The Dark and Forbidding Land – $2.99 Ebook

Two years have passed since Senta, the sorceress Zurfina, and Bessemer the steel dragon, and hundreds of colonists arrived in the strange land of Birmisia. Their new home, Port Dechantagne is under construction in this dark and forbidding land, ruled by terrifying dinosaurs and strange lizardmen. Ten year old Senta must discover which is the greater threat, a would-be wizard or the ever-increasing presence of the tyrannosaurus. Meanwhile, former maid Yuah Korlann must negotiate living among the aristocratic Dechantagne family and deal with their new servants, the aboriginal “lizzies.” And young militiaman Saba Colbshallow finds himself in the middle of espionage intrigue.

The Dark and Forbidding Land is the second book in the Senta and the Steel Dragon series.  It is available for $2.99 in ebook format, everywhere fine ebooks are sold.  Follow this link to find it at Smashwords.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – $2.99 at Smashwords

The Voyage of the Minotaur tells the story of colonists from the Kingdom of Greater Brechalon as they travel to the distant land of Birmisia in a world that is not quite like our own Victorian Age. The Dechantagne siblings; Iolanthe, Terrence, and Augie lead an expedition aboard the battleship Minotaur, hoping that the colony they build will restore their family to the position of wealth and power it once had. Along with them is the mysterious sorceress Zurfina, an orphan girl turned sorceress’s apprentice Senta Bly, and the newly hatched steel dragon. Waiting in dark and mysterious forests of Birmisia is the promise of a new life, along with hosts of dangerous beasts—from velociraptors and tyrannosaurs to the inscrutable reptilian aborigines. Senta and the Steel Dragon is a tale of adventure in a world of rifles and steam power, where magic and dragons have not been forgotten; a world of bustles and corsets, steam-powered computers, hot air balloons and dinosaurs, machine guns and wizards.

The Voyage of the Minotaur is available in every ebook format at Smashwords for $2.99.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 20 Excerpt

The mood was light in Iolanthe Dechantagne’s tent. It was a bright, sunny day outside, though not too hot. A cool breeze was blowing in off the ocean. The colony had enjoyed a huge mid-day feast, and if eating the last of the fresh vegetables taken on at Enclep was not exactly a cause for celebration, at least everyone knew that they were safe from starvation. The canned food stored at the colony would last a long time, and there was still the promise of trade with the natives.

Yuah Korlann, Merced Calliere, and Phillida Marjoram sat around the desk counting ballots for the election of the Colonial Council. The paper slips upon which all adult members of the colony had written the name of their choice were divided up into piles. Though there were more than two dozen piles, one for each candidate, it was soon obvious which four piles would end up being the tallest. Calliere’s final pronouncement was a mere formality. The winners of the election and the chosen members of the Colonial Council were, in order of votes received: Zeah Korlann, Padgett Kelloran, Dudley Labrith, and in a surprise, a young Freedonian woman named Honor Hertling.

“Lovely,” said Iolanthe. “I was sure that Zeah and Dr. Kelloran would be elected, but I’m surprised at the wizard. Does anyone know this Hertling person?”

Yuah and Calliere both shook their heads.

“I believe I know of her,” said Mrs. Marjoram. “A dark-haired young woman, if I’m not mistaken. Pretty, in that Zaeri sort of way. I believe she’s known for her work helping the sick on that ship of theirs. No doubt that’s why she was chosen.”

“So she’s from the Acorn?” asked Iolanthe, ignoring Yuah’s look of shock at Mrs. Marjoram.

“Yes, if she’s whom I’m thinking of.” The woman seemed oblivious of the effect of her words.

“Excellent. One more chance to get the Freedonians integrated into our society. Before long, nobody will know they weren’t born Brechs.”

“Hmph,” said Mrs. Marjoram, but didn’t openly correct her.

“So it will be myself, Terrence and Augie, whoever replaces Father Ian, Zurfina, and these four. I think we can work with that.

“Yuah, why don’t you go bring your father in here? Mrs. Marjoram, would you be so kind to see if you can locate this Miss Hertling? And Mercy, perhaps I can persuade you to bring Dr. Kelloran.”

Twenty minutes later the three of them had returned with the three newly elected leaders of the colony, Wizard Labrith, of course being on the military mission with the Iolanthe’s two brothers, was not present. Zeah looked every bit the senior statesman, tall and straight in his charcoal suit. Dr. Kelloran on the other hand looked tired and drawn. Though still nicely dressed and stylishly coifed, she had lost weight since arriving in Birmisia and had dark circles under her eyes.

The young woman who arrived with them was, if not beautiful, certainly striking in appearance. She was so thin that Iolanthe thought her figure might have been mistaken for that of a boy without a corset and bustle. Her wavy black hair reached well past her shoulders, and framed a cute face with a small nose and extremely large, sad eyes. Her olive skin was far more tanned than was considered fashionable, no doubt due to the lengthy journey from Freedonia, and she had a deep scar across her left cheek down to her chin.

“Miss Hertling, I presume,” said Iolanthe, stepping forward to shake hands.

No sooner had she taken the young woman’s hand than a dozen gunshots rang out in the distance. It was obvious that they came from beyond the protective wall. Iolanthe broke into a broad smile.

“Wonderful,” she said. “Zeah, it looks as though we will be having a celebration tonight.”

“Yes, Miss. A welcome one.”

A young soldier burst into the tent, running into the back of Miss Hertling, and knocking her forward. She would have fallen completely to the floor had not Professor Calliere caught her.

“Kafira’s eyes!” snapped Iolanthe. “Don’t you know how to knock?”

“Sorry ma’am,” said the soldier, nervously. “Sergeant Clark’s compliments, ma’am. There is a large force of lizardmen approaching from the southeast. The sergeant has already called for all troops to man the ramparts. And the lizardmen have rifles, ma’am.”

“Where the hell did they get rifles?” wondered Calliere.

“From our troops,” said Iolanthe, gravely. “How many lizardmen are there?”

“We don’t know, at least a thousand.”

“Tell the sergeant to hold the wall,” she ordered. The soldier then ran out of the tent. Turning to the women, she said, “Thirty-five men aren’t going to hold the wall for long. Get everyone moving. We’re evacuating out to the end of the peninsula.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 19 Excerpt

Terrence followed his gaze and saw spread out across the savannah, a line of lizardmen. They were so well camouflaged that they blended right into the rising landscape behind them. They stretched out to the left and the right so far that they created a half circle around the humans, and this at a distance of more than a mile. Many of the lizardmen were painted red and white and black, and most wore feathers. Most also carried the swords, made of wood and flint, that the men had seen before.

“Kafira,” said one of the soldiers. “There must be a thousand of them.”

“More like five thousand,” said Labrith.

“Talk to them,” said Terrence to Augie, indicating the two lizardmen with them. “Find out if these are our friends or the enemies.”

Augie hissed. Sarkkik hissed back. Augie translated.

“We know of your people. Though it is far away, we know of your people living in Mallontah. We know how they have enslaved the natives there. We know you intend to do this here. We have shown you to Suusthek.”

“What does that mean?” asked Terrence. “We have shown you to Suusthek.”

“Oh, sorry. My mistake,” said Augie. “Not ‘show’. It’s ‘delivered’. ‘We have delivered you to Suusthek’. Oh, that doesn’t sound good.”

“We have dealt with you in good faith,” said Terrence.

“Your blood runs warm. You cannot be trusted. We have heard your talk. Szuss can hear your speech. He hears how you want to rule the land.”

“Bugger!” shouted Terrence.

Sarkkik hissed again.

“He says ‘now you die’,” translated Augie.

Terrence turned around and walked two steps then turned around again. Then he pulled out his .45 revolver and shot Sarkkik in the head. It seemed as if the reptilian would fall backwards for a moment, but this was prevented by his tail. He rocked back, then from one side to the other, and then collapsed in a heap. Before Sarkkik had hit the ground, Terrence had fired a second time, and Szuss had a hole through his skull as well. He fell forward onto his alligator-like face.

More than a mile away, a deep rumbling sound rose up. It was a low gurgling, growling noise. It came from the massive army of lizardmen and it grew louder and louder as five thousand warriors joined in.

“Formation!” shouted Augie. “Get into formation!”

The soldiers rushed to form two lines, one behind the other, ninety men wide. The formation looked pathetically small compared to the line of reptilians that dominated the landscape.

“First rank, kneeling positions!”

The front row of soldiers knelt. The rear row stayed standing.

“Fix bayonets!”

Each soldier pulled a wicked looking dagger from a sheath on his belt and attached the six and three quarter inch blade to the end of his rifle.

The throaty sound of the lizardmen continued for several minutes. Suddenly and seemingly without a signal, it stopped. Then like a wave moving from the ocean onto the beach, the lizards surged forward. They moved quickly, at a sort of slithering trot, brandishing their stone-encrusted swords as they came. And they were silent—eerily silent.

“Ready!” called Augie. “Aim!”

“Fire!”

The one hundred eighty soldiers fired their rifles in unison and more than a hundred reptiles fell to the ground. The hole created in their moving line quickly filled in with others of their kind, and kept moving forward.

“Ready! Aim! Fire!”

The soldiers fired again, and another hundred reptile warriors fell. Running headlong into thundering death, the lizardmen directly in front of the humans began to falter, while to either side, they surged forward. Terrence had holstered his pistol and pulled the .30 caliber rifle from his shoulder.

“Uuthanum rechthinov uluchaiia,” said Labrith, and a lightning bolt, beginning at his fingertip, spread out shooting through the bodies of a dozen reptile warriors.

“Fire at will!” shouted Augie. The soldiers began to pick their own targets.

“Watch your flanks!” he shouted. Fanning out slightly on either side, the humans began firing on the lizardmen coming in from the sides.

“Uuthanum beithbechnoth,” said Labrith, and a missile of magical energy darted from his fingertip, striking one of the lizards square in the chest, killing him. A half second later a second magical dart shot forth, and then a third.

Seconds later similar magic missiles shot from the lizardmen’s lines, hitting two of the soldiers. Terrence aimed his rifle in the direction from which they had come. The reptiles had their own magic user. He was easy to spot too. Unlike the others whose greenish skin was painted black or red, he was covered in blue. Terrence shot him through the throat.

Suddenly the lizardmen stopped coming and dropped down into the tall grass. So sudden and so well coordinated was the move that it seemed that they had just vanished into thin air.

“Hold your fire!” shouted Augie. “Are they crawling? Watch the grass!”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 18 Excerpt

Many people on the shore were watching as the two ships steamed out of the bay and no doubt many people had many different emotions flowing around within them at the sight. Some might have felt frightened with the realization that their last tenuous lifeline to the world of civilization was now severed. Some might have been excited that the challenge of taming the new world was now theirs and theirs alone to pursue. Zeah Korlann didn’t know what he felt. He didn’t have time to dwell upon any feelings however, he had plenty to do.

By the time the sun set that evening, he had accomplished quite a bit. He had arranged for new work details for the former Freedonians. Like the colonists who had arrived eight days before them, these individuals would be expected to provide six months of service to the colony. After that, they could purchase land and begin whatever lives they wished. That was the theory, anyway. He had also overseen the clearing of the first bit of forest outside the protective wall. The first shops and stores would be built here hopefully, when that six month period had ended. Zeah looked forward to visiting a bakery there. Inside the walls, they had finished constructing a large smokehouse. And finally, that afternoon, the colony’s first fishing boat had floated out into the bay.

Zeah had two stops to make after dinner and before he went back to his own apartment. The first was to the headquarters tent of Miss Dechantagne. He would have gone to report to her in any case, but he felt doubly obligated to stop because the Royal Colonial Governor was alone. Her brothers had left at first light the day before with one hundred eighty soldiers and accompanied by a half dozen reptilian aborigines. Their mission was to elevate one of the local chiefs to dominance, and at the same time show off modern Brech firepower—put the fear of God into the locals, let them know who was the boss. Nobody expected stone spear equipped lizardmen to be able to face the power of four platoons of riflemen, and both brothers had spent their time in the army. Still, it was a combat mission, and things could happen.

Knocking on the tent pole that served as a doorjamb, he was rewarded with a “Come in.”

Miss Dechantagne was not alone. Zeah’s daughter Yuah was in the tent. She was sitting in one of the folding chairs in front of Miss Dechantagne’s massive desk and Miss Dechantagne herself was sitting in the heavy oak swivel chair behind it. The two women were sipping cups of tea.

“Hello Papa,” said his daughter, standing up to kiss him on the cheek.

“Good evening. I didn’t expect to find you here.”

“We were just having tea,” said Miss Dechantagne. “Would you like some?”

Only Zeah’s carefully regulated composure allowed him to reply without stuttering. Miss Dechantagne inviting him to tea? The heat must have somehow addled her.

“No, thank you. I just wanted to check in and let you know that everything is on schedule.”

“I’m quite excited about the smokehouse, myself,” said Yuah. “Mrs. Colbshallow is already planning sausages.”

Zeah looked at his daughter with a raised eyebrow. It seemed that the governor was not the only one who had lost her mind. Yuah was sipping tea and making small talk with Miss Dechantagne.

“Thank you Zeah,” said the governor. “I’m pleased to see that our new arrivals are proving to be more of an asset than a hindrance.”

“Indeed.” Zeah stood for a moment

“You should go get some rest.”

“Very well. Good night.” He nodded to the women and stepped out the tent flap. The two women laughed. Zeah shook his head and walked off.

His second stop was to see Egeria Lusk. She had completely recovered from her wounds at the hands of an unknown attacker and had in fact, spent much of the day supervising work on the Result Mechanism, though she had left the actual pressing of buttons and throwing of switches to someone else. He knocked on the door of her apartment and again was asked to “come in” and again found two women sitting and sipping tea. This time it was Egeria and Sister Auni, the Kafirite cleric. Sister Auni rose as he entered.

“Good evening, Mr. Korlann,” she said. “I was just leaving.”

“No need to leave on my account.”

“No, no. We’ve had a lovely talk, but now I must get back to my own room.”

“Well, good night,” he said, as he held the door open for the clergywoman.

“I’m so glad you came by,” said Egeria, once Sister Auni had left. “Please sit down.”

“Thank you. What were you two talking about?”

“Oh, life, the universe, and everything.”

“And what was her take on it.”

“We were just chatting, really,” said Egeria. “I was sorry that we didn’t get to have supper together.”

“I didn’t really have time for supper today,” said Zeah. “I was hoping that you would join me tomorrow though.”

“I would be delighted,” she smiled.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 17 Excerpt

“Look at all these lousy zeets,” said Graham Dokkins, as he and Senta walked between the hundreds of makeshift tents on the southwest side of the hill from the barracks.

“What are zeets?” asked Senta.

“That’s what they’re called. My Da says they’re evil, and they don’t even believe in Kafira.”

“Zurfina doesn’t believe in Kafira either. I mean, not like us. She says the Church is all bullocks.”

“Yeah, well my Da says she’s evil too.”

If Senta was offended at the idea that anyone would call Zurfina evil, she didn’t let on. She bounced ahead, her skipping steps seeming to defy gravity. In one hand she carried a stick and in the other her doll. Graham stomped after her.

“Why do you gotta carry that doll everywhere?” he asked.

“Cause I’m a girl, stupid.”

They reached the edge of the tent village. Some of the women from among the Freedonian refugees had set up a series of clotheslines and were hanging up clothes. Almost every piece was black, white, or grey.

“They don’t seem any different to me,” said Senta. “Except they talk funny.”

Suddenly several of the women who had been hanging clothes began to scream and they all began to run toward the tents. Looking up, the two children saw a steel colored streak flying downward from out of the sun. The steel dragon buzzed the tops of the women’s heads and then zipped along parallel to the clothesline and with a flick of its tail, knocked every other piece of clothing from the line into the dirt. Spreading its wings out to their full six-foot breadth, it stopped in mid-air and dropped to the ground at Senta’s feet. It opened its mouth to the sky and a small puff of smoke shot out.

“Funneee,” said the dragon.

“It’s not either funny, you potty twonk. You’re going to get everyone angry, and who’s going to get in trouble? Not you. Me, that’s who.”

Despite Senta’s declaration that the dragon’s actions were not funny, Graham was laughing heartily. The dragon hopped over to his feet and rubbed his head against the boy’s leg as if to share in his mirth. Graham, still laughing, slapped his knee. The dragon suddenly bit his hand.

“Sod it!” shouted the boy, his laughter suddenly gone.

The dragon looked up in the air, with feigned innocence.

“See, now you’ve made Graham angry too,” said Senta. Both the girl and the dragon looked at the boy, who had gone all white and sweaty.

“My Da didn’t say it, but I think dragons are evil.”

“Pet,” said the dragon, in a pleading tone.

“Yeah, all right,” Senta said, fishing a small brown bottle from the pocket of her baggy black dress. “But if you bite anyone else, I’m going to need a new bottle of this.”

She poured the draught from the bottle onto the wound on Graham’s hand. The liquid bubbled and fizzed on contact with the boy’s blood, but after a few moments nothing was left of the injury but a small scar.

Senta, Graham, and the dragon looked up to see they were completely surrounded by a crowd of people. The reptile leapt to the girl’s shoulder in one swift motion and curled up around her neck. Graham stood up next to Senta and took her hand in his. The people began to whisper amongst themselves. Finally one of the women stepped forward.

“Sorry about your clothes,” said Senta.

“Der drache is, how you say, vunterfull,” said the woman.

“Oh yeah, he’s great,” said Graham, sarcastically.

“He is bootifull. He is yours?”

“Yeah, sort of,” said Senta.

“You bet he’s hers,” said Graham. “She’s a really powerful sorceress and he’s her dragon. And they’re really scary and magical. Just look at them. And that’s her magic doll.”

He suddenly started laughing. The dragon made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a smirk.

“We’ve got to go now,” said Senta. “I’ve got to lock up my dragon and my troll here.”

“Hey!” shouted Graham, following Senta who was already hurrying through the opening in the crowd that magically parted before her. “Who you calling a troll, monkey face?”

The two children walked up to the top of the hill and parted without saying goodbye, but with the innocent expectation that they would see each other later and continue on just as they had. Senta made her way to a quiet place that she had found next to the protective wall. She plopped down in the grass and the steel dragon climbed off her shoulders. She stretched out and he curled up beside her and placed his whiskered snout on her stomach.

Senta held her doll up and looked at it. The doll had on an outfit just like hers. She called the dress she was wearing her doll dress for that very reason. The doll had the same hairstyle that she did. She could almost imagine that the doll was made especially for her. But it hadn’t been. She had seen it many times in the toy store before she had purchased it.

“I wonder what Geert’s doing now?” she mused. “He’s my cousin,” she explained to the dragon.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 16 Excerpt

The shouting and gunfire brought Terrence out of the white opthalium induced state. He was sitting on the ground with his back to a massive redwood tree. It was in fact, that first tree that Iolanthe had tagged with a ribbon to save its life. It was completely dark all around him, and at first the lapping of the waves nearby was the only sound that registered with his befuddled mind. When he again heard the shouts and gunfire at the far end of the compound and he recognized them for what they were, he was actually happy. It meant that he hadn’t been awakened by someone discovering him while he was seeing.

Could you call it “seeing” if you didn’t really see anything? Terrence had used the drug from the small blue bottle several times since the arrival in Birmisia, but he had seen nothing in the other world except that endless fields of the ever-present purple flowers. Never before had he been there without meeting Pantagria. Now he searched for her and she was nowhere to be found.

Terrence picked up his helmet, which was sitting next to him, and then stood up and began trudging up the hill at a modest pace. When he saw a blood covered Zeah Korlann being escorted by two riflemen into Iolanthe’s headquarters tent, he ran the rest of the way.

“What’s going on?” he asked, as he burst into the tent. He stopped short when he saw Miss Lusk, lying on her side, bloodied, on the dirt floor. “Let’s get Father Ian in here.”

“Father Ian isn’t coming,” said Zeah shakily.

“Sister Auni, go get another acolyte to cast a cure wounds spell,” ordered Iolanthe. Then she opened the top drawer of her desk and pulled out a brown bottle. “Soak her bandages in this and poor the rest down her throat.”

She handed the bottle to Dr. Kelloran, who was kneeling over the red-haired woman’s prone form. The doctor did as directed and a moment later was rewarded with Miss Lusk opening her eyes. Sister Auni arrived after a few minutes with Brother Galen, who followed the exact same procedure that she had in casting a spell. Color returned to Miss Lusk’s face and she began to breathe freely.

“Who did this to you?” asked Iolanthe.

“I didn’t see them,” said Miss Lusk. It was an obvious labor to speak. “Someone was running the Result Mechanism. I went around the corner to see who it was, but…”

“There were papers coming out of the machine,” said Zeah.

“Go find those papers,” Iolanthe ordered her brother. “Maybe we can find out who was using it.”

Terrence nodded and left the tent. He picked up a gas lantern nearby and stomped down the hill toward the still chugging and clanking Result Mechanism. Just before he reached it, the machine stopped, letting out a long whistle of leftover steam. He pulled out one of his nickel-plated .45 revolvers and circled around the huge device. Standing at the controls was his brother Augie.

“What’s going on, old man?” said Augie, when he noticed Terrence.

“What are you doing here?” Terrence asked.

“You know you really shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Augie replied. “The machine was running and nobody was here, so I shut it down.”

“You didn’t see anybody here?”

“No, and I waited around for a couple of minutes too.”

“Are there any papers coming out of the slot on the side of the machine?”

They both stepped around to the far side, where the printing slot was located, but there were no papers either sticking out of the slot or on the ground below.

“You don’t have anything to do with this, do you?” asked Terrence.

“Anything to do with what? A bloody machine making a bunch of racket?”

“The stabbing.”

“Stabbing? What stabbing?”

“Egeria Lusk has been stabbed. Right over there, by the look of the ground.”

“Kafira! And you think I had something to do with it?”

“No. But you were at three of the crime scenes, at least three, so some people are going to get the idea you could be involved.”

“What do you mean three? The murders on the ship? I thought you pegged Murty for that, and pegged him good too, I might add.”

“Yes, I did. And Murty was a bad sort; I don’t doubt it for a moment.”

“You know I wouldn’t stab a woman. What’s that all about? I was very fond of Danika.”

“Danika?”

“Miss Kilmurray.”

“Oh, Kafira. You knew her?”

“I knew her, but I didn’t do anything to hurt her. I certainly never killed her, and I didn’t kill Miss Lusk.”

“Miss Lusk is alive.”

“Well, thank heavens. Now she can tell you I didn’t stab her.”