“A Life Worth Dying For”, a Tale of Oshala the Hex, now available

A Life Worth Dying For cover
The next sword-and-sorcery tale of Oshala the Hex is now available.

This tale includes the fate of a past love, the fate of a dark future, otherworldly slave-drivers, feats of acrobatic skill, travel to realm of dreams, a cursed graveyard, an ancient tower of learning, a twisted prophesy, close combat on the top of a spire, a people freed of their fetters, and a broken heart.

From the blurb:
A world of dark sorcery—a time of sharpened bronze.

The pale tower of the Academy has governed the city of Lytrops with wisdom and learning for centuries. When Oshala the Hex finds the entire city forced into menial labor and her lover beset by restless spirits, what price will she pay to break their chains?

This is a 6,900-word short story in the sword-and-sorcery genre.

The story is now available for purchase at these fine retailers:

Seven Samurai and Genre Expectations

I watched Seven Samurai last night for the first time. It is, of course, masterfully done. The visuals are so rich and the story is so well-told.

We watched it on Hulu, where it’s part of the Criterion Collection. So after the feature they had a short documentary about the film, its inspirations, its impact on the genre, and its context in Japanese history. Although I had know that it was one of those “masterpiece films” that everybody talks about, I hadn’t realized that it came out only a few years after the end of the American Occupation and how that informed what was going on in the film. Kurosawa was not just making a brilliant genre picture, he was taking bits and pieces of samurai genre conventions and remixing them in a way that applied to the new reality of post-war, post-occupation Japan. There are no questions of loyalty to one’s lord in this story; the samurai are hired by the common people, collectively. While the samurai do display stereotypical traits drawn from the genre, they are each an individual. The end shows the villagers victorious, and the samurai as dying off, with no place in society. To say these things less than a decade after the Japanese militarists had used ideas of bushido to rally the people to greater sacrifice in a losing war was, and still is, powerful stuff.

I’ve been thinking along similar lines myself about this sword-and-sorcery fiction I’ve been writing. There are so many horrible genre conventions in sword-and-sorcery, from “might makes right” to issues of gender to legitimate authority deriving from birth. But I feel there is also power in the genre, and virtue can be found there. A world so big and vast that you will only ever scratch the surface of it, no matter how much you study; and yet, still being able to have an impact. The idea that your future is in your own hands. The idea that individual actions are the root of positive change. I’d like to remix sword-and-sorcery into something relevant for the 21st century, much like Kurosawa did for samurai film.

Anyway, yeah, a really great film. Got me thinking.

“The Mercy We Make” the first tale of Oshala the Hex, now available

The Mercy We Make Cover
My first foray into sword-and-sorcery fiction is now available!

I’ve never found the “sword” quite as compelling as the “sorcery”, so the main character of my stories, Oshala the Hex, is a sorceress who has sacrificed part of herself in exchange for magical power that few others possess.

In this first short story, “The Mercy We Make”, Oshala the Hex is a solitary figure who breaches the stoic mountain fastness of a long-forgotten emperor in search of an ancient artifact. The undying spirits within welcome a new, living soul to torment. But who will get the better of whom? Can Oshala the Hex escape where multitudes have fallen? Will her mission of mercy end in triumph, or eons of unending torment?

Check back next month for a new tale of Oshala the Hex.

The first 5,000-word tale is now available from these fine retailers:

The Cold, Hard Truth [fiction]

I woke up with an idea for a story. It’s set in the Liberty League universe that I have used for my With Great Power… convention events. What do you think?

********

THE STALWART

in

“The Cold, Hard Truth”

by Michael S. Miller

The Armor of Truth was going to fail. Already a dent in the shoulder plate kept me from raising my left arm. Soon, even the enchantments of Veracity that held the mystic metal together would not be able to ward off the blows of The Crusher’s reptilian fists. The Armor was going to fail.

When the Armor failed, nothing would be able to stop The Crusher from killing Constance Carrier. His genetically enhanced muscles, razor-sharp scales, and sinuous snake-like tail would work quickly. Smart, funny, beautiful Connie would die. And it would be all my fault.

The whistling of another thrown car headed my way snapped my attention back to the problems at hand. The car was headed straight for a group of panicked bystanders. I soared over, hitting the car squarely with the my still-solid right shoulder plate. Steel screeched against mystic metal and I could feel the armor tearing against itself–tearing against my soul.

The car and I crashed into a truck near the bystanders. They fled, unharmed, as I pulled myself from the wreckage. What would Wayne do? I wondered. The Armor sharpened my memory. It was as though in that instant I could see Wayne Mason–my mentor, the closest thing to a father I ever knew–standing before me.

“Even with the Armor of Truth at full power,” Wayne had lectured, “I can’t go toe-to-toe with a behemoth like The Crusher. The Armor isn’t that type of weapon. The Truth is neither the hammer, nor the anvil, Earnest. The Truth is the fire of the forge itself.”

Wayne was always saying things like that. And I thought I understood his wisdom. I thought I could take up The Stalwart’s mantel after Wayne died. I thought I could protect people. I thought I could protect Connie. I was wrong.

I looked up and saw The Crusher rip open the side of a van, near where I had stashed Connie. It was now or never. But how could I be “the fire of the forge itself”? Fires brought heat. Heat only enhanced the reptilian DNA in The Crusher, made him faster and stronger. Unless…

I knew what to do. As The Crusher’s ten-foot-tall form loomed over the SUV that I had hidden Connie underneath, I soared over to land on its roof. “If you want the girl, Crusher, you’re going to have to go through me.”

The Crusher’s snake-like mouth twisted into something approaching a grin. “I thought you’d never ask. Yer gonna be the ‘smear of truth’ when I get done with you.” Both his arms lunged at me, wrapping around my already-battered shoulders. With no legs, The Crusher’s long tail wrapped around my legs and began to squeeze. I could feel the mystic metal squeal under the assault. The Armor would fail in a minute, at most.

With The Crusher anchored firmly to me and not the ground, I took to the skies. We weren’t far from the Central Park Reservoir. It was still early spring. I plunged into the water with The Crusher coiled around me. I felt a rib crack under the pressure.

The ice had just melted, but at the bottom of the reservoir the water was still just a few degrees above freezing. The Armor kept me insulated from the cold, but The Crusher had no such protection. I was betting that the bone-chilling cold would sap his irresistible strength, maybe even send him into some sort of hibernation. But would it work fast enough to save me?

Seconds passed. The crushing force did not let up. My left shoulder plate gave way, crumpling like paper.

My shoulder exploded with pain.

I screamed.

And then, the squeezing stopped.

The Crusher released his grip and began to swim weakly for the surface. With my good right arm, I grabbed his tail and held him until I was sure that all his strength was gone. Although every move was agony, I hauled him to the surface, and checked that he was still breathing.

The city was safe. Connie was safe. The Armor of Truth had not failed. And I swore, I would not fail the Armor. Not again.