The First Shotguns & Sorcery Story

Back in 2010, my pal Robin Laws asked if I’d be interested in contributing a short story to an anthology he’d concocted called The New Hero. The theme of the book was based around Robin’s literary theory of the iconic hero. In many stories, the hero is supposed to go through some kind of change, a character arc, as it’s often called. We know, though, that many heroes — especially in series fiction — don’t change much if at all. Instead, as Robin theorized, they change the world about them by being true to themselves.

Think of heroes like Sherlock Holmes, Batman, James Bond, and so on. They aren’t affected by their environments nearly as much as they affect them. Robin charged me and the other authors to come up with heroes like this for our own stories and, hopefully, to use them in later stories too.

For mine, I turned to this Shotguns & Sorcery setting I’d had in mind for a long while, and I created a hero to fit it, a hardboiled ex-adventurer by the name of Max Gibson. I enjoyed writing about his adventure so much I wrote another one for the Carnage & Consequences anthology edited by Marc Tassin, and I later made it the subject of one of the trilogies for my 12 for ’12 challenge.

But it all started with that story, and it’s going to be published later this year through Stone Skin Press. They’re running a Kickstarter for their debut set of anthologies right now, including The New Hero 2, in which that first Shotguns & Sorcery story, “Friends Like These,” will appear. At the moment, it only has 36 hours to go, so head on over and check it out fast.

Stone Skin Press featured Max and his friend Moira on its website today, including a short snippet from that tale. Head over there for a quick taste of it. Check after the cut here for the actual start of the tale.

I was just about to toss everyone the hell out of the party when the Imperial Dragon’s Guard came busting through front door of the Quill and took care of that unpleasant detail for me. One minute, everyone was hunting down my last nerve and jamming it with red-hot brands. The next, the door exploded into the main room, nearly taking off Thumper’s head.

You’ve never seen a room clear out so fast.

You can hardly blame them though. The Quill isn’t one of those high-class open-air places you find higher up the mountain here in Dragon City. You know, the ones with the wrap-around balconies that give you a clear view of the blue sky and the distant sea.

No, the Quill is a real dive, the sort that accommodates all types, by which I mean the scum of the scarred earth. It’s not stuck down in Goblintown, mind you. The clientele’s halflings or humans mostly, with the occasional elf or dwarf slumming it down here with us short-timers. The kind of folks that the real powers in this world don’t much care for if they bother to think about us much at all. You know: my friends.

We’d all gathered around that night to toast the memory of Gütmann on the anniversary of his death. We hadn’t gotten that far into it before we’d started in on each other again. There was a reason we didn’t get together much after he died. None of us could stand each other any more.

Honestly, if we’d stood together against the squad of crimson-coated guards that stomped into the room, we would have been able to laugh them away. We had them outnumbered and outclassed. There’s something about seeing a bunch of jackbooted elves in uniform come storming through a door, though, that stabs the fear that you’ve done something horribly wrong right through your heart until it jabs you square in your fight-or-flight button.

Of course, the fact that every one of us was guilty of something or other countless times over didn’t help. Just being in a bar like this where they served dragonfire was enough. The question wasn’t whether or not we deserved to be locked up. It was which of our many crimes we’d be charged with in the end.

“This is a raid!” said the captain of the squad, a humorless elf by the name of Yabair. “Freeze, or we’ll fire! No one needs to get — Hey!”

No one listened to him. Not one of us. We scattered like cockroaches before an uncapped light. All except for Kai.

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