QSFer Garrett Robinson has a new queer fantasy book out: Blood Lust
AN UNSTOPPABLE WARRIOR. A FATAL QUEST FOR REVENGE.
From #1 Amazon Bestseller Garrett Robinson
In an unknown tavern in the kingdom of Dorsea, a young noble girl named Sun meets an old man: Albern, of the family Telfer, once the dearest friend of Mag.
Mag. The Uncut Lady. The Wanderer. Stories of her skill are known throughout all the nine kingdoms. But few know how her tale ended—and even fewer know how it began.
Albern begins his story.
Stripped of everything she loved—her town, her home, and her husband—Mag sets off into the Greatrock mountains seeking revenge. Albern accompanies her, his only hope to keep her alive as long as he can.
But the Shades are not the only things lurking in the mountains. An ancient creature of unspeakable evil awaits them—and even the strength of The Wanderer may not be enough.
Garrett is giving away three hardcover copies of Nightblade, the first book of Underrealm, with this post. Comment below for a chance to win. A #1 Amazon bestseller with more than 100,000 copies sold. More info here: https://underrealm.net/nb1. International shipping available.
Mag, Loren, and I ran back to the inn as fast as we could. Loren and her friends had to leave immediately. I went with her to the stables to ready their horses, while Mag excused herself for a moment, taking Sten with her. Together they went to their room in the Lee Shore, though Sten followed his wife with a mystified expression.
“What is it?” he asked as she closed the door behind them both.
“Danger,” said Mag. She went to the bed and flipped it up on its side, scattering pillows across the floor. “I do not know how great the threat is, but from the fear in Albern’s voice, it is considerable. The children and the wizard must leave at once, and we are going to protect them.”
“What?” said Sten, frowning at the mess she had made. “Protect them from who?”
“I do not know that either, save that his name is Rogan.” Mag knelt, seizing the lock of a chest that had been concealed beneath the bed and fishing in her pocket for its key. “You heard Albern speak of the ones he fought in the mountains. I believe they have come here, though I do not know how many.”
Sten fell on his knees beside her and took her shoulders, turning her towards him. Mag paused in her hurried movements, looking him in the eye.
“You mean to fight,” he said.
“If need be,” said Mag.
“It has been a long time since you picked up a blade.”
She smiled. “I only wish I had time to go to the Reeve.”
His eyes darkened. “You promised,” he said. “You swore to me.”
“It was a joke. A poor one.” The words sounded weak even in her own ears.
Sten looked into her eyes a moment more, letting her see that he did not believe her. But then he squeezed her shoulders, and from his breast pocket he produced the key she had been searching for.
“You always leave it somewhere,” he grumbled.
“Thank you,” said Mag, taking the key. “Look after the inn.”
“Now that was a poor joke,” said Sten. “I am coming with you, of course.”
For the first time in a long while, Mag’s face filled with fear. “Sten, you should stay and—”
“I certainly will not,” said Sten. “If the children must be seen to safety, then I am coming, too.”
“Sten,” she pleaded. “If it comes to a fight, I would rather not have you involved.”
“You will have to bear it, unless you mean to stay here with me.”
“It will be more dangerous for me if I have to worry about you.”
Sten laughed, his shoulders shaking. “Do you jest? You and I both know you will be in no danger, whatever may happen.”
“But you will,” said Mag. “Sten, please—”
“Albern is going. That wizard is going. Even those children are riding by Loren’s side. I want to help, Mag. We belong to each other, but you do not own me.”
Mag’s fingers clenched around the key. But after a silent moment, she bowed her head. “Of course not,” she said. Her voice had become quite small and frightened—very different from her usual strong, matronly tone. “But if anything were to—”
The blast of a horn cut the air. Mag’s head jerked up, and Sten met her gaze. The horn faded away, to be replaced with the tolling of a bell.
“An attack,” said Sten.
“Yes,” said Mag.
“We should go.”
Mag’s hands quivered slightly as she unlocked the chest and threw it open. Inside were two swords and two shields. She handed one each to Sten before taking up her own. Together they stood, and Mag gave her blade two quick swings.
“It has been some time,” she said.
“I wish it were twice as long,” replied Sten. “Quickly. The others will be in the stables.”
They rushed downstairs. On the threshold of the common room, Mag paused. The customers were stirring, looking around anxiously as the bell continued to toll. The front door of the inn burst open, revealing a woman whose face was a mask of panic.
“An army!” she cried. “An army has marched out of the Greatrocks! They have the west gate, and they are killing everyone they can get their hands on!”
A great tumult burst out in the room, terror rising like a tide. But even as everyone rose to their feet and looked about, trying to decide what to do, Mag raised two fingers to her lips and gave a sharp whistle. The common room fell silent as all eyes turned to her.
“Foes attack Northwood,” she said. “If you can fight, fetch your weapons. If you cannot, find a good place to hide yourselves and your families. But whatever you do, do it quickly, for they will not wait for you to decide. Go!”
The last word cracked like a whip. Her customers jerked where they stood and then began moving with purpose. Mag nodded to Sten, and they made their way to the stables.
When they threw open the wide double doors, Loren and I whirled, drawing our weapons. We relaxed as we recognized them—but then Loren balked at the sight of their swords and shields.
“The city is under siege,” said Mag. “We shall see you safely beyond the walls.”
“You should go back inside,” said Loren. “Wait until we have gone. They will pursue us beyond the city and leave Northwood in peace.”
“That I doubt,” said Mag. “There is already killing in the streets. And you have no time to convince me otherwise. Mount your horses. Quickly.”
Before Loren could argue, I took her arm and urged her towards the saddle of her horse, Midnight. “You are nearly a match for Mag in stubbornness, girl, but not quite. Heed her.”
Loren clearly did not like it, but she did as I asked. We rode out, with Mag and Sten on foot, walking to either side of Loren like an honor guard.
We hoped to reach the north gate before the Shades could, but that hope proved to be in vain. We could not avoid the fighting in the streets. Dread and horror came over me as I saw the Shades in battle against the people of Northwood. The attackers were trained soldiers, well armed and armored. The people of Northwood were hardy, but most of them fought with simple clubs and farm tools. Some few of them had old weapons, heirlooms of ancestors who had once fought in the king’s army, and there were a few constables among their number trying to organize a defense. But they never had a chance.
It pained me to see Northwood burn. I could only imagine how it felt to Mag and Sten. I watched them as we moved. Mag’s eyes darted everywhere, her sword arm twitching occasionally as if aching to be used. We had not yet entered battle, but I knew what would happen when we did. It filled me with the same feeling I had had on the Reeve—that curious mix of trepidation and excitement. But I knew Sten must be filled with dread of it.
Two spans away from the north gate, it happened at last. We came to an open square, and there we found the largest battle we had seen yet. The people of Northwood had assembled into some attempt at rank and file, and they outnumbered the Shades. But though some of the Shades had fallen in the fighting, their victims’ corpses outnumbered them three to one.
Mag stopped dead, and I felt the mounting tension inside her vanish. Sten saw it, too, and his jaw clenched as if with pain.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, rolling her shoulders.
When she opened her eyes again, something was gone from inside them. It was as though a fire inside her had been hidden behind a heavy black curtain.
I had seen it too many times not to know what would happen next, and I will not lie to you: excitement filled me to see it. But looking into Sten’s eyes, I saw his heart break.
“No use,” said Mag. “It will be a fight.”
Her voice had become a chilling monotone, flat and lifeless. I could see the effect of it on the children, who had only known her for a few days, and had only seen her act motherly. They looked at her as though she were a stranger. I drew an arrow and spoke to Loren and the others.
“Stay behind Mag and Sten. Stay your blades unless you have no other choice, for they will try to seize them and pull you down. Now, charge!”
And Mag did. The battle-lust had taken her. She had seen her fellow citizens cut down without cause, without justice or mercy. Her town burned around her. It filled her with a rage that was white-hot and utterly merciless, and Mag intended to douse that rage in blood, forging it into a weapon against which no one could hope to stand.
The Shades did not see her coming until it was too late. In a heartbeat she had plunged into the thick of them. Even when they closed in and tried to surround her, they could not pierce her defense. Her shield moved just as quickly as her blade, blocking every attack. Then Sten was behind her, guarding her flanks even though she did not need it. He was a fine fighter in his own right, but he battled to survive, to keep the blades of his foes at bay. Mag fought to kill, to destroy, to cast her foes into the darkness from which there is no escape.
I played my part, of course, loosing arrows as fast as I could—and though I dislike boasting, that was quite fast indeed. I chose my targets carefully, bringing down Shades as close to Sten as I could while being careful not to endanger him. Had there been a hundred warriors like the three of us that day, I do not mind saying that Northwood might not have fallen.
The first fight was over quickly. The remaining Shades quickly turned tail and ran. They had not planned to face determined fighters who knew their way around city warfare. Mag watched them go. She must have wanted to chase them, but the children still needed her protection.
She turned to Loren. Blood had spattered her face. When she spoke, there were flecks of it on her teeth.
“On,” she growled. “Do not stop moving, not even for a moment.”
Loren and the others obeyed, though I could see in their eyes that they were now almost as frightened of Mag as they were of the Shades. We pushed for the north gate. Twice more we met Shades in battle, and twice Mag massacred them until the rest fled in terror.
I had almost forgotten. The long years since our time as mercenaries had dulled my memories of Mag’s battle-trance, the thrill and the terror of it. Thrilling because I felt nothing could stand against us with Mag on our side. Terrifying because when you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with such blood lust, it is impossible not to imagine what would happen if it were turned on you, instead.
Two more turns in the street brought us within sight of the north gate. But there we stopped, for the way was barred. The Shades had already encircled the city. Ranks of them were marching through the gate, swords bared and shields up. It was an army—a far, far greater number than we had seen in the Greatrocks.
“There are so many,” breathed Loren.
“Surely not even Mag can defeat them all,” said Gem, his voice small and squeaking. “Albern … what do we do?”
I hesitated. The boy was not wrong. Mag was the best fighter I had ever seen or heard of in legend. Yet even she could not defeat an entire army on her own. I looked at her. She had stopped in her tracks. Surely, I thought, surely even her thirst for battle is not enough to draw her into a fight against so many foes.
Loren gripped her reins, pulling them to the right. “Come. Mayhap they have not reached the eastern gate yet. We can try to—”
“They will have reached it,” said Mag. She turned to the rest of us, and there was no trace of a smile on her lips. “Come now, little children. Do you fear so few of them? Come with me, and you shall reach the Birchwood. I swear it.”
I heard the words. But I heard what she left unsaid as well. Mag had said the children would reach the Birchwood.
She had said nothing of herself.
Fear gripped me.
“Mag!” I cried.
It was too late. She turned and charged straight into the midst of her enemies, her blood-soaked blade held aloft. Sten did not hesitate, but plunged into the fray just behind her.
Fury filled me then, and though they were not to blame, I turned it on the children. Loren had taken a vow not to kill. She would be no help to us in this fight.
“Make use of those bows on your backs, or give me your arrows, but do not stand here idle while she risks her life for yours.”
And so saying, I spurred my mount onwards behind Mag and Sten.
It can be hard to tell a story of your own exploits without sounding boastful, particularly when you accomplish something especially noteworthy. Let it sound like pride, then, when I say that my bow sang a mighty anthem of death that day. I fought like I had never fought for any mercenary company I had served in. This was no warfare for mere coin. For the first time since I had met her, I feared that Mag might fall in battle, and I swore I would not let it happen unless I had perished first. When the Shades got too close, I drew my sword and hacked them down. And I fired arrows as fast as heartbeats, slaying any Shade who dared approach my friend.
Mag, for her part, fought with all the glory and fury that legends have built up around her. Others have been called “one who walks with death,” but Mag was death’s master on that day. My friend was gone, and a merciless killer had taken her place. She was the Uncut Lady. She was death made beautiful. No matter how many she felled, her strikes never slowed. Her foes could not pierce her defenses, not even when they surrounded her, for Sten was behind her. Back to back they fought, Sten the bulwark and Mag the striking serpent. And I was the vengeful stormcloud that rained death on any Shade who threatened to break their guard.
Loren’s scream pierced the chaos, and I wheeled in my saddle. She sat there with bow in hand, her already pale face Elf-white with fear. But her finger was outthrust, pointing north.
I looked, and I saw what Loren had spotted. The Shades, seeking to kill Mag, had drawn to one side of the wide street. There was an open corridor on the other side, and it led straight to the north gate.
For one moment, hope swelled in my breast. We could escape. We could ride hard before the Shades noticed, and we could reach freedom.
But then I turned back to the battle and saw Mag surrounded by her foes.
We could escape. But she never could.
And then Sten slipped.
After blooding himself in the independent film industry, he self-published his first book in 2012 and swiftly followed it with a stream of others, publishing more than two million words by 2014. Within months he topped numerous Amazon bestseller lists. In 2016, after continuing success, he and his wife created Legacy Books as a publishing house to highlight diverse voices in fantasy.
Now, whenever they’re not with their kids, they spend their time writing and publishing books.
Garrett’s most popular works are the novels of Underrealm, including The Nightblade Epic, The Academy Journals, and the Tales of the Wanderer.
Garrett lives in Oregon with his wife Meghan, his children Dawn, Luke, and Desmond, and his dog Chewbacca.