Fan Wiki so my story gives me “creative license” about guilds on the North America server. This week, I introduce you to the Eagle Mountain guild. Here is Part 4 of my Log Horizon anime fan fiction, A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger and Eagle Moutain.

* * *

Part Three Recap: Part Three 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. After introductions around to members of the Round Table Conference, including a PvP duel with Isaac of the Black Sword Knights, Gideon began to settle into life in Akiba.

* * *

Weeks passed since Gideon’s arrival in Akiba, and he found himself overwhelmed with work. The young adventurers looked to him for guidance and training on everything from different combinations of spells to strategy in a fight. He didn’t mind lending his experience to help them survive in this new world and get their levels up. He even tore Henrietta away from her bookkeeping and other administrative duties to help demonstrate the power of a unified sorcerer and bard in a party. They utilized their many hours of hunting, raids, and quests together to synchronize their actions in a fight. Being together, fighting as a team, was fluid and seamless, like muscle memory as it all came back to them.

At the same time, there were still those who wanted a chance to take on the number one PvP. Gideon kept his record strong against challengers, including Demikas and Silver Sword. He only agreed to fight Demikas if the monk promised to apologize to Serara for mistreating her once Gideon defeated him. When it was over, it humbled the former guildmaster to have to bow down and apologize to the little druid. Of course, her big brother, Major, was right there with her to make sure Demikas followed through on his promise. He tempered his anger, desperate to continue the beatdown Gideon had started. Still, Serara made him swear not to do anything to Demikas. She wanted that episode of her life on Yamato left in the past.

While it seemed that his days rambled together in constant battle, Gideon’s nights were for love. There was more than a year that both he and Henrietta needed to make up for, and they didn’t waste a single moment. From dinner dates to dancing the night away or just a quiet walk, they spent their time living, laughing, and loving each other. It was as if their time apart only strengthened the bond between them.

The other project that kept Gideon’s attention was about to become a reality. As a highly skilled weaponsmith, Gideon needed a place to make and repair weapons for the adventurers and People of the Land. With the help of Michitaka—a fellow blacksmith—and the Marine Agency, his forge was finally up and running. As one of the largest production and crafting guilds in Akiba, Marine Agency was able to covert a building next to the Log Horizon guild into a fully functioning blacksmith shop. The front of the building had fallen into disrepair—the bricks crumbled down, and the second floor was completely missing. Gideon had them turn the first floor into an open-air forge, so people could look in and watch him work. He was a showman at heart, so he didn’t mind all the attention. The second floor was rebuilt into a store to sell his weapons and armor. Gideon knew that people would want to buy what they saw being made right in front of them.

Gideon and Michitaka watched the work along with Tatara, a dwarf samurai-swordsmith, as the workmen were putting on the final touch—a large shield with a hawk flying over a crescent moon. It was a coat of arms for Gideon, symbolizing his name in Elder Tales. He was no knight by any means, but he earned a reputation for quality armaments as a weaponsmith.

“Looks good, Michitaka! I can’t thank you enough, partner,” Gideon said, patting the brawny guildmaster on the back.

“It was no problem. I’ve been meaning to refurbish this building, and your idea for it was perfect. Besides, I’m not about to turn away a fellow blacksmith. You know what it means to work with your hands, and you need just the right place to do your work.”

“You got that right, hoss. I’ve been itchin’ to get started. Once we get the coal bins filled and the forge heated up, I’ll be rarin’ to go.”

“As much as I want to see your work, Gideon, I hope it doesn’t cause me to lose business,” Tatara said.

“Now, Tatara, you know that a little competition is good for everyone,” Gideon explained. “If my prices are too high for someone, they’ll come runnin’ to you instead. It’s good as gold, darlin’!”

“Perhaps, but I’ll reserve judgment for now.”

“By the way, Gideon, that was a great idea about using the salamander,” Michitaka complimented as the workers brought in a rather peculiar-looking monster. It was a flame-red lizard and burned with searing heat, so much so that the men had to use protective gloves and poles to maneuver the creature under the firepit. “Just feed him the coal, and he’ll keep your forge nice and hot.”

“Yeah, I just gotta find me an apprentice to help out, but there ain’t too many in these parts with the blacksmith sub-class.” Gideon looked over at Tatara with a sly grin, hoping she would catch his drift.

“No way, I have my own shop to run!” she exclaimed, backing away from the conversation.

“Well, I can loan you a couple of my blacksmiths from Marine Agency for a few days to help you get started,” Michitaka offered. “I’m sure they would love to learn from a world-class weaponsmith like you.”

“I appreciate that hoss, but I wouldn’t want to take anything away from your work. I know you got your hands full these days, getting ready for a possible fight with Plant Hwyaden.”

“Once you get your shop up to full steam, we’ll be more than ready for anything those bastards throw at us.”

“Excuse me, Master Gideon,” Touya shouted, running over from the Log Horizon guildhall, interrupting their conversation. “Do you have a minute?”

“Sure, Touya, watcha need, little man?” Touya paused for a minute as if he was embarrassed to ask his question.

“Well, I wondered if you might consider taking me on as an apprentice blacksmith,” he asked. “I have the accountant sub-class, but it’s not useful as a samurai. I’ve learned a lot about it from Miss Henrietta, but I’d like to change my sub-class to a blacksmith and work my way to being a bladesmith. I promise to work really hard and do whatever you ask. Please, Master Gideon!” He bowed politely as Gideon’s eye lit up, as his prayer had been answered from heaven above. He looked over at Michitaka and Tatara for their opinion, and they gave him a thumbs up and a simple head nod. They both knew Touya better than Gideon, so he valued their opinion.

“Alright, greenhorn, you’ve got a deal,” Gideon agreed. “Go talk to Shiroe about changing your sub-class. Once that’s done, you need to pick up some basic supplies to start off. He can get those from you, right Michitaka?”

“Sure, come by the Marine Agency, and I’ll get you hooked up, Touya.”

“Then, get back here pronto. We’ve got a lotta work to do to get this forge up to speed,” the gunslinger added. Touya was thrilled that Gideon accepted him as an apprentice. He took off to talk to Shiroe without even saying goodbye.

“Well, I’ll let my men finish the work here. I’ve got some things to do, and I’ll tell one of my guys to get some supplies together for your new apprentice,” Michitaka said. “Plus, I’ll keep an eye out for that other side project.”

“Thanks, Michitaka!”

“And I’ve got a shop to run before you put me out of business,” Tatara added as they left with a wave. Gideon tipped his hat before he turned his attention back to his forge. He shivered with excitement at the ideas for weapons and armor he wanted to make rambled through his thoughts until something caught his attention.

A large snow owl landed on the brick wall. The bird flapped its wings and hooted loudly at Gideon. The owl had a rather large pocket watch hanging from a chain around its neck and a scrolled-up parchment in its claws. Gideon couldn’t believe his eyes as he recognized the bird immediately.

“Archimedes? Is that you? How in tarnation did you get here?” he asked, expecting the owl to answer. The owl’s head spun around, shaking its feathers to attract attention to the watch around its neck.

Gideon went over and pulled it off his head, and popped it open. The blue glow from inside the watch shined as Gideon looked over the interior intently. “Well, I’ll be a tumbleweed in a tornado,” he exclaimed. “Einstein did it . . . I can’t believe that little scallywag did it!”

The owl sounded off loudly at Gideon as if arguing with him. Gideon could see he offended the owl’s master in its eyes. “Dagnabbit, Archimedes, you are fit to be tied. Alright, alright, I apologize!” The owl accepted his apology and held out the scroll to Gideon. He took the scroll and opened it up, reading it through.

“Well, I’ll be a Rocky Mountain Canary. Sis, you are one helluva miracle worker!” He rolled up the scroll and tucked it into his pocket. “Archie, you tell Celeste I’ll see her at the next lunar cycle. Now, go on, git, before your way home closes.”

The snow owl loudly hooted one last time before taking off and flying out of the city until it disappeared from sight. Gideon couldn’t believe his luck as he looked at the watch one more time before tucking it into his pocket and attaching the chain to his vest. “Thunderation, things are about to get interestin’ around Akiba. Guess who’s coming for dinner, ya’ll?”

* * *

The work in a forge is hot, demanding concentration and precision. Gideon spent the first week giving Touya his first lesson being a blacksmith . . . managing the fire. Touya was responsible for maintaining the temperature in the forge basin, from pumping the bellows to fueling the furnace.

“You’re not color blind, are you Touya?” His question confused his new apprentice.

“No, Master Gideon, why?”

“You need to know the color of fire—the red, blue, yellow, and orange. That lets you know when to wait and when to work. You especially need to keep an eye on that salamander,” Gideon continued. “If he starts to turn a dark red, the little fella’s losing his heat. Give him a shovelful of coal to keep the varmint warm and toasty. The forge will do the rest.”

Gideon hammered out a myriad of weapons in a short period. In the year he traveled to Akiba, he only had the chance to make slight repairs to equipment. Finally, Gideon was able to put his heart and soul into new weapons. As a sorcerer-weaponsmith, he could make magic weapons, enchanted and forged by his own hand. It’s what made his work unique.

After giving Gideon a few days to get started, Henrietta and Marielle made their way to see how the forge was doing. Henrietta was so proud of her husband, not only for taking Touya under his wing but for getting it operational in such a short amount of time. He used all the gold he earned on the trip here to pay for the construction and supplies. Because of the illegal feedback loop, Gideon couldn’t deposit any of his gold in the bank on the way to Akiba. He had plenty of coins on hand, which Henrietta made him deposit immediately. Her frugal side always kept him in line.

“I can’t believe how quick Gideon got his business up and running,” Marielle commented. “It seems like all of Akiba is talking about it.”

“Gideon is a talented weaponsmith, one of the best, so it’s no surprise that everyone wants one of his products,” Henrietta added with pride.

“I thought you two would have bought a home first instead of building his forge,” Marielle queried.

“We talked about that, and we agreed that the forge was necessary,” Henrietta explained. “For now, we’ll just continue splitting our time between the two guildhalls, now that the access protocols have been properly updated.”

Marielle swallowed hard and chuckled under her breath as Henrietta reminded her of the minor indiscretion when Gideon first arrived. She knew Henrietta wasn’t one to hold a grudge, but that doesn’t mean she’ll forget it either.

As the two women approached the forge, a flurry of activity caught their attention as a crowd gathered to watch the master weaponsmith at work. What shocked Henrietta was that most of the bustling crowd was female, and when she approached the open forge, she realized why.

Gideon sharpened a forked spear on the spinning stone wheel, grinding it down to a perfect edge. He was shirtless, wearing only a heavy leather apron to protect his chest with his bandana wrapped around his head, holding back his sweat. His body dripped with sweat from the heat of the forge. Henrietta couldn’t take her eyes off him as he worked, watching his muscles flex with every move against the wheel. She understood why all the women were there, but it didn’t matter. Gideon belonged to her.

Gideon stopped and checked out the spear’s edge when satisfied with the work. He turned to Isuzu, who waited patiently off to the side with Rudy. Gideon made one last check on the straightness of the blade to the shaft of the spear before he handed it to Isuzu.

“There you go, Miss Isuzu; it’s ready for you!” Isuzu took the spear and smiled as she felt the weight of it.

“Wow, Master Gideon, this is amazing! But you didn’t have to do this. My howling spear worked just fine for me.”

“The howling spear is a weapon for an up-and-coming bard. You need something to go with your increased abilities,” he explained. “Here . . . tap the tip of the spear against the anvil.”

Isuzu reached out and the forked spear clanged against the top of the anvil. The spear resonated in a perfect pitch as the sound echoed off the walls. “It’s like a tuning fork. It will amplify your bard skills and abilities incrementally with each use. I call it the Song of Amarigin.

“An appropriate weapon for a graceful bard like yourself, Miss Isuzu. With that spear, we’ll be an unstoppable team!” Rudy exclaimed, flipping his hair back and flashing a smile at Isuzu.

Isuzu rolled her eyes at Rudy, seeing his puppy dog demeanor, before realizing that she probably couldn’t afford such a weapon from a craftsman of Gideon’s caliber. “Master Gideon, thank you so much, but I can’t afford a weapon like this.”

Gideon leaned in close to Isuzu as he whispered something to her. “It’s a gift for my guild members, darlin’, but act like I’m giving you a great deal. That’ll make the people out there want to buy something.”

Isuzu understood as she played it up for the crowd. “Oh wow, I can’t believe I got this great weapon for a bargain price! Thank you, Master Gideon!” She bowed politely before rushing out with her new spear, desperate to show it off to Minori.

“Another satisfied customer for the Hawkmoon Forge!” Gideon shouted, ringing a bell hung on the wall. It was all part of the show, and he was center stage at the moment, soaking it in.

“Vanity is not a good look on you, darling,” came a familiar voice. Gideon spun around to see Henrietta and Marielle, watching his antics with a sour disdain on their faces. “Besides, how will you make any money if you keep giving away your weapons for free? That’s the third one since you opened!”

“It’s called marketing through free advertising, honey, something Naotsugu taught me,” Gideon explained. “I’m giving away a few select weapons to people in different guilds to help spread the word and get people interested in my work.”

“Yes, we heard about the sword you gave Kyouko from West Wind Brigade. She was so excited to try it out that she immediately formed a party and headed out to the hunting ground,” Marielle interjected. “But what about the Crescent Moon Alliance, hmmm?”

“Funny you should mention that . . . Touya, bring me the gift for Henrietta!” Touya stopped working on the firepit and raced over with a compound bow and quiver of arrows. The bow mechanics were interlaced with intricate scrollwork like a musical clef. The arrowheads and feathered tips all resembled musical notes of various forms.

Touya happily handed the bow and quiver to Henrietta. “Here you go, Henrietta, ma’am. Master Gideon made these, especially for you.” She took them and gazed at the workmanship with wonder.

“You did it . . .” she stammered. “You actually made them!”

“But what are they?” Marielle asked as she looked over the bow.

“It’s a Symphonic Bow with Acoustic Arrows,” Gideon remarked. “Henrietta said there weren’t a lot of magical items for bards who used a bow and arrow as a primary weapon. It gave me a challenge, so I designed these specifically for her.

“The bow will increase the range of her AOE spells,” he continued, referring to the area of effect. “And the arrows will add to a spell’s overall effectiveness and bolster her abilities. I know you don’t go in the field much anymore, darlin’, but I want you to have the best when you do.”

Henrietta blushed a bright red as her emotions got the best of her. She handed the bow and quiver to Marielle before she wrapped her arms around Gideon and kissed him passionately, earning a few “ooh’s and aah’s” from the crowd, but she didn’t care. Gideon was a little taken aback, knowing that Henrietta didn’t really go for public displays of affection. She had to thank him properly for thinking of her as he forged these weapons.

“Well, Hell’s bells, honey, if you like it that much, I’ll have to make gifts like that more often,” he joked.

“How about you just focus on making weapons to sell in your shop,” she said, putting her finger on his lips to shut him up before he could offer a rebuttal. “And I’ll really show you my appreciation tonight.”

“Oh geez, get a room, you two!” Marielle commented as she looked away. Before Henrietta could say something to her friend and guildmaster, they were interrupted by a cry for help.

“Help, please, someone, help us!” a voice cried out. Everyone turned to see Dolce, a bard from the West Wind Brigade, carrying her friend and fellow guild member, Isami. The samurai was lifeless in her arms as the muscular woman hobbled down the street with her.

Dolce dropped to the ground and gently laid Isami down. They rushed over to help her and find out what had happened. Marielle dropped everything to summon her Morning Aqua staff to start healing their injuries. “Dolce, honey, your ankle is twisted badly. How on Earth did you manage to carry Isami here?”

“I had to get here as quick as I could to protect my girl, Isami!” she cried. “I couldn’t let her be taken as the others.”

“Taken? What do you mean, Dolce?” Gideon interrupted.

“It was assassins from Minami!” she exclaimed. “They hit our party with those darts, just like poor little Minori.”

“You got hit with one too?” Touya asked.

“I did, Touya baby, but it wasn’t enough to bring down a big, strong girl like me!” Dolce said, flexing her muscle. “Kyouko told me to take Isami and get back to Akiba to get some help. She was fighting off some nightshades then going after the ones that took Kurinon, Fragrant Olive, and Kawara!”

“Nightshades? Like we fought in Saphir!” Touya added.

“Where were they headed, Dolce? Did they say how they were getting back to Minami?” Gideon pressed, trying to get more information.

“One of them said something about getting the girls to a train,” she remembered.

“That must be that magic train they used in Operation Red Night,” Henrietta recalled from the briefing on the incident. “Of all the days for Shiroe and the Round Table to be in Suskino, meeting with the Ezzo Empire.”

Gideon considered all the options before he pulled out his pocket watch and looked at it intently. He closed it before tucking it back in his pocket, more determined than ever. “Dolce, are you alright to walk?”

“You bet I can, sweet cheeks. Marielle, honey, fixed me up good!”

“Then I need you to skedaddle through the transport gate to Suskino and get Shiroe, Souji, and the others back here ASAP.”

“Will do! Be back with Souji-poo in a jiff!” Dolce shouted as she took off for the inter-city transport gate. These gates allowed players to travel between the major cities but malfunctioned after the Apocalypse. They only recently started working again.

“Gideon, Isami isn’t waking up,” Marielle worried. “My magic can’t help her.”

“Go get Doc, Marielle. He’s got the antidote for that drug.” Marielle took off toward the Log Horizon guild hall to find the Inuit Medicine Man. “Touya, go get my stuff from the forge!”

As Touya took off, Gideon turned toward the guild and shouted, “Akatsuki!” With that, the little ninja suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Her eyes widened, stunned at seeing a friend of hers lying in the street.

“What happened to Isami?” she asked.

“There’s no time to explain,” Gideon interrupted her. “Plant Hwyaden wrangled some of the girls from West Wind Brigade. They’re headed for a magic train to vamoose back to Minami.” Touya showed up with his hat, coat, gun belt, and saddlebag as soon as he said that. Gideon reached into his bag and pulled out a handful of foxfire grenades, handing them to Akatsuki. “You track down that train and help Kyouko rescue those girls. Use these to stop the train from leaving! You head’m off at the pass, and I’ll be right behind you!”

Akatsuki understood what he asked, putting the grenades in her own magic sack before disappearing to use her tracker sub-class skills to find these marauders. As soon as she took off, Marielle returned with Doc and Chief Nyanta, along with the other junior members of Log Horizon.

“Chief, can you fortify the city’s defenses until Dolce returns with Shiroe and the others? We need to be sure this isn’t an ambush!”

“Mew sure can; consider it done, my friend. And what are you going to do?” Nyanta inquired.

“Henrietta, get your bow, darlin’ you’re coming with me . . . We’re going to get us some back-up!” Gideon exclaimed.

* * *

Miles away from Akiba, the three sleeping captives were carefully loaded into coffin-like chambers to both contain them and keep them drugged during the trip back to Minami. All this was being done under the watchful gaze of Jered Gan, the Eighth Seat of the Ten Seat Council. The white-haired, big head elf looked more like a researcher than an archmage, and as the former Sage of Miral Lake, he preferred that role. The money and independence given to him by Indix helped him in his quest to make the People of the Land equal to adventurers.

Those experiments included the nightshades surrounding the train—People of the Land spiritually tapped into monsters’ bodies, forcing them to level up without hurting themselves. After the previous failures to recover any specimens for examination, Jered Gan took no chances. Along with his personal guard, the Fūma Demons added to the overwhelming force protecting the train.

Rezor Ginta, the leader of the Fūma Demons, kept a close eye on the adventurers. The nearly seven-foot giant, draped in a red and black yukata with his belly pushing it to its limits, looked more like a sumo wrestler than an assassin. Although he was only level 60, his power and presence were quite formidable. He leaned on a kanabō, a giant metal club with spikes, as he kept watch.

Jered Gan appreciated the work of the Fūma Demons, especially Rezor, for his loyalty to him and Indix. Gan knew that Kazuhiko and his Wolves of Mibu only feigned loyalty to their ideas. Still, he knew better than to tangle with an assassin like Kazuhiko. Gan would welcome the chance to put Rezor on the council instead. For now, he accepted the intense caution he brought to this mission.

“You are on edge, Rezor, and for a good reason. The sooner we leave with our prizes, the better it will be,” Gan admitted.

“I wouldn’t be this apprehensive, master if those two hadn’t gotten away. I don’t want to be caught off guard by the sudden appearance of a raiding party from Akiba.”

“Our spies in Suskino told us that the majority of Round Table would be there today,” Gan explained. “I expect you can handle most low-level adventurers waiting behind in Akiba. They are no threat to us.”

“That guardian, the one that fought off the nightshades single-handedly while we escaped to the train with our captives . . . She’ll be here soon. We need to hurry things along, master.”

“I cannot rush this process, Rezor. If they are not properly sedated, they could easily break out of the containers,” he explained, frustrated as he banged his cane off Rezor’s ample belly. “All of these adventurers are over level 90, which would cause a problem for you and the Fūma Demons. I trust you and the nightshades can handle one guardian.”

“Think again, old man!” Kyouko surprised them. She looked menacing, dressed in full plate armor, except for the dainty plaid scarf tied around her neck. She was ready to strike with a massive shield in one hand and a broad sword in the other. “Time Slash!” she shouted, slicing her blade through the air, until suddenly, all the nightshades were cut down, their anima dispersing all at once.

This was the power of the sword Gideon made for her—The Chronos Blade. If you waited one minute, the sword calculated where your enemies moved in the previous moment in time. Kyouko cut down all the nightshades in the past with a single slash, thereby killing them in the present. This was the perfect weapon for a guardian, giving them time to defend while the sword calculated their next move.

“Ack, my nightshades! How did she do that?” Gan queried.

“It doesn’t matter . . . Fūma Demons attack!” Rezor commanded as his assassin leaped down to swarm on top of her. Without warning, Akatsuki activates her overkill or oral art, Shadow Lurk, and dozens of clones of Akatsuki attacked the assassins, cutting them down. Over half their force was cut down by these two adventurers. They were left lying on the ground, injured, or incapacitated.

 “Thanks, Akatsuki! I’m glad Dolce made it back to Akiba. Is Isami okay?” Kyouko asked.

“She’s in good hands with Doc and Marielle, but let’s focus on these jerks until help arrives,” she said. “Can you take on fatso? I need to stop this train from leaving.”

“You got it!” Kyouko shouted as she charged right toward the massive man. If I can hold off his attacks for another thirty seconds, I’ll be able to do another time slash and take him down. I won’t disappoint Master Soujiro or my guild.

Rezor lifted his club with ease. Before Kyouko reached him, he slammed it into the ground, sending a shockwave across the land. It threw Kyouko back, but she noticed that it broke the timer on her sword, resetting it back to the original minute.

“I don’t know your sword’s ability, but it doesn’t matter anymore,” Rezor said, keeping his club at the ready. “My kanabō is called Monolith Breaker. Not only can it shatter attacks, but it also breaks through any magical buffs, debuffs, protections, and spells. With this, I have a level playing field with you God-like adventurers.”

Kyouko got to her feet, back to the ready. “You’re gonna need more than that to equal any adventurer, especially those from the West Wind Brigade!” She charged again, watching his movements as she anticipated his next swing. Rezor brought his kanabō down, but this time Kyouko leaped over the shockwave, using its momentum to lift her into the air. She planted her feet on the side of the train before pushing off and catapulting her into Rezor.

“Shield Smash!” she screamed, swinging her shield into the big man and knocking him down. She backflipped off her attack, quite nimbly for a woman in full plate armor, landing on her feet. “If you’re gonna swing that monstrosity, I suggest you learn more than just one attack.”

Rezor wiped the blood dripping from his lip, angry that this woman got the best of him. He quickly got back to his feet, ready to continue the fight, while Jered Gan had his hands full dealing with Akatsuki. The archmage threw lightning bolts, icicles, and flaming arrows, but the nimble ninja was too fast for the inexperienced combatant. For all his bravado, Jered Gan researched magic more than he wielded it in combat.

“Damn you, cursed brat, hold still!” he shouted, throwing another volley at her. To her credit, Akatsuki could outmaneuver him while using the remaining members of his personal guard as shields. As she moved around the top of the train, she made sure to get in line with one of the assassins so they could bear the brunt of the attack. For all his bravado, all Jered Gan was doing was picking off his own men. All the while, Akatsuki was moving closer and closer toward the engine.

The giant spinning gears between the cars powered the train through the magic circles generated by the engine. It was a marvel of magical and mechanical engineering, brought together by utilizing engineering skills from the other world with the magic of this one.

Akatsuki knew she had to disable the spinning gears to stop the train from leaving with her friends. She had the bombs from Gideon but no way to light them without stopping her defensive moves, but then it hit her. “Come on, grandpa, I’ve seen better magic at a child’s birthday party!” she teased.

“Grandpa? Grandpa? Now, you will face the wrath of Jered Gan! Inferno Strike!” He called down a flurry of fireballs that followed Akatsuki as she danced across the train roof. Before reaching the spinning engine gear, she tossed Gideon’s bombs behind her before leaping up and over the engine. The fireballs ignited the bomblets as they exploded on the gear structure, causing immense damage to the two sections of the train.

Gan was beside himself at the destruction caused, further impeding their escape back to Minami. He had only one thing left to try and facilitate their departure. “Rezor, unleash the demon! Infinity Force!” he channeled a powerful magic spell into his protector. It broke through his limiters and increased his strength and power. Once he charged up, Rezor slammed the tip of his club on the ground, unleashing a cascading wave of force, like a thousand tiny earthquakes in this one small area. It radiated up through the club and into the air, pressing down from above.

Akatsuki was thrown off the train into Kyouko as the two felt crushed beneath the force emanating from his club. They could barely move under its crushing weight. “What is this? I can’t move?” Kyouko stammered.

“I don’t know. I never felt anything like this before,” Akatsuki replied in an equally paralyzed response.

“It’s appropriate that women should be on their knees before their superiors,” Rezor laughed at the helpless nature of the two adventurers. “This is the power of the Shuten Dōji Monolith. When Master Jered unleashes my full potential with Infinity Force, I can summon the power of Shuten Dōji, the most powerful demon in all of Yamato.”

He strolled over to them and raised his club to strike. “Don’t worry; we’ll let you return to Akiba once Master Jered finishes with you!”

“Arpeggio!” a voice cried out as an arrow plunged into Rezor’s shoulder. Musical notes began swirling around him. After being hit with a sudden weakness throughout his body, he dropped his club.

“Singularity!” another voice chanted as a gunshot rang out, striking the ground beneath him. A gravitational singularity formed at his feet, pulling Rezor to the ground. He could barely keep himself on one knee as he looked up and saw Henrietta and Gideon rushing toward him. Henrietta kept an arrow nocked in her bow while Gideon leveled his six-shooters at the helpless man. “How’s it feel to be brought to your knees, you cold-blooded sidewinder?”

“Dispel Magic!” Jered Gan chanted as he quickly dispelled the magic, forcing Rezor to the ground. Gideon knew that he could access a wide range of spells as an archmage. Rezor pulled the arrow out of his shoulder and raised his club. Suddenly, a slew of nightshades appeared along with the remaining members of the Fūma Demons, healed and ready to fight. Rezor grinned at the overwhelming odds in his favor.

“It looks like you didn’t bring enough people with you, adventurer?” Rezor mocked. Now it was Gideon’s turn to grin at the behemoth.

“You sure about that hoss?” Gideon remarked when multiple arrows shot out from behind him, knocking the club out of Rezor’s hand and the staff from Jered Gan. The surprise attack came from a large group emerging through the trees.

“Eagle Mountain, attack!” Celeste Hawkmoon shouted as she fired another volley of arrows, this time aimed at the other members of the Fūma Demons. The deadly accuracy of this assassin was matched only by her beauty. Her long black hair flowed out from under a feathered headdress resembling an eagle. The flowing dress of dragonweave chainmail, slit up to her thighs, seemed out of place in battle, but she nimbly moved in it. “Veronika, you and Tom take care of those nightshades! King, support them with a Resonance Beat!”

“Uh-huh, you got it, boss, uh-huh uh-huh!” he replied. King—dressed as Elvis Presley in a rhinestone jumpsuit, dark glasses, and a pompadour—started to play his guitar like a virtuoso. His bard song echoed across the battlefield with a rock n’ roll beat, affecting the weapons of his guildmates.

“Shiver me timbers, let’s sink these scallywags to Davy Jones Locker!” shouted Veronika Red, swinging two cutlasses wildly. She sliced her way through the nightshades with ease, even with one eye, thanks to King’s enchantment. She embodied the spirit of a true pirate swashbuckler.

“Tiger Echo Fist!” cried Tom Redwood as he slammed his fist at the remaining nightshades, blowing them apart. The Cherokee monk towered over his opponents like his namesake, taking them down with the power added to his massive gauntlets.

“Brother Tate, see if those two women need healing!” Celeste commanded. “Gideon, Henrietta, you’re with me!”

They moved alongside Celeste, charging toward Jered Gan and Rezor. At the same time, a muscular dark-skinned man went to check on Akatsuki and Kyouko. He wore a simple tank top and jeans with some leather bucklers for protection. He glistened in the sunlight with all the gold chains and pendants hanging around his neck. He wore massive brass knuckles on his hands, etched with “peace” and “love” in big, bold letters.

“Hey there, ladies, you look like you could use Brother Tate’s good vibrations and wonderous healing powers!” he said before casting a healing glow over them. Tate could see the two were shocked at seeing his guild in action, especially Akatsuki.

“Is that . . . that . . . Celeste Hawkmoon? The Arclight Assassin?” she stammered.

“The one and only ninja girl, guildmaster for Eagle Mountain!”

“Eagle Mountain? But you’re from the North America server. How did you get to Yamato?” Kyouko asked.

“It’s quite easy, actually,” someone interrupted. Stepping through the trees were the last two members of Eagle Mountain. The woman was a Ritian, apparent by the tattooed runes on her face and hands. She wore an elaborate set of multi-functional goggles over her eyes as she operated a complex pocket watch, similar to Gideon’s. Next to her was a guardian dressed in black armor, from head to toe, emblazoned with a bat emblem on his chest plate, sword, and shield.

“With my lunar chronometer, we were able to navigate the transport portals to bring us directly from our home outside Angels to Yamato in an instant. Although, sadly, this little excursion of ours will mean we will have to wait two weeks, three days, ten hours, and forty-five minutes until the next proper alignment to return home.”

The intelligent banter confused the two women until Tate sorted it out. “She used her gizmo, and we jumped through some fairy rings until we made it here,” Tate explained. “This is Einstein, our resident genius, and her bodyguard, Sir Wayne.”

“Hi-ya,” Wayne said in a deep, gruff voice.

“Thaddeus, I asked you not to call me by that ridiculous nickname. Please introduce me as Dr. Roberta Copernicus,” Einstein countered.

Tate looked at her with slight contempt, knowing she hated Einstein’s nickname as much as he hated her calling him Thaddeus. “Sure, Bobbi!” he retorted, earning him another glare from Einstein before Tate finished his healing. “Okay, ladies, you’re all set.”

“Thank you so much,” Akatsuki said as she got to her feet, giving him a polite bow.

“Yes, thank you very much!” Kyouko added. “We’re so grateful for your help in rescuing our friends.”

“Think nothing of it, little lady. It’s just what we do, right Wayne?” Tate said, looking over to his companion, who just nodded.

“Justice must prevail,” was all he said in response. As soon as he said that, the battle was over. The nightshades were destroyed, the remaining members of the Fūma Demons were either unconscious or severely injured, and both Jered Gan and Rezor were forced to surrender.

“Roberta, see if you can get those containers open and free the adventurers from West Wind,” Celeste added. “Brother Tate, you and Sir Wayne help her.”

“I’ll help too,” Kyouko added, trotting off to help her guildmates while Akatsuki stepped up next to Gideon. They gave each other a fist bump, happy at how things worked out. Jered Gan, on the other hand, shook his head violently. He was vehemently upset at how things transpired.

“No, no, no, you have no right to interfere in my experiments, no right!” Gan protested.

“Experiments? These are people, not lab rats!” Henrietta screamed in his face. “We will not allow you to kidnap and abuse our family and friends!”

“Someone done stole your rudder, partner,” Gideon remarked. “Now, unless Plant Hwyaden wants an all-out war across Yamato, you’d better back off with these shenanigans, or you’ll last as long as a pint of whiskey in a five-handed poker game.”

“You don’t scare me, cowboy,” Rezor spat back at him. “We have ten times your numbers. We will march across Eastel and crush you beneath our boots.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” someone said behind them. Shiroe and the rest of the Round Table Conference leaders walked through the forest with Dolce following close behind.

“See, Gideon sweetie, I told you I’d get them here in a jiffy!” Dolce shouted with a wave.

“You did real good, Dolce! You’re aces high in my book!” Gideon replied with a tip of his hat, causing the masculine woman to blush. Shiroe and the others ignored Jered Gan and approached Celeste, bowing politely as he spoke.

“It’s an honor to finally meet you, Celeste Hawkmoon of Eagle Mountain. We welcome you to Yamato, although I am curious about how you got here?” Shiroe asked. Celeste bowed her head politely before she answered.

“The honor is mine, Shiroe of Log Horizon. We can explain things in detail later. For now, I thank you for taking my wayward brother into your guild. I hope he’s not too much of a nuisance for you.”

“No, not at all. He’s starting to grow on us, even with his little pranks of drowning people in the water,” Shiroe answered sarcastically.

“Oh yes, his little Rainmaker spell. I see he’s still acting like the petulant child he is . . .” Celeste remarked back.

“Uh, Ya’ll know I’m standing right her?”

“Yes, we know you are, brother dear. We’re just ignoring you,” Celeste joked. “Now, please be quiet and let the adults speak.” Gideon hated when his little sister got smart with him. He was about to snap his fingers, dunking his sister with water, but she swiftly pulled a long dagger and aimed for his throat. He immediately blocked it with his own bowie knife. The two locked in, pressing back against the other’s blade.

She stared at him with what Gideon called her “scary eyes,” and he stopped in his tracks. “Don’t even think about it, Jedidiah!” she warned, using his real name.

“Now I wouldn’t dream of it, Dorothy,” he shot back, using her real name too, which made some of the members of Eagle Mountain chuckle under their breath. “How about we hold off on our little family squabbles until this is over, okay?”

Celeste pulled back her blade, as did Gideon, but not before Celeste pinched him on the cheek. “Oh, you’re so cute when your angry!” she joked before Henrietta pulled him away from her. She didn’t want him to start another fight with his sister.

On the other hand, Akatsuki was star-struck and in love with her idol even more. “She is so awesome!” she whispered quietly.

Soujiro and Nazuna ignored all the misadventures and went to check on their girls. Brother Tate and Kyouko helped them out of the containers, laying them on the ground. They were still under the effects of the powerful narcotic.

“They seem alright but still unconscious,” Brother Tate told Soujiro. “Gideon said that his medicine man friend has an antidote for the drug. I’m sure they’ll wake up once we get them back to Akiba.”

Soujiro fumed, and his fury turned to Jered Gan and Rezor. The fire in his eyes burned with a hatred Soujiro reserved for anyone who messed with his girls. In the blink of an eye, he had both of his swords drawn, bearing down their throats.

“You deserve death for what you put my girls through,” he spoke with unwavering passion. “I am sick and tired of following the rules while Plant Hwyaden gets to do what they want.”

Jered Gan cringed as the samurai blade scratched his throat, but Rezor Ginta smiled and laughed at him. “Go ahead, little man, kill me. Make me a martyr, and I will live forever to the people of Westlande. All you’ll do is embolden our forces to crush Eastel. We will enslave you and your girls to work for the glory of the Holy Empire of Westlande.”

His threats infuriated Soujiro even more, but a comforting hand touched his shoulder. Nazuna leaned into her guildmaster, wrapping her arm around him. “He’s not worthy of your blade, Souji. Don’t taint it with the blood of this Yatsu.”

Soujiro understood what she meant and lowered his blades before stepping back. Jered Gan breathed a sigh of relief while Rezor just continued his taunt. “That’s what makes you weak, samurai, bending to the whims of your woma . . .” Before finishing his sentence, Soujiro brought his blade down across Rezor’s face, leaving a deep diagonal gash. The brute screamed in pain but not before Nazuna raised her hand to his face.

“Holy Curse of the Sword!” she said, casting her prayer spell as the wound seared close, creating a wicked scar. “That scar will never heal, no matter what any healer might try. That will remind you NEVER to mess with the West Wind Brigade again.”

“And if you do, I won’t hesitate to take your life,” Soujiro added. “Don’t even think about setting foot in Akiba unless you want a quick death.”

Rezor became enraged at the insult leveled at him. “You think this changes anything? All of Westlande will destroy you in one fell swoop.”

“I doubt that very seriously,” Shiroe interrupted. “Unless you want to take on the Ezzo Empire along with the Freedom Cities of Eastal.” Both Jered Gan and Rezor were stunned into silence. “You can tell Indix and Princess Nureha that the Round Table Conference signed a mutual defense accord with the Ezzo Empire. If Westlande invades again, the Ezzo Empire will support us militarily, and we will support them in return.”

“As will Eagle Mountain,” Celeste interjected, surprising everyone. “We will not stand by and let our family be overrun. Should you invade and attempt to conquer this land, I will bring the full weight of twenty thousand adventurers to Yamato to stop your plans.”

She paused for a moment before turning to Shiroe. “I realize there is no formal agreement between our guilds, Master Shiroe, but consider this a mutual understanding between guild masters.”

Her sudden announcement shocked Shiroe and the others. Still, he realized that this could be beneficial in stopping an all-out war across Yamato. He looked around at the other members of the Round Table Conference—Soujiro of West Wind, William Massachusetts of Silver Sword, Reize and Misa of the D3 Hub, Michitaka of Marine Agency, and Akaneya of Radio Market. They all nodded their heads, agreeing with the alliance with Eagle Mountain.

Shiroe offered his hand to Celeste, and she hardily took it. “The Round Table Conference welcomes an alliance with Eagle Mountain. From this day forward, we will support you just as you helped us today,” he announced, and then he turned his attention back to their captives. “I suggest you pick up your wounded and get back on your train to Minami. When Plant Hwyaden and Westlande are ready to talk peace, we’ll listen.”

Everyone backed away to allow Jered Gan and Rezor to leave. The rest of the Fūma Demons helped their wounded board the magic train. They disconnected from the damaged cars and headed south, “With their tail between their legs,” Gideon commented.

While they prepared some stretchers for the drugged members of West Wind, everyone got a chance to gather around and meet their new friends from Eagle Mountain. It made for exciting conversation as new friendships were made that spanned an ocean and two servers.

Henrietta finally received a proper introduction to her sister-in-law as the two embraced. Celeste never had a chance to meet her in the real world. She heard all about Henrietta from her brother, thrilled to see that she lived up to all his praise. As those two talked, Akatsuki nudged Gideon repeatedly to urge him to keep his promise and introduce the tiny ninja to his sister. He finally took the hint and interrupted the two women in his life.

“Excuse me, Celeste, but there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” he said before motioning to Akatsuki. “This is Akatsuki, our ninja in Log Horizon. She was the one who stopped the train from leaving with those petticoats from West Wind.”

Akatsuki nervously bowed to her in-game idol. “It’s an honor to meet you, Lady Celeste. I am Akatsuki, Master Shiroe’s shinobi and personal bodyguard. I have long admired your career in Elder Tales.”

While she remained prostrate, Celeste was quiet. She didn’t say a word; she didn’t move a muscle except for the occasional twitch in her eyes and lips. She stared intensely at the little ninja, which unnerved Akatsuki until . . . “Oh my God, you are the cutest little thing I’ve ever seen!” Celeste screamed as she crushed Akatsuki in a death grip hug around her head. “Isn’t she just adorable!”

“I know, right! My little Akatsuki is such a cutie-patootie!” Henrietta added as the two women assaulted her repeatedly with love and affection. Gideon sighed audibly at the sight of these two uncontrollable women. That’s why he didn’t want to introduce Akatsuki to his sister like this, but now it was too late. He could deal with Henrietta, but he needed some help with Celeste.

“Tom, can you . . .” he asked the towering monk.

“Yeah, I got it,” he said as he walked up to Celeste, picked her up with one hand, and pulled her off Akatsuki. He was the only one who could get away with manhandling Celeste as she continued to struggle to reach Akatsuki. Gideon did the same with Henrietta, leaving the little ninja in shambles. Her hair was a mess, her clothes all crumpled as she stood there in silence. Shiroe walked over to his companion, but she held a finger to shut him up before saying a word.

“Don’t say anything!” she warned as he waved it off and walked away. But then, she just smiled and sighed. Deep down, it thrilled her that she was mauled by her idol. “Totally worth it!”

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 5 of A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger’s First Mission. Check out my fan fiction page if you want to catch up on the whole story.

A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger (Part 1) Fan Fiction

I am a huge fan of the anime Log Horizon. I have binged all three seasons multiple times and I’m even reading the light novels. From the diverse characters to the incredible world building in this story, I just love it. So, I decided to write my own fan fiction of my favorite anime, bringing an American cowboy to Akiba. Here is part 1 of A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger.

* * *

The simple buzz of an alarm roused Henrietta out of her slumber. She brushed her honey-colored hair out of her face, stretched out her arms, and yawned. She opened her light brown eyes and stared out her window to see the sun peeking over the horizon. Another day in Akiba on the Crescent Islands of Yamato in the world of Elder Tales.

More than a year ago, 70,000 Japanese players of the MMORPG Elder Tales found themselves in another world, a world that resembled the same one in the game they played for years. It was a day known as the Apocalypse. Since then, the players adjusted to their new life and their new world, searching for a way home while living life inside their favorite video game.

Henrietta was no exception. As second-in-command and treasurer for the Crescent Moon Alliance, she adjusted to her new life in Akiba. She spends most of her time acting as administrator, assisting her guildmaster and best friend, Marielle, in the daily operation of the guild. It’s a far reach from her real-life job as an accountant, even a stretch from her in-game class as a bard.

Henrietta put on her glasses as she sat up in bed. She swung her feet over the side, flexing her toes before she put them on the cold wood floor. She walked over to the window and pushed it open, taking a deep breath of fresh air as the sun warmed her face. With a bit of effort, Henrietta opened her heads-up display, which was still like the game in this strange world. She went through the menu by tapping buttons in the air until she found her saved voice messages. There was only one saved message in there. Henrietta tapped the voice message and listened to the replay.

“Hey darlin’ . . . Sorry I missed your call. The time difference between America and Japan puts us both in a bad spot, but we’ll be together soon, I promise. My job here is almost done. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I’ll be coming through the fairy ring as soon as the server comes online with the Novasphere Pioneer update. I got the timing down for the jump, so me and my friend Major will be coming to Akiba. He wants to meet up with his little sister in-game, so I offered to help him out. I’ll meet you at the White Tree-like we planned. See you there . . . Love you!”

As the message ended, Henrietta paused for a moment, wondering if she should just go ahead and delete it. It crossed her mind every morning, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. It was all she had left of him . . . his voice.

As much as she wanted to put it behind her and move on with her life, she couldn’t bring herself to delete it. Henrietta thought about finding someone else to fill that hole in her heart, someone like Shiroe, but she knew he had others vying for his affection. Even time spent with her adorable little Akatsuki couldn’t take away her pain.

She closed her screen, pushed up her glasses, and pulled her hair back into a bun. “Time to get my day started,” Henrietta said to herself.

***

Like any other city, Akiba was full of shops, restaurants, taverns, and homes. It was known as an adventurer’s town, with more than 30,000 calling it home. The city was under the supervision of the Round Table Conference, a group of guild masters working to bring peace and stability to the town.

The big difference in Akiba was the diversity of its residents. In the game, the People of Land were considered non-player characters or NPCs. Now, they were the people of this strange new world. The Adventurers, as they were known to the People of the Land, were the online players who found themselves transported to this world of Elder Tales. Adventurers’ primary job was hunting monsters surrounding Akiba, protecting both the city and the people, and gathering ingredients and supplies to survive in this world.

The more experienced players, level 90 or higher, usually helped train the younger, more inexperienced players in their guilds. Naotsugu was no exception.

As a guardian, one of the three warrior classes, he was considered a front-line defender in any party. He looked massive in his full plate armor, with a broad sword and large kite shield slung over his back. In the Log Horizon guild, Naotsugu was also the primary trainer for the young adventurers. In a year, these youngsters increased their level to well over 60, quite an impressive feat. Today, he took four of his junior members out to the western hunting grounds.

Touya, a samurai, walked with his twin sister Minori, a shrine maiden. These two were tutored under Shiroe, the Log Horizon guildmaster, and jumped at the chance to join. Although they were only middle-schoolers in the real world, they’ve grown exponentially in this new world.

Accompanying them were Isuzu, a bard, and Rundelhaus Kode or Rudy, a sorcerer. Isuzu, like Touya and Minori, was from the real world. As the daughter of a rock star, becoming a bard was easy for her. On the other hand, Rudy was one of the People of the Land. He aspired to be an adventurer, and a near-death experience gave him that chance thanks to guildmaster Shiroe and his friends.

“So, what’s the plan for today’s training, sensei?” Touya asked. “Giant Triffids or Briar Weasels?”

“An adventurer never plans for what confronts them but prepares for any possibility!” Naotsugu said, spinning his words of wisdom as eloquently as possible.

“Will we be the only ones out here, or will we be working with other hunting parties?” Isuzu queried, trying to assess the situation herself.

“Don’t worry your little head, Miss Isuzu. I’m here to protect you from any danger!” Rudy announced, fluffing his blonde hair while flashing a smile.

“Now Rudy, there’s only room for one star in Log Horizon, and that’s me . . . You’re star-struck galaxy idol, Tetora!” Tetora shouted as she popped out from inside Naotsugu’s armor and laid across his shoulder, hitching a ride. As usual, her antics annoyed the guardian to no end.

“Get off me, you little freak!”

“Oh, come on, Naotsugu! If you like, I’ll show you my panties to take your mind off things,” she said as she bent over and wiggled her behind at him.

“No, thank you, you little skank!” The two continued to argue while the junior members looked on, confused as they shook their heads in disbelief of the senior member’s actions.

“Why do they always act like this?” Minori wondered as she slapped her neck as if a bug bit her.

“Beats me. I think Big Bro . . . I mean, Big Sis Tetora enjoys teasing sensei!” Touya stated.

“Enjoys it? I rather think she excels at it,” Rudy added.

“I find it just slows down our training sessions. What do you think, Minori?” Isuzu asked her friend, but Minori was not there. She collapsed on the ground, unconscious. “Minori!”

“Master Naotsugu!” Touya shouted, getting his leader’s attention to his sister’s dilemma.

“What the? Minori!” Naotsugu rushed over to her as Tetora jumped off him to render aid. As a cleric, her primary job was healing the injured members of a party.

“What happened?” Tetora queried.

“I don’t know! We were just standing here, talking about the two of you arguing, and she just collapsed.”

Touya’s explanation didn’t account for Minori falling unconscious, as Naotsugu looked around to see if anything or anyone was out there. “Look at this!” Isuzu said, getting Naotsugu’s attention. She pulled out a small dart from the side of her neck.

“What is that?” Rudy pondered. “A dart? But from where?”

“Everybody, keep your guard up,” Naotsugu ordered. “We’re not alone.” The group formed a defensive circle around their fallen friend. “Tetora, can you tell what they drugged her with?”

“No, but I can try to cure her of its effects,” she replied, taking out her Zankyou Jewel Rod to cast her spell. “Vitality Aura!” The magic cured anyone suffering from the effects of poison or drugs. Still, for some reason, it wasn’t working on Minori.

“I don’t understand; it should be working!” Tetora worried. “Did someone make a drug-resistant to magic?”

“There’s nothing like that in the game,” Touya exclaimed.

“You keep forgetting, Touya, this is no longer a game for us,” Naotsugu observed.

“But why would someone need a drug that’s resistant to magic?” Isuzu asked. Naotsugu thought for a second before he and Tetora locked their gaze and spoke simultaneously.

“Plant Hwyaden!”

Plant Hwyaden was a guild operating out of Minami, one of the five major cities for adventurers in Yamato. The guild controlled the entire city and had the political backing of the nobility from the Westlande Empire. They have been trying to wage war with the Freedom Cities of Eastal, aligned with Akiba and the Round Table Conference. Their leader, Nureha, also had a strange fixation on Shiroe and the junior members of Log Horizon.

“We need to get out of here, now!” Naotsugu ordered, but before he could pick up Minori, the sound of heavy footsteps echoed through the forest. Without warning, two giant stone golems broke through the brush. The stone monsters were more than sixty feet tall and level 70, well above the capabilities of this small group.

“Stone Golems! What are they doing here?” Isuzu screamed, a trickle of fear echoing in her voice.

“There’s not supposed to be monsters that powerful in this zone,” Rudy added, trying to hold back his own trepidations.

“What do we do, Master Naotsugu?” Touya asked, concerned about his friends and his sister lying there helpless. Naotsugu didn’t know what to do, but he had to protect his charges. It was his duty as a guardian.

***

From their perch in the trees above, the two members of Plant Hwyaden watched as their plan unfolded to sheer perfection. They laughed at the incompetence of the adventurers that they easily trapped.

“The sleep toxin worked perfectly,” the assassin said, still gripping his blowpipe that delivered the dart on target. “This will definitely raise us up in the eyes of Princess Nureha!”

“Or earn us the wrath of Indix for failing to complete the mission,” the summoner crouching next to him countered. His spell summoned the two stone golems, causing the distraction. “Once the golem takes them out, we can pick up the girl and head back to Minami.”

“Thunderation, I’ve seen some underhanded bushwhacking in my day, but you two take the cake,” said a voice from above, surprising the two adventurers. They looked up to see a man dressed like a western cowboy—complete with a cowboy hat, boots, and a long coat with a thin cigar clenched between his teeth—aiming two revolvers at them. His rough beard and steel blue eyes showed his anger and firm determination. “Lightning Chamber!” he shouted as he fired his one six-shooter. The bullet impacted the assassin, encasing him in a lighting cage, shocking him repeatedly until he died, dispersing his anima and returning him to the cathedral in Minami.

The cowboy drop kicked the summoner hard as he reached for his wand, forcing him out of the tree and down to the ground. Their sudden appearance caught everyone’s attention, especially Naotsugu, who recognized the cowboy immediately. “Gideon? Is that you?”

Gideon looked over and smiled at the sight of his friend. “Well, looky here! I travel across an ocean and two continents to find my number four favorite guardian with his hair in the butter. How you doing, Naotsugu?”

“Number four! I thought I was number three!” Naotsugu shouted, insulted by his decline in his friend’s eyes.

“Well, you left the game for a while, partner, so things change,” Gideon responded. “But we can talk about that after we deal with these golems.” He aimed his other revolver at the golems. “Tempus Rewind!” he shouted before firing at the golems. His spell created a clock that moved in reverse, causing the golems to move back in time to where they came from.

“That should give us about a minute . . . Major, keep this yellow belly under wraps until we finish off those golems,” Gideon ordered. From behind the tree, a bear dressed in armor stepped up. He was part of the Bearclaw Clan, one of the unique races on the North America server. Major went over and sat down on the summoner. His massive weight caused the wayward adventurer to gasp for air as he struggled beneath him.

“Doc, why don’t you see what you can do for the little lady,” Gideon asked his other companion. He pulled out his medicine bag and began examining Minori. Doc was a native Inuit and a medicine man, the same class as a shrine priest or Kannagi on the Japan server, but with additional skills as an apothecary and an alchemist.

“Master Naotsugu, do you know this man?” Touya asked.

“I sure do; that’s Gideon Hawkmoon, the sorcerer gunslinger from America,” he replied. The junior members had never heard of him before, but Tetora did.

“THE Gideon Hawkmoon? Are you kidding me? Naotsugu, are you telling me your friends with him?”

“Well, yeah, he was an unofficial member of the Debauchery Tea Party,” he explained. “Gideon traveled a lot for work, so whenever he was in Japan, he’d join up and fill in if we needed someone for a quest.”

The Debauchery Tea Party was a group of notorious players, not a guild, who banded together to take on the most challenging quests in Elder Tales. Their exploits were legendary, even after they disbanded. Naotsugu and Shiroe were two of their members. Though not officially part of the party, Gideon joined in whenever he could.

“But I mean, you, how could you of all people know the number one PvP in all of Elder Tales?” Tetora squealed.

Gideon walked up before Naotsugu could answer, and the two exchanged a fist bump. “Long time no see, hoss! It’s good to see you!” Naotsugu exclaimed.

“Same here, partner! It’s been too long!” Gideon shot back, but before they could continue their conversation, Tetora stepped in front of Naotsugu, looking starry-eyed at Gideon.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m meeting THE Gideon Hawkmoon! I’ve followed your every move on the MMO blogs! You’re a legend! I’m Tetora, your star-studded galaxy idol, and your biggest fan!” she shouted, ecstatic at the sight of someone she idolized. She suddenly shifted her attention to his six-shooters. “Oh wow! Are those it? The Guns of Archimedes—Merlin and Morgana—the only magic items designed by a player for in-game use? Can I see them? Can I? Please! Please!”

Gideon just tipped his hat up and looked down at Tetora. “Little lady, I would love to indulge your requests, but perhaps we can deal with the golems first, okay?” Just as he said that the golems burst through the brush, just like they did before Gideon hit them with the time rewind spell.

“Naotsugu, do you mind if I lead this party?”

“You got it, pal . . . Everyone, follow Gideon’s instructions! He’s calling the shots!”

“Are you sure about this, Master Naotsugu?” Rudy asked, unsure of this garish American cowboy that just appeared out of nowhere.

 “Gideon was one of Shiroe’s protégés. I’d even say he was right up there with Rieze and Misa of D.D.D.” To hear such high praise of Gideon’s skills as a strategist impressed the junior members of Log Horizon.

“Aw shucks, Naotsugu, you’re gonna make me blush,” Gideon joked. “Alright then, let’s get a wiggle on!” He cocked his six-shooters and started giving orders to the group.

“Naotsugu, you and samurai boy get their attention! Don’t attack until I tell you; just defend!” With those orders, Naotsugu and Touya moved up to block the golems from any further advance.”

“Anchor Howl!” Naotsugu shouted, using his skill as a guardian to draw one golem to him.

“Samurai Challenge!” Touya yelled, following suit with his own unique skill to attract the other.

“Blondie, cast a Frigid Wave spell at the golems, but aim at their feet, not their bodies!” Gideon ordered, which confused Rudy.

“But that will affect Master Naotsugu and Touya, plus it will have little effect on the golems!”

“Trust me, tenderfoot, and keep repeating it once the cooldown ends!” Gideon continued. Rudy didn’t understand, but he did as he was told, sending a wave of freezing air across the ground. “Curlicue, do you know the Lament of the Sorrowful Man?”

Isuzu thought for a moment, trying to remember all her bard support spells. “Yes, but I’ve never used it before!”

“There’s a first time for everything, darling. Cast that then follow up with the Anthem of the Affectionate Mother on Naotsugu and the samurai!” Isuzu sang out her support magic, filling the air with her songs. “Pinky, you too! Cast all your healing spells at them!”

“The name’s Tetora!” she argued.

“I’ll learn names later, darling. Just do it before they freeze to death!” Gideon snapped back as he watched the combination of magic spells work on the golems. The cold from Rudy’s Frigid Wave spell, combined with Isuzu’s lament, weakened the golems just the right spot—their knees.

“Naotsugu, samurai boy, strike where I shoot!” Gideon shouted before firing off his spell. “Thunderbolt Crash!” He squeezed the triggers, firing a ball of thunder and lightning at their knees. The explosion caused massive cracks in the stone, perfect targets for the two warriors to hit.

“Cross Slash!”

“Whirlwind Slash!”

Their swords struck true as the golems broke away at the knees before falling backward and crashing to the ground. The sound echoed through the trees as the golems lay helpless. Gideon smiled, pleased with this party’s smooth teamwork, but they weren’t done yet.

“Blondie, hit the one on the right with an Orb of Lava, right at the head!” Gideon commanded. Rudy liked the way he was thinking.

“Now you’re talking my style!” he gleefully responded. Gideon took aim at the left while Rudy aimed his wizard’s cane at the right.

“Orb of Lava!” the two sorcerers chanted, firing off a smoldering ball of lava at each of the golems. The impact finished off the remaining hit points for the monsters as anima, gold, and other rewards exploded all over the ground. When that happened, everyone let out a resounding cheer, high fives, and fist bumps all around.

Gideon holstered his weapons as he suddenly found himself surrounded by the party, looking at him in awe. They all introduced themselves and started bombarding him with questions. “That was amazing, Mister Hawkmoon! I never thought of using that lament before today!” Isuzu crooned.

“Please, call me Gideon, and, well, I have an appreciation for the talents of bards, Miss Isuzu, so I study their skills thoroughly,” he explained. “The lament is a cursed song that weakens an enemy’s defense. Usually, it affects the monster as a whole, but I found that if you focus your attacks on one area, the debuff will increase in that one spot. That’s why I had Rudy focus his Frigid Wave spell on the legs. It made them easy targets.”

“Easy for you to say, I’m the one with frostbite on my toes,” Naotsugu complained.

“Oh, Naotsugu, you want me to warm them up for you?” Tetora cooed, elbowing and winking at him.

“Still, that was so awesome!” Touya added. “I can see why you’re on par with Master Shiroe!”

“I am nowhere near the talents of Shiroe . . . Wait, Master Shiroe? You all know him too?”

“Why yes, he’s our guildmaster!” Rudy professed.

Gideon was shocked when he heard Shiroe not only joined a guild, but he formed one too. “Well, ain’t that peachy,” he said. “I have been looking for ‘the villain behind glasses’ since I got to this side of the ocean. Fortune does favor the bold.”

“What do you need Shiroe for?” asked a bewildered Naotsugu.

 “It’s a long story, Naotsugu old buddy, one I can tell you over a couple of cold ones. For now, let’s see how Doc is doing with your shrine maiden friend and get some answers from that varmint!”

The party walked over to them as the medicine man helped Minori sit up. “Minori!” Touya shouted as he rushed to his sister’s side. The shrine maiden rubbed her head as if coming out of a fog, but when she finally opened her eyes, she saw the worry wash away from everybody’s face.

“Are you okay?” Isuzu asked.

“A bit of a headache, but I’m okay. Sorry to have worried everyone.”

“Don’t fret about it, little lady. I knew you were in good hands with Doc!” Gideon replied.

“Doc?” she said, looking up at the Inuit medicine man.

“His real name is Inuksuk, but I just call him Doc because he’s the best doctor an adventurer could ask for in their party.”

“Your praise is unnecessary, Gideon Hawkmoon. You saved my life on Akutan. I am simply fulfilling a debt of honor I owe you,” Doc said, his words spoken clear and concise, enunciating every syllable. “The young lady will need further rest to recover. They hit her with a powerful drug that inhibited the flow of magic. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Like I said, Doc, you are a miracle worker,” Gideon started to say before turning his attention to the summoner still held down under the weight of Major. “Now, let’s see what this varmint has to say!”

Gideon, Naotsugu, and Tetora walked over as the summoner glared up at them, unable to move and barely able to breathe. “Help him up, Major. We want to have a word with this gentleman.” Major stood up and pulled the helpless man to his feet. He took a big breath of air, grateful not to have the massive weight of the bear on his chest. However, that bear was now standing behind him, towering over his small form.

Gideon and the others stared down at him with eyes piercing him with their anger. “The way I see it, you have two choices, partner,” Gideon began. “We can send you to the cathedral all at once or one piece at a time; mind you now, Major here is hungry, and biting off extremities is one of his favorite pastimes.”

The summoner looked up as the giant bear licked his lips, not that he would really eat the helpless man, but as an intimidation tactic, it worked. “Okay, okay, I’ll tell you what I know!” he screamed. “We were sent out to test this new drug and see if it works on capturing adventurers.”

“Why would you want to capture adventurers?” Tetora queried.

“I don’t know; they don’t tell me these things. Lady Indix had Jered Gan develop it, and we were just supposed to field test it and bring back captives for further study.”

“Indix? Don’t tell me that Calamity Jane is somehow involved in this!” Gideon exclaimed. “What’s going on, Naotsugu?”

“That’s another long story, pal, one that definitely requires heavy drinking!”

“Oh, we’re gonna have a party tonight!” Tetora shouted, but Naotsugu was curious why the Plant Hwyaden members picked them to test their drugs on.

“You just happened to pick Minori, someone who had a run-in with Nureha, as your target, huh? That’s a little convenient if you ask me!” Naotsugu accused, getting right in the scared summoner’s face.

“Well, there was a rumor that Princess Nureha had a thing for these kids in the Log Horizon guild, so I thought it might win us some points with her!” he confessed.

“Well, as my grandpappy used to say, you are a ten-cent man with a dog that won’t hunt!” Gideon retorted. He motioned his head for the Major to step aside as the summoner looked relieved for a moment. Gideon drew his revolver and pointed it at him. “When you see Indix, make sure you tell her that Gideon Hawkmoon says howdy! Close Burst!” He squeezed the trigger, igniting his spell that killed the summoner, sending his anima back to the cathedral.

Gideon holstered his weapon and let out an audible sigh. “I am fit to be tied, Naotsugu!” he said. “If that catty-cornered sage hen is involved in this, I want in on the action!”

“Catty-cornered sage hen?” Tetora rebutted, confused at Gideon’s western slang.

“He means Indix,” Naotsugu explained. “Let’s get back to Akiba and talk to Shiroe. He’ll know what to do.”

Hearing the name of Akiba caught the attention of both Gideon and Major. “Akiba? We made it to Akiba! You see, Major, I told you I’d get you here!”

“Tell me, do you know a little girl, a druid named Serara?” Major asked in excitement. His voice was gruff and tense, what you might expect from a Bearclaw, but when he talked about Serara, it went up a few octaves. Hearing the name of their close friend in the Crescent Moon Alliance caught the attention of the junior members of Log Horizon.

“Wait, Serara? You know her?” Minori asked.

“She’s my little sister!” he exclaimed, which left a shocked look on everybody’s face. Major could see their confusion and decided to explain. “Well, what I mean is I consider her my little sister. We grew up next door to each other. We were both only children with no siblings, so she called me her big brother, and I thought of her as my little sister.

“I’ve been in the United States as a foreign exchange student at an American University,” he continued. “We were able to keep in touch playing Elder Tales. When the Apocalypse happened, I was afraid she would be stuck in this world, lost and alone.”

“Major and I did a few quests together, so I offered to help him get to Yamato since I was heading here anyway,” Gideon added.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about Serara. She’s been doing great as part of the Crescent Moon Alliance,” Touya told Major, but now Gideon acted out, surprised to hear that name.

“Crescent Moon Alliance? Is Henrietta there? You know, a pretty honey blonde with light brown eyes and sway when she walks? Infatuated with all things cute and adorable?” Gideon’s description of Henrietta caught everyone off guard but definitely set off alarm bells to Tetora, alerting her of some potential juicy gossip.

“A sway, really? And how well do you know Henrietta, hmmm?” she asked with a wink.

Gideon turned beet red, realizing he said something somewhat awkward, and decided to cut things short. “Well, uh, you see, she and I, we, uh, that is . . .”

“Why don’t we start toward Akiba, and we can fill you in along the way!” Major interrupted, helping save his friend from any further embarrassment.

“Yeah, we can get everyone to meet us at the gate and surprise them!” Touya interjected. Everyone agreed and started using the telepathic link, something all adventurers have, to set up the big surprise for Serara and Henrietta.

On the walk to Akiba, Gideon filled them in on what happened to them. Both he and Major hopped through a fairy ring on the day of the Apocalypse, hoping to jump over to the Japan server as soon as the new expansion pack loaded. Unfortunately, they ended up in the Aleutian Islands instead, finding themselves trapped in their avatars in this new world. Add to their dilemma, their individual heads-up display was frozen and inaccessible. They couldn’t view their friend’s list, the telepathic, link, or maps; and, if they were to die, they’d return to the cathedral in the last major city they were in . . . South Angel (Los Angeles in the real world). The two men decided to move on and island-hop over the Aleutians, cross the Bering Sea into Russia, then down the coast to China, into Korea, and across the sea to the Crescent Islands of Yamato.

Naotsugu couldn’t believe what these two went through to get to Akiba. “That’s incredible, dude, and it took you more than a year to get here?”

“Well, we had to do everything within our power not to get killed, so we avoided major encounters with monsters or conflicts with other players. Thankfully, Doc kept us healthy and ready to fight.”

“Yeah, but that didn’t stop players from trying to take away your number one PvP rank?” Major added.

“PvP? What’s that?” Rudy asked.

“Player versus Player, Rudy,” Major explained. “Gideon is the top-ranked player in head-to-head matches against other adventurers, and that paints a target on his back.” That news impressed the junior members even more as the cowboy’s reputation preceded him.

“And knowing you, Gideon, you were never one to back down from a challenge,” Naotsugu chided.

“Now you know me better than that, Naotsugu,” Gideon bragged. “I mean, I ain’t one to slap on too much mustard, but there were some plumb locos out there, itchin’ for a fight. I had to teach them who’s aces high wherever I go.”

“I swear your speaking to us, but I don’t understand a single word you just said,” Tetora commented.

“He said he didn’t mean to brag, but these crazy players wanted to fight him, and he had to teach them who’s number one,” Major interpreted. “It took me a few months to get his ‘John Wayne’ vernacular down.”

“Hey now, Major, I told you before, don’t take the great name of John Wayne in vain,” Gideon admonished him. “You will speak of him in reverence and awe.”

“John who?” Minori asked, causing everyone to break out in laughter.

***

Shiroe waited at the main gate into Akiba with other members of Log Horizon and the Crescent Moon Alliance. The small group stood just inside the entrance on the bridge leading across the river and into the city. He leaned on his staff and pushed up his glasses, patiently waiting for the party to return. Their message of urgency was short and unclear.

“Does anyone know what’s going on?” he grumbled.

“No, milord and neither Naotsugu nor Tetora were very forthcoming with information, just that we all had to be here,” Akatsuki replied. With her long purple hair pulled up in a ponytail, the assassin stood there defiant with her arms crossed. “Knowing Naotsugu, he probably found a treasure trove of panties, the pervert.”

“I’m sure ‘Naotsguchi’ would not have wasted our time on such frivolities, meow,” Chief Nyanta said in rebuttal. The swashbuckler and resident master chef of Log Horizon, a nearly six-foot-tall felinoid cat, towered over the diminutive ninja, peering down at her with one eye open.

“It’s strange that they asked just for the five of us to be here. I wonder what could be wrong?” Serara added. The little druid, with her fluffy red hair, pulled back held tightly onto her oak staff, worried if someone might be injured.

“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, Serara. They probably have a big surprise for us!” Marielle said, always the optimist in strange situations. The green-haired elf cleric and guildmaster of the Crescent Moon Alliance always tried to have a positive outlook on things, even during the Apocalypse. “What do you think, Henrietta?”

“Well, whatever it is, I hope they hurry it along. I’ve got a lot of work to do!” Henrietta articulated as she adjusted her glasses. She was an accountant by trade, both in the real world and in the game as her sub-class. Her strict, hard-working, and knowledgeable reputation earned her the respect of everyone in the guilds.

“I see them coming!” Serara shouted.

“Is that a cowboy with them?” Akatsuki questioned. “And a bear?”

“A cowboy?” Henrietta announced, gazing out across the bridge.

“A bear?” Serara replied, and when she saw him, the little girl realized who it was! “Big brother Major!” she shouted, taking off across the bridge.

“Serara!” the burly guardian screamed, running up to her. The two met on the middle of the bridge, and Major lifted his little sister into the air hugging her tight. The two were crying uncontrollably, filled with joy over their reunion. The junior members of Log Horizon surrounded them, cheering them on at the tearful reunion.

“Is that Serara’s brother? Really? A bear?” Marielle asked.

“I don’t see the family resemblance,” Shiroe answered when he suddenly realized who the cowboy was. “Wait . . . Is that, Gideon? Gideon Hawkmoon?”

“I believe it is none other,” Chief Nyanta exclaimed. Before anyone could say anything else, Henrietta ran out toward Gideon. The gunslinger walked ahead from the party, tossed his cigar away, and took off his hat before strolling up to Henrietta. The two of them stood there, gazing into each other’s eyes as if they wanted to thoroughly capture the moment.

“Gideon, is it you? Is it really you?” Henrietta asked, slowly reaching out to touch his face. He took her by the hand and pulled her in closer to him.

“Yeah, darlin’, it’s me! I told you I would get here. Sorry it took so long, Henrietta!” With that, Gideon wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. The two embraced a loving, passionate kiss that took everyone by surprise. At both ends of the bridge, the two groups stood awestruck at the sight of these two lovers kissing. They were even more surprised when Gideon released her, and Henrietta reached out and slapped him across the face. “Ow, what in tarnation was that for?”

“That was for not calling or messaging me to even let me know that you were alive and in this world, you good-for-nothing cowpoke!”

“Now listen, honey, there were extenuating circumstances as to why I couldn’t use the telepathic link!”

“I don’t want to hear your excuses, honey; you took your good ole time getting here!”

“Ah, come on now, listen to reason, Umeko!”

“Don’t call me that name, Jedidiah!”

“Now, you stop that, Henrietta. Only my mee-maw calls me Jedidiah!”

As the argument rallied on, everyone continued to wonder what was happening before their eyes. Two people, who some had known for years, were somehow intertwined, yet no one knew about it. Even as Naotsugu and the others walked past the arguing couple, they thought the same thing.

“Is everyone else as confused as I am?” Shiroe asked.

“I am completely lost, my lord,” Akatsuki replied.

“Yeah, I can’t make heads or tails of it either,” Naotsugu answered. “Chief?”

“I’m afraid I must refrain from comment until this little soiree is completed.”

“You know something, don’t you?” Akatsuki implied. Chief just gave her a sideward glance with a hint of a smile on his face.

“A gentleman never gossips about the private matters between a couple, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.”

“Yeah, you know something . . .”

“Marielle, did Henrietta ever mention Gideon to you?” Naotsugu queried.

“No, never . . . I mean, Henrietta took me to a cowboy-themed restaurant once. Does that count?”

Naotsugu chuckled at Marielle’s confused demeanor. “No, I don’t think so!” Finally, the argument subsided as the two embraced each other again, with Henrietta crying in Gideon’s arms. He comforted her as Gideon calmly reassured Henrietta that everything would be alright.

“I’m here, darlin’, and I’m here to stay!” he whispered. “I’m never going to leave you again, I promise. I love you, Henrietta.” With that, Henrietta wiped the tears from her eyes and gave him a peck on the lips until she realized that they had an audience. The assembled groups from Log Horizon and the Crescent Moon Alliance stared at the two in curious awe.

Henrietta straightened up her dress while Gideon put his hat back on before she took him by the arm and led him over to her friends. “Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to Gideon Hawkmoon,” she started to say, pausing before she finished her sentence, “my husband.”

Their eyes went wide, and mouths agape as shock ran through everyone, all except for Chief Nyanta. “Ah yeah,” he muttered as if it was something he knew all along.

Marielle, however, was quite taken aback, rushing up to her best friend. “What do you mean, your husband? When were you married? Why didn’t you tell me about him?” she screamed.

Henrietta kept her composure, adjusting her glasses. “It was right before the Apocalypse, but everything happened so fast. I was going to tell you, but I thought Gideon didn’t make it through to this world, so I didn’t feel the need to share it. We had other things to worry about.”

“What other things? This is me, Henrietta, your best friend since high school. How could you keep something like that from me?”

“I’m afraid that was my fault, Miss Marielle,” Gideon stepped in, hoping to save Henrietta from the ramblings of her best friend. “We didn’t mean to bushwhack you like this, but . . .”

“You stay out of this, you . . . you . . . cowboy!” Marielle shouted, wagging her finger in his face.

“Gideon, dear, why don’t you go say hello to the others while I talk with Marielle,” Henrietta suggested. Gideon tipped his hat to the ladies and walked over to the others while the two friends argued.

“Hey there, Shiroe . . . excuse me, guildmaster Shiroe. How you doing, partner?” Gideon greeted his friend with a fist bump.

“You don’t need to be so formal with me, Gideon. It’s good to see you too!” Shiroe replied.

“And how’s my number two swashbuckler, Chief Nyanta? You look as dapper as ever!”

“Meow, same to Gideon. It’s good to see you made it to Akiba!” Upon hearing Chief Nyanta’s rating threw Naotsugu for a loop.

“Wait a minute, how come he’s number two, but I dropped to number four?” he complained.

“I told you, Naotsugu, you left the game. Chief earned his spot with me.” Hearing the rating system confused Akatsuki.

“My lord, what is this rating he’s talking about?”

“Gideon rates his top ten players by class on a sliding scale,” Shiroe explained. “It’s pretty prestigious to get onto his top ten list.”

“And where do you rank?” the curious Akatsuki asked, but before Shiroe could answer, Gideon interrupted.

“Oh, my man Shiroe has a special category all to himself,” Gideon replied. “He is, without a doubt, the number one strategist in all of Elder Tales.” Shiroe blushed at the compliment Gideon gave him. He never thought of himself as anything special, even though everyone in Akiba did. Once he collected himself, Shiroe realized that he never adequately introduced Gideon.

“Oh, you two haven’t met,” Shiroe muttered. “Gideon, this is Akatsuki, our ninja!” Akatsuki gave a nod and a slight bow.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Master Gideon. I am Akatsuki, Master Shiroe’s shinobi and personal bodyguard,” she stated, straight and firmly, before changing her tone. “So, you and Henrietta, hmm? And how did you two meet?”

“Yeah, and why didn’t you ever mention her before?” Naotsugu interjected.

“Come on, you know the rules of MMORPGs . . . You keep your personal life and your gaming life separate,” Gideon explained. “I mean, would you like me to tell them about the time we went to the Atamai Onsen in Shizuoka, you know, when those girls . . .”

Before he could say another word, Naotsugu put his hand across Gideon’s mouth to effectively shut him up. “Okay, okay, I get it! Point taken, we don’t have to talk about that!”

“Oh, I want to hear about it!” Shiroe crowed with a sinister grin.

“Meow, so would I!” Nyanta concurred.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Akatsuki added.

“Well, why don’t we take this discussion off the streets and somewhere private where Henrietta and I can explain things. Plus, I need to see if Shiroe can help Major and me with our little problem,” Gideon ascertained. “What do you say, Miss Marielle?”

Marielle stopped fighting with Henrietta when she realized that Gideon was right. Perhaps this would be better done in private. “Fine!” she said, storming up to Gideon and sticking her finger in his face. “But this isn’t over, mister, not by a longshot! Let’s go, Naotsugu!” Marielle grabbed the wayward guardian by the hand, dragging him away.

“Now wait a minute, Marielle. Why are you picking on me?”

“Because you’re the only one I can beat on without getting hurt, now move it!” she screamed as Naotsugu tried to calm her down while she took it out on her guardian boyfriend.

“She’ll calm down,” Henrietta assured Gideon. “It’s my fault, really. I should have told her about us, but I wasn’t sure what happened to you during the Apocalypse. I didn’t want Marielle or anyone else to be constantly worrying about me.”

Akatsuki could see that this was something Henrietta had been holding inside since the day she met her more than a year ago. She went over and placed a comforting hand on her arm. “It’s okay, Henrietta. You can’t blame yourself for not wanting to burden others with your problems.”

Out of nowhere, Henrietta grabbed Akatsuki around the head. She hugged her tight, rubbing her like a favorite doll or stuffed animal. “Oh, my little Akatsuki, you always know what to say to make me feel better! I could just hug you and squeeze you all over for that!”

While she continued to assault the little ninja, Gideon leaned into Shiroe. “I see Henrietta still has a thing for cute and adorable chickabiddies.” Shiroe just laughed and nodded his head as the rest of them headed into Akiba toward the Log Horizon guildhall.

* * *

I hope you enjoyed this! Please message me in the comments below about the story. Stay tuned for A Tale of Log Horizon-The Gunslinger (Part 2) next week.

Looking back at 2021 and ahead to 2022 with weary yet open-eyed optimism for the new year

I can honestly say I have mixed feelings about 2021. I think its one of those years I can’t wait to put behind me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no 2020. My God, that year will forever burn on the ash heap of life. I have a lot of memories of 2021, some good and some not so good.

First, the good . . .

I published my fourth book in 2021, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart, beginning a new fantasy/steampunk series under my pen (or rhetorical keyboard). Not only did I spend most of 2021 finishing this book, it was also the first work of mine where I hired and editor and a cover artist. This book means a lot to me, and winning first place in the 2021 Firebird Book Award for Steampunk was a big deal. Being recognized by your peers cemented my career as a writer.

Speaking of awards, The Outlander War: Book 3 of the Forever Avalon Series, won second place for fantasy in the 2021 Firebird Book Awards. Again, it was wonderful to be recognized by your peers and I really want to thank my publisher, Austin Macauley, for all their support in 2021. This book was released just as the COVID pandemic hit, so promoting it was next to impossible beyond social media. I’m just so happy they continue to work with me.

Williamsburg Arts and Music Festival, November 2021

The great thing about 2021 was that I was finally able to go out and meet people in public. I attended book fairs, book signings, comic-cons, and arts festivals, talking about my books to those interested and even selling a few along the way. Thanks to the Moravian Book Shop, Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival, Southern Maryland Comic-Con, and 2nd Sundays Williamsburg for their support. It was great that, after nearly two years in hibernation, I could tell my stories to anyone interested. I sold more books in 2021 at all these combined events than I did since my first book was published in 2009. That shows how much effort independent authors have to put in beyond social media! I am looking forward to doing even more events in 2022.

The last good event of 2021 was having my short stories published through The Publishing Room and being signed by two great independent publishers, Revolutionary Press and Curious Corvid Publishing. The Publishing Room published two of my short stories for their fantasy and horror anthologies, Of Distant Worlds and From Dark Corners. Revolutionary Press will be publishing my steampunk/historical fiction novel, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, in 2022. Curious Corvid will be publishing my fantasy novella, The River of Souls, which I wrote with poet Ashley Valitutto. I am looking forward to working with these publishers in the coming year and beyond!

Now for the bad . . .

I experienced some loss in 2021, especially here at the end. I’ve had friends and distant relatives die, but this year it hit close to home. My dog, Sully, died in July. He was only 13 and our family pet for all 13 years. If you want a great family pet, I highly recommend a West Highland Terrier. They are the best. And just a few days ago, my older sister, Trina, suddenly passed away. It was totally unexpected. She has been fighting illness of one type of another this past year, but she was fighting it so she could retire to Florida in 2022. It’s a terrible way to end the year, especially just days after Christmas. I never saw eye-to-eye with my sister on many things, but she was still my sister and I loved her no matter what. Her death has given me some perspective on my own mortality, to hopefully take better care of myself so I’m there for my family. No more snacking on Twinkies and Pop Tarts for me.

I guess a bad thing professionally would be my email inbox full of rejection letters from publishers and literary agents. I mean, I got two good ones in Curious Corvid and Revolutionary Press this year, but the constant flow of rejection is a little disheartening. It’s like that one bad review your book gets. It just gnaws at you even though its just one in a hundred. I’ve always done what’s best for me and file it away and just move on.

Looking ahead to 2022, there’s so much to look forward to. I’ll be publishing two new books and submitting two more for consideration (fingers crossed). You can find me at multiple conventions and festivals next year, starting off with Katsucon 2022 anime convention at the Gaylord Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland, February 18-20. It’s right in my area so this will be a blast. The only other confirmed event for me so far is the Imaginarium Fantasy Book Festival on Saturday, May 21, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. I’ve waited two years to be at this event so I can’t wait! You can keep up-to-date of my other appearances through my Events calendar.

So let’s end 2021 with this . . .

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of 365-page book. Write a good one.”

Brad Paisley

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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.

When I hear these songs, I know it’s Christmas

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)

There are certain songs you always associate with Christmas, from Bing Crosby’s White Christmas to Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song. There are so many songs significant to the Christmas holiday that brings a bit of nostalgia and are memories we all share in one form or another. There are some songs that truly epitomize the spirit of Christmas, and when you hear them, you know the holidays are upon us.

I have a few favorites that are at the top of my Christmas playlist and the songs I always crank up in the car and sing along whenever I hear them. Please believe me when I say I love all Christmas music, but these are my absolute favorites that I have to hear regularly from Thanksgiving through Christmas Day.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas (1977)

Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth by Bing Crosby and David Bowie – If you haven’t found this absolute gem on YouTube, you need to find it and watch/listen to it NOW. Just seeing and hearing these two distinct generations of singers come together to sing such a classic and beautiful Christmas song in such a unique way was so memorable. The deep tones of Bing Crosby with David Bowie’s powerful voice were so perfectly matched. This song takes a simple Christmas carol and makes it an instant classic.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen – There are so many versions of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but none is better than the gruff vocal tones of “The Boss” in this Christmas hit. As soon as you hear the jingling of bells and Bruce talking to the band about if they’ve been good or not, you are instantly put into the Christmas spirit. Then it goes to the next level with Clarence Clemon’s saxophone solo near the end of the song. You can’t help but find yourself singing and dancing with Santa Claus and the E Street Band.

Christmas Time is Here by The Vince Guaraldi Trio – There is one holiday special we all watch every year, and that’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. The Vince Guaraldi Trio made jazz hip in the decade of Elvis Presley and The Beatles. You know every note of every song but when you hear the tinkling of the ivories, the quiet rasp of the drum, then the children’s choir singing, you run to the TV and sit down because A Charlie Brown Christmas is on. The innocence of this song makes you think of ice skating, decorations and aluminum Christmas trees.

I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake – This is such a unique Christmas song that crosses both religion and the legend of Father Christmas in one song. Greg Lake, the voice of 70’s rock “superband” Emerson Lake and Palmer, strums an acoustic guitar and sings a memorable song about Christmas, and yet, its not. It was intended to be a song about the commercialism of Christmas and the loss of innocence of childhood. And yet, when you hear this song, it means none of those things to me. I just love the symphonic sound and the melodious vocals in this song that means Christmas to me.

Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band-Aid – This was one of the first modern Christmas songs to stand on its own. This song, to me, has a bit of the spirit of A Christmas Carol in it. We listen to the lyrics of this song and we think about how, at Christmas, we need to be a little more kinder, a little more generous to help those in need. Band-Aid was a super group of every star of the British Invasion of the 80’s. From Sting, Bono, and Duran Duran to George Michael, Boy George and more, this song catapulted Live Aid, USA for Africa and other songs for charity. But when you hear it at Christmas, it reminds you to be a little more thoughtful of your fellow man and woman.

The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)

I want to end this post by giving one “Honorable Mention” shoutout to I Believe in Santa Claus from the holiday classic The Year Without a Santa Claus (as sung by the great Mickey Rooney). This TV special is better known for Heat Miser and Snow Miser, but I love it because of this song. This is a favorite Christmas song of mine that you don’t hear on the radio but I love it none the less. It talks about the simple belief in Santa Claus and why we should continue to believe in him (and I do!)

I believe in Santa Claus,
Like I believe in love.
I believe in Santa Claus,
And everything he does.
There’s no question in my mind,
That he does exist.
Just like love, I know he’s there,
Waiting to be missed
.”

If I missed any of your favorite or eclectic Christmas songs, let me know in the comments. But no Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer please. Not happening!

# # #

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.

# # #

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.

Star Wars and anime is something we’ve all been waiting for and “Visions” does it flawlessly

I just binge watched all ten episodes of Star Wars: Visions on Disney+. Couldn’t help it because they were just that good! Not only was I impressed with the visuals and the stories, but I even recognized some of the voice actors from my favorite anime shows. This was a match made in heaven with new content that brought me the Star Wars universe in a completely new light. The anime style differed from each episode, and the stories were completely different too. In fact, I even think they changed some canon with this anime series (I’ll explain later). In any case, I was completely enthralled by this series and I hope they do more of them in the future.

Similar to the Animatrix short stories that came out around the same time as The Matrix: Revolutions movie, Star War: Visions brought anime storytelling to the popular universe of the Jedi and the Sith, which makes sense since the look of these force users have a Japanese-vibe to them. According to Kathleen Kennedy, “Star Wars: Visions will be a series of animated short films celebrating the Star Wars galaxy through the lens of the world’s best anime creators. This anthology collection will bring ten fantastic visions from several of the leading Japanese anime studios, offering a fresh and diverse cultural perspective to Star Wars.”

For the most part, these shorts focused on the constant war between the Jedi and the Sith, with one exception, and that’s what many Star Wars fans look for in storylines. I mean, even The Mandalorian TV series focused on “The Child” and the Jedi. There’s nothing wrong with that but honestly, I thought there would be more diverse content. The one episode that didn’t go that route was Tatooine Rhapsody. Gotta love a Padawan escaping Order 66 by becoming a rock star with a droid guitarist, tri-bodied drummer and a Jabba family outcast on bass (nose ring and all). That was awesome!

My favorite had to be The Duel because it felt like an old Japanese samurai film but with aliens and lightsabers. The rogue Sith hunting down other Sith was a shocker, which made it even more enjoyable. Plus, the R2 unit wearing a straw hat was totally in character for this anime. The changes I mentioned to canon (which every Star Wars nerd swears by) was in the episode The Ninth Jedi. The “saber smith” (love that name) said that the kyber crystal projects the color of the lightsaber depending on the force users will and abilities. Hence, in this episode, when the Sith wielded the lightsabers, they were all red. However, previously we were told that each crystal has its own color and when a Sith kills for the first time and the kyber crystal is soaked in blood, it becomes a red lightsaber. So, in essence, Star Wars: Visions has changed canon to the Star Wars universe.

Speaking of lightsabers, all ten episodes had different versions of the legendary weapon. Some looked like they do in the movies while others looked like a katana or bladed-version of a lightsaber. There was even an spinning umbrella lightsaber . . . Talk about deadly! The style of animation differed in each episode, but you tell the anime influence from the stylized drawing of the characters to the way they animated it all together. I mean, The Twins reminded me of Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill while TO-B1 had the style of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo. It made each episode unique as they told their story.

I hope that this is the first in anime storytelling from the Star Wars universe. I want to see more! These are definitely ones to watch.

# # #

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.

I became a writer because of 1970s TV Carl Kolchak

KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, Darren McGavin, 1974-75

The 1970s were a boon for TV dramas based on fantasy, science fiction, and horror. We had shows like Battlestar Galactica, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers, and of course my favorite, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I started binge-watching these classic shows and they reminded me of why I became a writer. Carl Kolchak may not have had a big impact on television (it only lasted one season with two television movies) but it had a major impact on me.

First and foremost, I need to give credit where credit is due. Darrin McGavin (1922-2006) was the heart and soul of that series. He may be remembered more as being the foul-mouthed “old man” in A Christmas Story, he will forever be Carl Kolchak to me. His tenacity in searching for the truth in a story, no matter how bizarre or unusual, was evident in every episode. McGavin’s portrayal of the intrepid reporter, especially in the narrative that accompanied each episode, showed his incredible dedication to the truth in journalism (something we seem to be missing today). In any case, as I watched Carl Kolchak from my living room floor as an impressionable teenager, I knew I wanted to be just like him.

The Rakshasa, Episode 11, Horror in the Heights

Murders caused by vampires, werewolves, zombies, and swamp monsters (the Creole legend of Père Malfait) were scoffed by the police and his editor, but it was Kolchak who sought the truth behind the crime. It was how he went about his investigation and the way he wrote the story that endeared him to the audience. Even how the authorities reacted at the end of each episode to actually prove he was right (i.e. in episode 2, they buried the zombie for a third time with salt in his mouth and his lips sewn shut). To me, as an impressionable teenager, that made me the sceptic I am today.

It was also a great introduction to many myths and legends, some of which I never heard of before. I mentioned, Père Malfait, but also a Native American bear-spirit legend Matchi Manitou, a Hindu demon called a Rakshasa, an Aztec cult, a succubus, even a headless, sword-wielding motorcycle rider. As someone who watched his fair share of Hammer horror pictures in the 1970s, it was a blast. Yes, the make-up and special effects were substandard by today’s youth, no CGI, but it was scary back then.

“Maybe its appeal remains because it was then, and remains now, a very different kind of show. Maybe people see, in the monsters and the way public knowledge and discussion are stopped, symbols for all those things various government entities wish the people not to know about. Maybe people — fans — admire Kolchak because he just keeps on trying to do what he sees as work that has value; trying to keep the public informed about what is going on.”

Jeff Rice, creator of the Kolchak movies and TV series

Add to it the dark, shadow-filled production that kept the corners dark and the anticipation gnawing. And the music, oh the music . . . The theme song for Kolchak by Gil Mellé is unforgettable. Once you hear it, you’re hooked. It is so recognizable you never forget it. Overall, it kept you entertained as an impressionable young teen on a Friday night.

You see, early in my life, I wanted to be a comic book artist. Unfortunately, my art skills were not up to par and I missed writing the stories behind the art. I think that’s why I went into the U.S. Navy as a Navy Journalist. It was that inner Carl Kolchak speaking to me. It was my own chance to write, investigate, and tell the stories. Eventually, that led to me being an author.

Darrin McGavin as Carl Kolchak

It’s sad that Kolchak only lasted one season. According to IMDB, “the series was cancelled because Darren McGavin asked to be released from his contract. He became disappointed with the series’ scripts and was exhausted from his uncredited producing duties. Three scripts were left unproduced. Two of them were adapted into a Kolchak series of comic books in 2003.” But the character of Carol Kolchak, as I said earlier, was all Darrin McGavin. In the book, The Night Stalker Companion, McGavin explained how he came up with the iconic look of the intrepid reporter.

“In the first draft of the script, Kolchak was wearing Bermuda shorts, socks and brown shoes, a Hawaiian shirt and a golf cap. Apparently somebody thought that was the uniform for a newspaperman in Las Vegas. But there was a line in there about him wanting to get back to New York, so I got this image of a New York newspaperman who had been fired in the summer of 1962 when he was wearing a seersucker suit, his straw hat, button-down Brooks Brothers shirt and reporter’s tie, and he hasn’t bought any clothes since. Well, I knew that was the summer uniform of reporters in New York of that time, so that’s how the wardrobe came about. I added the white tennis shoes and that was Kolchak. It might have been totally at odds with what everybody else was wearing in Las Vegas, but he hasn’t bought any clothes since then. You need goals for a character and Kolchak’s goal is to get back to the big time. He always wanted to get back to New York and work on the Daily News.”

Darrin McGavin, The Night Stalker Companion

When I think about the stories I write and why I became a writer in the first place, it always goes back to Carl Kolchak. That was where I got the “bug” to sit at a typewriter (which I wrote many of my early stories on) and put my thoughts and ideas down. It is that idea that there’s something out there, a story to tell, that escapes the human eye. It takes only one person to tell the story.

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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.