“Careful. Watch your step.”
Missan waved her hand gently in front of her group and ghostly runes floated in the air, suddenly visible. They formed a pattern in the narrowest part of the hall facing them, obstacle wraiths promising death for those touching them.
Missan carefully walked between the runes, making certain her dark purple robe and hood did not touch any.
She turned when she made it to the other side, and waited for her team. Jeffers the ranger came next, easily walking between the traps. He was followed by Deena, their archer and cleric.
Dratchet the half-dwarf was clumsiest, for all his abilities with a battle-axe. Everyone held their breath while he worked his way laboriously through the traps.
Finally Choster walked through, after giving a final look back at the passage they had just passed.
Choster was a vampire, and a swordmaster. Many Dungeon Corps groups shunned his kind, but Missan and the others accepted him. He had saved them more than once with his unique set of skills
Choster jumped into high speed and blurred through the traps in the blink of an eye.
Missan said, “Someday I need you to teach me how to do that, Choster.”
He smiled at her, fangs showing between his pale red lips.
He said, “You know my price.”
She shuddered involuntarily, then turned to lead the way forward as the passageway grew wider.
Deena sidled up next to her and confided in a low voice.
“He doesn’t take much blood. He just likes a sip to see what you taste like.”
Missan shuddered again. She said, “Was it worth it for what he taught you?”
The other woman nodded firmly.
“Yes. It’s a different kind of invisibility. It’s like . . . becoming a shadow. You merge into the surrounding darkness. And it’s undetectable by other mages who are on the lookout for Invisibility.”
Missan grunted in acknowledgment. The Shadow spell did sound interesting, and useful. But she really wanted Choster’s quickness spell. What did he call it? Enhanced Motion? Whatever it was, he had assured her she had the capability to learn it. All he asked in return was a taste of her blood. So far, her revulsion had kept her from acquiescing to his deal. But when he showed it off in front of her, it seemed so useful. She had to admit, she was tempted.
They came to set of large double doors. They were at least 12 feet tall and half again as wide. Two large brass rings nestled together in the center.
Missan and Choster exchanged glances. He raised a dark eyebrow at her, questioning.
She said, “Wait. Let me see if I can sense anything, first.”
Dratchet moved to her right and pulled his axe from the sling on his back. He bent his knees, crouching into a fighting position.
Choster moved to her left and held his palms out, preparing a defensive spell. Jeffers pulled out his enchanted sword, activating a group shield, while Deena stayed in the back, preparing a healing spell for all of them.
The simple act of “looking” into a room could trigger a variety of traps, alert monsters or let enemies know of their presence.
But Missan’s group had fought together for years with the Dungeon Corps. Choster was the newest member, and he had been with them several months. The team moved smoothly, anticipating one another’s actions.
Missan held her hands out and cast the spell while the others tensed. If whatever was behind the door could detect the spell, it might well burst through and attack.
Missan said, “I sense . . . a large room, 1000 feet square. Tall ceiling, 30 feet high. Several corridors branching off in other directions. And in the center of the room . . . a little boy?”
Deena frowned behind her, her protection spell forgotten.
She said, “A little boy? Are you sure?”
Missan nodded, concentrating. She said, “He seems . . . he seems to be waiting for us. He’s looking right at the door.”
“What in the world is a little boy doing down here?” Jeffers said, turning his scarred face toward her. “Is he human? Elven?”
“He’s human. I don’t know what he’s doing here. It doesn’t make sense. This is a newly discovered dungeon, there shouldn’t be anybody here, much less children.”
“He’s a gheist,” Dratchet said, confidently. He set the huge axe on the floor head first, holding the handle’s end lightly.
Missan shook her head. “I don’t sense a spirit. This is a boy. In the flesh.”
Choster said, “I’ll go take a look.”
Before anyone could object he turned into black mist and quickly flowed to the floor, then under the doors.
The other four looked at one another. Dratchet picked up his axe again and the spell casters resumed preparing to cast.
The doors opened suddenly, screeching on unoiled hinges, making them jump. Choster smiled at them, flashing his fangs.
“Come on in. It’s safe, I think.”
They approached the door with trepidation. Inside, in the center of the large room, a young boy of perhaps ten or eleven years of age stared at them. He wore bronze chainmail that had been made for dwarves, and carried a shield painted green with a white boss in the middle. At his side he carried a steel short sword.
The Dungeon Corps team looked at him in astonishment.
Jeffers said, “I did not expect him to be armed.”
“Who are you?” Deena said.
Missan said, “What are you doing here?”
The little boy addressed them, showing not an ounce of fear or concern.
He said, “I’m looking for the Prince. Have you seen him?”
Missan and Deena looked at one another in confusion.
Missan said, “This is not one of Prince Synthan’s Children Soldiers . . . is it?”
“Can’t be,” Deena said. “That was fifty years ago.”
“He’s a gheist,” Dratchet said.
Deena glared at him and said, “Will you quit saying that?”
“Please,” the little boy said. “If you’ll tell me where the Prince is, I need to find my way back to him. I’m . . . I’m lost down here.”
Missan said, “Are you looking for . . . Prince Synthan?”
He nodded, his eyes lighting up.
“Yes! Have you seen him? Do you know where he is?”
Everyone on the team looked troubled now, even Choster.
Jeffers said, “Could it be a sleep spell of some kind? Kept the lad dormant down here all these years?”
Missan said, “We’re not even near Melody. It’s 30 miles from here!”
Choster said, “There’s a vast network of tunnels and caves underneath the sunken city of Melody. I’ve heard about it. Several teams have tried exploring parts of it. No one has ever been through it all. They say deep below, an underground river flows. It’s entirely possible this dungeon is connected with Melody Hall.”
“That would certainly explain why he’s lost,” Deena said. “But it doesn’t account for the fact that the Children Soldiers went down into Melody Hall with the Prince five decades ago.”
Dratchet spat to one side and said, “Still say he’s a gheist.”
“Will you shut up?”
Jeffers interrupted the brewing row between Deena and Dratchet. He said, “Somebody needs to tell him,” nodding toward the boy who remained in the middle of the room, watching them.
Missan sighed and said, “I’ll do it.”
She walked slowly toward the room’s middle, drawing nearer to the boy. He stared at her now, giving her his full attention. She stopped a few paces away.
“Hi. Uh, yeah. So, Prince Synthan is dead. He, uh . . . he died a long time ago.”
The boy’s mouth dropped open in shock. Then his eyes narrowed to slits.
“No. No, I’m not. It happened a long, long time ago. Prince Synthan was killed in Melody and—”
The boy’s voice changed, growing deeper and echoing throughout the chamber. His body changed, too, swelling larger. White, aethereal arms sprouted out of the body, along with a monstrous head.
Dratchet yelled, “I believe I’m owed an apology!”
Deena said, “Shut up, Dratchet! Everyone, ready!”
“I’ve never seen a gheist like this, though,” Choster said.
The thing attacked. Its white ghostly arms swept toward Dratchet, his axe swinging and connecting with . . . nothing. But when the long pale arms reached Dratchet’s flesh, his spirit ripped out of his body.
Deena saw the half-dwarf’s spirit struggling to pull up, then something sucked it down to the floor. She watched in horror as his ghostly hands slipped below the surface.
She lit up her protective dome and ducked as one of the huge white arms swung through the spell, disintegrating it. Deena jumped out of the way and nocked an arrow, loosed, then nocked and loosed another one. The arrows sailed through the aethereal form.
She took careful aim with her third arrow and loosed it at the boy’s face. It poofed into dust before hitting him.
Missan fired Lightning at the boy, then Fireball and Radiance. Nothing happened. The aethereal figure surrounding the child seemed to soak in all the spells.
Jeffers ran forward with his enchanted sword and swung at one of the large arms. His sword whiffed through air. The arm came back and slapped him in the chest, sucking out his spirit. His lifeless body fell to the ground.
“Choster! Nothing is working!”
Choster heard Missan, but he was too busy flitting around the child and the aethereal form, trying to score a hit. One of the ghostly armed slapped into him, and Choster popped away like a bubble.
Missan backed up, lobbing spell after spell into the monster. Nothing she could think to sling at him had any effect. Deena cast a protective dome around them again, but the huge arms poked through it. She cast a healing spell on Missan, even though the woman did not need one . . . yet.
Missan said, “Go.”
“What? I can’t leave you! At least come with me. We can run for it!”
They retreated to the huge double doors. The little boy in chain mail advanced on them, his face snarling in hate. The giant ghostly body loomed out of him, long white arms swinging toward the women.
“He’ll chase us. You go. I’ll give you some time.”
Missan flung more spells at the creature. Deena opened her mouth to protest and watched as the spells were simply absorbed by . . . whatever that was.
She turned and fled through the doors. At the chokepoint she felt very grateful that Missan’s spells still displayed the hidden runes floating in the air. She quickly but carefully weaved her way through them. Behind her she heard Missan scream . . . then silence.
Deena stopped to catch her breath. She looked behind her and heard the boy moving out of the doors and into the corridor.
She turned to run, then stopped to cast a message spell.
“Dungeon Corps, this is Deena Marceaux with Sergeant Missan’s team. We have found one of the Children, but he’s a monster! He—”
She looked behind her and . . . there he stood. A little boy looking up at her.
He said, “Boo.”
The ghostly form sprang from the child, huge arms reaching toward her like scythes. It sucked her spirit out of her body.
Jaxon Reed is a science fiction and fantasy author. Amazon's Kindle Press selected his book, The Empathic Detective: A Mystery Thriller, for publication through Kindle Scout. Recently, Ghostsuit: An Empathic Detective Novel also won a contract through Kindle Scout.
Other recent books include Thieves and Wizards, an epic fantasy, and The Redwood Trilogy Box Set, a science fiction bundle.
Jaxon is an Aggie, living in Texas on a ranch with his wife and boys, several cats, and one pound dog.
To receive the latest updates on new releases and opportunities for free reader exclusives, please visit www.jaxonreed.com/free/
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I live on a ranch in Texas, and while the summer heat can be tough sometimes, we love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world. We have rolling hills, open pastures and woods that have been in my family quite a while now. When I was a little boy I spent many hours exploring the land and dreaming up adventures. Now I write. I still dream up adventures, and at least some of those get put down on paper.
I do think imagination was a key part of growing up. Out in the country, we had no cable TV and of course this was before satellites were big and the Internet was in every home. So, time outdoors was heavily supplemented by reading books indoors. Both my parents were educators and highly educated themselves, and more than one room in our home had floor to ceiling books. My dad was a big fan of westerns, and after a long day at the office he liked to come home and read until supper, eat with us, then read until bed time.
Mom liked epic historical romances among other things, and we also had plenty of mystery novels and science fiction in the house. My older sister introduced me to Heinlein when I was about six or so years old, and I consumed all the classic science fiction I could get my hands on.
Growing older, the entire family would take trips to the bookstore together, even on vacation. On occasion, Dad would point out something he thought might appeal to my tastes. For instance, he bought me a paperback box set of the Tarzan novels once. We also shared thriller titles by Robert Ludlum and Alistair MacLain, among others. When I got into college and started buying my own books, I gravitated toward new releases in hard back.
I tried my hand at fiction at Texas A&M, and it was about what you would expect of a very young writer setting things down on paper the first time. Nothing from that era, what survives, has been published.
Fast forward several years and I had an idle fantasy that had been kicking around my head for several years. It was based on the ranch, by which time I had taken over following the passing of my parents. When I was a kid roaming the land, everything seemed big and I imagined a world of giant trees, and cows, and other animals. I felt determined for years to set a story in this childhood world. So I finally set out to write my first complete science fiction novel, Redwood: Enemy of the State. I self published it in 2014 through Kindle Digital Press.
I started working on other things, and I also worked on polishing my craft and increasing my output. Amazon opened the Kindle Scout program some time after that, and I submitted a science fiction novel called The Empathic Detective. This was set in a futuristic Austin, Texas with a lead character holding psychic powers. It won and I got a contract with Amazon Publishing. I followed it up with two sequels.
In 2019, I turned my attention to web serials, which are very interesting. One of the current popular ones is The Wandering Inn by a writer calling herself Pirateaba. I had the idea of a giant space opera, spanning ten books. I also committed to writing a chapter a day in it.
Sometimes, I would get tired of writing in that universe, so for fun I switched over to fantasy and worked on a different world. That is how Dungeon Corps: Crypts of Phanos came about. I put it up on the serial sites and my Patreon page as I wrote it, to let people who follow me see it grow. I got some valuable feedback, and I’m always grateful for newsletter and Patreon subscribers.
By the time 2019 ended, with a box set of a previous fantasy trilogy I wrote published to Amazon, eight in the Pirates of the Milky Way web serial completed, and Dungeon Corps: Crypts of Phanos completed, I had 10 new books under my belt.
I’m hoping to remain productive through 2020. On the slate are the final two books in the Pirates of the Milky Way serial, another book in the Dungeon Corps world, and a fourth book in my Fae Killers series, where I hope to tie up all that series' loose ends.
How do you find time to write?
I hear that a lot from friends and people I meet once they find out I write books. It’s very common to hear them say something along the lines of, “I wish I had time to write a book.” The expression on their faces when I tell them I published 10 books in 2019 is usually astonishment.
To be fair, one of those books was a box set of three prior fantasy novels I wrote, the Forlorn Dagger Trilogy. So, as for writing I put out nine books in 2019. Still, it seems like a lot to some.
To get there, I just don’t watch a lot of TV or engage in other entertainment. I find that the amount of time that frees up is more than sufficient to get in the writing I want to do.
Now it is true that with Amazon Prime and Netflix and DVRs, we’re not beholden to the old primetime network schedules anymore. My wife and I spent a couple nights watching the first season of The Witcher, for instance. We binged the whole thing over two evenings, and that’s common these days. But more typically, my free time is spent writing. And that eventually leads to another book being completed.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I’d love to see my Empathic Detective series optioned, or Pirates of the Milky Way, or Dungeon Corps. I think they would all do better as a series instead of an hour and a half movie.
Does your book fall into a fantasy subgenre?
Dungeon Corps has a bit of a “LitRPG” feel to it. Early readers who played role playing games said it reminded them of that. But, there are no “stat boxes” or designated leveling. So, it has game-like elements, but it does not fall in the LitRPG genre per se. I really wanted to focus more on character development than leveling, so that is why I chose that approach. As such, Dungeon Corps falls more in the “Epic Fantasy” category than any other.
Where did you come up with the name for the book?
Dungeon Corps does involve a slight play on words, since “dungeon core” novels are popular in fantasy and LitRPG. My Aggie friends no doubt will suspect I was thinking at least a little about the Corps at Texas A&M, those ROTC students studying to be officers in our Armed Forces.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
The book involves some of my favorite elements in story telling. One is the coming together and gradual cohesiveness of a team. Another is the redemption of outcasts. Finally, I do like good old dungeon crawls, and this book has those in spades. I had a lot of fun writing the book, and I hope it shows.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
J. R. R. Tolkein, a linguistics professor, invented languages for his worlds. Alas, I am not so gifted. Instead, for the “Old Tongue” in the book, I used Greek.
Greek does have a different alphabet, so I translated words into English. I did leave pronunciation symbols in that are outside the usual 26 letters of our alphabet, but I felt that added rather than detracted. Besides, those can help readers figure out how to pronounce things.
The four virtues the elves classify themselves by come from ancient Greek philosophy. Some of the sayings such as “Abandon hope all ye who enter…” are also offered in Greek as well.
Many of the older names of villages, cities, and characters are Greek, too. If you know Greek, I hope you enjoy some of my choices.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I love speculative fiction, so it doesn’t really matter to me if it’s fantasy or science fiction, etc. Currently I’m on the last book in David Weber’s Safehold series (science fiction), and before that I was reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive (epic fantasy). I also stay current with web serials like Pirateaba’s The Wandering Inn on the Royal Road site and Patreon.
Advice you would give new authors?
Finish the book. Even if you know it’s not the best in the world, finish it. Then, start your next one.
Describe your writing style.
I try to follow strategies and methods outlined in the book, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. It was used for years at the University of Oklahoma and in other creative writing programs. It is woefully out of date in some ways, first published in 1965 when magazine short stories provided a living for several writers. But, the techniques Swain discusses are solid. Anyone interested in learning how to hone the craft in genre fiction should read this book, or one like it.