Mailvox: a brief review of ASOS

AD writes the first review of the complete A SEA OF SKULLS.

I’ve finished A Sea of Skulls. Bought it, set out to read a chapter a night…which became two, and then three, and by the time I reached about the 1/3 point, I put the whole world on hold and finished it in two days.

As usual, your writing skill and style are impeccable–entertaining and engaging. For every plot thread closed you’ve managed to dangle three more…though, I think the next book will have to crack the planet and drain an ocean to top this ending.

Thoroughly enjoyable. I appreciated how the races have their own issues that so perfectly mirror modern ones, and enjoyed working out the foreign words from context. And I remain impressed by your skills–you managed to take a thoroughly repulsive Orc, turn him into a viewpoint character, and make him understandable, if not necessarily empathetic. I was convinced he was going to join Skuli any minute when he was ordered to throw himself onto the shield wall.

And, speaking of Skuli, his last quest was excellent. Here’s to the next book–unless, of course, you retire to the tropics and dump the whole thing into the lap of Brandon Sanderson.

I think Brandon Sanderson is too busy counting his crowdfunding money these days to be available to finish off anyone else’s epic fantasy series. So, I’ll just have to finish it myself.

UPDATE: The Didact graciously named A SEA OF SKULLS one of his best books of 2023:

Has he stuck the landing with the full version of Book 2?

Mostly, yes, he has.

ASOS has a few flaws to it, most of which relate to the difficulties in keeping the various plot-lines straight. You may have to go back and read the first book again to understand all the machinations behind the Amorran side of things – it has, after all, been eleven years since the first book saw the light of day, and quite a lot has happened since then.

The biggest flaw with the book has to be the ending, which definitely feels rushed and more than a little forced. I get the distinct impression that OBADSDL(PBUH) found himself getting lost in the details and realised this giant door-stopper of a book was getting really crazy – the full book will probably clock in at around 914 (!!!!!) pages, and that is a monumental text by any measure.

None of this changes a fundamental fact:

This is one of the best high fantasy books ever written.

High praise indeed. And while I never object to any reader’s impressions – they are simply what they are – in the interests of accuracy I will point out that the endings were neither rushed nor forced from my perspective, as they were always bound to take the various shapes they did by virtue of the character perspective limits. Remember, I’m not George Martin, and while I don’t do outlines, I do strictly limit how many characters get their own perspective and how many sections they get apiece. So, I always know roughly how much space I have with which to work in order to get to the close I have in mind.

You may notice that the word and page counts are almost identical to ATOB. That’s not an accident. And AGOG will be the same.

This isn’t to say one can’t reasonably criticize the particular sections of the story on which I choose to concentrate the detail. Perhaps it would be better if the middles were shorter and the ends longer. My choices are almost certainly suboptimal in some senses, and some characters get less “camera time” while others get more than various readers would prefer.


Orcs in the Korokhurmagh

This is a previously unreleased excerpt from the newly released full edition of A SEA OF SKULLS, which is now available in an ebook edition at the Arkhaven store.

Lugbol growled and slapped at one of the forest’s infernal insects that was busily engaged in biting his left bicep. He crushed it under his horny palm, felt a pop, and looked down to see he’d smeared his own dark green blood along with the remnants of the bug that had bitten him across his upper arm. He shook his head, knowing that the bite was going to start itching momentarily, then slapped fruitlessly at another one that had just bitten his calf.
“I don’t remember them being this bad before,” he complained.
“They had all the dead to feed on then,” Ghurash replied. Even though it had been less than three weeks since they’d fled the dark shadows of the Korokhurmagh, already the denizens of the forest had all but picked the thousands of dead bodies clean of flesh. They were rapidly approaching the western edge of the great wood and soon they would be encroaching on the true Man lands, not merely the pillaging the small villages and hamlets that had been carved out of the trees by the lesser tribes and clans.
The Hagahorn’ugh had been cocky and full of contempt for the martial abilities of the Szavon’agh as they passed through the burned-out remains of the villages overrun by Zlatagh’s army, but they gradually fell silent and their mood turned grim as they began to come across one large-skulled, thick-boned skeleton after another. There were few Man skeletons, and the bones of those they encountered were eagerly snatched up and divided among sqwaaks and younger kors seeking clubs or remains to decorate their armor.
More than a dozen fights broke out over the Man bones, the worst of which began when a boar rider commandeered a large thigh bone another kor had intended for a club, then cracked it open and sucked out the marrow. By the time Lugbol and Karnuhg, one of the cavalry grun-kors, managed to put a stop to the fracas, four mountain orcs and two Black Fists were dead, and another Hagahornu was so badly wounded that he ended up in the cookpot that evening.
The kral chewed him out for the needless death of his orcs, of course, but Lugbol had the sneaking suspicion that the older orc was secretly impressed at how Lugbol’s veteran kors managed to more than hold their own against the bigger mountain orcs. In fact, knowing that Lugbol, being Goghu and half the size of his Hagahornu officers, could never pose a threat to his rule, Nekheru had proven increasingly inclined to give his new hadvezer more responsibilities as they marched through the forest toward the Man lands. In addition to commanding the light infantry and the goblin cavalry, Lugbol was now serving as the liason between the farkh’agh and the various shugaba’ugh and grun-kors whose kors had the annoying habit of feasting upon their fellow marching companions whenever they couldn’t find adequate meat to sate their appetites.
Two large goblins, wearing the ornate headgear favored by their shugaba’agh, approached him now, escorted by a nervous-looking bodyguard of twelve lightly-armored yellowskins carrying pikes. Lugbol groaned. Given the angry expressions on their hook-chinned, hook-nosed faces, he had a pretty good idea of why they were coming to see him, even though they were attached to units outside his command.

Continue reading “Orcs in the Korokhurmagh”

Word Counts

It’s not a competition; some of the best books ever written are not particularly long. The one that surprised me most is WATERSHIP DOWN, as that has always struck me as a massive and epic tale. But it does put things in perspective, sizewise.

The Hobbit – 95,022
The Fellowship of the Ring – 187,790
The Two Towers – 156,198
The Return of the King – 137,115
THE LORD OF THE RINGS – 573,125 total

Summa Elvetica & Other Stories – 173,493
A Throne of Bones – 297,500
A Sea of Skulls – 299,320
ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT – 717,313 and counting

Philosopher’s Stone – 77,325
Chamber of Secrets – 84,799
Prisoner of Azkaban – 106,821
Goblet of Fire – 190,858
Order of the Phoenix – 257,154
Half Blood Prince – 169,441
Deathly Hallows – 198,227
HARRY POTTER SERIES – 1,084,675 total

A Game of Thrones – 296,901
A Clash of Kings – 321,676
A Storm of Swords – 414,792
A Feast for Crows – 296,989
A Dance with Dragons – 413,202
A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE – 1,746,560 total (assuming the reports that he’s laid down the pen are true)

Gardens of the Moon – 242,265
Deadhouse Gates – 316,975
Memories of Ice – 408,425
House of Chains – 326,275
Midnight Tides – 288,920
The Bonehunters – 390,755
Reaper’s Gale – 382,000
Toll the Hounds – 409,355
Dust of Dreams – 402,070
The Crippled God – 421,755
MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN – 3,255,546 total

Dune – 187,240
Dune Messiah – 75,127
Children of Dune – 148,381
God Emperor of Dune – 138,167
Heretics of Dune – 165,131
Chapterhouse Dune – 143,435
DUNE SAGA – 857,481 total


Continue reading “Word Counts”

A THRONE OF BONES six-issue special

We have selected an illustrator for the six-issue A THRONE OF BONES comic special. It will be released in electronic and omnibus editions – no single print issues – and will cover the battle between Legio XVII of House Valerius and the Vakhuyu and Chalonu goblin tribes. The Legend Chuck Dixon is adapting the script from the novel and Arklight Studios will be coloring it.

This is not a scene from the comic, as those familiar with the novel will immediately recognize, it is just one of the samples that the illustrator provided us to demonstrate that he was capable of drawing the various fantasy elements required by the story.

And for those who are not unreasonably concerned this will have a negative effect on the release of our other comics, don’t worry, other than helping select the illustrator(s), I don’t have to do anything on this one.

Shut up and write

A Selenoth fan would really like me to finish the extended edition of A Sea of Skulls:

Please Vox, for the love of all that is Good and Beautiful and True, PLEASE try and find the time to complete TSoS extended edition. I have read (ahgmm.. “listened”) to AToB 3 times and read ASoS once. This is quality stuff that serves as a gateway to many truths people would otherwise never be exposed to. If I could be so bold as to give you feedback from my time in Selenoth, it would look like this:

I first listen to A Magic Broken, then AToB, then the Last Witch King Collection, then read Summa Elvetica, then most recently read ASoS. I’ll spare you any fan boy text walls but I have to explain what I love as well as what don’t understand so far. I listen a A Wardog’s Coin weekly on my daily commutes. It is a wonderfully balanced tale that never gets old and would be the first thing I recommend to a new reader.

You said on a Darkstream once that you didn’t expect the strong response to Lodi. He is hands down my favorite character. Maybe this was overly influenced by my reading A Magic Broken first, but I LOVED his story line in AToB and was left wanting much more in ASoS. Lodi is without a doubt the first character you would pick if you needed a buddy in a good ole-fashioned brawl. Ironically, a Big Bear, if you will.

I really don’t understand the importance of Severa and her character arc. At first I assumed it was because she was a strong female personality so most likely I just didn’t relate to her. But after the second and third pass at AToB, I can say with confidence that Fjotra is one of my top three favorite characters so Severa remains an enigma to me because I’m not sure what I want from, or even for her going forward. My shot in the dark prediction is that Severa actually personifies you in a way, born into more privelege than most but the powers, that be take her father, and life forces her to unforeseen places. Still, assuming that to be the case I don’t understand her place in the story.

Again, thanks for all you do and please forgive me for carrying on so long. God bless and keep crushing! I pray that you will not grow weary of the path laid before you. God equips those He calls. Conflict may be the air we breathe but no one is having more fun than us!

Believe me, I would very much like to finish ASOS and move on to the next book in the series. But my time is finite, and so every time I need to hunt down someone’s failed credit card or respond to someone else’s deplatforming, or deal with someone who has failed to utilize a coupon during the allotted time is a distraction from even starting to write anything. That doesn’t mean those things don’t need to be done, but it’s not possible to do them while getting into the right frame of mind. I wish I could simply switch gears at will, but apparently I don’t work like that.

I appreciate that people enjoy my work as much as they do, indeed, the overall response to the Arts of Dark and Light has significantly exceeded not only my expectations, but even my hopes. I do find it a little strange, however, when the some of the very people who really want me to finish various works don’t seem to grasp the obvious consequences of asking me to deal with various other things that often have nothing to do with me.

Anyhow, I am determined to finish it during the first half of this year. The extended delay is on me, not anyone or anything else, and I’m neither excusing nor rationalizing my tardiness. But I am not apologizing for it either, because I’m absolutely not going to allow the quality to decline just so I can call it complete and get it off my plate. To the contrary, I am determined to make the remaining sections better than the previous parts.

But Selenoth fans should be pleased to know a) Chuck Dixon is working on the six-issue comic of the Legion-Goblin battle and b) there is serious film/TV interest in ATOB.

UPDATE: After thinking about it and talking with Spacebunny, I’m going to put myself on an alternate-day schedule for the Darkstreams until ASOS is done. That should do the trick.


It would be hard to describe how pleased I am to be able to announce a project that has been more than five years in the making. And so I am delighted to be able to declare that the first book in my Arts of Dark and Light epic fantasy series, A THRONE OF BONES, is now available in audiobook+ from Castalia House.

Manfully narrated by the indefatigable Jeremy Daw, A THRONE OF BONES is more than 30 hours of high-quality DRM-free MP4 format and retails for $29.99. The audiobook+ also includes the 934-page ebook in EPUB and Kindle formats.

We waited literally years to find the right narrator for Selenoth, which was considerably more important than is the case with most audiobooks due to the sheer volume of content involved. In my opinion, Jeremy’s elegant English accent is ideal for both high fantasy and epic fantasy, and I prefer his voice to those belonging to both of the narrators who have voiced George Martin’s bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series.

And yes, Jeremy will be narrating A SEA OF SKULLS once he is finished narrating SUMMA ELVETICA and the stories that did not make it into THE LAST WITCHKING & OTHER STORIES. This is the third Selenoth audiobook, and means that there is now 40 hours and 20 minutes of Selenoth-related audio content.

Chuck Dixon’s Avalon trilogy at Arkhaven

The first three issues of Chuck Dixon’s Avalon are now available in high-quality, DRM-free CBZ format on the Arkhaven store. A Kindle-format edition is also included with each digital edition sale, in case you happen to prefer that format. Each issue retails for $2.99.

Meanwhile, Ben is understandably getting impatient:

When the hell is the next book coming out? You’re turning into rrrr Martin.

It’s an understandable comparison, though I don’t believe it is a fair one. I would remind Ben and others who are impatiently waiting for more epic fantasy that I have an obligation to those who are so generously supporting my other projects. And those projects, in order of the level of their support, are as follows:

  1. Arkhaven (specifically AH and AH:Q, but also including Swan Knight Saga) 
  2. Infogalactic
  3. Darkstream/Voxiversity

Now, I very much enjoy working on The Arts of Dark and Light. It is a literal labor of love. It is the best thing I have yet written. But how can I justify taking so much time away from actual commitments that it hinders my ability to deliver on them, especially when I’m late on several of them as it is?

Furthermore, there is an important principle of reinforcing success and abandoning failure that must always be kept in mind. Non-fiction works such as SJWAL and Jordanetics each sell 6x more copies than novels like A Throne of Bones or Quantum Mortis, and they take CONSIDERABLY less time to write. I have a family to support, and as the Darkstream viewers know, considerable vet bills to pay. Selenoth is very far from a failure, but neither is it a commercial success on the scale of Arkhaven or even the Darkstream. So, I simply can’t justify spending very much time on indulging myself by working on the epic fantasy saga.

Readers also demanded more Quantum Mortis and I managed to find a way to deliver a lot more without taking up too much of my time. We will be announcing at least one new, and very large, Quantum Mortis project this year about which QM fans will be extremely excited, particularly those who have enjoyed the Wardogs Inc. trilogy. It’s going to be awesome. But that’s not an option for TAODAL. I can’t simply do an outline and bring in a co-author or two to crank out three or more volumes.

Here is the primary problem with the “Vox RR Day” meme: whereas George Martin is rather spectacularly failing to deliver on what pays his bills, I’m actually delivering on what pays mine. That’s why Corporate Cancer will come out before the extended version of A Sea of Skulls, and that’s why the next two big announcements we make will not be related to Selenoth in any way. And, of course, it doesn’t help me finish ASOS sooner when I’m having to spend so much time on things like Indiegogo and Amazon, to say nothing of building an alternative print/ebook/audio distribution channel, even though I’m very, very glad that we have done so and that so many of you have enthusiastically opted for it.

All that being said, I very much appreciate the continued passion for, and the interest in, TAODAL. Remember, I love it too. I continue to work on A Sea of Skulls and I am very pleased with the way it is progressing, though not the rate at which it progresses, and there will be a happy, though not entirely unanticipated, surprise for Selenoth fans this week.

TECH NOTE: for those having trouble with MP4 audiobook format, please read this guide to using it on the various platforms.

EVS follows up

Ethan gave me the chance to speak my piece, so I’ll leave him with the last word for now. However, I will respond to one of his commenters.

James Robins
I don’t get vox man. I mean comparing yourself to Gaiman? Nobody is haruki murakami, hes a great writer. But vox? Come on lol.

It’s pretty simple. I am a better novelist than Neil Gaiman by almost every reasonable measure. Anyone who has read a sufficient variety of both our novels will recognize that pretty easily. Gaiman writes a variant of the same book with the same sort of characters almost every time. Even his Sandman is a Gary Stu of sorts. I have much wider literary range and can write everything from haunting shorts that could almost pass for modern Maupassant to murder mysteries to epic military fantasy. I don’t write myself into my books and I can even successfully pull off the “you genuinely think he’s dead but actually he isn’t” trick without cheating or magic or medical science or anything but pure literary sleight of hand.

George Martin can’t do that despite repeated attempts. Gaiman can’t do it either. And as for Murakami, I have been writing a literary novel inspired by his style for years, although since I am not Japanese, it is more likely to feature a wedding than a suicide. I have no idea when it will be finished, if ever, but I think I might be able to pull it off. And if I can’t get even reasonably close, then I won’t publish it.

I admire Tanith Lee. I admire JRR Tolkien. I admire John C. Wright. I admire China Mieville. I admire Alan Moore. I admire Umberto Eco. The only thing I admire about Gaiman’s writing is his ability to give everything the flavor of a fairy tale. That’s not nothing, it’s actually pretty cool, but it’s very far from the most significant thing. Sure, he sells a lot more books, but then, Dan Brown and Katie Price sell even more and I don’t have any respect for either of their literary abilities.

Anyhow, there is no need to pay any attention to my opinion. Read the reviews of the Arts of Dark and Light instead. Better yet, read the books and decide for yourself.

  • This book contains strong traces of DNA from Umberto Eco and Neal Stephenson but it stands on its own as a fantastically monstrous creature.
  • A Throne of Bones, for me at least, shines like a beacon in this literary twilight.
  • One of the best Fantasy novels I’ve read in the past ten years.
  • Better then GOT. I read a lot of fiction. Vox’s writing skill is superb.
  • I’d put it on par with Tolkien in terms of epic fantasy.
  • I am a big time Tolkien and George Martin fan. Vox’s Selenoth has wiggled its way between Middle Earth and Westeros.
  • Comparisons with Martin are much more useful, and there I agree, Day comes out ahead.
  • Vox Day has catapulted himself into the storied and rarefied rank of writers that sits just below The Master himself. That’s right, I went there. I just said that Vox Day has written a book that is nearly as good as J. R. R. Tolkien’s work.
  • Easily the best epic fantasy series out today.
  • It is the best fantasy book of the past 50 years.

Since we’re on the subject, a bit of Selenoth-related news. Because Kindle Unlimited is becoming increasingly important, we’re going to release a new version of the series specifically formatted for KU. It will be EXACTLY the same text, but divided into more readily digestible 50k to 60k chunks and released under the series name LEGIONS OF BLOOD & BONE.

And yes, I’m still working on A SEA OF SKULLS. And yes, it will be out this year. It will be worth the wait. I think I can safely promise you that. I’m not interested in just getting it out, I am attempting to further raise my writing game.

EXCERPT: A Throne of Bones

Here is an excerpt from the 924-page epic fantasy A THRONE OF BONES. Which, by the way, is a free download today and the rest of the weekend. Also available in hardcover and paperback.

The ebb and flow of battle always seemed to follow a similar pattern, Corvus thought as he watched the ragged ranks of the goblin army march into what he intended to be the field of slaughter. A less experienced commander might be impressed by the huge quantity of armed troops as they moved, apparently inexorably, across the very meadow over which he’d ridden the day before. There were an awful lot of them, between four and five to every man of his, but the numbers were almost unimportant once a critical mass was achieved.

It was surprising how little actual killing occurred while the outcome of the battle was still in doubt, when the two front lines crashed into each other and sword met with sword. No, most of the bloodshed would take place after one side broke, its will shattered by the iron resolve of the enemy, and what had moments before been an army dissolved into a fleeing crowd of frightened individuals.

That was the moment for which every general worth his salt planned, anticipated, and feared. It was the moment in which every decision, every purchase, every piece of equipment, every hour of weapons drill and unit maneuver, was thrown into the cauldron of Fate and the bitch-goddess stirred up her bloody witches brew, seasoned it according to her whim, and served it to you. You had no choice but to swallow it.

He was determined that his would not be the side that broke.

At the moment when he caught sight of the sleek sinuous forms of the wolves slinking through the tall grass below, it was too late to regret splitting his two cavalry wings. It was too late to wonder if he should have stationed more of the artillery on the heights to his right instead of behind him in the center. It was too late to consider if he should have positioned the second and fifth cohorts on either side of the first cohort instead of the fourth and sixth.

That was the worst part of being a general. Everyone else in the legion, from the tribunes to the lowliest legionary, believed you were in command. Only you knew you weren’t. In truth, you were little more than a helpless observer, watching as the events you’d earlier put in motion played themselves out without much in the way of guidance from you or respect for your intentions. It wasn’t what he did in the heat of battle, but what he had done to prepare for it, that mattered.

And yet, he was entirely confident that it would be the goblin commander who would be drinking Fortune’s bitter draught tonight. Legio XVII might be green, but they damn sure had stouter hearts than goblins, who, despite the beating drums that urged them forward, continued to slow their march as they came closer to the Amorran lines.

The goblin advance slowed, then slowed some more, and finally came to a complete halt about fifty paces from the ground where the first cohort stood, steadfast, flanked on either side by the fourth and sixth cohorts. The drums stopped.

Corvus heard the primus pilus shout, a loud cry that was echoed by five hundred voices chanting in response. The centuries in the neighboring cohorts began to pick it up as well. A thousand voices chanted a single word, then slammed the butt of their spears twice on the ground, then repeated it again. Then two thousand voices, then three thousand.

“Legion!” Thump-thump. “Legion!”

Men stomped their feet, clapped their hands, slammed their gauntleted fists into their steel breastplates. The very hill upon which Corvus stood seemed to shake with the echoes, but not as much as the goblins. Their front ranks were visibly quivering with fear.

“Legion!” Thump-thump. “Legion!”

It sounded as if his men were summoning some ancient demon of war—no, an army of demons—from the bowels of the earth.

“Legion!” Thump-thump. “Legion!”

Corvus nodded slowly, pleased. No one, least of all the enemy ranks lined up against them, would imagine these were men who had never seen battle before. Saturnius’s centurions had done their work well.

He glanced to the left. As expected, the goblin commander had divided his wolves between the two flanks, and their right wing looked no more eager to rush forward into the teeth of the infantry fortifying the thin line of horse than their foot was to come to grips with the cohorts in the center. On the right, he saw a desultory exchange of missiles was taking place, but it was nothing to cause him any concern for the safety of two young tribunes he had stationed atop the hill there.

But if the goblin masses were intimidated, their commander was not. His response was spectacular, if not particularly effective. A strange humming filled the air, gradually swelling until the Amorran chanting began to break up as the legionaries wondered what it was. Then, with the sound of a thunderclap, purple fire arched from the goblin rear over their lines and exploded in the midst of the first cohort. He saw men fly into the air, heard other men scream, burned by the shaman’s fire. The goblin drums began to thunder again.

“Ballistari!” Saturnius turned around and screamed at the optio who commanded the artillery. “Cassabus, find me that devil-spawned bugger and flatten him now!”

Corvus squinted and attempt to see where the shaman might be, but he shrugged and gave it up after a moment. The sharpest eyes in the legion were assigned to the artillery squads, and if they couldn’t spot the goblin, his aging eyes certainly wouldn’t be up to the task either.

Saturnius’s face turned redder with each of the two subsequent magical blasts, both of which ripped small holes in the Amorran ranks. But despite their alarming effects on the morale of the troops forced to stand there helplessly enduring the magical barrage, Corvus knew the shaman wasn’t doing them any significant harm.

“They have him, legate!” Cassabus called down to an irate Saturnius. “First cohort, loose!”

There was a loud thrumming sound and the shriek of much-abused wood as the supports absorbed the force of heavy slings slamming down, one after the other.

Ten huge rocks sailed over the heads of the Amorran infantry—and the greater part of the goblin infantry as well. All crashed down into a remarkably small area and left little more than smears of green ruin behind them as they bounced and tumbled to an eventual halt well behind the enemy’s rear.

“Well done, Cassabus,” Corvus shouted to the optio. “Commend your men!”

He doubted the man could hear him over the creaking of the onagers as the ballistarii rewound their huge coils, but Cassabus saw Corvus was shouting at him, and the optio raised his fist triumphantly.

“That’ll do for the bastard,” Saturnius said with satisfaction, his complexion gradually returning to something more resembling its customary color. “And it should give any of his little bastard friends second thoughts about throwing that devil’s fire about willy-nilly.”

“Who needs Michaelines when you’ve got mules?” Corvus laughed at the sour expression on the legate’s face. No matter how well things were going, Saturnius was always foul-tempered throughout the course of a battle.

“At least we’ve got a few lads who can hit the broad side of a barn,” Saturnius said. “But I don’t know what those bloody scorpios thought they were trying to hit.”

Corvus looked behind them, momentarily confused. Sure enough, four of the scorpio squads were reloading their giant crossbows. He hadn’t even realized they had loosed their bolts.

A horn sounded, and a great purple cloud appeared out of nowhere before exploding harmlessly well over the heads of the first cohort.

It was a signal, not an attack. The goblin lines began to move forward again. There was a piercing scream, followed by another, and soon all the wretched breeds were running, shrieking like the souls of the damned as they rushed madly toward the black shields of the waiting legion. Finally, the battle would be truly joined.

Corvus glanced at Marcus Saturnius, who was scowling furiously. How many times had they witnessed this together, Corvus thought. It was always the same. It didn’t matter if you were fighting men or goblins, elves or orcs. All the sights and sounds and strategies and tactics were eventually reduced to this: two lines coming together into one.

Without any signal from either of them, as if the onrushing goblins had crossed some invisible line, a roar went up from the centurions, and a murderous flock of flying serpents leaped into the air from the first two Amorran ranks as the centuries hurled their spears.

The goblins fought with courage, but man-for-man they were much weaker than the legionaries. Their weapons were seldom able to pierce the Amorran armor, and their own armor couldn’t withstand the forged steel of the legionary blades and spearheads. And whereas a wounded goblin was prone to be crushed under the feet of his comrades as they pressed forward, a wounded legionary was quickly extracted by the men behind him and assisted, or carried if need be, to the medici positioned to the left of the reserve cohorts.

Corvus saw Saturnius looking pensive as the pressing goblins fell back momentarily following an extraordinary, but ultimately futile, effort that had seen several men in the front ranks fall, including a centurion from the sixth cohort, at the cost of more than one hundred goblins. Saturnius whispered thoughtfully to himself, then abruptly turned and said something to his draconarius, who blew four rapid notes in a signal that was acknowledged in ragged succession by the centuries fighting below.

After the last horn sounded, the ballistarii launched their missiles en masse just over the helmets of their own troops and into the enemy’s front lines. The three embattled cohorts used the resulting disarray among the goblins to rotate their first three lines of troops back and exchange them with the three lines that had been waiting, more or less patiently, for their own turn at the bloody mill.

“Nicely done,” Corvus complimented his subordinate. “They might have been on the parade ground.”

“They’d damn well better have gotten it right,” Saturnius growled. “I didn’t spend four months standing over them making them practice every day, rain or shine, for my own health. And those two centuries from the bloody sixth still tried to go right instead of left! I’ll have their centurions’ guts to lace my sandals tomorrow.”

Corvus smiled. Things were going well indeed if Saturnius was cursing his troops instead of the enemy. And unless he missed his guess, the century that bumbled its withdrawal had lost its centurion only moments before. Considering that this was their first battle and they had just lost their officer, the century from the sixth were doing well to have merely muffed a rotation. That was the ultimate tribute any unit could pay its commander, to maintain its discipline even in his absence.

Another hour or two, perhaps three more rotations, and the goblins would wear themselves out. Due to their observable lack of discipline and reluctance to come to grips, Corvus suspected the goblin cavalry would be the first to withdraw. They would use their superior speed to run away rather than screen the infantry’s retreat as they should. Then the rear ranks of the infantry would begin to melt away, until the front ones, realizing they were being abandoned, would take fright, throw down their arms, and try to flee.

And then the slaughter would begin.