Today I am pleased and excited to be helping out with the release of this debut fantasy novel by Erin Winters!
The gleam of my badge fades and I stand where it has placed me, blinking out through the mouth of the cavern and down at the sparkling blue ocean stretching away from Kalka’an all the way to the horizon. To my immediate left, another tunnel winds along the face of the cliff into which this entire city appears to have been built, a veritable warren of tunnels connecting homes carved directly into the face of the cliff. It is one of the most spectacular places InterFiction has sent me, and I find my breath stolen. A bird of some sort catches my eye and I wonder what I look like to him, standing here in the center of what once was simply a sheer cliff’s face. I wish I could soar out over the ocean and get a better look at this unique city.
Before I can test the limits of my badge’s capabilities, however, a sound draws my attention away from the bird and the horizon and the water and further into the city itself. A tall, broad-shouldered man emerges into view and I know this must be the character I’ve been sent to meet. The man is built like a mountain, and looks about as strong. I meet his eyes and see there an arrogant self-awareness that smugly dares anyone to test the limits of his strength. Well, he won’t get any challenge from me, just questions, which he’s already agreed to answer.
I smile brightly and hold out my hand. “Canukke? Am I pronouncing that correctly? My name is Jenelle Schmidt and I’m with the InterFiction Gazette.”
Canukke’s eyes narrow for a moment, but then diplomacy takes over and he reaches out to take my hand. “Surprised you haven’t heard of me. Canukke Topothain of Gorgenbrild…pronounced Can…ook. Glintenon, you must be from awfully far away. Everyone from Gorgenbrild to Morthed, from the mountains to the south of Levav and across the sea, know my name! I’ve saved half of them, and destroyed the other half. But no matter…Quarot of Kalka’an called in a favor for me to meet with you, so strange or not, I’ll forgive you for it.”
I conceal my wry grin behind my notebook and manage to keep the mockery out of my tone. “My thanks. Well, if you are so well-known, maybe you wouldn’t mind alleviating my ignorance by telling me a little bit about yourself?”
Canukke laughs. “Ha! Where to begin! I am the most revered of all of Gorgenbrild’s warriors, hand-picked to lead this mission. It was no difficult decision, as I lead us to victory in the great Liombas-Katan campaign against the Tribesmen, saved Kalka’an from voyagers across the sea, and have slain nearly as many zegrath as I have men!” The man leans back against the cliff rocky wall and crosses his arms, wearing a smug smile. “My father died at the hands of Tribesmen, called Iyangas the last time their despicable kind tried to stitch together those barbarian tribes. Now that Khoron-muu is rebuilding in greater numbers what we splintered those years ago, they call themselves Sumus, but they are the same dark blight on our mountains. There are few I hate as completely as Tribesmen, and Bondeg was wise to see me as the best equipped to eliminate them once and for all.”
I scribble furiously, trying to get all this down. I read over my notes for a moment and then glance up. “I understand that you are on a quest at the moment and far from home. My own people are from… far away… and they would like to know more about your customs and culture. Can you tell us a little bit about your home and your people?”
Canukke fishes a whetting stone from his pocket and draws his dagger, drawing it against the stone with a harsh sound. “This blade is always sharp,” he comments, making me wonder if he’s going to answer my question. “Always ready. Never to turn! This is the motto of our people. We are honorable, but we will not be walked over. Our opinion, once lost, turns dangerously sour. Ever heard of arm for an arm, tooth for tooth? Well, we take it literally. It keeps cowards from making stupid decisions, and maintains peace when ill-intentions get out of hand. If you hurt me, I deserve to be able to hurt you back. That’s how it works.” He sighs, looking down at his dagger as its steel blade glints in the sunlight. “I wish I could have met with you in my homeland, with its beautiful mountains, uneven ground and many levels of terrain. Some say we are a harsh people, but this is a harsh world. Here, in Kalka’an, they are not so honest, and they do not agree with our ways. But they are loyal allies in an hour of need.”
“It sounds like a harsh way to live,” I comment. This gets his hackles up a bit so I forge on, “I understand that you and some other elite warriors are on a quest seeking a mythical weapon. What is this weapon and why are you looking for it?”
“Yes, my companions and I were all painstakingly selected for this mission. Malum Khoron-muu has his Tribesmen surrounding our home of Gorgenbrild, and they have already choked off trade routes, slaughtering any attempting to come in or out. They know better than to attack us when we are strong, even if we are outnumbered, so they are laying siege. We are excellent fighters, but the Tribes have never united in such strength before. We need the legendary power of the Ecyah Stone if we hope to save ourselves, so we slipped away in hopes of finding the Stone and returning in time to overthrow the Khoron-muu and his Sumu Tribesmen. Some say it is a myth, but there are those of us who believe the old stories.”
I tilt my head to one side, surveying him. “What will happen if you do not find the weapon?”
Canukke looks down, and lets out a heavy sigh. He twists the point of his dagger into the index finger of his opposite hand until a trickle of blood runs down it. “Death. Death to all we hold dear, death to Gorgenbrild as a people, and death to any hope within it. I only hope we are not too late.”
I shudder at the sight of the self-inflicted wound and try not to pass out… that would be the height of embarrassment. I look at my notes again and realize that we haven’t discussed the main character (though I am careful not to call her that in Canukke’s hearing!) “Can you tell me a little bit about this Enouim? She’s not a warrior, right? So why is she traveling with you?”
“Enouim!” Canukke spits to the side, fire in his eyes. “Coward! She broke the arm of my right hand man – or woman, I suppose, though she’s burly as any man – and wouldn’t let Chayan take her revenge. Sure, she goes overboard sometimes, but that’s why she was perfect for this mission. And now we are short an experienced warrior and replaced with a liability like this? Enouim hasn’t fought a day in her life. Much like you, I’d wager – ha! She is worthless to the cause and should have minded her own business. Imbecile actually ran away from Chayan and ended up hidden in our supply wagon, here by total accident. Can you imagine? She’ll be the death of us all.” He furrows his brow, deep in thought. “Unless…unless she’s not with us. I think I’ll leave her here. She can’t go home, she’d be killed, but I certainly won’t have her joining us. I had hoped she would be able to return to Gorgenbrild with the traders, but now we know that isn’t possible, and she told me at the feast that she wants to stay on the mission. The others won’t stand for leaving her behind. Too soft, and they seem to like her. But I’ll do what needs done. I’ll tell them she opted to stay in Kalka’an, and we will leave without her at first light.”
“I’m… not so sure that will work,” I venture, but Canuuke is not listening to me, and it’s probably better that way. “One last question: if you could ask your author to change one thing about your life, what would it be and why?”
Pulled out of his reverie, Canukke looks up. “Author? Tell me, if there was some all powerful being controlling us all, would he allow the Tribesmen to destroy Gorgenbrild? Would he let this fool of a girl onto a mission she has no business being on? If I could change something about my life…I would have my home be safe from threats, my wife look at me with more than disdain, and my warriors be man enough to do what needs doing. I’ll show them how it’s done. I’ll show them all.” He wipes the blood off his dagger onto his pants, and tosses the dagger up into the air. Catching it on the handle, he sheaths it again in a swift motion, and suddenly strides forward until he’s nearly nose to nose with me. His eyes are dark and threatening as he stares me down. “You will not breathe a word of this to anyone, you hear? Not until we’re long gone.”
I manage a nod, my hand straying unconsciously to my badge. Satisfied that I will not betray him, he turns on his heel and disappears into the tunnels of the mountain. Rattled more than I’d like to admit, I give a last, sweeping look around as my badge blinks red and this realm fades. I want to explore it further, but I’ll have to do so the more traditional way… from the safety of my couch.
To learn more about Canukke, Enouim, and their quest make sure you grab a copy of their book HERE!
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Erin Winters grew up in Raleigh, NC and currently resides in Lynchburg, VA with her husband and son. When she was little she wrote many stories she would likely be appalled to rediscover now, and wanted to be an author around the same time she wanted to be a dolphin trainer. Neither panned out at first, but Erin started writing on the side in August 2017. She started training in the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga around the same time, and enjoys putting bits and pieces from those experiences into her books.
Erin also loves steak and potatoes, board games, and curling up in fuzzy socks with a cup of hot chocolate.
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