Things are proceeding well with the bindery, the mailing lists, and the US fullfillment center. There is still plenty of infrastructural work to do, but we’re gradually excising the parts of the process that don’t work well enough and replacing them with things that do.
ITEM: Autarch, among many other things an Arktoons creator, has launched its new Kickstarter campaign for ASCENDANT: PLATINUM EDITION. A revised second edition of the RPG featuring traditional superheroes who are attractive, straight, and even occasionally right-of-center, if you can imagine such a thing.
ITEM: Today is the last day to subscribe to CASTALIA LIBRARY and receive THE ARTS OF WAR as part of your subscription. Please note that a catchup payment will be required as this is the second month of the two-part subscription. The next book in the subscription series, #21, will be announced tomorrow to the subscribers, via the appropriate mailing list to the non-subscribers, and on the Darkstream. We’ve created the new mailing list to ensure externally-verifiable perfect compliance with the GDPR and eliminate the risk of malicious unfounded abuse complaints, as the mailing service provider can now see and confirm that every single individual on the list proactively signed up for it via their own server.
ITEM: Chuck Dixon is flying on Midnight’s War: Night Streets. And the art is spectacular. New heights, my friends, is what Arkhaven is reaching.
ITEM: Speaking of The Legend, the first in the CHUCK DIXON’S CONAN series, THE SIEGE OF THE BLACK CITADEL, is now available in paperback from Castalia House. An excerpt is below. The second in the series, CARAVAN OF THE DAMNED, is already complete and will be published later this year.
I’ll have more to say about the bindery on tonight’s Darkstream.
CHUCK DIXON’S CONAN #1
THE SIEGE OF THE BLACK CITADEL
Conan chose six from his company of mercenaries for the task assigned him by Danix.
M’Ollo and Lugan, two Gundermen, a Zhugari and a leanly-muscled dark man, with teeth filed to the shape of spades, who might have been a son of Shem, Kush or Darfar or all three at once. They called him Zhata, the Shemtish word for ‘mongrel’ as he offered not his name nor any other utterance since joining the Cimmerian’s band. It was a fitting appellation for a warrior who seemed more dog than man with a canine’s silent loyalty for their Cimmerian chief.
The task required stealth and so each man took only a sword and dagger, leaving behind any mail or armor that might rattle or clink and give them away to the watchers on the walls.
They rode horses from the siege camp, their hooves wrapped in leather to dull the sound of their passage. The company could have moved with less noise without the mounts, but the Cimmerian reckoned they might need to make a speedy withdraw if discovered. Conan in the lead, they set out into the rainy dark for the road that ran above the rocky banks.
“This marks the first time I have seen a bear riding a pony,” M’ollo called.
The toes of Conan’s boots very nearly brushed the earth as he rode the stout gelding he’d chosen. The others stifled laughter, uncertain of what humor the Cimmerian was in.
“And it is the first time I’ve seen an ass mounted upon an ass,” Conan called back.
The company, excepting Zhata, guffawed at this, relieved that their captain’s foul mood was dissipating.
The river road dipped down toward a brow of rock that ran along the base of the fortress that would hide them from the view of sentries that would be manning the timber hoardings and parapets high above. The high walls were black against the gray of the lowering sky and without sign of torchlight. Each man could swear to the sensation of a hundred pair eyes upon them. Back muscles tensed against the whistle of arrows that might fall upon them at any moment. They each breathed easier as the ponies carried them from the sight of the walls.
The road followed along the southern edge of the spindle of land on its way to the narrow point where the rivers divided. To one side of the path the granite rose to a shelf of rock high above To the other it fell away in a sheer wall towards the rushing waters below. The way ahead became slick as the falling rain turned to rime ice on the stones.
“We climb on foot from this place,” Conan said, halting the column and stepping from his mount onto a broad ledge.
He directed Jughul, the Zuagari, to mind the horses while the rest were to climb the rocks toward the fortress above. They could speak openly here as the roar of the water passing below concealed their voices.
“What are we to look for?” Lugan asked.
“Anything that might offer a way into the walls,” Conan said with a shrug. “I’ve yet to see a fortification yet with only one entrance. This place will be no different.”
“And any egress like that will be jealously guarded,” M’ollo surmised, rubbing a hand through his beard.
“All the more reason to be quiet,” Conan said to the Turan and began his ascent up the stony slope with the others following behind.
Stunted pines grew gnarled and twisted from the rocks above, their bony roots and branches offered hand holds while their boughs provided concealment from the dark battlements above. The company, moving cautiously, made it to the base of the nearest wall where it bowed out in a curve that spanned between two towers. High above them, a wooden hoarding jutted from the top of the wall to offer shelter from the rain. With hushed voice, Conan gestured for the men to move across the face of the wall in search of any weakness, sally port or other flaw or feature that might be exploited.
Lugan and Zhata followed behind Conan who swept the surface of the wall for any sign of a hidden doorway. Years as a thief in his youth made him canny in the ways of those who hoard valuables. Even after years as a warrior and reaver, years that calloused his hands into thick flesh, his fingers retained their deftness.
The trio moved north toward the foundation of the tower ahead, invisible in the shadows of the hoardings from any watchers above. They made their way around the broad base of the circular tower and along another long stretch of wall to where a square tower of more recent construction stood. It was topped with a stout wooden parapet roofed with tiles. The foundations of this tower were laid directly upon a rocky ledge that fell away on two sides to the floor of a ravine that cut across the finger of land like a scar across a knuckle. There was no passage forward but for a narrow ledge hardly the width of a foot across.
Conan held out a hand for Lugan and Zhata to remain where they were. Alone, the Cimmerian sidled along the ledge, his chest pressed to the cold stone, his fingers exploring and finding scant grip for his fingertips. There were no hoardings across this span of wall and, for much of its length, he was in full view of even the casual glance of any sentries that might be manning the tower. As he neared the base of the tower, he could hear voices above. He frozen in place, willing himself to become one with the stone.
His breath held, he fought to remain upright on the ledge as icy winds climbed up from the black mouth of the ravine below. Conan listened for the voices above. They were not raised in alarm, only the exchange of one bored and weary guard to another. He could make out no words yet recognized the soldiers’ tone. The easy banter of men left with a tedious, and seemingly pointless task, and nothing to do but await the hour of their relief. He would learn nothing here.
Lugan appeared relieved as the Cimmerian made his way back to them along the ice rimed ledge. Conan urged them on, back the way they’d come to rejoin M’ollo and the Gundermen in hopes they had experienced better luck in finding a flaw in the fortress’ defenses.