The Counterfeit Sorcerer
A five-book epic sword and sorcery series
The Counterfeit Sorcerer
A five-book epic sword and sorcery series
This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Sun, August 25 2019 3:55 AM UTC +00:00.
A hooded man, his face marred by a mysterious black brand, walks the Plain of Savlos. Some say he has the power to summon demons. Others say he is the only one who can vanquish them. His name is Konrad, and he has a secret....
The Counterfeit Sorcerer is a five-book epic sword-and-sorcery series. Think Conan, Elric, or Prince Corwin of Amber. After finishing up my Iron Dragon saga, I wanted to write something for pure fun (and that didn't require so much research!). The Counterfeit Sorcerer series tells the story of young soldier named Konrad who is unwittingly drawn into an age-old conflict between warring sorcerers--and will need all of his cunning just to survive!
Ogres, demons, warlocks, wraiths... you'll meet them all in The Counterfeit Sorcerer. The series starts with The Brand of the Warlock, which tells of Konrad's origin as a soldier in the service of the Eastern Army, his quest to find his one true love, and his fateful encounter with a dying warlock. The complete series consists of:
- The Brand of the Warlock (Release date: Aug 30, 2019)
- The Rise of the Demon Prince (Release date: Oct 11, 2019)
- The Book of the Dead (Release date: Nov 22, 2019)
- The Throne of Darkness (Release date: Jan 3, 2020)
- The End of All Things (Release date: Mar 13, 2020)
Each book will be between 60,000 and 80,000 words long (about 280 pages). The books will be released one every six weeks, beginning on August 30. Titles are subject to change.
To give you a feel of what the books are about, I've included a sample chapter below.
THE BRAND OF THE WARLOCK: CHAPTER ONE
On the seventeenth day of the seventh year of my incarceration, I was taken from my cell in the deepest level of the dungeon of Nincs Varazslat to a small room where the chief prosecutor of Nagyvaros waited for me. I recognized the man; he was the one who had led the prosecution against me six years earlier. A small man with rosy cheeks and knobby, rounded features, he rubbed his clean-shaved chin and stared at the wall as if it were a window. I was led to a chair that was bolted to the stone floor and my shackles were secured to a rusty loop of iron that arose from the floor between my feet, so that I was forced to sit in a hunched position. The dank room was lit by a single lantern that hung from a hook on the wall near the heavy wooden door.
“There has been a murder,” he said, without prelude, and a spark of hope kindled inside me. Not because I am, as a rule, pleased about murder—I desire the deaths only of a very few—but the prosecutor hadn’t descended into Nincs Varazslat to keep me apprised of current events. He wanted something, and he knew better than to expect help from Eben the Warlock without offering something in return.
“An adept of Turelem,” he went on, when I didn’t reply. “On her way to Nagyvaros from the south, traveling with a contingent of six armed guards. She was killed violently in the room of the inn where she had stopped for the night. The guards heard her screams, but the door was barred from inside. By the time they hacked their way in, she’d been mauled to death. There was no one else in the room.”
The prosecutor’s visit began to make sense: under pressure to solve an inexplicable case, he came to consult the only sorcerer he had at his disposal, hoping that I could give him some answers. I wondered how much the answers were worth to him.
I would like to report that I maintained a stoic demeanor, but no one who has not been imprisoned in a place like Nincs Varazslat can know how desperate I was for some improvement—or at least a change—in my circumstances. Even conversation with a person as unpleasant as the prosecutor was a blessed reprieve from the eternal gloom and monotony of my cell. But it would not serve me to appear too eager, and I had learned the skill of patience. I did my best to affect an air of glibness.
“I believe,” I said, “I was in my cell that day.”
He gave me a pained smile, attempting to meet my gaze. This was a mistake, as it revealed his lack of resolve. After a second, he looked away. No one can look at my face very long. “Geography is no barrier to sorcery,” he said, renewing his interest in the wall.
“But these walls are,” I said. “Or did I misunderstand the purpose of my stay here?”
He reached out and touched the wall and then pulled his hand back, rubbing the white residue between his fingertips. “I wonder if it’s really as simple as that.”
I shrugged. For three hundred years, Nincs Varazslat had been the main source of salt throughout Orszag. When the miners had dug so deep that it was no longer worthwhile to remove the salt, the mine had been shuttered. Forty years later, the adepts reopened it as a prison for those suspected of practicing sorcery, salt being a well-known impediment to magic. Whether it worked was still a matter of debate, but no one had ever escaped from Nincs Varazslat.
When it became clear that I had nothing more to say on the matter, the prosecutor spoke again. “I have been authorized to give you certain rewards.”
He hesitated a moment. “Your freedom.”
I stared at him, unable to completely contain my shock. A pardon for a man facing a life sentence for sorcery in exchange for help with a murder I couldn’t possibly know anything about? It was so absurd that it could only be true. If he were lying, he’d have promised some small improvement in my accommodations—a new mattress or block of cheese. Not a pardon.
“You are offering my freedom in return for information about this murder?”
“I don’t expect that you know anything about this particular crime. But perhaps you know something that might help. A name, maybe.”
“You wish me to offer up another sorcerer. Have you forgotten that you had them all killed?”
“Apparently we were not as thorough as we thought.”
“You haven’t answered my question. What are the terms of your offer?”
“I can only say that your help would be appreciated.”
The prosecutor’s evasiveness suggested he was hiding something. But if he were lying about the pardon, he’d have doubled down when prompted to clarify his offer. Instead, he’d left the matter intentionally vague. He was willing to mislead me, but he stopped short of an outright lie. Why?
I saw the answer on his face, as he continued to avoid my gaze: he was afraid of me. Specifically, he was afraid of what I would do to him if he lied to me. I was powerless to hurt him as long as I remained in Nincs Varazslat, so his fear suggested the matter of my release was out of his hands. It all dovetailed: the prosecutor’s offer of freedom wasn’t conditional on my assistance; that was merely an inference he’d hoped I would make. He’d been ordered to release me, and, schemer that he was, had hoped to fool me into thinking he was being magnanimous in his reward for my help.
“Where did you say this murder occurred?” I asked.
“About ten leagues south of Nagyvaros.”
“The adept was on her way to the city?”
“It appears so. She left Delivaros with her entourage the previous day.”
“What was her business in Nagyvaros?”
“We do not know. It is possible she came bearing some news for the Governor, but nothing of interest was found in the room.”
The prosecutor answered my questions without hesitation. The answers had the ring of truth, and he seemed to be sincere in his request for assistance. I had been considering the possibility that he hoped to take advantage of my desperation to manipulate me into incriminating myself in the murder, but this hypothesis didn’t fit with his demeanor. In any case, he was deluded if he thought he could tie me to a murder that had occurred leagues away while I was incarcerated in a prison that had been constructed specifically to foil attempts at sorcery. There were limits to what even the most prejudiced judge would believe.
My hypothesis stood: someone had ordered my release, and the prosecutor was hoping to make the best of the situation by getting some assistance in solving the murder of the adept before he was forced to let me go. I couldn’t imagine what had precipitated the order for my release. Sorcery remained illegal, as far as I knew, but perhaps there had been a change in the political winds, or maybe I had a powerful friend I didn’t know about. There would be plenty of time to solve that mystery; my primary concern at present was to avoid saying anything that might scuttle my chance at freedom.
Feeling charitable, I decided to give him the full benefit of my arcane knowledge.
“You say the adept was mauled?”
“Yes. It looked as if she’d been attacked by a large animal, perhaps a wolf. But as I say, she was found alone in the room. The door was barred and the shutters locked. There is no way any animal—or human being, for that matter—could have gotten to him.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “It would seem some sort of sorcery is involved.”
“I am loath to admit the possibility, but there is no natural explanation. Is there anything more you can tell me? Who might be responsible, or where they might be found?”
“Summoning a beast from the shadow world is a difficult task under any circumstances,” I said, “and it requires a demanding ritual to be executed with great precision. Someone conducting such a ritual near an inn where an adept was staying would undoubtedly have attracted attention, which means the sorcerer in question was capable of exerting his will over a great distance. There were only ever a handful of sorcerers capable of such a feat, and to my knowledge they are all long dead.”
“But there must be someone,” said the prosecutor, “or the crime is truly inexplicable.”
I paused, staring over the prosecutor’s shoulder as if remembering. “There is one man,” I said, “called Jagr. When I knew him, he was only a novice, but he may have developed his powers since that time. His father was killed by the Order of Turelem, so Jagr held a terrible grudge against the adepts. He sought to learn the darkest magics to wreak his vengeance upon the adepts, but because of the Purge there was no one left in Orszag to help him learn to control his considerable power. The last I knew, he had fled to the east to find a legendary sorcerer named Varastis, who had founded a refuge for others who had survived the Purge. To be honest, I had always thought the story of Varastis was a myth, but perhaps there is something to it after all. If Jagr managed to reach the sorcerer’s refuge and learn the secrets of summoning and controlling beasts from the shadow realm, he may very well have been capable of the crime you describe. He certainly had motive.”
“Do you have any idea where we might find this Jagr?”
“Look for him in the hills to the east of Nagyvaros, near the creek called Sebastis by the locals. When he was a boy, he lived in a cave there with his father.”
“A sorcerer living in a cave?” asked the prosecutor, dubious.
“Sorcerers are no more welcome in the farming villages than in Nagyvaros. The father made the occasional erme by casting a hex on an enemy of one of the local aristocrats, but he was foolish with money and spent most of it on wine. They were outlaws, subsisting on goods stolen from local farmers. If it is Jagr you are looking for, he will have gone into hiding after the murder, and I would wager you will find him in that very cave.”
The prosecutor nodded, seeming somewhat encouraged. “Very good,” he said. “As you say, if the adepts killed his father, he certainly had motive.”
“Indeed. Although it occurs to me that any sorcerer might well have the same motive.”
“You’re the only other living sorcerer I’m aware of.”
“Yes, and as we’ve established, I had an alibi. Of course, I bear no ill will to anyone simply for doing their job.”
“Ah? Well. That is good to hear.”
“Is it?” I said flatly, meeting his glance. To his credit, he managed to keep his eyes on my face for nearly three seconds this time before looking away. He moved toward the door.
“I assume my cooperation has been satisfactory?” I asked, rattling my chains at him.
“Oh. Yes. Yes, of course. Guard!”
A man came shuffling down the hallway, a ring of keys jangling at his side.
“This man is free to go.”
“Mm,” said the guard, evincing no surprise. He stuck one of the keys in the lock and pulled the door open. This was Anders, a dour but conscientious man with a head of bushy gray hair who had once been tall but was now hunchbacked from a lifetime in Nincs Varazslat.
“Yes, yes,” the prosecutor said. “He has been very helpful. Release him at once!” He hesitated a moment as if he meant to say something more, but then simply brushed past Anders and down the hall. Anders shrugged and shuffled toward me. He located the key for my shackles and unfastened them.
I stood up slowly, rubbing my wrists. “I don’t suppose you’ve retained my personal effects?”
“I’m afraid not, sir. Prisoners’ things are sold at auction.”
I couldn’t help smiling at Anders’s apologetic manner. The man had served me my dinner every day for over six years. He had called me a lot of things during that time, but never sir. “I’ll need fresh clothes, at least,” I said, motioning toward the filthy rags that clung to my body. I didn’t really expect them to give me new clothes, but to my surprise, Anders said, “I believe that’s been taken care of, sir. This way.”
He led me down the hall to a wooden door. He unlocked the door, took a lantern from the wall, and went inside. Following him, I found myself in a small sitting room appointed with a small table and three shabby wooden chairs. On the table was a washbasin and a parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. The seam of the paper was sealed with a generous glob of wax, in which was visible the unbroken seal of the Office of the Governor of the City-State of Nagyvaros. Anders left the lantern on the table and left without a word, closing the door behind him.
I untied the string and broke the seal, tearing open the paper. Inside was a pair of cotton trousers, a tunic, and a pair of leather shoes in my size. Beneath the clothes was a small cloth purse, which held forty silver ermes, and an envelope. The envelope also bore the Governor’s seal. On it was written:
Eben the Warlock
I tore it open but saw that the lantern was beginning to fade; it was nearly out of oil. I set down the envelope, stripped off my rags, and did my best to wash with the water in the basin. By the time I’d dripped dry, the lantern had died. I dressed in the dark, slipped the envelope and purse into my shirt, and then opened the door. Seeing a dim glow further down the passageway, I walked toward it until Anders appeared again, walking toward me bearing another lantern. He nodded as if expecting me, and then turned to go back the way he had come. I followed.
After meandering through winding tunnels for some time, we came to a lift that was little more than a rusty iron cage suspended by a heavy chain. Anders motioned for me to enter, and I did so. Dim gray light filtered down from somewhere far above. He closed the door behind me and walked to a bronze bell hanging from a nearby wall. He rang it, and the sound echoed up the shaft. Before the last chime had faded into silence, I heard the creaking of gears, and the chain went taut. Slowly I began to ascend.
The journey to the surface took nearly five minutes, during which I breathed deeply, trying to contain my excitement. Some part of me was convinced that if I revealed my elation at being released, it would soon be revealed that all of this—from the prosecutor’s visit to the mysterious letter—was a dream or a cruel joke meant to break whatever was left of my spirit. I felt the purse against the skin, rubbing the coins together to assure myself of their realness. I put my fingers inside my shirt, thinking to extract the letter, but there wasn’t enough light to read.
The top of the shaft opened into the main hall of a dilapidated stone building that had briefly been an infantry garrison after the closure of the salt mine. The hall was long and narrow, with high stone walls ribbed with supporting pillars that transformed into arches overhead. A few windows high above provided a modicum of light. The floor was of packed earth, and the place smelled of mildew and must. Heavy wooden doors led to rooms that had once been offices, stables or barracks. A draft of cold air reminded me it was winter. The place was eerily quiet; since being turned into a prison, Nincs Varazslat was unmanned except for the warden and a small contingent of guards. As far as I knew, I was the only inmate. I wondered if they would keep the place open after I left.
The warden met me at the top of the lift, personally opening the door and—if I’m not mistaken—giving me a slight bow. Even in the dim light of the keep, I could see the fear on his face. Like Anders, he avoided looking at my face. The change in his demeanor was almost comical. “I see the package reached you,” said the warden. “I must say, you look much improved.”
“I will need your cloak,” I said, suppressing a shiver.
“Of course,” the warden said, removing his cloak. He handed it to me, and I put it on. I left my head exposed for the moment.
“And a horse.”
He gaped at me, and for a moment I thought I had overplayed my hand. “We only have one,” he said. “We use it for carrying supplies from the city.”
“I’m sure it will do.”
Again he hesitated. “You understand that I have no control over who is remanded to my care.”
“Good, good. I realize it must be tempting to—”
“You are, however, responsible for the treatment of the prisoners.”
He paled. “Oto!” he shouted. “Saddle up Safflower and bring her here!”
We waited there in silence for several minutes, the warden stamping his feet against the cold and studying the ground with great interest. At last Oto arrived with such a sorry-looking nag that I almost regretted asking for her. I climbed into the saddle and walked her slowly to the gate, which Oto had run to open. The sky was overcast, but even so the glare from the opening seemed to pierce to the back of my skull. My eyes hadn’t been exposed to anything brighter than the glow of a torch for nearly two years.
I pulled the hood of the cloak over my eyes and rode out of the garrison without looking back. Without needing any direction, Safflower continued across the muddy yard in front of the gate and onto the narrow trail that wended through the foothills to the city of Nagyvaros. I guessed that it was late morning. From the reckoning of the days I had kept for some time, I knew that it was ten days past Telkozep, the winter solstice. The air was crisp and still, the temperature hovering just above freezing. The sparse grasses that clung to the hills had long since acquiesced to the demands of winter; except for a few shaded patches were clumps of snow lingered, the ground was a mottled yellow-brown.
After an hour of traveling, my eyes had adjusted to the light. Not much later, we came to a vantage point in the trail from where I could see the Plain of Savlos open below me. Barely visible in the distance were the black rock walls of Nagyvaros. I pulled the reins, turning Safflower to face the direction we had come. The garrison was hidden behind a hill; the only evidence of it was a plume of gray smoke coming from its chimney. Except for a few places where it was hidden by sharp bends, the trail was visible for nearly three miles. After watching for a few minutes, I managed to convince myself that no one was following me. It had really happened, then. I was free. Safflower gave a whinny, and I climbed down from her back. She took a few tentative steps, and when she was satisfied I wasn’t going to stop her, walked to the edge of the trail and began chewing at the greenery that clung to the rocks.
I climbed to the top of a hill with a good view of the trail, sat down on a boulder and pulled the envelope from my shirt. I tore it open and unfolded the letter inside. It read:
If you are reading this, it means that my efforts to get you released have succeeded at last. I am very sorry for the delay and the suffering it has caused you, but securing a pardon for a sorcerer is no easy feat these days, even for someone with my connections and influence. I must confess as well that it is not entirely for your own good that I have undertaken this labor. The truth is that I need your help. The evil which we have long sought to check has renewed its onslaught, and I am afraid I am not strong enough to stop it on my own. If we fail, Nagyvaros will fall. Because of my position, I must be careful, but I will come to you when the opportunity presents itself. In the meantime, make whatever preparations you can. I have provided you with some clothes and a small amount of money to facilitate your return to your laboratory, which I trust remains undiscovered.
I read the letter twice more and then folded it, put it in the envelope, and tucked it back in my shirt. I sat watching the trail until my stomach began to growl; I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous night’s dinner, and the excitement and exertion of the day had made me hungry. I climbed back down the hillside and found Safflower nibbling at grass not far from where I’d left her. I climbed back into the saddle and continued my journey to the city.
As I rode, I reflected on the contents of the letter. It seemed that my release was not unconditional after all. Having spent two years in a dungeon for the crime of sorcery, my benefactor now expected me to resume that occupation to forestall the destruction of Nagyvaros at the hands of some great evil. It seemed a laudable goal, but the plan possessed a critical flaw of which my benefactor was evidently unaware:
I am not Eben the Warlock.
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Risks and challenges
I have written 20 novels and launched 8 successful Kickstarters. As of launch, the first book is completed and the second is near completion. I intend to keep to a strict release schedule with this project, releasing a new book every 6 weeks. Barring major unforeseen events, this should be no problem.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter