Directions for 2018

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I don’t like writing New Year resolutions. At least, I won’t speak of them. Announcing your goals, resolutions, or plans tricks your brain into feeling that you’ve already accomplished your aims, thus reducing your drive to accomplish your goals.

Instead, I’m going to discuss my directions for 2018. Both in my personal capacity as an ordinary person–and as Herald of the Pulp Revolution and Revival.

Steemit Fiction

Earlier this year, my experiments with serial fiction have paid off much better than my original expectations. My fellow Pulp Revolutionaries have likewise enjoyed incredible success with their own stories. @noughtshayde‘s The Candyman, @jimfear138‘s Fire on the Bayou and @NotJohnDaker‘s Necromancers of Santa Meurte demonstrate that my experience isn’t an outlier. Steemit rewards writers who produce quality fiction.

One of my guiding principles is to focus your time, energy and resources on success. Thus, in 2018, I will be publishing even more fiction. I have trunk fiction, experimental fiction, fiction just waiting to be told. Flash fiction, short stories, novellas, the whole gamut.

And novels.

I am working up plans for full-blown web novels on Steemit. Plural. Series of serials.

Other Fiction

This year, I completed the second novel of the Covenanter Chronicles. Titled Hammer of the Witches, I have sent it to Castalia House, where it is currently undergoing edits. Beta readers tell me it is better than the first book, which is always a relief. I’ll release publication dates when the book is ready.

In the interests of personal growth, not to mention representation of women and minorities and fiction, I have also written a mahou shoujo novel titled KAGE NO OUJI. It features a bona fide Japanese joshikousei miko who becomes a magical girl to fight youkai with the blessings of the kami.

And yes, there will be a transformation sequence.

I’m currently editing the first draft, and once it’s done I shall send the novel on to a most deserving and understanding publisher committed to diversity, social justice and the progress of humanity.

With so much to do, though, I will cease writing short fiction for most markets. Quite simply, I can reasonably expect to be paid much more on Steemit than in most markets elsewhere. I’ll only write short fiction if I am confident of receiving adequate compensation for my time and energy, or if I am invited to contribute to a worthy publisher and cause. Otherwise, I’m dedicating my energy to other pursuits.

Non-Fiction

I think too much about too much for my own good. Steemit is a great way to vent my thoughts and GET PAID.

In 2017 I tried a scattershot approach. I found topics which paid off incredibly well, and topics which didn’t do so well. Come 2018 I’m going to focus on the intersection between topics that pay well and topics which I am familiar with. The majority of the latter will likely be areas in which I have personal experience and skin in the game. I’ll also be writing more thoughts about other areas of interest which hitherto haven’t made their way online.

Ultimately, I plan to commit my essence to the page. This shall be my brand, my contribution to the world, and my instrument for future success.

Personal Growth

I won’t say I’m an expert in self-improvement, but I am committed to constant personal growth. I recognise that no one else cares as much about my life as I do, and as such I will take every possible measure to become the best man I can be. Physical, mental and spiritual fitness will continue to be a top priority. I will reinforce physical training, martial arts, meditation, nutrition, mindsets and other positive habits.

And, quite naturally, I will share the results on Steemit as they come in.

Leadership, Commitments, Finances

As the Herald of the Pulp Revolution and Revival, I am come to witness a new age in Steemit. I will be helping to grow the PulpRev community in the coming days, helping newcomers find their bearings, promoting content of interest to the community and building bridges to the wider world.

That aside, I foresee shouldering greater responsibilities in 2018. There will be more demands on my time, energy, and most of all, money. With that said, as discussed previously, Steemit provided half of my income this year. I intend to grow this as far and fast as possible, the better to provide a better life for myself and my loved ones.

I’ll start thinking of finances in terms of fiat and cryptocurrency. The stable value of fiat, not to mention its universal acceptance, makes it useful for expenses and short-term purchases. Crypto, on the other hand, is highly volatile, and with that volatility comes potential for gains and incredible wealth. I don’t intend to speculate or trade any time soon, but I do think I need to pay much greater attention to crypto trends and strategies to maximise profits.

2018 will require a pivot towards community engagement and interpersonal relationships. It will require building upon existing strengths, while exploring untapped areas. It will demand judgment and hard work, and no small amount of sacrifice.

By my own hand, I shall make 2018 better than 2017.

My Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons is the first book of the Covenant Chronicles mentioned above, and can be found here.

 

How to Overcome Mental Resistance with Breathing

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I don’t procrastinate. I don’t allow myself to dilly-dally. When I say something, it shall be done. I’ve been told it’s an uncommon ability. But like all skills, it is a trait that can be cultivated and integrated into your being.

When you’re on the verge of making a difficult decision, one of great weight and importance to your life, one that runs counter to how you have lived up to this point, one that clashes with your habits or assumptions or suppositions, you may feel a peculiar sensation. It may be in your stomach, it may be in your chest, it may be felt with your entire body. What is this sensation?

Imagine a mighty river gushing at full force. It is following a path it has carved through rock over a thousand years ago, following the path of least resistance as water always does. Suddenly, a nearby landslide flings a mass of earth and rock into the river’s path. The water crashes into the obstruction but fails to break through. The river is now blocked.

The sensation you experience is akin to the moment when the river encounters the barrier. It is like walking face-first into an invisible wall and discovering there is something there. This is the sensation of resistance.

But can you point to the location of this resistance?

The Invisible Resistance

People have preferred ways of living, talking, eating, or doing anything at all. Through a lifetime of experiences, people build up habits and heuristics to help them navigate life. While useful, they create a delusion of a permanent, unchanging self, what Buddhism refers to as sakkaya-dithi.

Consider this: a person is used to indulging in all-you-can-eat buffets. Whenever he has the opportunity to go to one, he fills his plate again and again with delicious foods, stuffing himself past the point of satiation. This becomes an unthinking habit. If you ask him to limit himself at a buffet, he’ll resist the notion even if he knows he has to lose weight, because his ego is wrapped up in the idea that one should always pig out at a buffet, and he views himself as unwilling or unable to change his ways.

You don’t have to be conscious about these unwanted habits and heuristics for them to become ingrained in your being. The most pernicious of them are those that you don’t examine or question. Being unconscious of something, you won’t recognise its influence on you. If you find yourself contemplating a decision that runs counter to your self-identity, you will naturally resistance. This is how the ego attempts to preserve itself.

Likewise, if you are forced to make an emotionally trying choice, you will also encounter resistance. If you perceive you have to give up something or experience unpleasantness, it becomes difficult to make a choice.

Suppose you are hip-deep in education debts. You hold a steady job, but most of your income goes towards servicing your debts. You rely on your car to get you to work, to the market, to just about everywhere. One day, your car breaks down. The engine gives out completely and there is no hope of recovery.

Now you have three choices. The first is to switch to public transportation, and completely reorganise your life around buses, trains and/or taxis. The second is to work out a quasi-permanent car-pooling arrangement with people you know, or complete strangers, at least until you can replace your car. The third is to bite the bullet and buy a new car — and put off buying something else you want or need, which may include your debts.

In all these cases you have to give up something or face unpleasant circumstances. In the first case you need to wake up earlier, learn bus and train schedules, plan routes, set money aside for transportation, and so on. In the second, you’ll have to make arrangements with people, create backup plans for days when they can’t help you — and hope there are people who can help. In the third, you’ll have to spend more of your hard-earned money and possibly sacrifice something else. Every decision carries a cost in free time, energy and/or money, all of which you have an emotional stake in gaining and preserving as much as possible. It becomes painful to contemplate such emotionally-laden decisions, leading to the sensation of resistance and the desire to delay or avoid them to avoid feeling such unwanted emotions.

This is perfectly natural human behaviour. But to continue living, we have to choose. We have to overcome this resistance.

The secret to doing this is recognising that, at heart, there is no substance to this resistance. It may be a powerful surge of emotions. It may register as actual physical sensations.

Instinct or Ego

Before jumping into the heart of the matter, recognize that this resistance is not entirely evil or self-sabotaging. It is a method of self-preservation, and there are times when it is useful.

Let’s say an acquaintance contacts you out of the blue. She says she’s signed up on a program guaranteed to bring you lots of money. You just have to buy some products from the parent company, then sell them to other customers at a markup. If you bring in your friends, you get to enjoy discounts, bonuses, and other perks. She thinks of you as a friend, she thinks you’ll benefit, so won’t you sign up and buy her stuff?

If you see red flags, good for you. This is how a multilevel marketing scheme works. If you join up, the company will suck your money, you’ll waste hours trying to sell stuff, you’ll become human scum as you push an ever-widening range of products on your friends and family, and in the end you’re not going to get much out of it. Feeling resistance and refusing to accept the offer in this case is perfectly natural.

Resistance is natural. When you experience it, your first reaction shouldn’t be to overpower it. It may well be your subconscious warning you of danger. From the perspective of the ego, there is no difference between a threat to existence and a threat to self-identity. Thus, you must develop and exercise discrimination, so that you can tell the difference between self-protection (preventing you from coming to harm) and ego-protection (preventing your self from changing).

When you encounter mental resistance, ask yourself these questions:

*What are the consequences of acting?
*What are the consequences of not acting?
*What am I giving up with every choice I face?
*What do I want out of life, and which choice aligns with my goals and inner self?

Fear of imagined pain outweighs actual pain. Make abstract resistance concrete by articulating and visualising the costs and benefits of actions, and how these actions align with who you are. Acknowledge that there is no permanent, unchanging self, for in every action you create yourself, and you are always free and ready to become a new person.  Instead of fretting over potential emotional pain or conflict, view the true costs and benefits with a clear heart.

And you can clear your heart with your breath.

Dissolve Resistance

Earlier I likened the sensation of resistance to a river being dammed up. The opposite sensation of resistance is ease — water flowing smoothly and freely. Within the human body, the closest sensation to that is breathing. Deep, rhythmic, abdominal breathing.

Close your eyes. Sit or stand with your spine erect. Breathe into your belly, expanding and contracting your diaphragm. Place your hands on your stomach; if you feel it rise and fall you’re doing it right. Let your breath be smooth, slow, deep and comfortable. If you have difficulty breathing, consider adjusting the tilt of your skull or pelvis until you get it right. A quick trick is to press yourself up against a wall to align your skull, spine and tailbone.

Focus on this sensation of ease and flow. Whenever you feel troubled, or run into mental resistance, default to the deep breath and let that sensation of ease fill your being. This dissolves any phantom pain, resistance or other unpleasant sensations within you, letting you focus clearly on what you must do. With freedom of breath comes freedom of mind, and with freedom of mind comes the clarity necessary to contemplate the choices before you.

The Space of Seven Breaths

The Hagakure states, ‘With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.’

The space of seven breaths may be a metaphor, but it points to the underlying principles of resolution, determination, focus, and awareness, of making a decision based on complete self-knowledge.

Strive to be in total awareness of yourself, your goals and your principles. Understand what makes up who you are, who you want to be, and what you must do to become your best self. This creates a mental heuristic that nudges you ever onwards to self-development, and allows you to prioritize your expenditures, resources and energy.

Going back to the example of the broken car, you know you wish to pay off your debts and loans as quickly as possible, and recognise that you can live without luxuries for a while. Thus, you stride into a car dealership and purchase a car at a reasonable price — not necessarily a new car, just one you can use. Or perhaps you have time to burn but little cash to spare, so you start plotting routes by public transport and live without a car until you can lift the burden of debt. If you have the great fortune of friends willing to help you, or trustworthy strangers keen on sharing a ride, then you can rely on carpooling until the day you can afford a new vehicle. The choice you make reflects your own priorities, beliefs and principles — so to accelerate the decision-making process, know your circumstances and your self, and pick the choice that reflects your character and your aspirations.

Regardless of your choice, act swiftly and decisively. No matter how long you delay the decision, no matter how reluctant or heartbroken you feel, it must be made. Feelings are transient and subjective; the consequences of actions and non-actions are concrete and lasting. And the longer the delay, the heavier the penalty of non-action. Face the choice now and act.

All actions stem from the self. Strive to know yourself and institute the mindsets, habits and heuristics that help you make growth-oriented decisions. Through the breath, fill your soul with the sense of ease and freedom and dissolve any barriers to clear thought. Recognize that your feelings are immaterial; only the decision before you, and the consequences of your actions, remain.

Cultivate a spirit of intensity, immediacy, resolution and focus. Then, in the space of seven breaths, act.

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If you’d like to support my work, check out my Dragon Award-nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Maintain Cohesion in Your Fiction Series

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What makes for an excellent fiction series? For that matter, what defines a series?

Persistent characters who develop over multiple stories. Conflicts, drama and story arcs that span multiple books. Story-critical concepts that underpin the series, be it magic, high technology, forensic science, and so on. Exploration and expansion of these concepts to facilitate the plot. The expectation that each successive book builds upon the previous one, creating a chronologically-coherent timeline. To make a series work, you must maintain internal cohesion by ensuring that events occur in a logical fashion, that characters act and react in a manner consistent with their previously-established personas, and that existing concepts are built upon and new ones signalled or gradually introduced.

Sean Chercover’s Daniel Byrne series is an excellent example of an incoherent series.

The series begins with The Trinity Game. Daniel Byrne is an investigator for the Vatican’s Office of the Devil’s Advocate, which studies alleged miracles. He has never found proof of miracles–until one day, his uncle Tim Trinity, begins predicting the future. Trinity is a con man–but is he telling the truth this time? As Byrne investigates Trinity, secret organizations step out of the shadows, including the Mafia, the Council for World Peace and the Fleur-de-Lys Foundation. Caught in a shadow war, Byrne must protect Trinity as he prepares to deliver a final prophecy his enemies will do anything to prevent.

The series begins with a promising start. A compelling protagonist who presents himself as a man of God despite not believing in God. A con man who may or may not be running a con. A power struggle between powerful and ruthless factions for the fate of the world. The sequel The Devil’s Game builds upon these core ideas. Byrne has now joined the Foundation, and discovers a strain of the plague that grants its victims the power of foresight. He partners with disgraced doctor Kara Singh, who suffers visions of her own, to trace the source of the plague–and discovers a conspiracy to release a world-changing pandemic.

So far so good. The conflict between the Foundation and the Council escalates in the second book. Byrne has apparently found his life’s purpose, and someone to share his life with. The true faces of the Foundation and the Council are revealed. And a shocker in the final chapter sets the stage for the third book, The Savior’s Game.

Which crashes and burns.

The Savior’s Game is not a bad story. It’s an exceptional novel. Byrne is forced to work alone, relying on his wits and his best friend. He has to navigate a strange new world with even stranger powers, while pursued by enemies far deadlier and more capable than before. As a standalone book, it is incredible. But as the conclusion of a trilogy, it fails.

The central conceit of the series is Anomalous Information Transfer, an unexplained ability to experience the past, present or future as visions. The Council wishes to control it to rule the world, while the Foundation aims to stop the Council. This meta-conflict between the Council and the Foundation suddenly vanishes in the third book, never to be seen again.

Replacing AIT is a surreal world called the Source, a deeper reality underlying this one–one that has never been hinted at in previous stories. There are allegedly thousands of inhabitants in the Source, but there are no indications in previous stories that people who experience AIT aren’t simply experiencing visions, or that there are people who can transport their consciousness to another plane of existence. AIT and the Source come off as two distinctly separate phenomena, linked only by the most tenuous of plot threads.

The main antagonist of The Savior’s Game is a character from the second novel who was mysteriously resurrected, but there are no explanations why this occurred or what happened to other dead people.

A secondary antagonist, revealed near the end, is a traitor, a character who has appeared in the previous novels and now claims that he agrees with the primary antagonist and wants to burn the world down–but up to that point, there is no sign that the traitor has embraced nihilism or even had any contact with the main antagonist.

With the critical elements of *The Savior’s Game* so profoundly disconnected from the rest of the series, it comes across as the conclusion of a completely different series altogether. To avoid the same fate, you must maintain cohesion in your fiction series. To do this, apply the concept of anchoring.

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When a reader reads an earlier book in the series, he has built an image of the characters, story world, key conflicts and conceits in mind. He knows what kind of people the characters are, how the world works, the conflicts that drive the story, and so on. This knowledge anchors him to the ideas that define a series, *and* creates the expectation that future books will build upon this anchor.

In future books, characters must act, react and grow based on the events they experience in the story *and* how previous events have shaped them. The world must evolve in response to the events in previous books. Conflicts established in previous stories must advance or end. The reader must be able to draw a clear thread linking events and character evolution from previous stories to the present.

If you want to introduce new concepts, you must do so in reference to the anchor — that is, it should build upon what the reader already knows of your story. If you want to introduce a super advanced faster than light drive in the second book of a series, then in the first book there must be references to starships and spaceflight to ground the reader in your story conceits. If you want to have a wizard flinging around ultra-cool magic in a later book, then in earlier books you need to establish the existence of magic, and possibly any principles said wizard will use for said ultra-cool magic.

If you must bring out completely new ideas that have no previous reference points, you need to prime the reader to expect new concepts to come out of nowhere. In Jim Butcher’s *Dresden Files*, every faction has its own unique brand of magic: necromancers bring the dead back to unlife, White Court vampires feast on lust, Red Court vampires drink blood, the Denarii are fallen angels, the Knights of the Cross are holy warriors, and so on. This primes the reader to expect a a new kind of magic whenever a new faction or monster is introduced.

Every book in a series should have anchors for readers familiar with previous books, the better to prepare them for the novelties to be introduced in the current book. Harry Dresden is the key anchor for the Dresden Files: he pits his already-established magic powers against these new and unknown foes and their abilities, creating a sense of familiarity and cohesion for the audience, and when Dresden develops new powers, his research and development is explicitly shown on the page, priming the reader for their appearance.

If you’re writing a closed-ended series, one with a definitive ending, there is another trick you can use: plan the ending of the entire series before starting it. Once you know the beginning and ending of the series, how the major conflicts will be resolved and how the characters will meet their fates, you’ll be able to plan how each installment in the series builds upon each other. This prevents new ideas and stories from disrupting the series and turning it into something that isn’t.

If you expect a series to end in a dramatically different manner from the expectations established in the first book, you should signpost this divergent ending where possible. The Dresden Files series appears to involve Harry Dresden taking on seemingly unrelated cases, but in several stories Dresden determines that there is an unseen faction who is secretly pulling the strings — although he hasn’t, as yet, uncovered their motives or leaders. This hints at the (possible) ending of the series: a final showdown between Dresden and this faction. Signposts like these tell the reader that while they can enjoy the current story and series in their present form, they should brace themselves for the series to take a different turn.

Cohesion is critical to creating a successful fiction series. In each successive installment, anchor your readers in the story world so you won’t lose them when introducing new concepts. End the series in a way that flows organically from its beginning — but if you must take the series in a new direction, be sure to signal it as early and as often as you can.

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In my own novel, No Gods, Only Daimons, I signposted the ending of the series in the climax. Good luck finding it!

2017 in Retrospect

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I joined Steemit a year ago. It was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Steemit has changed my life for the better in so many ways. It incentivizes regular content creation, content that adds significant value to readers. Where most of the Internet rewards clickbait and fluff, here’s a barrier-free site where a person can write deep, analytical pieces and be rewarded for it. Here I found a space where I can express my own brand of writing and further sharpen my skills.

Here is the place where I found my soul as a writer.

Breaking Out

12 years ago I began blogging in earnest. I ranted and raved about anything and everything that came to mind, usually involving politics and current affairs, and somehow I caught the eye of other bloggers in Singapore’s growing socio-political space. For a couple of years I found a community there, but after National Service, after the rise of government regulations and the departure and retirement of many prominent bloggers, I found myself once against without a community.

Right around that time I needed to make a living. But nobody wanted to hire me for my writing skills. Freelance writing jobs were few and far between. I only had the time to blog once or twice a month, and every time I was simply shouting into the dark. With the explosive growth of social media and other distractions, there was simply little reason for people to read some obscure youth on a little-known blog.

Nevertheless, I kept blogging. In mid-2016, I stepped up the blogging frequency in an attempt to reach wider audiences. Then, in December, I learned of this exciting new platform where content creators and curators could be rewarded in cryptocurrency. I studied the site, analyzed the technology, looked up reviews, and joined Steemit.

I wrote about everything that came to mind. Technology, philosophy, martial arts, life hacks, meditation, anime, books, manga, on and on and on. And the more money I made, the more I was motivated to keep writing. Today I shoot for at least three posts a week, depending on my schedule.

For the first time, I was making real money off the Internet. Magic Internet Money, to be sure, but [cryptocurrency’s] great promise is its ability to make rapid gains in value and be quickly converted to usable fiat. While earnings from each individual post usually didn’t come close to my freelance work, my freelance commissions were far more irregular, and demanded far more time. These days, I make more money off Steemit than freelance commissions.

For the first time, I had the luxury of turning down work.

For the first time, I no longer had to worry about my finances.

From Wannabe to Almost Somebody

I began writing fiction in 2013. In 2014, I made my first professional fiction sale. My second in 2015, and a third in 2016.

In 2017, I published one novel, one novella, and five short stories.

To be sure, No Gods, Only Daimons was written in 2015, and took almost two full years to get to market. But the remaining stories were written this year.

2017 saw the rise of the Superversive and the PulpRev movements. Their ideals resonated with my own, and I wrote stories for them. Beyond that, I also wrote fiction for Steemit — Two Lives and Night Demons — and published two more trunk stories here — Invincible and Redemption Road. And my Steemit stories have, without exception, outearned the other short fiction sales I’ve made to date.

Through writing these stories and seeking out others like them, I found a community of writers with shared goals and methods. By some strange twist of fate, I am the first PulpRev writer on Steemit, and in the past week at least a half-dozen writers joined in. As the Herald of PulpRev on Steemit, I declare that the PulpRev community shall take the Steemit fiction world by storm.

The Verge of The Dream

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Calculating my income for the year, I made a startling discovery. Half of my income this year came from writing and cryptocurrency.

Half.

Perhaps a sixth of those monies came from royalties in fiat. The rest came from cryptocurrency investments, all of which were funded from Steemit’s native tokens. The recent explosion in cryptocurrency prices certainly had a part to play in that, but going forward I’m confident that there’ll be increased demand for crypto in the years to come — and with that, the potential for even more earnings.

When I was younger, I was told that you’d never make a living from writing, that you shouldn’t expect to make money from writing. Yet here it was, proof that a man can make a decent amount of money from writing.

When I was 12 I set my heart on being a full-time fiction writer. I refused to listen to anyone who said otherwise. Now I stand on the verge of the dream. Not quite there yet, but it is within sight.

Sowing the Seeds of Success

2017 was for preparation and experimentation. I spent the year writing and writing and writing, looking to see what worked and what didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found on Steemit, social media, and elsewhere. I established my reputation as a writer, fiction and non-fiction, learned the ins and outs of Steemit, connected with wider communities, and somewhere along the way I became the Herald of PulpRev on Steemit.

Looking back on everything I’ve done, it’s clear now that I’ve been laying the foundations of success for the past 16 years. If I hadn’t spent those 16 years writing, learning, growing and connecting, I couldn’t have reached where I am now. I don’t doubt that the coming years will require more hard work, more planning, more dedication, more of everything I’m doing now.

But for the first time, I can see the goalposts.

PulpRev Invades Steemit!

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Comrades! As the Herald of PulpRev, the first among our number to plant our flag on Steemit, I do declare that Steemit is perfect for our needs. It is virgin ground, ripe for the taking, filled with eager audiences hungry for our work, ready to yield untold rewards for the bold, the creative and the prolific! Steemit shall be our new front in the Revolution! We shall revive the blazing glories of the Pulp Age! Together, we shall leave our mark on the blockchain forever!

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Now, with the obligatory high energy propaganda out of the way, let’s talk how PulpRev can make the most of Steemit. And, by extension, all other fiction writers here.

Steemit and PulpRev

The PulpRev movement pays homage to the greatness of the pulp grandmasters of the 1920s, and carries that spirit ahead into the future. The heart of pulp fiction is short, punchy stories, stories of life and verve and action and adventure and white hats versus black hats and eldritch horrors and supertech and fantastic magics and all of the above and more.

Pulp fiction is also perfect for Steemit.

Steemit’s design favours short, punchy posts ranging between 500-1500 words. You can try to get away with longer posts (I know I have), but by and large 500-1500 words is a good rule of thumb. PulpRevvers will quickly realize that that chapters from old-school pulp tales run to roughly the same length.

As in pulp fiction, serials are king on Steemit. Once a post goes live, you have a window of seven days before you receive the payout. The more you link to a post, the greater the chances of discoverability — and with those, upvotes. If you’re not writing flash fiction, write multi-part stories and link back to earlier posts. When writing multi-part stories, post at least one chapter a day, more if your schedule allows for it, for maximum returns.

Write whatever fiction you want. Space opera, urban fantasy, crime thrillers. Novellas, short stories, novels. They’re all good, so long as you keep the reader entertained. But to make real money here, post regularly and post often. High energy, high output. That’s the pulp way.

Playing Tag

Use appropriate tags for your Steemit posts for maximum results. The first tag is the primary tag, and will be the one your post is categorised under. Research the most popular tags to see what kind of content fits under those tags, and tag your post accordingly.

Use a mix of popular and unique tags. Popular tags raise your chances of being discovered–and your chances of being drowned out by new content from more popular writers. Unique tags reduce the chances of being swept away, but only readers searching for niche content will find you. Using popular and unique tags will complement each other’s strengths and eliminate weaknesses.

Consider this post. The first tag is ‘blogging’, to make it discoverable. ‘publishing’ and ‘steemit’ are other popular tags. ‘pulprev’ and ‘steempulp’ tags this post for posterity, so other Steemit users searching for content in this vein will find it.

Build Yourself

Don’t think of your posts as just posts and comments. Think of them in terms of content marketing.

Everything you do on the blockchain builds your brand. Every post you create, every story you write, every comment you leave, contributes to your brand. Think of your strengths and focus your energies on posting about them. This creates a brand focused on the topics you specialise in: fantasy, space opera, horror, and so on.

With that said, don’t limit yourself to fiction. Paint, draw, sing, shoot videos, narrate stories. Talk about fitness, diet, programming, gaming, movies, books, cryptocurrency, whatever tickles your fancy. The more you create about anything, the wider the audience you reach. My own non-fiction earnings on Steemit outstrip those from my fiction by a wide margin. If you’ve got something to say, say it.

If you strive to become Steemit giants, check out this post on how to grow your following.

Build the Community

We are PulpRev. Our greatest strength is a united front, an unbreakable shieldwall backed by shining spears and burning torches venturing forth into the great unknown.

Okay, not really, but Steemit is social media. Think Medium crossed with Reddit, with a nifty payout model. The more social you are, the better the results for everyone. Commenting, resteeming, promoting and upvoting posts are the way to go, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Think of shared universes, collaborations, translations, audiobook narrations, artwork. Use the medium, and other social media, to create win-win situations for everybody.

Use Steemit tags and hashtags on social media to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. #PulpRev and #SteemPulp are our primary tags. Using these often will improve our visibility and create an online group brand that distinguishes us from others.

Likewise, interact with other Steemit users. PulpRev are not a ghetto. Mingle around, learn more about the site, engage commenters and posters. Social media rules apply here, and the more value you create in Steemit, the more it gives back.

Research, Research, Research

To make the most of Steemit, learn how Steemit works. And, by extension, cryptocurrency.

At the minimum, you need to know how to post on Steemit, how to use markdown, sources of photos, how to comment, how the upvote, feed, and the payout system works. Pay close attention to restrictions: no archive function, no way to easily reference and find older posts, editing will be locked after 7 days, and so on. Be sure to read these posts about etiquette, the unwritten rules and how voting power works.

You need a way of converting Steem and Steem Dollars into fiat, directly or otherwise. That means you need to learn how cryptocurrency exchanges work. Sign up for an account on a cryptocurrency exchange that offers Steem and SBD pairings. If you can’t sell your Steem and SBD for fiat directly, you must identify Steem and SBD/crypto pairings and crypto-USD pairings. You must also understand the technology underpinning your preferred crypto pairing, and identify when network congestions may prevent transactions, as in the case of Bitcoin and Ethereum. Alternatively, you can pick an instant exchange platform like Changelly or Shapeshift. The transaction is instant, but the mining fees will be higher than the transaction fee in a regular exchange.

Whichever method you choose, if you intend to convert the Steem trinity into other crypto for long-term gains, be sure to get a crypto wallet and research the kind of crypto you wish to invest in. Exodus is an excellent wallet for newbies and veterans alike, but do shop around to see what meets your needs. When you do receive payouts, be sure to record your earnings for the taxman too.

If you want to go deeper, dive into the technology behind Steemit and see how you can take full advantage of its mechanisms. Look for cryptocurrency trends and anticipate price actions if you can. Learn crypto investing and trading strategy. Crypto is incredibly volatile, and you do not want to get burned.

The Revival and The Revolution

We are PulpRev. We shall revive the glory of the Pulp age. We shall witness the revolution to all nations and carry it to greater heights. The fiction world trembles with every story we post.

I am the Herald of PulpRev on Steemit. @notjohndaker, @jimfear138, @noughtshayde, @danwolfgang and @jd-alden follow in my footsteps. More are coming.

If you are not of PulpRev but you wish to join us, we are waiting for you. Write a story, drop the pulprev or steempulp tag, get on social media and our website, join our Discord, and we’ll see you on the Net.

We are PulpRev, and we are the future.

Clarity on Cryptocurrency

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With all the sturm und drang about cryptocurrency in the mainstream media lately, I think it’s high time for some clarity on cryptocurrency. I am not, by any means, an experienced investor and this should not be considered investment advice of any sort. I am, however, coming from the perspective of a science fiction writer, and a barely-seasoned Steemit user. And I think cryptocurrency is far more multifaceted than what the media makes it out to be.

Do You Have Skin In the Game?

Skin in the game is a simple concept. Do you have a stake in the outcome of an event? Do you risk failure while pursuing your goals? How involved are you in it, and how much relevant expertise do you have?

This is the question I find myself asking every time I see the latest round of gloom and doom from the newspapers. It seems that every other day some fresh expert goes on the news to declare Bitcoin is a bubble, cryptocurrency isn’t viable, and so on and so forth. While I respect their accomplishments, the big question is: do they personally have a stake in crypto?

Recently the media trotted out a parade of businessmen, magnates and investors to discuss their thoughts on bitcoin. They may certainly be experts at making money, but if they have no skin in the game and no experience with cryptocurrency their words are just so much hot air.

Extrapolating experience in stocks, forex, bonds and other financial instruments to cryptocurrency isn’t wise. It’s not merely a currency; it is technology, it is a service, it is a commodity, it is so unlike anything that came before that experts are still debating over what it actually is.

The old rules don’t apply to crypto. Bitcoin has been declared a bubble before at far, far lower prices than today, and Bitcoin always surges ahead to even-higher prices. After every flash crash, Bitcoin keeps coming back. That isn’t typical bubble behaviour, not as the term is understood in other markets.

As far as I’m concerned, if someone doesn’t have skin in the game, his advice is irrelevant. The only experts worth listening to are those with skin in the game, who have studied how crypto work — and in the news articles I’ve seen, they are few and far between.

Is Bitcoin in a Bubble?

That’s the big question on everyone’s minds. The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know enough to give an informed opinion too.

What I will say is that I’ve taken steps to protect myself against a bubble. Only one-fifth of my current crypto holdings are in Bitcoin. The rest of my portfolio is spread out across other, reliable crypto, notably Dash, Litecoin, and EOS. My single largest holding is actually in Steem Power.

This strategy allows me to mitigate risk while keeping skin in the game. If the price of Bitcoin crashes tomorrow, I won’t lose everything. And if the price of Bitcoin keeps going up, or at least stabilizes, I have enough skin in the game to make profits. Thus, it doesn’t matter to me if Bitcoin were truly in a bubble or simply enjoying a bull run of historic proportions. Either way, I won’t lose everything–and have an opportunity to gain even more.

Volatility Creates Growth

The most-repeated objection I’ve heard to Bitcoin is that it is extremely volatile. And I agree. This is the wrong time for rookies to the crypto space to buy into Bitcoin. The same thinking goes for other cryptocurrencies as well, albeit to a much lesser degree.

Volatility carries the potential for extreme losses. But it also has the potential for extreme gains.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore warned Singaporeans that if they invest in crypto, they may stand a chance to lose all their capital. Local websites and blogs agree.

While this warning is (mostly) true, I find it extremely curious that crypto tends to trend upwards. While there are over eight hundred cryptocurrencies in existence (most of which would probably be doomed to oblivion), the value of the most well-known and well-loved coins, without exception, keep trending upwards. While prices can and will crash, crypto tends to recover its value much more quickly than, say, stocks or forex. It may take weeks or months, but recovery and bull runs will happen.

The inherent volatility of crypto means that you risk losing all the money you put into it… or will enjoy outsized gains if you hold on long enough. It’s not unheard of to enjoy hundreds, even thousands-fold returns on investments now. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from a year in crypto, it’s that gains tend to be more likely and longer-lasting than losses.

But you must have skin in the game to make it happen.

Get in Early, Get in Fast

Cryptocurrency rewards early adopters. People who’ve been in the Bitcoin game since it was started now enjoy stupendous profits. Even if you got into crypto at the beginning of the year, if you’ve been hodling and accumulating until now, you’d have seen incredible gains.

Opportunity doesn’t wait. If a crypto looks good and has long-term potential, get in now. If you see an opportunity to buy low, buy now. If you suspect a crypto is about to reach its peak, sell now.

Yes, dollar cost averaging is always a viable strategy, and yes, you should always be ready to accept risk. But once you’ve decided to act, you must act. Now. If you delay, you risk losing everything you’ve gained — or not earning anything at all.

I think many cryptocurrencies, especially altcoins, are presently undervalued. With greater technological development comes higher-profile use cases and increased confidence, leading to higher demand. But this situation won’t last forever. If you’re confident of a decision, act now or forever regret what might have been.

Too Much Money to Fail?

Never allow yourself to think that.

Chrysler, General Motors, Enron, and Lehman Brothers were all thought to be too big to fail. Until they did.

Crypto is no different. Sure, we have bitcoin billionaires a thriving crypto development space now. But if the entire crypto space crashed tomorrow and its market cap wiped out, the world economy wouldn’t even notice. No government is going to save any crypto that fails — with the sole exception of state-backed crypto.

Thus, with our own hands, we make our future for ourselves, whether it be of glorious abundance or terrible losses.

Because the market is so fluid, you have to keep moving. You can’t let yourself think that you’re just parking money in a stock or bond or commodity for months and years to come, and be guaranteed a return. You have to think in terms of stability and volatility.

Fiat is stable, but its value does not grow quick, if at all. Crypto is volatile, offering the opportunity for huge gains, but you stand the risk of huge losses. The trick is to shift fiat into crypto to grow your wealth, and either jump on another fast-growing volatile crypto when it’s rising or jump back off into stable fiat when the market turns against you. It’s a lot easier said than done, obviously, but I find it’s a useful mental heuristic.

You must keep an eye on the market every day and be prepared to move accordingly. In the crypto world, there is no such thing as too big to fail, only whether a crypto is trending upwards or downwards.

The Crypto Mutation

When thinking about what to invest next, I think it’s useful to think about consumer behaviour and how people will use technology in addition to other tools like technical analysis, latest technological developments, forks and the like. After all, some cryptocurrencies don’t stay currencies for long.

Bitcoin was supposed to be a cheap and easy way of moving money over the Internet. To be fair, it did quite well at that…until this year. After a spike in prices and interest, we’re now experiencing incredible congestion and stupendous transaction fees. It is now vastly inferior to PayPal and other online banking services. Merchants like Steam have abandoned Bitcoin altogether — and without merchants who will accept a currency, can something still be considered a currency?

Bitcoin’s value proposition is shifting. It is now seen, for better or ill, as a store of value and an easy way to grow wealth. In the long term, I don’t expect this to last.

I think there will come a time when Bitcoin becomes so expensive, and the mining fees so high, that only two kinds of people will use Bitcoin: those who bought into Bitcoin early and have been holding on it to it, and the wealthy who can afford the mining fees and don’t mind the transaction times. As interest dies off, transaction times and mining fees should drop accordingly. And then Bitcoin might become a viable cryptocurrency again. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

The recent price hikes have exposed Bitcoin’s core vulnerable: it is not suitable for processing high volumes of transactions. Hence the recent Bitcon hard forks and controversies over technological upgrades. I don’t think Bitcoin will return to becoming a cryptocurrency anytime soon, if at all.

Ethereum is not the alternative to Bitcoin either. The Ethereum network is an open source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform that incorporates smart contracts and decentralised apps. The ether token pays for transaction fees and computing services on the platform. It is not meant to be used as a currency…but with the sharp rises in value recently, people want to treat it as such.

And, like Bitcoin, Ethereum isn’t natively designed to rapidly process large numbers of high-value transactions. These days it is increasingly difficult to trade Ethereum thanks to the network congestion. Even worse: every token hosted on the Ethereum blockchain is at risk. For instance, these days it is almost impossible for me to use Exodus to echange ethereum assets like Aragon or Augur because they are built into the Ethereum blockchain.

There may be huge advantages to hosting a cryptocurrency token on the Ethereum blockchain — but what happens to the Ethereum network will also affect all these tokens. Ethereum has skin in their game.

When this period of ultra-volatility is over, users will remember lost profits, delayed transactions, missed opportunities, and lack of support from governments and merchants. I suspect users who are interested in currencies (as opposed to value tokens to keep platforms going) will take their money elsewhere.

As the recent period of volatility shows, any cryptocurrency worthy of being called a currency must be able to process huge volumes of traffic at low cost and high speed. If these conditions cannot be met, they are not suitable for use as currency. They may be able to be used for other applications, but not day-to-day transactions.

Fortunately, there are several currencies today that could meet the bill. Litecoin, Dash and Monero have proven rather reliable. The Steem trinity is likewise designed from the ground-up to handle stupendous transaction volumes at blinding speeds, and I suspect EOS will demonstrate similar capabilities. Going forward, people who want to use cryptocurrency as currency would migrate to these tokens. With increased demand comes increased value, and unlike Ethereum or Blockchain, users won’t have to worry about fees and delays.

If you’ve missed the Bitcoin spike, don’t worry. Altcoin will demonstrate its full potential.

The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Things

Bitcoin may be built on blockchain, but blockchain is bigger than bitcoin. Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionise the world.

Do you want a futures market that might predict outcomes? There’s Augur. Do you need a way to securely store vast amounts of data forever? Factom. You want to anonymously send money? Monero. Decentralised cryptocurrency loans? SALT has you covered. People need a way to quickly verify their identity? Civic is for everyone.

We stand at the brink of the blockchain revolution, and we are poised to be the early adopters, the ones who can take full advantage of these incredible technologies. I think the future of blockchain is bright.

But.

The street finds its own uses for things. People always technology in ways that aren’t anticipated or designed.

Bitcoin was supposed to a currency. Now it’s an investment vehicle. Ethereum was meant to drive decentralised applications and smart contracts. Now it can be used as money. Dogecoin was a joke coin. Now it’s famous for its charity drives.

Steemit was designed to reward content curators and creators. Who knows what it’ll be tomorrow?

Crypto is the game that never ends.

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If you’d like a taste of my science fiction and fantasy offerings, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Singapore Censors Push Amendments to Films Act

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The Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore is seeking amendments to the Film Act. Among sundry amendments like classification of video games and clarification of films licensing, the IMDA wishes to ‘enhance’ its investigation and enforcement powers.

To quote from the relevant section:

Today, the Films Act provides IMDA and Police with powers to enter premises without warrant to search for and seize unlawful films. However, for other breaches of the Films Act, such as the distribution or public exhibition of unclassified films, such powers are vested with the Police who assist IMDA with enforcement and investigations. Going forward, the enforcement and investigation for breaches under the Films Act will be taken on by IMDA, and the Police will only be called on when necessary. Accordingly, the Films Act will need to be amended to empower IMDA with
the necessary enforcement and investigation powers to take on this role:

(a) Request any documents and information from any person to investigate a suspected breach of the Films Act or licence conditions.

(b) Enter and inspect, without warrant, any premises and examine any film or advertisement for a film found on the premises.

(c) Dispose of films, equipment or materials that have been seized during enforcement and is unclaimed, forfeited or has to be disposed without returning to the owner; and

(d) Provide for the composition of offences

Nothing good can come from this.

The IMDA develops the media through censorship. All broadcast media in Singapore must be scrutinised by the IMDA before they are allowed to be aired. The IMDA routinely demands cuts and edits from films and television shows that are deemed to be contrary to the public interest (positive depictions of homosexuality, stirring up religious tensions, over-use of dialects), and has banned films, books and TV shows that do not meet its guidelines.

The power to search a home and seize ‘unlawful’ films without warrant is a dangerous power. Section 33 of the Films Act bans the production, distribution and exhibition of ‘party political films’, which are films that cover any political party in Singapore or cover Singapore’s politics. The sole exception are documentaries deemed ‘factual and objective’ by the Political Films Consultative Committee. In practice, almost all films about Singaporean dissidents have been banned with the excuse of being ‘biased’ or ‘distortions of history’, such as Zahari’s 17 Years, To Singapore, With Love and Dr Lim Hock Siew.

Presently, with the police being required to participate in investigation and enforcement actions, citizens can expect a reasonable standard of professionalism, training and legal expertise from the police officers. Citizens will also have access to legal advice, and have the ability to file complaints to the Internal Affairs Office.

Should the amendment pass, the IMDA becomes the judge, jury and executioner. It will have the power to decide who broke the law, how to punish him, and how to dispose of the offending media. There is no Internal Affairs Board to complain to if the IMDA officers abuse their authority, no reasonable expectation that IMDA officers are properly trained to handle search and seizures, and no way to know if citizens will still be allowed legal representation and consultation.

Coupled with the power of warrantless search and seizure, the IMDA will be able to arbitrarily enter a filmmaker’s home, seize his films and dispose of them. From here, it’s a slippery slope towards allowing the IMDA to seize and destroy films that run afoul of its infamous ‘guidelines’, and then to the State being allowed to censor anyone for any reason at all.

This proposed amendment is a step away from rule of law and a step towards rule of bureaucrat. The civil service should not have the power to interpret and enforce the law; that is the province of the judiciary. I must oppose the amendment and suggest the following changes:

  1. Require the IMDA and the police to seek a warrant and justify their decisions before the court prior to embarking on search and seizures.
  2. Require the IMDA and the police to continue working hand-in-hand in investigations and enforcement.
  3. Investigation and enforcement actions shall be limited only to specific instances of criminal behaviour, such as breach of contract, breach of copyright and national security.
  4. Limit the powers of the IMDA to censor films, and by extension all Singaporean media, solely on the grounds of national security–which does not include Singaporean politics or political parties.
  5. Require the judiciary to pass sentences and levy punishments on people who breach the Films Act, instead of empowering the IMDA to impose fines and other penalties.
  6. Abolish Section 33 of the Films Act, enabling filmmakers to produce, distribute and exhibit films about Singaporean politics and politicians.

A healthy society requires the powers of the state to be carefully calibrated against the liberties of the individual to prevent abuses of power. While Singapore has enjoyed a stable, meritocratic and relatively benevolent government to date, we cannot assume that this will continue forever. There must be checks against the power of the government and the bureaucrats to prevent rule by fiat.

I urge all Singaporeans to write in the IMDA, oppose these amendments, and push for greater freedoms and checks on government power.

 

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If you’d like to support my work, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

The Future Form of Fiction

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Recently, Brian Niemeier argued that success in indie publishing demands a prolific release schedule. This, in turn, demands short novels. I think he’s right.

The maths is simple. A 50,000 word novel can be edited, formatted and published much faster than a novel of three times the length. An author who releases four books a year enjoys four times the product, four times the chances of being discovered, four times the odds of being recommended, and four times the potential profit (or more) than a writer who publishes merely one. While there are authors who can go for years between novels and become insta-bestsellers when their latest books hit the shelves, these authors are enormously lucky outliers, and professional writers can’t count on being lucky. They have to make their own luck.

This doesn’t mean long novels are obsolete. Larry Correia’s novels are as gigantic as he is. However, he keeps his stories tight and fast-paced, and when he’s in the zone he churns out ten thousand words a day. He publishes multiple books a year, making him as prolific as other indie writers who punch out shorter novels.

Book length isn’t as important as being prolific. But not everyone can dedicate so much time and energy to writing as Larry Correia, so for most authors, writing shorter stories would be a better writing strategy.

Self-publishing has opened the floodgates. At the end of this sentence a new book has been published. To generate and retain brand awareness in such an environment, an indie author must be prolific.

What does this mean for me?

I grew up in the age of mega-novels and densely-packed texts. As a boy I tore through massive tomes without regard for length. Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar and Southern Victory sagas, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Tom Clancy’s and Larry Bond’s technothrillers, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Ron L Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. In the early days of dial-up Internet, I consumed web pages filled with nothing but text and the occasional poorly-rendered image. Today, I still ignore nine in ten photographs I see in online articles.

It never occurred to me that I should be intimidated by the length of the current story I was reading, and that attitude overflowed into my writing. My first novel ran to over 300 pages, and my more recent novels start at 150,000 words. I’m predisposed towards reading and writing what would, by modern standards, be ultra-long works of fiction.

None of which matters in the current age of fiction.

In the 1990s, when I grew up, books merely had to compete with movies, television and video games. Books and library memberships were far, far cheaper than the competition, and they had the singular advantage of being seen as a prestige product. But we don’t live in the 1990s any more.

Today, books have to compete with movies, television, live streams, YouTube, Internet streaming services, mobile games, PC games, and console games. The price of traditionally-published print books haven’t changed significantly over the years, even with the advent of Print on Demand technology, but the entry price for everything else has dropped dramatically. Humble Bundle and Steam sales regularly offer steep discounts for games, streaming is cheap, and YouTube is free.

More importantly, people have changed. We live in an age of constant novelty and distraction. Social media feeds flood users with information every second of the day. Ebooks have no physical presence to remind users of their existence, but they do have page counts that suggest the reader must plow through mountains of words. When given a choice between regular, quick hits of dopamine in a fast-paced mobile game or a prolonged, subtle experience in a work of prose, your average consumer will gravitate towards the former. To even stand a chance of being read, digital articles must come with attractive graphics, attention-grabbing headlines, and be as short as the writer can get away with.

I didn’t create this world. But I have to live in it. And if I am to be successful I must flow with the times.

These industry and consumer trends point to the impending dominance of pulp-style writing. Short, punchy fiction, written quickly, released regularly and sold cheaply. Longer works like The Lord of the Rings would be released as serials or broken up into multiple shorter books. It is the same model employed by modern Japanese light novelists for decades. Its success in the Golden Age of pulp and in modern times indicates that prolific publishing of shorter works is a time-tested strategy for writing success.

There is, however, another method.

Web novels are the red headed stepchildren of the modern publishing scene. While virtually unknown in Western writing circles, they are hugely popular among fans of Japanese and Chinese fiction — especially WNs that have been translated into English.

On first glance, WNs seem to defy Niemeir’s argument: the most popular WNs run into hundreds or even thousands of chapters. But WNs create the illusion of brevity.

Each individual chapter takes no more than a few minutes to read, and is loaded on a single web page. Each chapter takes only a few minutes to read, reducing the perceived time and opportunity cost to the reader, and encouraging the reader to spend just a few minutes more on the next chapter (and the next, and the next…). With many short chapters released regularly, WNs are arguably the modern-day digital serials.

By contrast, books are experienced as a contiguous whole. Ebooks may tell you how many pages you have left to the next chapter, but print books don’t. Novels with long chapters can be a daunting experience to read versus novels with much shorter ones. By breaking up the reading experience into discrete web pages, each trickled down slowly over days and weeks and months, WNs shorten the perceived time it takes to clear each chapter and plot point. When printed, WNs tend to resemble light novels in the brevity of their chapters and story arcs, and indeed many popular LNs began as WNs: Sword Art Online, Re:Zero, Rise of the Shield Hero.

Which makes WNs perfectly suited for Steemit.

I know I can write huge amounts of words quickly. But to be a pro, only published stories count. Going forward, I must adapt my writing style to suit the times. As Kai Wai Cheah I’m obliged to complete the Covenant Chronicles the way I envisioned it: a series of at least six long-form prose novels. But as Kit Sun Cheah I’ve been experimenting with short fiction on Steemit, and the results have been encouraging. I won’t speak of what I will write yet, but come 2018, a new kind of fiction is coming.

Watch this space.

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If you like pulp-style action horror, check out my short story Redemption Road: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, part 4, Part 5

For long-form prose, you can find my Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons here.

Redemption Road Part 5

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“What do you mean, he’s gone?”

The innkeeper flipped his record book around, showing it to Freeman. “Mr Johnson and his party checked out late last night. Right after the incident at the hospital. See?”

Freeman checked the log. Jude Johnson and his drivers had checked out at 0345, about an hour after Freeman and his team returned to bed.

“Did he say why he left?” Knight asked.

“He said it was too dangerous to stay here. Something about too many demons.”

“Yet he left his guards without telling them anything,” Bates said.

“When I asked, he said you’d completed your contract with him, and he and his crew can look after themselves.”
“That makes no sense,” Freeman said.

The innkeeper shrugged. “Did he pay you?”

“Just our signing fee,” Freeman said.

“Oh boy. Looks like you need to file a case against him.”

“Did he say where he went?” Knight asked.

“Nah. He didn’t tell me nothing. He screwed you good, huh?”

“Yeah,” Freeman said. “Got a job board around here?”

~

There were no motors in the caravan. Just wagons pulled by teams of oxen. No suspensions, no frills. Everybody left their belongings inside their assigned wagons and walked the broken road.

On the morning of the third day of the journey they arrived at Bernalow. It was a bustling town, but not so rich they could afford dedicated DNA testers and high walls. Once released from their caravan, Freeman, Knight and Bates dumped their rucks in their rooms and scoured the city in their assault packs and exos.

They visited the market and asked the merchants about Jude Johnson. They queried innkeepers about the man, and they asked the sheriff too. The response was always the same.

“You just missed him,” the sheriff said. “He was right here, talking business, looking to see where he could sell his stuff. I’ll get my boys to keep an eye out for him.”

Johnson was everywhere and nowhere in the town. Sometimes he sold goods, sometimes he just spoke to the people he met. But he was always one step ahead.

As dusk fell, the three men headed to the town square. Centred on a water fountain, there was Town Hall, people dining in the open air, merchants yelling out closing-time discounts, and most importantly, a church.

“Think they’ll let us in this time?” Bates asked.

“We have to try,” Freeman replied.

Inside, candles filled the stone building with light. The priest walked along the walls, extinguishing the candles one by one.

“Good evening, Father,” Freeman called.

The priest turned to them. “Good evening. What brings you here?”

“We’re travellers. New to town. Is it a good time for confession?”

The priest smiled. “There’s always time for confession. Who’s first?”

Freeman glanced at his companions. Bates raised his hand. “I’ll go.”

“Excellent. Come, right this way.”

The priest led Bates around the back where the confessional booth stood. Knight and Freeman planted themselves in the pews.

“How long has it been since confession?” Knight asked.

“Two years, eight months and twelve days.”

“You keep track?”

“You don’t?”

Knight snorted. “After everything we’ve done along the way, it’s hard to remember everything we’ve got to confess.”
“We do our best to remember. God will take care of the rest.”

“Like with all things, huh?”

“I—”

Gunshots ripped through the air.

Freeman’s rifle flew to his shoulder.

Another burst of fire.

Bates staggered out of the confessional, smoking pistol in hand.

“The priest! He’s a demon!”

A creature burst out of the booth. It had the face of the priest, but it had a thin proboscis for a mouth. Black blood dripped down its chest.

“Down down DOWN!” Freeman yelled.

Bates threw himself to the floor. Knight and Freeman cut loose. The demon sprawled face-first in a welter of gore, twitching.

The ground shook.

“What the—”

Tendrils sprouted from between the cracks in the floorboards. The wood blackened and softened, transforming into Bloom. Grey crystals condensed on the ceiling, long spidery lines cracking through the rock.

“We need to get out of here.”

Bates stood, swaying.

“Josh, what’s wrong?” Freeman asked.

“I…”

Blood gushed from his mouth and nose and ears. There was a thin ragged hole in his throat, surrounded with purplish flesh. A murky black substance plastered over the wound. Bates scratched frantically at his neck, drawing blood.

“Josh,” Freeman said calmly. “You’ve been infested.”

Bates opened his mouth, gasped. Black pustules burst from under his skin, hardening into carapace.

Freeman’s breath caught in his throat. It was Arkham all over again. It was a boy clawing his eyes out as the Bloom took him, a woman screaming as an infester mounted her, Father Abrams administering the last rites with Bible in one hand and pistol in the other.

“Do it,” Bates said. “You have to do it.”

Freeman aimed. The weapon remained silent.

“I can’t kill myself! DO IT!”

The trigger was stiff under Freeman’s finger. Nothing happened.

Bates’ voice dissolved into a growl. His flesh blackened. Bloom punched into his feet, engorging his torso, growing a hump on his back.

The trigger broke. Freeman howled, firing as fast as he could pull the trigger. The newborn demon dissolved under a hail of flechettes.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Freeman whispered.

“You can apologise later.” Knight fished an incendiary grenade from a pouch, pulled the pin, and tossed the bomb on the body. “We gotta go.”

Freeman ran. Behind him, something, someone, screamed.

Bloom erupted all around the town square. People fled. Tentacles smashed through buildings, reaching for the sky. Roots erupted from the Earth and shattered the fountain. Water gushed forth for a moment, then a thick black patch smothered the spring. An arch, thick and sturdy, grew from it.

Jude Johnson and his four drivers strode from a side street and stood before the newly constructed Hellgate.

Freeman loaded his grenade launcher. Along the surface of every patch of Bloom, eyes and mouths opened. Dripping fangs and tentacles protruded from the openings. The eyes—dozens, hundreds of them, big and small—pinned the Crusaders with their wide, unblinking gazes.

“Freeman! Knight! So good that you came!”

Johnson’s voice echoed in the square, his back still turned to Freeman. But Johnson had lost the accent, and now he knew where he had heard his voice from.

The creature from beyond the Hellgate.

“You!”

A deafening cackle spread throughout the square.

“Turn and face me!”

Johnson laughed again. Flesh and clothes melted and regrew. He was turning himself around, rearranging his body so he now faced Freeman. The drivers mimicked Johnson, turning themselves inside-out, becoming perfect copies of the former human.

“Here we are, men of the cross,” the five Johnsons said.

“You used us,” Knight said.

It was obvious in hindsight. During the attack on Metro City, no one had screened the refugees streaming into the city. No one had stopped Johnson dispensing his medicines to the wounded. No one had stopped them from being evacuated to the hospital.

The demon laughed. “Of course I did! You were so—“

“Pete.”

Stepping up, Knight cut down the Johnsons with a long burst. The bodies went down, and the Bloom absorbed them all.
Johnson’s voice issued from every mouth in the Bloom.

“That’s rude.”

“How the hell?” Freeman muttered.

“We are one. We are all. We are coming. Behold, our true form!”

An unearthly sound issued from the arch. It was a thunderclap, a howl, a tear, and a rip all rolled into one. A force of nature that forced the men down. Red light blasted from the opening, and for a moment Freeman saw the benighted lands of Hell.

A black mountain of carapace-covered flesh crawled through the opening, blocking out the light. Eyestalks and tentacles sprouted from its body, dancing in the air. It had no legs, oozing across the ground like a slug, sucking up the Bloom as it rolled over the substance. The ground shuddered and cracked.

And it was still coming.

Footsteps echoed behind Freeman. Turning, he saw the sheriff and his men. They were outfitted in a variety of antique firearms. Against a monster like that, he didn’t think there was anything they could do.

“Crusaders! I heard about the…” The sheriff’s face paled. “What in the name of God…?”

“Boss, if you have any ideas, now’s a good time,” Knight said.

Freeman checked his grenade launcher. A fresh HEDP shell waited within.

“Pete, on me. Sheriff, take your men, get the civilians out, and distract the demon. I’m gonna blow down the Hellgate.”

The sheriff nodded. “Godspeed.”

Donning their masks, Freeman and Knight ran clockwise around the creature. The sheriff and his men went in the opposite direction. Rifles popped and shotguns boomed, but the Elder Demon didn’t seem to notice. It squirmed and writhed, forcing its bulk through the Hellgate.

Limbs whipped through the air. Looking up, Freeman saw a massive appendage falling towards him.

“Get clear!” Knight yelled.

The men jumped aside as the tentacle slammed into the ground. The shockwave threw them off their feet. Groaning, Freeman picked himself back up.

The tentacle was gigantic. Clad in thick armor and twice as tall as he was, it lay across the plaza, resting in the ruins of a three-storey building. Bloom sprouted from its tip. There was no way around it. Freeman scanned its surface, looking for handholds, but it was completely smooth.

It rose, twisting towards him, and fell again.

Cursing, Freeman leapt.

BOOOOM!

He landed on his belly, his mask pressed against a pile of rubble. Getting up, he looked around.

Knight wasn’t with him.

“Pete! You okay?!”

A voice called out from the other side of the appendage.

“I’m good!” Knight shouted. “Finish the job!”

A desperate cacophony of gunshots filled the world. Explosions and tremors answered them. Freeman ran, placing himself directly behind the Hellgate. From this angle, the Hellgate’s mouth opened into an infinity of darkness.

He lased the arch of the Hellgate. His HUD told him how high to elevate his weapon. Taking careful aim, he fired.

The grenade smashed into the edifice. The Hellgate shuddered and crumbled. The portal winked out, leaving behind the monster’s remaining mass in Hell.

And opening an enormous wound.

The demon cried. Again the earpro saved Freeman’s hearing, but he felt its voice shaking his bones. A flood of black blood gushed from the wound, covering the square and filling the drains and gutters.

The demon was still in the fight. Fresh tentacles sprouted from its body and sucked up the Bloom. The gaping wound began to close. As Freeman reached for a fresh grenade, motion caught his eye.

A fresh tentacle, small but lithe, reached for the ground, winding around and snapping up a man. Peter Knight.
“Boss! Need some help here!” Knight called.

The tentacle was wrapped around Knight’s lower body, leaving his arms free. Knight pointed his weapon and ripped off a long burst. Freeman aimed carefully and fired too. Their flechettes simply bounced off its armour.

Swearing, Freeman advanced on it, trying to get a better angle. Another enormous tentacle came crashing down. He dodged it, but now he was cut off.

Knight’s weapon ran dry. He drew a knife and stabbed at the tentacle, but the blade did not penetrate. The monster’s body reformed. A pair of jaws opened in its flesh. Knight screamed, freeing one hand, then the other. He dug into a pocket, producing a small round object.

The tentacle flung him into its mouth.

DEUS VULT!” Knight screamed.

The monster swallowed him.

A moment later, an explosion rippled through its flesh, blowing out a large chunk of alien matter. The monster screamed, its voice filling the world.

ENOUGH. THIS ENDS NOW.

Eyes emerged all over its flesh. Its wound had become a massive mouth, lined with strange suckers and razor teeth. Crimson eyes turned on Freeman. Strange geometries danced at the edge of his vision.

He couldn’t look away. He couldn’t move.

COME TO ME.

Unbidden, he walked to the mouth. He willed his muscles to stop. They didn’t obey. Unearthly laughter filled his ears. One step, another, a third.

The maw yawned wide.

Under his shirt, Freeman’s crucifix crackled against his skin.

Breath filled his lungs. His lips and tongue moved.

DEUS VULT!

Freeman’s vision cleared. The voices fled his mind. He was himself again. He snapped up his M891 and fired.

The 40mm grenade hurtled into the darkness. A muffled blast followed. The monster roared in pain, its appendages flailing and trashing. Switching to full-auto, Freeman fired long streams of ultra-high-velocity metal into the mouth, tearing up its insides.

The creature squirmed, its eyes blinking shut. When his weapon went dry he primed an incendiary grenade and flung it into the hole. A glimmer of white flame shone in the dark. It grew larger and larger, consuming the Eater from the inside out.

The monster screamed, thrashing and wailing and gnashing and crying. One last spasm, and it went limp.

The demon was dead.

~

Clearing out the remaining Bloom took another day. The caravan he had joined left without him. Freeman stayed for another week, helping to rebuild. When it was over the townsfolk buried the dead in their cemetery. The priests offered prayers for everyone ‒ believers and seculars, excommunicated and faithful, they didn’t discriminate.

Freeman stood in front of the graves of Knight and Bates. Their headstones were marked with their names and simple stone crosses.

“And now it’s just me,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

The dead offered no solace or remonstration.

“I’m going to finish what we started. Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Crossing himself, he walked away.

~~

Freeman signed on with another caravan to New Rome. During the Fall, a regiment of Old World soldiers had retreated here and set up shop. They worked with the Church to restore order and preserve knowledge. Between the two, in the centuries since the demons came, New Rome had never fallen. If anything, it had grown.

They still had his biometrics on file. After a cursory inspection the gate guards let him through. Inside the city, after collecting his pay, he took a long, luxurious shower and fell into bed. When he woke, he discovered he had slept for nearly a full day.

He spent three days asking around, looking for directions, restocking his supplies. In the morning of the fourth day, the Sabbath day, he dressed himself in his freshest clothes and walked.

The church was tiny but well-kept. The kind of church given to new priests to gain experience, old priests as a final post, or priests who had fallen out of favour but could not be expelled.

In the courtyard, a balding man in a black cassock, his back straight, his eyes clear, swept the lawn. He looked up as Freeman approached.

“Good morning, Father Kelly,” Freeman said.

“Morning. Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

“You look like a man looking for something.”

“Yes, Father. I am William Freeman, formerly of the Order of Saint George. I am here with my brothers in spirit. We have walked the redemption road, and have come for confession.”

Kelly smiled. Stepping back, he opened the door to the church.

“Come in. We’ve been expecting you.”

~~

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

Thanks for seeing this story to the end. If you’d like to support my other fiction, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Redemption Road Part 4

Underground.jpeg

 

The stairs led to what was once an underground train station. Now it was a transition zone for people wishing to enter and exit Metro City. People packed the train platform, anxious and crying and commiserating. When the Metro City troopers descended, the people loosed a hearty cheer.

Bates, Knight and Freeman didn’t join in. They carefully carried Sharpe’s body to a corner and laid him down with the rest of the human dead.

“And now we are three,” Freeman said.

“We should police the body before looters get at it,” Knight said.

Wordlessly the men went through Sharpe’s pockets, taking everything useful.

“Who’s going to take his five-two-five?” Knight asked.

Sharpe’s M525 grenade launcher was still attached to the rifle. It was a critical weapon, one that shouldn’t be sold so long as they still had ammo for it.

“I will,” Freeman said.

Freeman slung Sharpe’s rifle around his shoulder, then methodically unfastened Sharpe’s grenade pouches and laced them on his armour carrier. He retrieved Sharpe’s bandoleer and wrapped it around his body too.

Behind them, a heated argument broke out, and the three men walked over. Johnson was arguing with a Metro City trooper.

“No! No drugs!” the soldier yelled.

“Your friend is dying!” Johnson insisted. “I can help!”

On the floor, a wounded man groaned as a medic wrapped his right leg with bandages. A large shard jutted from the wound, slowly dissolving into his flesh.

“What’s going on?” Freeman asked.

Johnson gestured at the wounded trooper. “He’s been shot. There’s Bloom in his bloodstream. He needs treatment now.”

“And as I was saying,” the other trooper said, stepping forward, “we’re not cleared to use non-issue drugs.”
“What kind of drugs?”

Johnson held up a syrette to the light. “This.”

The markings on the tube read ‘Gardia Biotech’. Its logo, the company’s initials stylised to resemble a caduceus, was on the reverse. Freeman had seen many just like it. Hell, he carried a bunch of similar syrettes himself. It was the real deal. Probably.

“It’s a stimshot,” Johnson continued. “It’ll break down the Bloom and promote healing. If you take him to your hospital, the doctors are goin’ to give it him anyway.”

The wounded man moaned. Black fibres crawled out from under the bandage, spiralling up his leg. The medic backed away, unwilling to touch the alien matter.

“The Bloom is spreading,” Knight said. “He needs it.”

The trooper hesitated.

“When we served in the Church, we used stimshots just like this one,” Freeman said. “If you don’t use it now, he’ll die before he gets to a doctor. Or worse.”

The soldier swore. “Do what you want.”

Johnson uncapped the syrette and punched it into the wounded man’s thigh. The soldier groaned. The Bloom shrank away, drying up and flaking off.

“That’ll hold him until you get him to hospital,” Johnson said.

“He’d better,” the soldier said. “If he doesn’t, it’s on you.”

The rest of Johnson’s crew treated the remaining wounded with stimshots before handing them off to stretcher parties. Johnson supervised them.

“These stimshots… they’re your trade goods, right?” Freeman asked.

“Right.”

“You’re giving them out for free?”

“Times like this, money don’t mean nothin’.” Johnson grinned. “‘sides, it’s free advertising.”

Freeman chuckled.

~

When the chaos subsided, more people arrived to take charge of the situation and assist. The priests refused to say prayers for Sharpe. The soldiers accepted the body anyway, allowing him to be buried alongside their own dead. As they wrapped him in a simple white shroud, Freeman and his team stood over the body and recited their prayer.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison,” Freeman said.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

~

The far side of the train station led to down to Metro City itself. Everywhere Freeman looked there were people walking, haggling, eating, working. There was barely room to breathe. The background roar of a thousand voices tripped his earpro, dialling down the sound. Despite that, the moment people saw the weapons they gave Freeman and his team a wide berth.

After Johnson and his crew checked in at an inn, Freeman and his team were dismissed from their duties. Freeman moved the M525 grenade launcher to his rifle, then helped his team split up Sharpe’s belongings. They spent the rest of the day selling off non-essential gear or exchanging them for essentials: ammo, food, clean water, other supplies. They refilled their empty pouches and magazines, and retired to the inn in time for dinner.

A round of beers. A toast, a prayer and a simple meal. They said grace and tucked in, dining on stewed vegetables and meat best left unidentified.

As they ate, Johnson approached their table. “Am I disturbin’ you?”

“Got any work for us?” Freeman asked.

“Just checkin’ in. Must be tough, losing a man. My condolences.”

“We’re good,” Knight said icily. “I thought you were with your drivers.”

“They’re busy runnin’ errands.” Johnson glanced about the room. “Listen, I haven’t had anythin’ since breakfast today and I’m starved. Mind if I sit with ya?”

Freeman had half a mind to turn Johnson away. The other half insisted that he should be gracious to his employer.

The former Crusaders made room. Johnson pulled up a chair and ordered another bowl of stew.

“You guys doin’ okay?” Johnson asked.

“We’ll be fine,” Knight said testily.

“Just askin’ is all. I know you guys were tight.”

Freeman grunted. How could he begin to explain what it to kill and bleed and die side by side with a brother in arms? There was no need to explain to a fellow warrior, and no use describing it to a civilian.

“He is with God now,” Bates said. “He’s earned his reward.”

“That’s something, at least.” Johnson shifted uneasily. “Y’know, somethin’s been buggin’ me.”

“Yeah?” Knight prodded.

“Y’all told me you were pilgrims. But I heard the troopers callin’ you Crusaders.”

Freeman mulled that answer for a moment. “Before our pilgrimage, we served as Crusaders. That’s how we met.”

“Ah. But I also saw the priests denyin’ Neil a Christian burial. Why’s that?”

Bates frowned. Knight glared. Freeman had to remind himself to breathe.

“Did I do somethin’ wrong?” Johnson asked.

“It’s between us and the Church,” Freeman said. “Nothing you need to worry about.”

“I’m plannin’ to stop over at some religious communities. If it could cause a problem, I need to know.”

“It won’t be a problem.”

“Really? I heard you were excommunicated. That could cause issues.”

“How did you find out?” Knight demanded.

“Heard the priests talkin’. Now, I understand it’s unpleasant business, but I need to know if it could affect our business.”

“It won’t,” Freeman said.

Johnson met Freeman’s gaze. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Bates said. “It was just…politics.”

“Politics? That really could cause problems. Now I have to hear about it.”

Knight shot Bates a dirty look. Freeman just sighed. The cat was out of the bag. Might as well get it over and done with.

“Heard of a city called Arkham?” Freeman asked.

“Can’t rightly say I have.”

Freeman sighed again. “Three years ago, we received reports of demons emerging in Arkham. The Order of Saint George was dispatched to investigate. By the time we got there…”

Freeman stared into his beer. Knight took over.

“The city was crawling with demons. Every time we burned out a nest, they popped up somewhere else. It was brutal. Street to street, house to house, hand to hand. They destroyed half the city before we realized they had set up a network of Hellgates in the sewers. By the time we were done…there was nothing left of Arkham.”

Johnson nodded sadly. “It sounds terrible.”

Fury crept across Bates’ face. “It got worse. We took seventy percent casualties. Seventy percent. The ones still alive were court-martialled. They charged us with negligence of duty, mass murder, wilful destruction of civilian and Church property… The head of our Order defended us against most of those charges. But there was one thing he couldn’t help us with.”

“We were excommunicated,” Freeman said.

“That doesn’t sound fair,” Johnson remarked.

“It’s not,” Bates said. “It’s politics. The Church needed a scapegoat. Better to disband an order than for the masses to lose their faith. And the other Crusader Orders had their eyes on our gear for the longest time. The moment we were excommunicated they divided everything we had amongst themselves.” Bates sighed. “Politics.”

“Bad business all around,” Johnson said. “How are you handling it?”

The men exchanged glances. Freeman raised an eyebrow. Knight nodded. So did Bates.

“Among our Order, we have a tradition,” Freeman said. “Whenever one of us commits a mortal sin, we travel to New Rome on foot. Along the way, we help everybody we can and slay whatever demons we find. It’s our way of doing penance. And when we arrive at New Rome, we ask for forgiveness. We call it walking the redemption road.”

“Will the Church let you back in?”

“Excommunication is a medicinal penalty, not a punishment,” Bates said. “After completing penance, the Church will absolve us. It’s part of the sacraments. They have to take us back.”

“They must,” Freeman whispered.

~

After the evening meal they retired to their rooms. Freeman spent the rest of the night attending to his kit and praying. When he was done, he lay on the hard bed and stared at the ceiling until his eyelids drooped.

Gunfire.

He leapt out of bed.

Long hammers of autofire, mixed with howls and screams. He peered out the window. By the dim light he saw people fleeing down the street, lit by the underground streetlamps.

The door burst open.

“Boss!” Knight yelled.

“Yeah,” Freeman said. “Kit up. We’re headed out.”

Freeman’s hands flew. He slipped on his boots over bare feet, snapped on his armour carrier over his thin sleepwear, slung his rifle and fastened his helmet into place. In the hallway outside his room, he ran into his men.

“What’s the call?” Bates asked.

“We help, however we can,” Freeman said.

Outside, they encountered a demon. A roiling jumble of flesh and limbs and organs dragging itself down a tiny street with its oversized paws. A hump extruded from its back, mounting an extended barrel. The demon stomped on a body, fired up a shop, and turned towards Freeman.

The men opened fire. Freeman pressed the trigger as fast as he could, his vision narrowing into a black-and-white tube as it came closer, closer—

“Cease fire!” Knight yelled. “It’s dead already!”

“What fresh horror is this?” Bates whispered.

Freeman hadn’t seen anything like it before. The fleshy thing was immobile, bleeding from dozens of yawning wounds, its turret frozen. It wasn’t a threat for now, but he didn’t want to come close to it. Not until it was burnt to ash.

Sirens wailed, reverberating in the close confines of the underground city. Gunshots followed. The men ran, chasing the sound of gunfire.

A squad of Metro City troopers charged past them. Freeman sprinted alongside the squad leader.

“Hey!” Freeman called. “Can we help?”

The soldier glanced at him. “You the guys who defended the gate, right?”

“Right.”

“We could use more guns in the fight. Follow me!”

When they arrived at the hospital, Freeman saw writhing tentacles oozing wetly out of broken windows. Broken bodies littered the ground. Monstrosities rolled out of the entrance, one after another, each bearing different configurations of claws, guns, arms and legs.

No cover. Nowhere to run.

But Crusaders never ran from the fight.

“Light ‘em up!” Freeman ordered.

He flicked to full auto and hosed down the nearest monster. The flechettes cut through their carapaces as though they were paper. Something whined past Freeman’s ear. A heartbeat later, he released the trigger and scan.

The monsters on the loose were all down. But more emerged from the entrance of the hospital.

“Pete,” Freeman said calmly. “Lock it down.”

Knight poured streams of full auto fire through the door as a fresh wave of monsters burst through. Kneeling, Bates and Freeman fired short bursts at the ones that tried to escape. The Metro City troops joined in, throwing a wall of steel downrange. Bodies stacked up outside and around the door—but they were still coming.

“Make a hole!” a man cried.

A squad of Metro City troopers came charging down a crammed street. Dressed in heavy yellow chemsuits, they carried a mix of M891s and bulky flamethrowers. The Crusaders stepped aside.

“Hot shot!” the leader called.

As the men laid down suppressive fire, a pair of flamethrower operators stepped up. Scarlet tongues of burning fuel leapt from their weapons’ throats, engulfing the hospital, the demons and the Bloom in cleansing flame.

It was over.

Freeman gagged at the sickeningly sweet stench of roast pork. Leaning against a wall, he paused to catch his breath. Down the street, he saw a man standing at the entrance to an alley, smirking at the sight.

Jude Johnson.

Freeman blinked.

And Johnson was gone.

~~

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3

For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.