Friday, March 17, 2023

Tristan Dineen Author Interview

Originally appeared at

A little introduction.

Hello all! I’m Tristan Dineen, author of the Falhorne series of dark fantasy novels. I’m an ESL teacher based in Canada, at least when the nether realms of my imagination aren’t calling me away.

When did your love of books begin?

Deep in the mists of time. I was obsessed with Robin Hood and King Arthur as a kid and those stories ultimately led me to Tolkien.

When did you start to have the wish to become an author?

I read The Hobbit in sixth grade and that basically did it – I wanted to be a writer. It still took me until my 30s to actually write my first novel, but the seed was planted. The vividness of Middle Earth was spellbinding and I started designing my own fantasy worlds.

How have you found the process for becoming an author?

Getting started as an independent author was a challenging process. I was lucky to be part of a local genre-fiction group of authors, most of whom were self-published, who welcomed me into their circle even though I hadn’t yet published anything myself. Marian Thorpe, author of the Empire’s Daughter series, played a mentorship role for me and I doubt the Falhorne series would have seen the light of day without her kind assistance.

What would you say to those wanting to become an author?

Passion is a beautiful thing. It will carry you far. But you’ll need to build connections with other authors too. You don’t have to do this alone and it will be far easier if you don’t try to!

Tell us about your book/books:

The Falhorne series consists of two books – Falhorne: The World is Burning (Book 1) and Falhorne: Dark Dawn (Book 2) – that chronicle the epic quest of Tagus, an aging warrior struggling to rescue his people from servitude in a deeply unjust society. In the process of confronting the brutal feudal authorities that rule the land of Vinos, he uncovers an ancient evil that threatens to consume everything he holds dear. Tagus is a Falhorne, one of the few surviving members of a once mighty military order dedicated to defending the followers of the Elder Gods from persecution at the hands of church and state. Aided by a mixed bag of unlikely companions, he finds that he can wield the powers of his eldritch forebears with a talent unmatched in centuries, but will it be enough to defeat the insatiable appetite of He Who Thirsts?

What do you love about the writing/reading community?

Writing is often a lonely process of grinding your manuscript out. Without support and encouragement from fellow authors and beta-readers, that loneliness can easily become unbearable. Community makes writing possible and I’m seriously grateful for all the support I’ve received.

If you could say anything to your readers, what would it be?

Being a new name on the scene is a challenging thing, thank you for giving myself and my world a chance.

Where can people connect with you?

I’m on Twitter @tristan_dineen (which is where it’s easiest to connect with me)

People can go to my blog at for links to all my work and other social media accounts.

They can also reach me by email at



Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Betrayer (A Short Story)


“You have until Friday, no extensions.”

            The final syllables of Ben’s flat, emotionless voice lingered after the harsh click as I slipped the phone into my jacket pocket, checked my empty wallet and gathered what was left of my senses, all the while cursing under my breath.

            “Kill my landlord…”

The city sank its omnipresent roar into my ears as I stepped out onto the porch, the smoky air merging seamlessly with the slate grey clouds.  The marble white façade of the gentrified apartment building across the street contrasted starkly with the Barrio’s rundown tenements.  Ancient structures the developers were intent on bulldozing into oblivion along with their residents. 

As I walked down the cracked front steps, eyes scanning the distant skyscrapers of downtown, I could sense a clock ticking in some office high above.  It would not be long before I joined the growing list of outcasts, driven from my ramshackle apartment with nowhere left to go…nowhere apart from the burnt-out husk of a former life that I had no intention of returning to.  But I had no choice anymore. 

I would need his services one last time. 

Walking with my head down, I dodged past the dog-walkers, derelicts, and churchgoers until I made it to the painfully familiar spot.  The tiny park by the river, adjacent to the shuttered Old Bodega, was all but deserted this early in the morning.  There was no one in view as I entered the small grove of pine trees by the waters edge; blocking the church steeple with their natural spires of dark green and brown.

I took a deep breath as I fumbled with the tarot cards; laying the aces at the four corners and the death card at the center.  The soft ground smelt of pine needles and the sweetness of decay as I silently rehearsed the incantation that I had promised myself never to use again.

Breathing in deeply, I spoke the words that Ingram had taught me in my rebellious youth.  Arcane phrases that hailed from lost lands, ruined cities, and fallen stars.  They possessed no name that could be safely spoken by human throats.  The Witch of Endor had spoken them whilst summoning the shade of the prophet Samuel.  The Sibyls had invoked them when those eldritch priestesses desired to see that which was not meant for mortal eyes.  Their lingering echo spanned a thousand centuries and dimensions beyond counting.

The chant began low and animalistic, my voice joining with the droning buzz of insects over nocturnal desert sands, before rising to the desperate wail of the mourning widow-lady, arms aloft beside the blazing funeral pyre of an ancient Sumerian ziggurat.  The pitch of her voice and mine plummeted as Baal-Hammon reached his great hand from the void and caught her by the throat, bringing forth a bestial howl from beyond that shook my body and threatened the very fabric of my soul as aeons and dimensions collided.

But the underworld’s roar soon ceased.  The final verse hanging spectral in the air, before being blown away on the chill breeze as the gates of time slammed shut again.

I could taste Camilo’s presence long before I could see him.  The bitter flavor of crematorium ash pressing down on my tongue as the ghost slowly broke through the hole that I had pierced in the thinning veil between worlds. 

The temperature of the air switched from mid-autumn to the depths of winter, causing ice crystals to form around the slowly materializing spectre in the shadow of the hissing pine trees. 

It was some time before he appeared vaguely human.

“What is it now, traitor?”

The cadence of his voice was somewhere between metal on ice and sandpaper on old floorboards.  Time had failed to dull the hatred, the dead having all the time in the world to remember.

“I have a proposition,” I said coolly, swallowing my primal fear, “One that may free you from the Realms Between should you accept.”

“A proposition?”

I could feel the invisible sneer on his blank face.

“You dare to proposition me? I should have cut out that lying tongue when I had the chance…”

His angry hiss was matched by his incorporeal “body” which began to bubble like steam, giving off a frigid mist and stinging my cheeks with a thousand needles.

I let him rage for a time.  He could not hurt me from his place within the circle.  Nor would he ever believe that a part of me could feel the anguish of his imprisoned soul.  He had every right to kill me.

I did not speak again until his writhing form had settled, his wrath having left the pinecones ridged with frost.

“You know that I have the power to breach the darkness,” I said, keeping my voice firm, “The bars of your prison are mine to command now that Ingram is dead.  But in exchange you must take out your frustrations on another…along with anyone associated with them.”

“Damn you! I am not your errand boy, Domenic…”

“No, Camilo” I replied, “You were my friend.  This proposition is my redemption and yours.”


The phantom’s outline twisted in mocking, gibbering laughter.

“What do you know of friendship, betrayer? You were always nothing but a little monster doing the dirty work for others; the master’s lapdog.  Of course, you would speak honeyed words of redemption, all the better to obfuscate your crimes.  I am done with you.  Your schemes are none of my concern…”

“You’re wrong.”

I paced around the pulsating edge of the circle and laid my hand upon the Ace of Coins.

“My schemes are your sole salvation, oh guardian of the portal.  You are the last of your kind.  Old Campo’s spirit lingered in the Casa before it was demolished.  He refused my generous offer, and now he is beyond all reach.  The Bodega is next on their list.  Your last anchor to the mortal plane is set to fall on Friday morning and you will be consigned to oblivion along with the Barrio if you fail to heed my call.  Remember the promise that you made to Lita, you will not see her again unless you fulfill your duty.  You may hate me, but think of all that you love before you refuse me.  This is your last chance.”

The ghost writhed amidst the circle of tarots and an icy wind whipped the frosted pine needles, but I could tell that he was finally seeing reason.

“Speak, bastard…” He said, his despairing hiss merging with the sound of the trees.

I sighed.  I did not relish what I was about to do, but I concealed my doubts behind a mask that Ingram would have approved of.  He had never shown any weakness before his “chattel”, and blackmailing a lost soul with the memory of a mortal lover was but another tool at the arcane master’s disposal, a method of control.  Now I would use it to do the unspeakable.

“Benjamin Johnston is your target.  He is a property manager for Melcore Ltd, the landlord that has chosen to sell the Barrio from beneath the feet of its residents.  The demolition order sits upon his desk and it is he who will send you to the void this Friday unless you do as I command.  I shall sing Morpheus’s Song once I have the necessary amplifier and grant you release when the Dirge of Corruption is complete.  Do you swear to destroy that which would destroy you?”

There was silence in the little grove.  The breeze moaned through the creaking branches and out over the muted waters beyond the frozen trunks to mingle with the distant sound of traffic on the overpass.  The threatening grey clouds pressed down on the surrounding rooftops with all the potential of an impending avalanche.

“Very well, you murderer,” the soft reply finally came, a whispered sigh of resignation, “Just know that I will be waiting when you draw your last breath.  All the favor that our master showed to you will mean nothing in the end.”

I stood alone under the dark trees, my legs feeling like frozen sticks as sweat dripped into my eyes.

It took two full days to get a meeting with Ben, his time was money and he was hesitant to spend it on poor investments like myself.  The look on his pasty-white face was sour as I walked into his eighteenth-floor office and his resemblance to spoiled milk only deepened as I outlined a lengthy list of grievances that were hardly mine alone.

“The Board has already spoken,” he sniffed, betraying a stuffy nose, “You exhausted your appeals months ago.  Why are you wasting my time like this?”

“Sir, given the season…”

“Oh please, you were never a religious man, Dom.  Money doesn’t grow on trees and the company’s patience has its limits.”

“Then please Ben, at the very least, give me a letter of recommendation.  Something I can show to my next landlord.  Surely you wouldn’t let me stay in the gutter this winter?”

He stared at me for a split second before loudly blowing his nose and tossing the tissue in the wastebasket beside the overflowing desk.  His lips remained hard, but I could see the condescending and very Christian pity in his eyes as surely as the gilded crucifix hanging from the wall behind his well-cushioned chair.  Pity for the dirty soon-to-be derelict before him, appearing twice his age in a worn-out beige jacket that had long since faded to brown. 

He shook his head and managed a half-smile.

“OK, Dom,” he sniffed, “You may be a stubborn ass but you always paid your rent on time, so I’ll do you this one last favor.  Come back tomorrow and my secretary will have your letter.  That’s all.  Now if you’ll excuse me.”

I naturally thanked him profusely, pouring out more “bless yous” than a born-again Christian.  But the busy property manager had already re-focused on his computer screen under the watchful eye of his crucified savior. 

It was an easy matter to fish the discarded tissue from the wastebasket on my way out, slipping it into my pocket as I casually nodded to his pretty blond secretary and made for the elevator.

I held in my elation.  Only after I had left the bustling downtown streets behind and returned to the isolation of my attic room in the Barrio did I allow myself a chuckle.  Fortune’s Wheel truly favored me that my charitable landlord had a cold.  While it was far inferior to blood, mucus would serve as an adequate conduit for my purposes.  And not even a saint’s crucifix could bar powers far older than the first mortal cities.

I set to work at once.

Ben’s secretary received no visit from me the next day, or the day after.  I doubt she lost any sleep over it amidst the endless scheduling conflicts and never-ending deluge of phone calls. A loyal cog in the machine of a high-end real estate company, right up until the moment when her boss stepped from his office with a loaded pistol in his hand.

I read about it in the Friday paper.  On what should have been the day of my eviction. 

Benjamin Johnston, rising star of the Melcore team and devoted family man, had “snapped”: shot his secretary, shot his boss, even murdered a contractor from Pierson Construction in cold blood, before throwing himself from an eighteenth-story window.  He had no known mental illnesses, no prior criminal record, only a mild cold.

The sinkhole was briefly mentioned on page fourteen.  There had been no deaths, but some of Pierson Construction’s most valuable equipment had been inexplicably swallowed-up in hard-packed soil outside the Old Bodega hours before its scheduled demolition.  Any construction or demolition work in the area had been postponed indefinitely, the site having been deemed unsafe.

Satisfied, I set the newspaper down and grabbed my coat.

There was a nip in the air as I walked down the street, whistling tunelessly as I passed the derelicts and dog walkers on the way to the small park.  Noting the smiling faces of the churchgoers that were quickly stifled as the monsignor passed by.

When I arrived in the grove of trees, I removed the tarot cards from my pocket along with the lighter fluid.  Soon the flames were rising as I made the proper signs over the disintegrating symbols of death and judgement.

Only meters away, I could feel the sinkhole outside the abandoned Bodega, the traces of hastily evacuated machinery, and the slowly mending wound in the fabric of time.

I knew that I could never be forgiven.  Camilo had made that clear.  My only redemption was that he had finally escaped into the Beyond, the last of Ingram’s “guardians” to find release.  His time of torment was at an end, no longer bound to the “portals of power” within the Barrio that had once fueled my mentor’s abilities and ambitions. 

I sighed as the flames died below my feet.

I had been the one to betray him; luring my fellow apprentice to the basement of the Bodega before speaking the words that stripped his soul from his body.  The others had been Ingram’s work, and I had done it all for him.  Cammy’s subjugation was to be my “proving”, my final test of arcane mastery.  As if forcing someone into bondage proved anything beyond one’s cruelty.  And was to prove my cruelty yet again by telling Lita that her loving fiancé had willingly abandoned her.  The blood of her suicide was on my hands and remained so fifty years later.

My victory was hollow.  I had saved myself, I had saved the neighborhood, or what was left of it, and I still had a roof over my head.  But in the end, I was only an old slave-master breaking the chains that should have been broken long ago.  The good Catholics of the Barrio would never acknowledge such a tainted savior.

A betrayer I remained.  My final act of treason having fallen on the memory of my teacher, and the empire that he had striven to build upon the backs of ensnared souls, including those of his own students who failed to live up to his godly expectations.  With Camilo freed, the last rotten pillar of that empire had crumbled.  I had refused to follow in Ingram’s footsteps, even as I had employed his methods to serve my own ends, making amends in the only way that I knew how. 

I left the grove of pines and walked away down the street, avoiding the parishioners huddled by the church door. “The Devil” card secured in the breast pocket of my thread-bare jacket as the autumn cold stung my cheeks.

Regardless of my past, my allegiance and sympathies now lay with those brave enough to defy the gods of their world.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Earth's Blood (A Dwarven Short Story)

With furrowed brow, Gor beheld the transparent figure of his grandfather. He had come to the ruins of Khazad Ulgan seeking the truth behind the destruction of his ancestral home. He had explored it from the highest broken watchtower to the lowest of the abandoned mines, but this was more than he had bargained for.

The dead dwarf’s haggard features and plaited yellow beard were traced in perfect detail, poised at the cavern’s entrance. It began to move. The solitary ghost creeping through the forest of stalagmites, where the miners had halted their search for the riches of the underworld one hundred years before. It moved stealthily, as if fearing discovery, clasping something protectively to its chest as it headed for the very center of the cavern.

Overcoming his initial fear, Gor slowly pursued the shade, a thousand questions on his mind. What had his ancestor been doing down here? In the very bowels of his home stronghold.

Muttering a hasty prayer to the Goddess, he followed the furtive spectre through the ice-encrusted rocks and across a frozen stream, finally stopping at a low table-shaped plateau. Here the shade knelt upon the frigid stone, delicately lowering a strangely patterned metal cylinder.

It was only as large as his grandfather’s fist, and appeared to be made of silver, with brass clasps at either end. On them were carved runes that were chillingly familiar to any veteran of the Artificer Wars. In those dark times, there had been those unscrupulous enough to embrace the forces of the abyss itself, unleashing dread Ulkar as the ultimate weapon. The entire city of Tor Korazh had been erased from existence by the same type of runic bomb. Gor shuddered at the sight of it.

The shade touched the runes, one after the other, before suddenly springing to its feet and bolting back toward the mineshaft.

The phantom raced past Gor and was gone, leaving behind a floating patch of pure darkness, hovering above the table of rock. 

And then it turned to meet him. 

The darkness danced with a black fire that somehow gave off light; a dazzlingly cold blue glow like the moon on glacial ice. Yet no reflection shone on the nearby surface of the frozen stream.

An unearthly chill settled upon Gor’s frost-covered beard. Colder than the screaming winds of the high passes and far colder than what was normal for an underground cavern. It was the cold of the abyss itself. Pure and terrible. Its very presence clawed and ripped at his body with talons of black ice; a thousand blizzards rolled into one as the shock paralyzed him. 

He stood rigid as the stygian essence flowed and twisted, moulding itself into a shape with arms and legs – a ghastly parody of the living things it so despised and at the same time thirsted for. By the ancestors, how had his grandfather willingly unleashed such a thing? Varn-Ulkar, an eater of souls; its malice a mockery of stone, iron, and all that was good and true in this world. Gor had never faced such a nemesis, but the memories of the ancestors did not lie. 

He could hear a voice that was not a voice claw its way into the deep corridors of his mind, as it had once entered the mind of Anya the Goddess in the Time of Wandering. It had been waiting for her then, thousands of years ago, hidden in the dark beneath the mountains. Just as it had been waiting for the grandson’s return, chasing his grandfather’s doomed legacy. The unintelligible words carried with them the satisfied grin of a predator that has cornered its next meal. It spread and widened, becoming a chasm of infinite depth, as the axe slipped from Gor’s frozen fingers, clattering uselessly to the cavern floor.

His flesh was numb, the blood half-freezing in his veins as the darkness expanded: its writhing tenebrous limbs reaching across aeons of time from the day when Anya had entered the Caverns of Surtur, forbidding even her brother Kurgan from following her.

The spirit of the abyss had trapped him. And with its bone-chilling touch came fear. It was a physical thing, strangling him in rings of shadow; its demonic call rising to a roar, bursting upward like a geyser of tar as he sank to a floor that was no longer beneath him.

Plunging downward, he could feel the hunger, the ravenous maw of the void that had devoured his ancestors and darkened their halls.

But there was something else too. Something louder, deeper. A primal command that could neither be silenced nor overwritten, even after ages locked beneath the cold earth.

Guard, Remember and Avenge.

The spiritual commandant of his nation, spoken by the Goddess in the Time of Wandering, crashed through Gor’s mind with all the fury of an earthquake and the rage of a volcanic eruption; penetrating the gloom of Ulkar with the molten fires of earth’s blood.

Forces beyond time guided his fingers to the weapon he had concealed in the folds of his jerkin. Scarred and calloused fingertips traced the sign of activation as he drew forth the cylindrical explosive that was his last-ditch defense.

With his final ounce of strength, he hurled it into the pulsating shadows. 

A blinding bright flash was followed by absolute darkness.

He did not know how much time had passed when he awoke. An orange glow tinged his aching vision and he felt its heat. The frozen stream was gone and a long vein of lava snaked from one end of the cavern to the other, tracing fiery patterns across the ceiling. He tasted ozone, his chest rising and falling like a worn-out bellows as he gasped for breath. The feeling in his limbs was returning, making them twitch uncomfortably as he shut his eyes against the pain, his mind reeling in confusion.

The burning scent of molten rock filled his nostrils. There was no way the blast could have wreaked such havoc on its own. By all rights it should have killed him. He should have been consumed along with the demon.

Gor found himself staring at walls of the chamber, for hard stone was where true memory resided. The place of stoic endurance that dwarvenkind had always looked to for guidance.

The patterns began unfolding almost immediately, faint glimmers of the past liberated from the blindness of Ulkar, and bathed in the steady glow of earth’s inner fires.

There were messages there, dozens of them, hastily carved into the bare rock of the cavern walls. As their lost words unfolded, so did their trembling hands, then their frightened faces, swaying in life’s final rhythms before darkness fell. Goodbyes, pleas for mercy, apologies to those they would never see again, and messages of sheer terror intermingled in a frenzy as the Shadow closed about them.

But they were nearly all punctuated with singular cries for vengeance against one dwarf. Snorri Furgillson, Artificer, infamous as Khazad Ulgan’s final overlord before the catastrophe.

Century-old messages spoke of locked gates, blocked shafts; how all the tunnels to the surface had been sealed, trapping the lower caste delvers in the depths of the hold with no way out. The ominous rumblings had sent them scrambling for shelter…only to find that the black tendrils were already rising through their walls and floors as the Abyss clawed its way upwards. 

Curses were showered on the well-to-do inhabitants of the upper levels who had sealed in those who could not afford the bribes to get their families to safety. Tearful mothers and fathers had left written apologies to their children for being so poor, the paltry wages of an old-time delver amounting to nothing in the eyes of a greedy speculator. Other parents apologized for losing their trade and falling into the rut of unskilled labor. Still others apologized for allowing their children to be born into a low caste existence with no hope of escape. 

There were finger marks on the stones, traces of hands clawing at the rough surface as they realized their supposed betters simply did not care about them. They were only tools to be used, worn out and replaced.

“The mountains show their grey backs, worn down in endless struggle against the elements,” read the lines of a poem, inscribed as a last will and testament. “Now cut with gaping wounds that have nothing to do with age or time. How many of the high sisters above Ulgan enclose in their heavy wombs similar riches to those that kill us, as they await the arid arms of the steam shovels that devour their entrails, with their obligatory count of lives swallowed in darkness?”

The ancestral memories stirred, revealing the author of the doomed work. Gor saw a young delver, his beard barely past his collar, and bearing the tell-tale scars of a hard rock miner. The sleeves of his rough leather tunic were rolled up, revealing the telltale mark branded into the flesh of his bicep. The rune that, in the time of the Artificers, marked one as Wanok, a dwarf condemned to penal servitude for acts of rebellion. His hands did not shake like the others as he carefully carved this final statement into the living rock that would hold and preserve it for all time, even as the demon of Ulkar claimed his soul.

Gor turned and again saw his grandfather; his ghost crouched with the infernal bomb in its hand, still shamefully repeating its final act. He saw the emblem, carelessly stamped on the side of the forbidden device, the gilded arms of Snorri Furgilsson himself. Furgilsson knew that the mines of Ulgan were nearing exhaustion. His once profitable investment would soon be gone and there were too many workers and machinery to re-locate. But if it were to be destroyed, the Elder Council would compensate him for his loss. All he needed was a willing accomplice, someone who knew the lower chambers of the stronghold like the back of his hand. His ancestor had sold his soul for Artificer gold.

The impact of the revelation was like a knife through Gor’s heart. Atrocity merged with treachery in his mind’s eye, and he knew that he would never be able to escape the shame of what had been done here. He had returned to his ancestral home to find the truth. Now he wanted to retrace his steps to Tor Nordia and hack at his grandfather’s tomb with a mattock until the name was cut away. But that would not save him, or his family. The memories would always find him.

He eyed the river of lava flowing through the sundered cave. It would be so easy to throw himself into the molten blood of the earth; giving himself up to the stone in despair. 

Guard, Remember, and Avenge. 

But who would come here after he was gone? Who would bear witness to the testament of these lost souls? Who would give them the dignity that they had begged for but never received in life?

He cursed the Goddess’s words as he pulled himself to his feet, wincing in pain. He would tell their story and bear their burdens. A lone memory might be forgotten, but not the collective will of a people or the commandments of their gods. Such things were as unyielding as granite and could never be foresworn even in a thousand lifetimes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Friday, September 30, 2022


 Beggars clustered at the far end of the square. Not daring to move closer to the town gates lest they face the potentially murderous wrath of Duke Gratano’s men. All were in rags, and most had no shirt at all. The stench of their unwashed bodies was apparent even at twenty paces.

The most desperate among them wore nothing, their naked and emaciated flesh tinged a fireweed orange. Broken shells of men, they crouched in the shadows. But their eyes were hungry. One fiend, whom even the other addicts shied away from, had skin covered with reddish boils and was giving off a particularly hateful odor.

All the beggars seemed to shout at once as Tagus and his friends approached.

“Spare a vint, sir…”

“A vint, oh gracious lady, I have children…”

But Tagus was looking at one man in particular. Broad shouldered, he was standing, with difficulty, on one leg. The other was gone, its stump hidden by a mass of rags that might once have been a tunic. His back was bent almost double, his haggard face lined with cracks and wrinkles, but Tagus could see the withered remnants of a soldier’s muscular frame in the man’s bony arms and once barrel-like chest. His head was bald and his dark skin looked as though it had been burnt by the sun. His face was dominated by an unkempt beard, and there was still a twinkle in those deep-set eyes that had shone so brightly in the heat of battle. 

Those eyes turned to him, and each man recognized the other.


The man’s wide mouth opened, and a wheezy yet full-bodied laugh burst forth from a nearly toothless maw.

“Tagus! By our goddess of the shithouse, the hero is coming!”

The laugh turned into a violent hacking cough, but the grin remained.

Aileanor glanced at the beggar in alarm, and Meno jerked his head to one side at the sound of his ally’s name.

“A blive morning to my old comrade in arms,” Rigo shouted, “I thought I saw the last of ya’ when you took that little splash at Allia Bridge! Guess our heretic gods are still smilin’ on your sorry ass!”

“Good sir, there must be some mistake…”

Meno hastily tried to interject, but the beggar furiously rounded on the gnome, causing him to jump back.

“Shut up, you mangy little bug,” Rigo bellowed, “or I’ll thump you good! I be talking to my old soldier friend here!”

The angry roar faded into a dry chuckle as the big man returned his attention to Tagus.

“So, you finally gave up too, eh? I told Tarquinus years ago that he should give up chasing miracles and earn some decent coin. The gods never meant for us to be passive bloody monks without a pot to piss in. Of course, he never listened, the old pin head…how’s the skinny fellow doing anyhow?”

Tagus had not seen Rigo since he had walked out of the Black Horseman three years ago, choosing to abandon the sworn brotherhood of the Falhorne rather than give up the mercenary life. He had been a loudmouth boaster who always loved a good scrap, especially when his friend Tarquinus was involved. Nor had he been one for religion, obeying the Order’s strictures more as formality than anything else. But Vitus had always overlooked this because he followed orders and was utterly lethal on the battlefield. He had served at Fallonier Fields and the Braxian Civil War, before the laws changed and the money ran out, along with his patience. Looking at him now, it seemed that Tarquinus, in dying in defense of the Asylum, had been the lucky one.

“He was killed in battle, Rigo,” Tagus replied tersely, knowing that he shouldn’t, but it just felt wrong to deny it to a former Falhorne down on his luck. Even if the crippled man had no honor.

“Brother Tarquinus fought bravely to the end. Unlike you.”

“Damn, that’s a shame,” Rigo said through a half-smirk, ignoring the obvious look of disapproval in his former comrade’s eye. 

“I liked him. Just never understood why he chose guard duty over mercenary work. It looks like faith did about as much good for him as it did for me. Still, going down fighting is better than this shit. I guess I can’t blame him…”

“You have only yourself to blame.”

Tagus tried to sound indignant, although in truth he did not know what to feel. The renegade Falhorne had abandoned his brethren for gold. At the same time that Porus had met his fate on the gallows after defending the Order’s principles to the end. Yet Rigo’s piteous state hardly inspired anger.

The beggarman gestured all around: to the rags at his waist, the stump of his leg, and grimaced bitterly.

“Ha! Tell your praetor that he’s had his revenge on me and then some,” he spat. “It’s been two years since I lost my leg fighting those bloody Braxians. Serves me right for agreeing to return to that cursed country. The King of Galthran smashed that simpleton Tilly and I barely made it out alive. It took all my wages just to get a wagon ride back south. Even lost my shirt, I did…had to sell it to buy food. Never sold my pride though; a soldier never loses that! Just ask the bandit scum who tried to stop me outside Brisi. I bashed his damn brains out!”

Tagus glanced nervously over his shoulder as Rigo again burst out laughing. Still, the bombast of this old soldier with a begging bowl was enough to put a half-smile on his face. He had to remind himself that the one-legged man was a coward and a deserter.

“He must have been one stupid bandit.”

“Damn right!”

Rigo’s laugh was hoarse, yet still forceful.

“The nerve of some bastards! So how have you been keeping, you bloody puritan? You can’t be living by the Book if you’re out in these parts. I take it Vitus finally disowned you for some stupid reason or other…”

Tagus could only shrug his shoulders against the pain, not wanting to explain the details of what had befallen him since his old life went up in flames. Nor did the wretched Rigo deserve to hear what had happened to his former home.

“I remain what I am,” he said, “And from what you tell me, so does the northern war.”

Rigo chuckled wickedly in response, his withered belly shaking.

“Gormani’s flames, boy, that war will never end! Those nobles breed like rabbits. No sooner does one of em’ fall, the son steps into papa’s armor and herds another lot of peasants to the slaughter. Margrave Tilly’s grandson’s leading his house now, with the personal blessing of His Holiness the Hierophant I might add. Seems he’s decided that the boy’s the chosen of the Most High, come to purify the Braxian reaches of heresy. And before I hobbled out of there, some of the men told me that Duke Lothar’s boy was back from Grimagen and that he’d won favor with the empress. Try to stop a war when churchmen and emperors keep coming to its rescue!”

Tagus paused and took in the wry, cynical smile that had once made Templars tremble.

“You are still alive, and still a soldier,” he finally replied, pulling one of the ducats that Meno had given him from his cloak and throwing it to the former giant of the battlefield.

“This is for a comrade. I will see you again, brother. I promise.”

“That’s up to fate, I guess,” Rigo shrugged, “I wish I could have seen old Tarquinus one more time…but you know what they say: straight trees get chopped for firewood, while crooked ones have to wait for a good storm. I’m still waiting for mine.”

He turned the coin over and over in his grimy hands.

“You’re a good Reshian bastard, you know that?”

Rigo’s sunken eyes took a sorrowful turn, but no tears came. He was a mountain man from the eastern hill country on the Samosian border, tough as boot leather, stubborn as an ox, and furious as a bull in a melee. No one with paler skin than he had ever called the former Falhorne a “Resh” unless he desired a fist to the face. And they were not small fists either. 

When Tagus had told his comrade about his near brawl with the Duke of Atocha’s son at Fallonier Fields, Rigo said he would have eaten the insolent knight’s guts and asked for seconds if he had dared to insult him like that. Noble blood would not have saved his skin. Tagus remembered the deadly serious look in the big man’s eyes.

Rigo was a survivor. The greatest Tagus had ever known. He had held his own at Allia almost single-handed, as the survivors of the collapse had struggled to pull themselves from the water. Without him they would have surely been overrun. He had been badly injured in the battle, but had recovered faster than a young horse, threatening to punch out the saw-bones when they tried to cut off his wounded leg. But in the end, he had lost it anyway. Perhaps it was a blessing. A crippled beggar was less attractive to slavers and less threatening to the ever-present guards and patrolmen.

The former Falhorne’s eyes looked tired, and they dropped away, staring at the ground. 

Tagus felt Aileanor squeeze his hand. She had never let go the entire time. With difficulty, he turned away and followed his companions toward the inn.

Excerpted from “Falhorne: Dark Dawn” by Tristan Dineen, All Rights Reserved



Tristan Dineen Author Interview

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