Book Promo And Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

*I’m going to make an appeal: since this next week and through about Wednesday the week after I’m going to be in the process of being nibbled to death by cats. I’d like to ask if you have a guest post cooking that you send it to me in the next 2 days or so, if at all possible. Either to the promo address or my other one. Thanks – SAH*

Book promo

If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. A COMMISSION IS EARNED FROM EACH PURCHASE. That helps defray my time cost of about 2 hours a day on the blog, time probably better spent on fiction. 😉

*Note that I haven’t read most of these books (my reading is eclectic and “craving” led, and apply the usual cautions to buying. – SAH*

FROM KATRINA LEGG: The Case of the Rollerskating Armadillo (Noir Good Deed Goes Unpunished)

Spacestation: Arcadia is a vacation destination for the rich and connected.

When a midnight call from one of the guests includes assault from an unfriendly lawn decoration, Deputy Corbin knows something isn’t quite right.

It’s not just the grumpy old man who needs his help but it’s going to take all his wits to uncover the other victims in the mess he’s stumbled upon.

This is a long short story, not quite a novella, and should not be mistaken for a novel.

FROM PETER GRANT: Wood, Iron, and Blood: A Classic Western Story Of The California Trail (Annals of Ash Book 1)

Sometimes wanderlust skips a generation… but when it strikes, it strikes gold.

In 1852, fourteen-year-old Jeremy Ash rises to his grandfather’s challenge and sets out on the adventure of a lifetime – the California Trail.

It’s four deadly months and 1,600 merciless miles from the Missouri River to the goldfields of the Sierra Nevada. There’s alkali water that’ll poison you; desert heat that’ll fry your brains; mountain passes that’ll crush you; swarms of biting insects that’ll drive you mad; deadly diseases that’ll plague you; and warrior tribes that may make it lethally clear they don’t want you there.

Will the California Trail kill Jeremy, like so many others before him? Or will it make a man out of him?

FROM CHRISTIAN TOTO: Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul

Inside Hollywood’s Descent into Dreary, Dull Leftist Groupthink

Hollywood’s Dream Factory is now a nightmare of woke restrictions, Identity Politics run amok, and freedom-snuffing rules and regulations. The Oscars are unwatchable, as are many films and television shows thanks to the woke revolution. Virtue Bombs breaks down where Hollywood went so wrong, illustrates the slow-motion disaster infiltrating the industry, and offers a glimmer of hope for a woke-free tomorrow. Award-winning film critic Christian Toto has all the receipts, showcasing Hollywood’s virtue-signaling follies and how it could get much, much worse before it gets better.

FROM J. L. CURTIS: Rimworld – Diplomatic Immunity.

Fargo’s latest attempt at quiet retirement is going haywire quickly.

Hiding the officially missing Dragoon heir at his cabin is about to get interesting.

A GalPat change of command brings new attention to his militia and their capabilities, just as he’s falsely accused of murder. Facing a stacked prosecution, he finds that friends have hidden abilities when they come to his aid, including hiding the heir.

When he comes back out, he’s got an agenda and an heir to get home in one piece… A young man thought lost, whose homecoming will shake an entire empire. And hopefully Fargo will survive the experience.

FROM CLAYTON BARNETT: Echoes of Family Lost: A Novel of Machine Civilization.

Alive! After four years believing her older sister lost and presumed dead in the horrible Breakup of the United States, Lily Barrett gets word from her dear friend, Ai – and Ai’s family of Machine Civilization – that Callie Barrett is very likely alive… but over 900 miles away in Knoxville.

Using the resources of her and Ai’s family, Lily puts together a search party to go find Callie: old, broken, and burnt Orloff – an expert in surviving in the Badlands, Ai’s little sister, Fausta – her machine mind controlling a Combat Android to protect her friend, all together in a cart pulled by their sturdy pony, Clyde.

It’s almost a thousand miles to go, with something very odd trying to limit their ability to communicate over distance and even to cross bridges. A chance meeting along the way in Huntsville, former Alabama, wrecks their plans, and puts all of their lives in danger.

FROM JOHN DAVID MARTIN: Charis Colony: The Landing.

Dr. Raj Mondal had it all. Born to one of The Landing’s founding families, he had a high-status position with the Colonial Medical Administration. He implemented the Colonial Governing Council’s eugenics policies, which meant he decided who was allowed to have children and who wasn’t, who lived and who died. He was a reliable, loyal citizen of Charis Colony. Until his patient, Mr. Singh, disappeared. Suddenly, Dr. Mondal was suspected of aiding a defector. He and his wife, Shirin, now found themselves in the crosshairs of a vindictive Chief Inspector from Colonial Security. Fleeing for their lives, they seek the help of the very people they were taught to fear most: The McGuire Point Rebels. But how far does the reach of Colonial Security extend? And were the rumors about the violent and barbaric people of McGuire Point true?


Big things were happening in 1957. The Cold War ratcheted tensions higher. The Russians launched the Space Age. Elvis bought Graceland.

For reporter Roly Allenson, it was the year her life changed. Forced to drop out of college, she struggles to find her place in a topsy-turvy world, starting with a weekly newspaper job in her hometown, a place as down-home as meatloaf and field peas, and just as dull.

What she actually finds is a dead body. In a cemetery. But in someone else’s grave.

Unraveling the mystery of the extra man in the cemetery plot leads Roly to realize her sleepy Southern town may be a lot more complicated beneath its smooth, nothing-ever-happens-here surface.

And maybe more dangerous.? After all, that dead man didn’t bury himself.


BZ is turning over a new leaf, working her first night as bartender at her Uncle Doc Applebreath’s Anti-Gravity Ballroom. She proves her deadly skill the first night. The bar attracts the attention of the Parkour Pickpockets, and BZ attracts their boss Teef. Shy Kenny runs the anti-gravity and the rest of the technology. After a number of high-profile jobs the pickpockets accidentally steal the Doomsday Device, and that attracts the creepy crime boss Salvatore who recruits the pickpockets and arms them with his high-tech tools. Through coast-to-coast robberies and budding romance, the final climax comes down to BZ and Salvatore in Dr. Applebreath’s bar.

FROM CHRISTOPHER WOERNER: 202206 Shaming of the True

The booklet of the month, collecting edited versions of the last several pamphlets I’ve released. It’s fun to write about sixty pages every month, even if the subject matter is the destruction of the world as we watch it unfold.

But this is about current events with a bit of history or popular culture thrown in. The economy continues to fail, the pretense that Ukraine is crushing Russia is starting to fall apart (slightly.) But our masters have just gotten started, they’ve got it as planned as possible, tearing down everything that really works so they can impose their fantasies on the world. This is what I’ve been covering for all these years, I’ll continue as long as I can. Here’s the latest summary.

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: HOOK

34 thoughts on “Book Promo And Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

  1. “What did you think?”

    “It’s great, but I almost walled it because of the ending.”

    “What? Why?”

    “There is a difference between leaving hooks for a sequel, and stranding the reader on a monstrous cliffhanger.”

  2. Nancy carried the full laundry basket into the “family room” in the middle of the house. Trying to postpone folding the sheets as long as possible, she began sorting socks and underwear out of the general pile. The sound of Julie and Mark arguing over a game of Battleship ran as a counterpoint to her thoughts. Was Mary June right about fraud at Grantham Construction? Was that why the contractor had been murdered?

    “C Seven.”

    “Miss! F Eight.”

    A sigh. “Hit. Uh, J Three.”

    “Hit.” A pause.

    “Hurry up, Mark!”

    “I’m thinking! H Two.”


    After another couple of rounds (Mark appeared to be losing), she heard: “I don’t want to play any more. This game is stupid.”

    “That’s cause you’re losing! Loser!”

    “Julie, knock it off!” To quash the argument before it went any further, Nancy grabbed the items she had folded and went to Mark’s bedroom. “Here. I want you to put away your underwear and –ˮ she looked around the room. “What a mess.” Picking up Mark’s jacket from the floor, she hung it on the child-sized coat stand in the corner; it was topped with a clown head and brightly painted dowels fixed to a post served as clothing hooks. “And Julie, don’t be mean. I did want to ask you something,” she added in the hope of distracting her daughter. “Have you heard anything more at school about the man they found in the field? And I don’t mean from Bruce Fraser,” she added firmly. “Have your friends heard anything from their parents?”

  3. “I see you’re fishing, but why do you have fish hooks strung from the trees?”

    “New here, ain’t’cha?”

    “Yeah, so?”

    “Cause this here is Hoyt’s Holler. Round these parts, Carp are not found only in the water.”

  4. “I’ve got it! We’ll do a new off-Broadwsy production combining Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz, and Pepe le Pew! The masses will eat it up!”
    “Are you sure? That sounds bizarre.”
    “Oh, they’ll love it. They’ll go for it, Hook, lion, and stinker.”

  5. “C’mere baby!” slurred the lecherous drunk, putting a sweaty hand on Gwendolyn’s shoulder. “Lemme show you flesh and blood!”

    “Sir, please don’t touch me,” implored Gwendolyn, voice aquaver (as her firmware dictated), “or I shall invoke a subroutine!”

    “Submooteen? Whassa’ submooteen?”

    “This!” she said, leveling him with a right hook.

  6. I sat down at the piano and warmed up with Bach’s Prelude in C Major.
    Mom shouted from her bedroom. (She was reading the New Yorker.)
    “Donna, you sound bored!”
    I switched to C Minor. Added a hook. And changed the beat to rock and roll.
    Mom burst out laughing.

  7. Nigel looked at the lights in the windows. So soon snuffed out as the girls and boys went to their slumbers. No doubt having heard the fable of how the owl’s fabled wisdom was not so highly regarded among the birds of the forest, since it was mostly staying up too late and learning unwholesome things, that better birds avoided by early bedtimes.
    He could linger a little longer, Isabelle could not throw him out before three days were up, but there might not be any point. Girls whose greatest interest would be gowns that did not need hooks or laces, and boys who cared only whether they could climb out the window, were hard to entice with the prospect of true greater learning. Those who would seek a handful of spells for utility would never manage to make themselves true masters, of magic or of anything else of import.

  8. She sighed. “A pity. He is more reliable about ensuring that I have a dancing partner.”
    Karlus opened his mouth and shut it again before he asked whether they were as bent on marrying her off. They could be just inept. “Hard to hook your brother than a dancing partner.”

  9. No connection with Rick Beato, but people might be interested.

    His music theory textbook, already a giant PDF, is now interactive, with videos showing every concept he’s talking about, and with played examples. And it’s only 20 bucks.

  10. The crowd grew silent, gawking at her.
    She hooked the bag’s strap and held it up. Leaves showed. Murmurs spread about the crowd. Someone said something about gardeners.
    Lady Gillaine said, “Let me hear your tale. Unless it is so urgent that we will all turn invisible if I do.”

  11. “It’s simple. Just follow my hands as they move, and then tell me which shell the bean is under”. The girl leaned forward, just the slightest, closer to the table and shifted her head imperceptibly. The little voice in my head murmured ‘You’ve hooked her now. Just reel in, carefully… gently…. carefully’.

  12. The cruel, barded voice caught her attention, even as it sounded as if life had broken into an absurdly idyllic dream. She turned toward the door. Her father’s angular face, beneath salt white hair, was turned to her with narrowed eyes. As was only ordinary.
    “Be ready. At all costs.”

  13. “Okay,” said a grease-stained Taylor. “I’ve jerry-rigged a bypass of the Chrono-Vator’s deteriorated warp module, so the phase coordinator itself can power us back to the Holocene.”

    “Great!” said McLean.

    “Yup.” Taylor glanced around the barren Silurian landscape. “Now we just need a 2,000-V battery to hook it up to.”

  14. Shelly looked over the connectors where the Soviet moonbase’s water reclamation system had been. “So now we just hook up everything to the jerry-rigged mess we put together and hauled here overland, and we’re good to go.” She shook her head, smile rueful. “Why does this feel just a little too easy? I guess when you’re a genius, everything seems easy-peasy oh-louisey intuitive.”

    Admiral Chaffee gestured for her to wait. “Don’t worry. Marshal Gruzinsy’s not going to leave us to our own devices. I’ve sent a message that we’ve arrived with the goods to Beridze — in the Navy he’d be an admiral’s flag secretary, but Soviet staff positions don’t translate precisely to any US service branch’s general or flag staff positions. He’ll let us know when Gruzinsky’s available to help us with any difficulties we encounter.”

    “That’s good to hear.” Shelly hoped her tone matched her words. At least Gruzinsky had proved quite able to walk them through the build process, step by step, from Earth and in a language he hadn’t used regularly for almost a decade.

  15. It was probably the most…frustrating tool you could use. A witchspace hook was a very precise piece of technology…that looked for all intents and purposes like a giant fishing hook on the end of a line, the line attached to a standard reel in an enclosed bay.

    Ignore the fact that the hook was a carefully grown piece of single-crystal iron, the “line” was mono-molecular cable, and the “reel” was a hydraulic take-up that was powerful enough to lift the ship itself up in a 1G gravity field, let alone any objects being recovered. Genevive sighed, and moved carefully, remembering that working up a sweat wearing a witchspace pressure suit was a good way to die of heat stroke.

  16. Mr Smee, what is my name?

    Hook, sir.

    And, why is it I bear that name?

    Your, ah, hook, sir.

    Yet, even though I am clearly well equipped by name, equipment, and inclination, why is it I am a failure at this new ‘hook-up culture’?

    I couldn’t say, Cap’n.

  17. When they got back a couple of hours later, Havoc was surprised to see that Lebel and Mauser had not only gotten the latrine facilities set up, but also the mess tent, fire pit and shower facilities, the latter without water hooked up yet.

    Jean didn’t believe it at first, until he checked out the latrine. Yep, there were the trenches, nice and neat and the right dimensions. “How did you get that done so fast?” he asked, as they walked back to camp.
    Lebel grinned. “Mauser’s an alchemist.”

    “What?” said Jean.

    “That’s a gross exaggeration,” said Mauser, looking a little embarrassed. “I only know one circle, and all I can do is move dirt around. I can’t actually make or throw anything.”

    “Can you move rubble out of a well?” asked Jean. “Both of the wells we looked at tested fine for water quality, but they’re both really blocked up. It looked like it could take days to clear even one, without bringing in another squad. We barely made a dent even after working for an hour.”

    “Well,” said Mauser, “I can’t move anything really big. I can do dirt, pebbles. Anything bigger you’d have to break up first.”

  18. “Going on-hook in thirty seconds,” said Captain Castelli.

    Though calling him by title, most circumstances — Rick had learned early and quick — would earn you a really close and searching look, followed by “Call me Gus, the Captain ain’t on board here much ‘nless the ‘ficcials come askin’ after ‘im.” No doubt he was captain of Dusk Treader; none either he was head of a working family, not top dog of any command.

    More local custom, which Rick had been learning most all his life must be allowed for. Especially where Feds or their pets were concerned; even if the nearest Fed (here in the near edge of the Twilight Marches) was likely hundreds of millions of miles off.

    And besides the understandable tension in his voice (after all, they were about to skim a few dozen miles over the frozen surface of a moon at some miles per second), there was also an excitement, even a deep pleasure. It seemed August Michael Castelli really, truly-madly and deeply, loved his job and his far-faring family.

    “I heard you say a few minutes ago we’d passed lock-on. So what’s the difference?”

    Rick was sure he’d be ignored if he got in the way, told to shut up if that didn’t clear the obstruction, so he felt free to ask his Dumb Dirt Pounder from sorry Whirled Fed Earth questions. After all, that was much of his own job, straight down from whatever passed for a ‘top’ to the Terran Freedom League.

    “Lock-on’s when the slingstring probe makes contact and hard-docks with our ship. But the string tension’s effectively zero now, cancelled by all the loopback power bouncing back and forth along it, a terawatt and a half per ton or so — until that stops and the natural tension goes live. That, my dear mister Lafourche, is hook-on; when the hook gets set and the big fishin’ pole starts pullin’ on this fish of ours right smart.

    “Fifteen seconds to hook-on.” The last said with an edgy-merry smile, into the on-going muted rumble of solid-core nuclear rockets.

    He sounded a lot like Rick’s own family, in a sudden whiff of homesickness for the bayou that (even under the wide shadow of the Fed) was the essence of home and hearth to him; and never mind all that blessing being six or more Astronomical Units away just now… Rick didn’t doubt for a moment he knew what he was talking about. He’d passed more than one of those ponds himself, in the cozy deeps of Callisto-Under-Glass — renting customers half an hour’s chance to ‘hook a big one’ in the cheery warmth and light and ever-strange one-eighth Earth gravity. (“Eat what you Catch.”)

    “Hold on to your seat, Rick, this can be a little bumpy. Five seconds. 12 feet per per, zero tension, seventy percent on SCR.”

    He mentally translated, into his personal frame of reference brought up by uncompromising Fed schools to be all metric, all the time: about 3/8 of a standard gravity. Mars normal, more or less. Thrusting along their line of flight closer and closer to returning Callisto, burning actively into the passive gravity-assist slingshot to give it even more ‘juice’ — adding a gravity boost to the assist.

    “Hook-on. 0.1 Gee yank. 0.2, 0.3, 0.4.” And acceleration pulled Rick a bit deeper into his chair, and a bit more. “80% thrust. 90%. 0.6 Gee yank. We are stable at 0.6 Gee yank around, 0.3 Gee yank down, 0.5 Gee thrust. So, does all that make sense to you, Rick?”

    “We’re boosting at 50 percent Gee on the rockets, 60 percent more from the string, 110% of a gravity around Callisto; and 30 percent more down toward it from the string. Which is in all” — he fumbled briefly doing the sum vectorially in his head — “what, 115% of a Gee total, or something.”

    Gus’ answering smile was lightning-quick. “114 if you want it on the nose, but yes. We’re running the rockets mostly to keep up appearances against the possibility the Fed’s watching, somewhere back around Earth from some big telescope.” (Which, like the Eiffelstalk and the Moon bases and so much else, they had never built, only taken over as more infrastructure for their State and further ‘proof’ of the ‘glories’ of World Federated socialism — never mind any odd bits of non-reality involved.)

    “Okay, but why the down component, as if Callisto had more gravity?”

    Gus smiled, that slow way, again. “Any gravity assist works by changing the direction of your motion, relative to the moon or the planet; ‘nless you use rockets or strings or something, you end up at the same speed as you came in, only going in a different direction. Which can and does mean quite a different speed, around the primary it circles. So we’ll end up, for all our trouble, going about six kay relative to Callisto but only two out of eight kay circular relative to Jupiter. Which drops our orbital low-point to just above the clouds and sets us up for that really deep gravity-well maneuver that shoots us off back to Mars. There you’ll see a real hook-on, down from far-up Ganymede.”

    Rick was sure he was using kilometers per second purely for his, Rick’s, benefit. One more thing the ‘supply chain anomalies’ and all had done, back when the Fed took over and shipments got tight or simply stopped cold out here, was cut way back on ‘SI standard metric’ stuff. Nixing the Fed’s or-else mandated measurements didn’t put more food in the markets or oxygen in the air — but it hadn’t cost a thing, either.

    “And how fast you’re going, relative to Callisto, sets the angle between your velocity coming in and your velocity going out… which then sets the size of the velocity difference between them. So more down-pull, bigger opening angle between the two ends of the hyperbola, more speed ‘kick’ in the end. I think?” Rick finished.

    One more smile, like a teacher satisfied. “More or less. If the Feds even have any idea, they’ll likely think we have some magic ground-based force field or something.” Gus didn’t quite chuckle out loud, but almost did.

    And Rick didn’t quite shiver all over from the tingle running up and down his spine at that, but almost… Thousands of tons of pull, it had to be, along a ‘string’ thinner than a hair, or an atom, thinner (if Claybourne Theory could be believed) than a proton was across. Made of the strongest thing possible, pure elemental force; mass equals tension (in the right units… mass per unit length equals tension over the speed of light squared, he recalled, a bit painfully).

    Connected, some way he didn’t begin to understand, to every particle in every nucleus in a fist-sized knob of tungsten, good to a million pounds per square inch, on both ends of the slingstring. And, between them, only the strongest kind of nearly-nothing he could (even with help) imagine.

    Magic force string? Very very nearly magic, to him. But all in a day’s work to Gus, and millions of people like him. Part of the “lemonade” in the “if the Fed gives us lemons, make lemonade” that’d saved all Earth’s far-off colonies from want, decline, starvation, extinction, whatever.

    Darwin’s cornucopia, some’d called it. Briefly, before going back to work.

    And for a moment wonder mixed richly and deeply with anger in him, hotter than the core of a star, before (following the habits of a lifetime) Rick locked it all back down. All those billions doing what they were told, believing what they were told, waiting dully in line for their IPRs (Insect Protein Rations, “Soylent Jiminy”). Feeding fat their Social Duty Credit Rating smartapps with lots of Relevant Behavior; while far above them the Elite Governing Class enjoyed their dachas and Super Concordes and hard-currency stores, their endless rounds of grim Saving the Planet conferences and Humanity’s Bright Future utopianas… while out here, on the edge of the Big Dark and too often the edge of existence, people lived a future of real humanity. And, despite the Fed and all its doin’s, real and practicable hope.

    When they got back to Mars he’d tell ’em: some on Earth did too. God willin’ and the river did’n rise, with Ariadne Castelli by his side.

    1. It might be worth pointing out that ‘slingstrings’ really aren’t something I made up; they’re basically ‘cosmic strings’ from physics and cosmology starting (at least) with Alexander Vilenkin a few decades back, I just made up a way to attach things to either end. So see that literature, for more on them.

      It’s definitely worth pointing out that the ‘Federation’ setting (which is, quite slowly and with much hard-SF research, turning into a story) wouldn’t exist at all without these vignettes… same for some other settings. Calling this little corner of ATH ‘inspirational’ is an understatement…

  19. I knew this bunch would show up for this. First world, earlier era, same as the last one I wrote:

    “Damn, that thing really got its hooks into you didn’t it, Nicky?”

    The man simply grunted in response, allowing his friend to remove the ruined armor and clothing from his arm before starting the healing spell. He should have scrutinized the merchant who sold him the armor better considering the quality of the work, particularly the enchantments, but it was too late for regrets now. It would take some time to regain full use of the arm even with Cathan’s healing talents, too, a bitter thought for someone who favored a spear in combat.

    “Incoming.” another voice interrupted, prompting the two men to look up. A phantasmal figure strode towards them, radiating grey and black flames. He could almost make out blue patterns near the top, where the face would normally be. Whatever it was, they really didn’t need trouble from it right now.

    “Do you have a read on it, Nicolae?” the other man asked, reaching for his sword. “I can buy you and Cathan time if you need it.”

    “No need,” a distorted, feminine voice intoned as the figure raised its hands in a placating gesture. “I mean you no harm.”

    “Then why show up looking like that?!” Cathan hissed, giving the figure a suspicious glare.

    “Looking like…? Oh, curses!” the figure swore, clenching her fists. The flames soon died down, revealing an elven woman of average height dressed entirely in black armor. Nicolae noted that the elaborate blue markings he saw earlier really were on her face, shimmering briefly before slowly fading away. Whoever she was, she was beautiful in a haunting way, with ghostly white skin and raven black hair. The two swords at her waist showed she meant business, though. “My apologies. I normally don’t have this much trouble powering back down.”

    “That was you who finished the creature, wasn’t it?” the other man asked, removing his hand from his blade.

    “Indeed.” the woman confirmed, giving the group her best smile, even if it ended up being a mild one.

    “Then if she meant us harm she’d have finished us right away instead of waiting until we had a chance to heal,” Nicolae stated, the pieces starting to come together in his mind. “We owe you our thanks, Dame…?”

    “Rapp. Shaina Rapp.” she replied, giving the men a bow. “I’m no knight sworn to anyone, though.”

    “It’s nice meeting you regardless,” Nicolae said, suppressing a wince of pain from his friend’s continued work. “My name is Nicolae Aramov, of Zhara.”

    “Aidan Griffith.” the swordsman said, giving the woman a slight smile and a nod. “A mercenary from Argyros.”

    “Cathan Lauritz, Aidan’s partner in crime from Jacinth!” the healer added in with a grin. “And the guy who keeps trying to get Nicky here to lighten up!”

    “Aramov? Of the Oniks Barony?” Shaina asked, raising an eyebrow. “The Pillars really did intend this. We have much to discuss when you’re ready, Lord Nicolae.”

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