Preview: The Rooftop Game

Lantille, a Semi-Medieval CityThis is a preview of my story, “The Rooftop Game,” about a royal bodyguard who will go to any length to save the life of his charge, the infant Princess Analisa. It’s actually available in two places:

  1. Fantastic Defenders — An anthology of five long stories, including other great authors like Jeff Patterson, Donna Royston, Martin Wilsey and David Tatum. Published in May 2017.

  2. The Rooftop Game — Solo publication of the story, including supplemental material. Published in September 2018.


I. NOW

      In the opening, achieving positional advantage is paramount.

      — Karkomir, Grand Master, from Salasia

Lydio Malik lay on his back on the sloped roof of the Widow’s Tower, the tallest tower of Paksenaral, the ancestral fortress of the Burgundar line. He tried to relax, to take advantage of this brief respite in the fighting and rest his tired, aching muscles. He crossed his hands behind his neck and looked up at the sky. A few puffy white clouds glided gently across the vault of blue, guided inexorably by the autumn winds toward the Cragenrath Mountains, violet and robbed of detail in the distance. The sky seemed so peaceful, so at odds with everything going on below.

Lowering his gaze, Malik saw smoke billowing up from the numerous fires that were consuming Lantille, the wind bending the smoke towards the mountains like a dark and ragged banner. The city’s Gladis Market was a raging inferno; the blocks of wooden merchant stands, livestock holding facilities, and tenements were all burning. There were fires down by the river, as well. The docks, a few ships and a number of nearby warehouses were ablaze. Other ships had cast free, and were fleeing the fires and the fighting.

The most worrisome fires to Malik, though, were the ones on the far periphery of the small city that marked the headquarters, support buildings and barracks of Lantille’s militia. He didn’t think there’d be any help coming from that direction, at least not anytime soon.

In Malik’s estimation, the attack had been a meticulously planned “smash-and-kill” raid utilizing a limited number of Kashmal rebels, probably no more than a few hundred men, and carefully timed to take advantage of King Salzari’s excursion to the north. The enemy’s undetected infiltration into Lantille, and into the fortress, strongly implied insider help. Given the widespread mayhem, he concluded that the effort had almost certainly been supported by at least one combat mage.

If the Kashmal had possessed mages, they’d have used them in the failed rebellion of two years ago. So, the mage represented foreign aid to the rebels. Malik could almost sense unseen forces moving pieces on a chessboard and aligning them against King Salzari, and against Salasia.

He found his fingers toying with the makeshift rope that was his lifeline. The rope was made of strips cut from sheets and tied together. One end of the rope was tied around his waist and the other looped around the spire of the tower. He had a certain amount of play in the rope, so he could move around the circular roof with its rippled, orange tiles, even stand, without having to worry about tumbling nine stories to his death.

Come to think of it, falling was probably the least of his worries.

He could hear the sounds of fighting somewhere in the fortress below, the clashing of swords, a few shouts and screams, and every once in a while, an explosion. The rebels hadn’t taken the fortress yet, but it wouldn’t be long.

When the sounds of fighting were done, he suspected the Queen would be dead. They’d be coming for him next.

Malik sat up and drew his sword out of its sheath. There was a thin strip of cloth tied to the pommel; the other end was tied to his right wrist. He couldn’t afford to drop the sword and have it slide off the roof. There was undoubtedly more edgework in the offing.

Unless an enemy mage turned up and roasted him. Still, you could only plan for the things you could control. If a mage showed up, then the game was over, and that was it.

He eyed his blade critically. It was clearly showing some serious wear. There were numerous nicks in the blade and, although he’d wiped it off, there were still traces of blood around some of the nicks. Well, he didn’t think he was going to live long enough to worry about the blade rusting.

He tested the edge with his thumb. Dull.

It had been sharp earlier this morning.

Malik reached into a pocket, took out a file and began sharpening the blade.

Time was the only thing on Malik’s side. The enemy hadn’t brought enough forces to hold the fortress for any significant time, especially if they wanted to escape the storm that would be coming their way. Even now, any remaining militiamen were probably rallying. Calls were likely going out to nearby towns for armed help. The garrison at Evanscap wasn’t that far away either. If he had to guess, the King was going to hear about this mess by evening. And he had mages.

A soft gurgle came from above him. He raised his head and watched as Princess Analisa, all of seven months old and heir to the throne of Salasia, shifted sleepily in her basket. The royal basket, as he liked to think of it, was suspended above him on the roof, where the slope increased dramatically. Like him, the basket was attached to the spire by a makeshift rope. Additional cloth strips were tied around the princess’ basket to ensure that she didn’t fall out.

It was too bad escape hadn’t been an option. He’d just have to hold out as long as he could.

Lydio Malik, Royal Bodyguard for Princess Analisa, resumed sharpening his sword and waited for the enemy’s next move.

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Published: The Rooftop Game

The Rooftop Game My story, The Rooftop Game has just been published and is available on Amazon.

It’s the first story in the Royal Defenders series, which is set in my Thousand Kingdoms universe.

Here’s a description of the book:

Failure Is Not an Option

Lydio Malik is the Royal Bodyguard for the infant Princess Analisa of Salasia. He’s sworn to die before he’ll let any harm come to her. He may just have to.

Despite his position, Malik is ridiculed for his foreign heritage, his unpopular views on protection strategies, and his obsessive attention to detail.

While the King goes to show the flag in the troubled north, his enemies launch a brazen attack against the royal family. Surrounded by enemies, with no possibility of escape, Malik finds a unique and desperate way to protect his charge.

If they want the Princess, they’re going to have to pay the price…in blood.

The Rooftop Game is the thrilling story of a bodyguard who won’t give up, set in a bold new fantasy setting known as the Thousand Kingdoms.

As a bonus, the book includes “Winter Roses,” a short story set in the Thousand Kingdoms universe. It was the first Thousand Kingdoms story ever published, way back in 2015. And you also get a preview chapter of Bitter Days, my next book in that universe, which will be published in October 2018.

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Coming Soon: Tranquility and Other Myths

Tranquility and Other Myths, Full Cover

My (very) short story, “Winter Roses,” will be appearing in the upcoming anthology, Tranquility and Other Myths.” The anthology will be published in April, 2017. Here’s hoping you get a kick out of the full cover above, which was put together by John Dwight (including the back cover verbiage).

Seventeen stories of light, night and the writhing shadows. Indeed.

Note: (4/30/17) This just came out. Available on Amazon in print-only.

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Winter Roses

Winter Roses by David Keener My short story, Winter Roses, is now available on this web site for free. The story first appeared in 2015 in the anthology, Uncommon Threads. It really is a short story…it’s only five pages long.

Here’s the official blurb for the story:

The young heir to the mountainous Cragenrath Kingdom thought he’d met the love of his life. Instead, he got a lesson in crime, betrayal, magic and revenge.

A short story from the Thousand Kingdoms setting.

The story is actually a speech that I did for The Entertaining Speaker, i.e. – it was one of the speech projects for an advanced Toastmasters manual.

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Mozanya Rough Sketch

Even the most complex things can start with just a rough sketch on a napkin, or the back of a Christmas Party invitation in this case (thanks, Liz Hayes). This is a rough map of the port city of Mozanya, where Pageeda and Scuffee from my story, “Bitter Days,” are living a hard scrabble existence as homeless refugees.

Mozonya: Rough Sketch of a Fantasy Port City

OK, I know the map still needs a lot of work, but you can still see the basic concept for this northern port city. The sketch is something I scrawled out while discussing world building details with my friend, Bill Aguiar, after a writing group meeting. By the way, north is to the left.

Here are some details about the city, straight from own own background guide:


Overview

The port city of Mozanya straddles the mouth of the Yangazi River, a highly navigable waterway that wends its way from the Cragenrath Mountains across the entire length of the kingdom of Salasia and thence to the Western Ocean. Positioned southward of the typical freeze line for ocean ice, the port is generally open all year, although shipping is considerably reduced during the stormy winter months. Mozanya’s strategic location makes it a bustling center for trade.

The Yangazi River divides the city into North Mozanya and South Mozanya. Most nobles and rich merchants live in North Mozanya, which also hosts expensive shopping districts and numerous government buildings including the Etisimah Palace, the fortress-palace of the Praytor. South Mozanya is considerably less refined and more vibrant, a veritable melting pot of diverse peoples and raucous trade.

Mozanya’s size, its population of approximately three hundred thousand, diverse peoples, unique geography and sheer amount of trade present unique challenges for law enforcement, tax collection and city safety.

City Geography

The terrain around, and within, Mozanya can best be described as rolling hills. Mozanya itself sprawls across five sizable hills. The two highest are in North Mozanya. The houses of nobles and rich merchants ascend the hills in stately terraces, ostensibly for the admiration of the lower classes. South Mozanya is built on and around three smaller hills. The Tween (where Pageeda and Scuffee live) is located in South Mozanya. Some people derogatorily refer to the two halves of Mozanya as Highside and Lowside. One of the southern hills, formerly known as Beacon Hill, was renamed Temple Hill by the Church of Turkos when it acquired the rights to the land.

Within Mozanya, both banks of the wide Yangazi River are lined with docks for shallow river craft and barges, and are generally referred to by the unimaginative names of North Bank and Riverside. Expensive trade goods and the tourism trade tend to gravitate towards North Bank. Otherwise, businesses on both sides of the river compete intensely for river shipping, including bulk goods, livestock and slaves.

As an ocean port, Mozanya’s primary advantage is the Crescent, a rocky, natural breakwater that provides the city with a spacious bay, the Bay of Fools, protected from the Western Ocean’s tumultuous winter storms. As with the river trade, a sharp division exists between the two sides of the city. Thanks to expensive magical dredging, North Beach supports the largest and best maintained docks for the larger, deep draft ocean vessels. This leaves Dockyards to focus on smaller ships, budget shipping, the slave trade and fishing, including the dangerous arctic crab hunting trade. Dockyards is widely rumored to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the Thousand Kingdoms.

Bridges

Since the Yangazi River was too wide to be easily bridged at its mouth, Mozanya originated as two competing port cities, Mozey and Anya, on opposite sides of the vast river (to the north and south, respectively). The era of bitter competition ended 437 years ago when Mozey eventually proved victorious under the leadership of Everard, who became the first Praytor of the unified metropolis. Everard promptly declared Mozanya to be the new name of the combined city.

The city supports three distinctively different bridges:

  • The Bridge of the Morning Mist: Deciding that improved ties between the two halves would be beneficial in maintaining his unification efforts, Everard commissioned the building of the Bridge of the Morning Mist. The bridge, a narrow construction of steel and concrete, was positioned on the eastern, inland side of the city to take advantage of a strategic ridge of bedrock underlying the river. It was the city’s sole bridge for more than four hundred years. The bridge’s relatively low height and the distance between support pillars limits the size of river vessels that can pass down the river and into Mozanya.

  • The Bridge of the Graceful Heron: The city’s western bridge is one of the most advanced bridges in the Thousand Kingdoms. Known more colloquially as the “Archway,” it is a graceful steel construction with a concrete roadbed that soars across the mouth of the river, with pylons on several man-made islands. The Archway is more than three times the length of the city’s eastern bridge, but bears the majority of the city’s cross-river traffic. Unlike the other bridges, the Bridge of the Graceful Heron was mage-built, but designed to not require ongoing magical maintenance.

  • The Bridge of Heroes: The oldest of the three bridges and the closest bridge not within range of the city’s defenses, it crosses the Yangazi River some ten miles north of the Mozanya, at the town of Antigon. Formerly known as the Sudayeen Bridge, it was renamed the Bridge of Heroes after the Battle of Antigon eleven years ago. The Bridge of Heroes is an antiquated but strategically important bridge.


  • There’s a lot more to know about Mozanya, but this at least covers most of the basics.

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Uncommon Threads

Uncommon Threads: An Anthology I have a short story called “Winter Roses” appearing in a new anthology called Uncommon Threads. It’s really short but it’s nevertheless part of my Thousand Kingdoms series of stories. It tells the story of one of the ancient mountain kings, from the warrior clan that’s ruled their rugged domain for so long that the Cragenrath Mountains are named after them.

My original short blurb for my story is:

The young heir to the mountainous Cragenrath Kingdom thought he’d met the love of his life. Instead, he got a lesson in crime, betrayal, magic and revenge.

My story started out as a speech for my Toastmasters club a few years ago. I was doing projects from an advanced manual called Storytelling, and ended up with this rather Shakespearean story, almost a soliloquy.

Anyway, the volume is a community effort of the Loundoun Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group. The anthology was edited by John F. Dwight, who also did the layout with Liz Hayes. The cover was created by Asher Roth. All of the stories were created by members of the writing group.

Check it out. We’re all pretty proud of it.

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The Story Pipeline

The Story PipelineAs a writer, I spent a large part of 2014 establishing a pipeline of stories, with the expectation that those stories would begin exiting the pipeline in publishable form in 2015. As of the end of 2014, I had six stories and and a non-fiction work in various stages of production. I’ve added two new projects to the pipeline this month (because I have to keep both of my writing groups busy).

I thought it would be interesting to share what’s in the pipeline, along with the current status and expected word-count/page-count for each project.

First, though, let me explain the process I’ve established for creating my stories (other writers may do this differently). Each project goes through the following steps:

  • Concept: Working out the details of the story.
    Activities: Brainstorming, discussions, research, basic world building and outlining.

  • First Draft: The raw act of getting the story written.
    Activities: Writing and receiving chapter critiques by writing group.

  • Second Draft: Tuning the story based on chapter critiques and a self-evaluation.
    Activities: Editing, writing and analysis.

  • Beta: A group of beta reviewers read the story and critique whether it’s working.
    Activities: Emails and discussions.

  • Final: Story issues and editorial changes from the Beta Review are addressed.
    Activities: Editing, writing and analysis.

  • Complete: The story is ready to exit the pipeline and face the cruel, harsh world.
    Activities: Line-editing, proofing, ebook generation and print template generation.

Without further ado, here’s what’s currently in the pipeline:

# Project Status Type WC Pages
1. Bitter Days
Pageeda is a young, homeless orphan girl in the gritty fantasy city of Mozanya. When she loses the older sister who raised her to some ruthless kidnappers, she’ll do anything to get her sister back — even become a hero.

    — A Story of the Thousand Kingdoms
    — Episode 1 (of 5) of Pageeda & Scuffee

Final Fantasy 19K 63
2. The Rooftop Game
Even though Lydio Malik is the Royal Bodyguard for the infant Princess Analisa of Salasia, he’s ridiculed by his fellow bodyguards for his foreign heritage and his almost obsessive attention to detail. But when disaster looms, the kingdom’s enemies will discover that when he says, “Over my dead body!” — he means it.

    — A Story of the Thousand Kingdoms
    — The Royal Bodyguard #1

2nd Draft Fantasy 12K 40
3. The Good Book
Malcolm Jameson is planning to throw himself off a bridge when a passing bicyclist stops and hands him a magic book. Unsurprisingly, the book has a considerably different plan for Malcolm. And a bad attitude.
1st DraftSecond Draft (4/11/15) Magic Realism 14K 47
4. The Threefold Revenge
Piker’s a City Guardsman in the fantastical city of Monzanya with a bad attitude and a deep-seated prejudice against Neferian refugees. Pageeda’s a homeless Neferian refugee who doesn’t take abuse from anyone. They’re like oil and water, except oil burns.

    — A Story of the Thousand Kingdoms
    — Episode 2 (of 5) of Pageeda & Scuffee

lst Draft / Concept Fantasy 24K 80
5. The Silent Knight
Ser Kedric Hawkthorn thought it was strange when the Boy-King sent him on a diplomatic mission to a rebellious province — he’s mute because of an old injury. But when his liege betrays him, hey, sometimes it’s good to be in a rebellious province, right?

    — A Story of the Thousand Kingdoms
    — Episode 1 of The Silent Knight series

1st Draft
On Hiatus
Fantasy 20K 67
6. Big Sky Country
When Brant Halvar saw the skyboarders racing through the clouds at his first Festival, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. Now he’s trekking north to make his dreams come true — but he’s got no idea of the obstacles he’ll be facing.

    — A Story of the Thousand Kingdoms

Concept Fantasy 100K 333
7. World Building: Creating Realistic Worlds for Stories and Games
If you need more than a “Class M” planet, then this is the book for you: a How-To resource for creating rich, consistent, imaginative and believable worlds.
1st Daft
On Hiatus
Non-Fiction 50K 167
8. The Deep Dive
There’s a civil war brewing between the Belters and the Inner Worlds. When a fugitive Belter activist is pinpointed by his enemies, it’s hunter vs. hunted through the treacherous clouds of Jupiter.
ConceptFirst Draft (3/29/15) SF 10K 33
9. Discovery
When the crew of the exploration ship Exultation begin exploring Spark, one of the many moons of a super-Jovian gas giant, they’re fascinated by the electrically-based life forms and ecology of this bizarre world. What they discover next is unprecedented…in so many ways.
Concept SF 20K 67

The top of the pipeline is pretty well set. Bitter Days will be the first story completed. However, it’s Episode 1 of a 5-episode serial. The serial is complex enough that I really can’t release any of the episodes until the whole thing is complete, which means that it most certainly will not be the first story that I self-publish.

The Rooftop Game will be the next one completed. It is a stand-alone story, although I do expect to do more stories about the Royal Bodyguard in the future. It will be publishable…but I’m rather hoping to aim that one at a multi-author fantasy anthology (possibly one that I edit myself).

The Good Book will roll out after that. It’s stand-alone, so it will probably be the first one that I publish. Interestingly, though, it’s best classified as “magic realism” or “slipstream” so it’s not necessarily the best advertisement for the sort of stories that I usually write.

After that, the pipeline gets a bit more jumbled, and the order in which the stories get completed is likely to change.

The Threefold Revenge is high on the priority list since it’s Episode 2 of the serial. It’s complex, and it’s going to take a while to get through First Draft. I’m in the process of wrestling this one to the ground.

The Silent Knight and Big Sky Country are both large in scope. My initial attempt at The Silent Knight petered out, but I still believe in the story. So both of these are going to spend some time in the Concept stage.

World-Building is an interesting project. I like writing it. I don’t expect to make much money on it. Once completed, though, it becomes an excellent credential for getting speaking engagements. I’m playing around with the idea of finding a co-author to work on this with me.

That leaves the two new SF projects, The Deep Dive and Discovery. The first is an action adventure story set during the lead-up to a war between the Inner Worlds and the Belters. The story is outlined and relatively straightforward. Discovery is based on the public domain world and flora/fauna created during the “Contact” series of sessions at the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago. I’ve been doing a lot of fantasy lately, and these two stories will give me a chance to exercise some different writing muscles. They’re also stand-alones, so they’re likely to percolate through the pipeline a little faster.

Also, for those who noticed, all of the fantasy stories are set in the same milieu, The Thousand Kingdoms. So, Bitter Days, The Rooftop Game, The Threefold Revenge, The Silent Knight and Big Sky Country are all loosely related. That’s going to eventually be a big factor in marketing them all.

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