Superhero Ebook Giveaway and Sequel Pre-Order

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Happy Sunday!

In honor of my newest release, Secret Identities (Secret Origins: Book 2), I’m giving away TEN e-copies of Masks (SO: Book 1).  

If you’ve already read or purchased Masks, you might want to skip to pre-ordering SIDs (as I affectionately call it).  If you’ve read neither but would like to give them a try, now’s your chance!

You can find the giveaway by clicking here.  This runs until July 14th, at which time ten winners will be randomly chosen by Amazon and notified of what to do next by email.  All you have to do to enter is click a button to follow me on Amazon (easy peasy).  Then you’ll just get emails from them when I release something new.  That’s it!

And you can find SIDs on Amazon by clicking here.  We’re in the pre-order period right now, and doing so will ensure your ebook is delivered on release day, which is (you guessed it) July 14th.

Secret Identities will also soon be available for pre-order on B&N, Kobo, and Apple/iBooks, and when they’re ready on those ends I’ll post those too.

More to come.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

 

Another Wonder Woman: Get It While It’s Free!

With the world being taken by storm (and it’s about time) by Wonder Woman, I thought it a good time to remind those interested that my own femme fatale badass superheroine is still out there for free, but not for long…

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You can still nab Silk Spider: Behind the Eight-Ball as a free short story download, but that window is closing fast.  In the next few days, it’ll go back to being a regularly priced ebook.  (And also in a collectible paperback chapbook.)

Get your hands on it at all the usual online locales.  Here’s a few of the more common ones (but you can probably find her just about anywhere):  Amazon , B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, & more.

 

Discoverability & a Sci-Fi Book Bundle

Reposted from Blaze Ward’s own blog.  He speaks briefly of the task of indie authors and does so better than I could:

Discoverability

(or: how you can help)

You’re consuming this right now on one of my social media outlets (website, Amazon, FB, Goodreads, etc.), so I’ll generally be safe assuming you know me, or got here through a connection who does.

Discoverability is the problem for the modern indie writer. In the old days, you submitted your story to a publisher, eventually finding one who said yes. After that, they took care of everything: editing, printing, marketing, etc. Your book ended up in book stores, or at the pharmacy, or the grocery, or on the rack at the airport. People walking by looking for something would pick it up, toss a coin in their head, and buy it.

Bang, they have discovered you as an author. If they like you, they look for more of your books. They tell their family and bridge club about you. Others find you. They buy your books.

Career.

Doesn’t happen like that any more. At least not for indies like me.

I own it all (well, Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) does, and pats me on the head encouragingly on occasion when I say or do something really stupid, but you get the point).

No advertising budget to pay for space on the shelf at B&N. (What? You thought the book store chain selected what to prominently display? No, they rent that space. End caps, islands, etc. $)

Where does that leave us today? This is where you come in.

I’m in a bundle.

Story Bundle wraps up a set of books and makes them available for one low price for a very limited period. (3 weeks, buy it or regret forever.)

To bundle is an exercise in collective advertising. I put a novel into the Moonscapes Bundle along with a group of other folks. I tell all my friends, fans, and followers. They buy it.

In the process of reading, hopefully they find another writer or three they like (us all being on the same general topic: big science fiction in this instance).

So, our sales have been great. Not earth-shattering, but pretty damned good. Time for the next push.

What you can do for me today is send a link to this article to all your reader friends who might be into getting a bunch of SF novels for a low price. And these are some amazing people I got lucky enough to be included with.

Or you share this on your social media page so all your friends who don’t know me from Adam look at it and wonder what this is all about.

This is a Story Bundle called Moonscapes.  And the beginning of the Jessica Keller Chronicles, so they’ll need Queen of the Pirates next.

You can help all of us by doing one tiny thing to advertise. Help me get the word out to more people.

thank you

Memorial Day Reminder: Discount Urban Fantasy, Last Few Days

Reposting this for the last few days of May:

To kick off the summer reading season, starting in the month of May, I’m putting a 50% coupon code on my novel One-Eyed Jacks.

oneeyedjacks

“A great pulp noir piece involving casinos, gunfights, exotic women, and a dash of magic reminiscent of Big Trouble in Little China.  Fun, exciting fiction that reads like my favorite movies from the 80s.” – Barbarian Book Club

As a former Vegas magician, Jack knows the world is full of shallow illusions.

That’s why he’s grinding out a new life as a smuggler, counterfeiter and debt collector for a local crime boss.  And trying to stay off of everyone else’s radar. 

Unfortunately, keeping a low profile just isn’t in the cards for the Jack of Spades.

Urban fantasy, crime-noir, and Asian myth merge in this darkly entertaining novel of pulp adventure. 

To get this book at half price, now through May 31st, just go to its home on Smashwords.com and enter this coupon code at checkout: EA34W

Not a Smashwords regular?  Have no fear!  It’s actually one of the oldest ebook retailers, a pioneer of the industry, and is responsible for distributing millions of ebooks to B&N, iBooks, Kobo, and more.  And they take Paypal, so it’s easy and secure.

Get an account now, because each month this summer I’ll be sending out 50% coupons on a different ebook.

And don’t forget that two more books have just dropped as of May 2nd: my shadowy superhero triple play Masks, and the five-author superhero anthology, Hiding Behind the Cowl.

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Find Masks on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo, and your other favorite sites.

Get Hiding Behind the Cowl exclusively on Amazon.

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Swords, Soldiery, & Demons: This Month’s Story for You

I’ve started posting my first serialized story to my Patreon page: The Prince of Luster and Decay.  I’m going to use Patreon as a fiction portal, a way to tell stories week to week.  This is in exchange for the generous support of Patrons, who donate a benevolent weekly or monthly amount (as low as a single dollar) to provide for some of their favorite creative content.

I see on Patreon now there are people who actually make a living from doing podcasts or Youtube vids about playing video games, doing sketch comedy, painting, etc.  Make a living purely by virtue of the thousands of people who contribute to their efforts.  By making videos of them playing video games!  Never thought I’d see the day.

So I figured, What the hell?  If they can get support from strangers to do that, maybe I can  get some help with the expenses of producing quality fiction and novels.

So far, almost no one has noticed.  And I”m not going to kill myself trying waving my arms about trying to get attention.  If I spend my time doing that instead of writing, I’ll be missing the whole point, right?

So if this is something you’d like to support, by all means, please, check out my Patreon page by clicking here.  I’ll be supplying quality escapism on a weekly basis.  And I’ll greatly appreciate every single penny that any fans see fit to donate to my cause.

I’ve already posted the first chapter of The Prince and am about to post the second.  Most of this second chapter (it has four scenes, I think), and all the subsequent chapters, you’ll only get by joining the cult–I mean, community.  Or by buying the book outright.  But here’s one scene that I think sets it up nicely:

The officers’ tent was one of the last still standing as the camp was being dismantled.  It smelled of pipe smoke and coffee.  That blackest tea was a rare luxury in these lands, though Knox had had some before.  It reminded him of the Stewards’ Inn back home and of the treasures that kind couple had brought to Redfield as they retreated from the war.  The Inn had become the warm heart of his hometown, a place to rest and share stories with neighbors.  Then the violence came south enough to threaten even Redfield and the nobles and officers of the north came asking for volunteers.  What choice did he have?

He pushed the memory from his mind.  The time for reflection had ended and duty called once again.

Knox came to attention at the tent’s open flap and waited.  Inside, the company’s last two officers sat on sturdy wooden chairs around a collapsible table.  Chaplain Kane sat silently smoking his pipe and stroking his mustache, no doubt reviewing the vast wisdom of his sermon.  Lieutenant Rosenthal studied a map on the table.  To his left was the portable iron stove where the coffee brewed in an ornate pewter kettle.

“Come in, Sergeant,” Rosenthal said absently.

Knox came two paces into the tent and waited.  He noticed the captain’s crest pinned on Rosenthal’s chest, the bronze hawk’s head shining against the red of his tunic.  Captain Rosy? Knox thought.  It was true then: Captain Brighton had been killed in last night’s attack, and that bastard had promoted himself in Brighton’s place.  The honorable captain must have been buried alongside his men that morning without an official word being uttered.  And Rosenthal, naturally, became his successor.

Being of privileged blood doesn’t make you a leader of men, Knox thought.  The words nearly escaped his lips, but he didn’t feel up to arguing with the young nobleman today.

“I’m thinking of renaming the company,” the new captain said, talking to the chaplain, not the lowly sergeant.  “Rosenthal’s Rose Thorns has some poetry to it.  Maybe even change the heraldry from ‘Brighton’s blue’ to a sharp scarlet.  What do you think?”

Chaplain Kane just arched an eyebrow and blew smoke.

“Sergeant?”

The officer’s expression expected high praise.  Knox was pleased to disappoint: “Sounds like a terrible idea, sir.”

“Excuse me?”

“These men earned the name Stormwalkers.  They’ll tell their grandchildren about breaking that siege against the wind and rain, and every time they do the weather will get worse and the battle more desperate, and it’ll be the one thing they have to be proud of against all this other dismal scruff.  Don’t take that away from them.  Sir.

Rosenthal’s face showed disbelief at the sergeant’s audacity, but the old priest was slowly nodding.  “He has a point, Captain.  Today has been eventful enough.  I’d recommend holding any more changes for the time being.”

“Very well.”  Rosenthal eyed Knox coolly before turning away to refill his cup.  “I’d offer you some coffee, Sergeant, but this is the last of it.”

“Save it, sir.  Already had some this morning.”

The captain’s thin lips curled into an ironic smile.  “Certainly you did, Sergeant, certainly.  Always quick to crack wise.  I hope you’re as quick on the march.”  He hooked the air with a finger, calling Knox like a dog, then planted that finger on a cluster of trees on his map.  “Take your Head Knockers back east.  Our scouts have found a village about here.  It’s likely the source of last night’s attack.”

“Sir…”  The word creaked from Knox’s throat.  “There are only four Head Knockers left, including myself.  We lost three last night: Moss, Harrison, and Mueller, my three best men.  Surely you don’t expect us to sack an enemy camp—”

“Certainly Brighton’s favorite squad,” Rosenthal sneered, “even at half strength, can handle any assignment given to them.”

“Fear not, Sergeant.”  Chaplain Kane stood.  “It’s no enemy camp.”

“We suspect,” Rosenthal continued, “that the ratling creatures that attacked us were residents of that town, twisted by the evil magicks of the enemy.  Your mission is simply to investigate and determine if we are correct.”

“And if you are?”

Kane spoke around the pipe in his teeth: “If we are correct then the town will be abandoned, its population buried here: man, woman and child.  I will send one of my acolytes with you to consecrate the village square and purify its water source.  By Raeph’s blessings, that is all that should be required.”

Man, woman, and child…  Most of the dead in those trenches had been inhuman at the moment of ambush but became husbands and wives, mothers, fathers, and children again once met by sword or spear.  Knox felt the weight of guilt again but refused to slump in the officers’ presence.

“It should be all that is required,” Kane added, “though I must admit, there is another possibility.  It could be that the fountain of this poison is still hiding in the village, in which case it would fall to you to root it out and destroy it.  Such a source of evil could be a blasphemous sorcerer, an artificer of devilish devices, or possibly… the Prince.”

Knox had no patience for riddles.  “What prince would that be, sir?”

“The Prince of Luster and Decay.  The evil metamorphosis of these victims indicates a corruption indicative of just such a demon.  The Prince is fully capable of creating that horde of beasts from its own foul nature.”

“And if we encounter such a creature, sir?”

“Kill it,” Captain Rosenthal answered sharply.  “And then quickly catch up with us.  I’ll be taking the rest of the company north to Rivertree.  We’ll resupply, reinforce, and check in with the command post there.  I intend to join Colonel Farnsworth’s brigade in the retaking of the Denbury mines.”

Even the thought of leading three soldiers barely old enough to shave against an actual demon was somehow less aggravating than this.

“A noble cause, sir,” Knox growled, “especially since I’ve heard that Colonel Farnsworth has promised ten years of profit sharing from those mines to all officers involved in the operation.”

Rosenthal flushed as red as his tunic.  “Where did you hear that?”

It must be true, then, Knox thought.  Gizzard had overheard the conversation while on watch last night.  “Amazing the benefits that war provides a privileged few, wouldn’t you agree, sir?  Lucky for some that wars exist at all.”

“I can assure you,” Kane said, “that the mines’ value in this war effort far outweighs any personal gain to be had.  And the scriptures teach us: ‘The only reward of value is the blessing of the One God.  It is as grain to the starving and breath to the drowning.  It takes no strength to bear yet outweighs even a hundred bricks of gold.’”

“Reminds me of something I’ve heard, Chaplain,” Knox said.  “‘The desire for wealth is as a rat burrowed deep in the hearts of men: the more it feeds, the larger it becomes and the greater its hunger.’”

Kane arched his eyebrows.  “Impressive, sergeant.  Not a scripture I’m familiar with.  Are you a learned man?”

“No, but Moss was.  Of course he’s dead now.  Too bad he couldn’t stick around long enough to fight for your hundred bricks of gold.”

“Enough!” Rosenthal huffed.  “Just do your job, Sergeant, and bring my men promptly back to me.  You are not to dawdle.  Dismissed!”

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Nope, You Only Have 2 Days (Changed My Mind)

A few days ago I experimentally reduced the price of a few of my books in a cowardly display of… well, cowardice.  And it makes me feel like I am cheapening my self and my work by doing so.  Bad me!

So I’ll be setting everything back to normal on Thursday, when I’m off work (before having to work all weekend).  So if you want it a buck cheaper, better do it now…

 

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Find Invasion on: Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, & more.

Find Hungry Gods on: Amazon, Audible.comB&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, & more.

Find The Prince and the Darkness on: Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, & more.

 

3 eBooks on Discount

I’ve reduced the price of three of my ebooks by a dollar for the month of May.  Call it a “stimulus package.”

Meanwhile, you can currently catch Invasion for $3.99, Hungry Gods for $4.99, and The Prince and the Darkness for $3.99.

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Find Invasion on: Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, & more.

Find Hungry Gods on: Amazon, Audible.comB&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, & more.

Find The Prince and the Darkness on: Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, & more.

50% off Urban Fantasy Noir Adventure

To kick off the summer reading season, starting in the month of May, I’m putting a 50% coupon code on my novel One-Eyed Jacks.

oneeyedjacks

“A great pulp noir piece involving casinos, gunfights, exotic women, and a dash of magic reminiscent of Big Trouble in Little China.  Fun, exciting fiction that reads like my favorite movies from the 80s.” – Barbarian Book Club

As a former Vegas magician, Jack knows the world is full of shallow illusions.

That’s why he’s grinding out a new life as a smuggler, counterfeiter and debt collector for a local crime boss.  And trying to stay off of everyone else’s radar. 

Unfortunately, keeping a low profile just isn’t in the cards for the Jack of Spades.

Urban fantasy, crime-noir, and Asian myth merge in this darkly entertaining novel of pulp adventure. 

To get this book at half price, now through May 31st, just go to its home on Smashwords.com and enter this coupon code at checkout: EA34W

Not a Smashwords regular?  Have no fear!  It’s actually one of the oldest ebook retailers, a pioneer of the industry, and is responsible for distributing millions of ebooks to B&N, iBooks, Kobo, and more.  And they take Paypal, so it’s easy and secure.

Get an account now, because each month this summer I’ll be sending out 50% coupons on a different ebook.

And don’t forget that two more books have just dropped as of May 2nd: my shadowy superhero triple play Masks, and the five-author superhero anthology, Hiding Behind the Cowl.

doublefeature

Find Masks on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo, and your other favorite sites.

Get Hiding Behind the Cowl exclusively on Amazon.

Patreon is Live: “Join Us”

P-my

It took me a while to convince myself of this.  But here it is, at 4:30am my time.  (Because I’m transitioning from night shifts to day shifts, and it’s not an easy task to manage with only 48 hours between work days!)

Are you familiar with Patreon?  I

t’s genius, really.  The old-world concept that artists were supported by patrons who pitched in to keep them producing paintings of plays instead of being stuck day-in and day-out working in the mill.  Hard to produce art when you have to work 50+ hours a week just to pay the bills.

It’s not for everybody and I feel shy and ashamed about asking for such a thing.  But if you’re willing, I won’t stop you…

Click here to check out my Patreon page and see what I have to offer, for as little as a dollar a month.

Also click there if you want to watch the ridiculous video of me babbling while sleep deprived…  it ain’t pretty.

Now, to bed!

New Superhero Fiction: Chapter 1

You may or may not be aware, but my newest is up for pre-order right now at these locations: Amazon, B&N, iBooks, and Kobo!

Just the ebook for now, paperback coming later.

But how’s about a free sample first, eh?

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This is Secret Origins: Book One.  The SO trilogy will be all about the histories of some of the mainstream characters in my other Identity Crisis Universe books.  This book consists of a novella, a novelette, and a short story.  And I thought this weekend, I’d share the first two chapters of the cover story, “Masks” —

1

RED MANTIS

The nondescript grey van turned left, without signaling, and rolled lazily into an alleyway.

Another car followed from a distance: a small, red Prius with the headlights switched off.  It was a hybrid model, capable of prowling the streets nearly silent on battery power.  That’s what the driver told himself, at least.  Truthfully, the payments were kind of steep on a gym teacher’s salary in Mesa City, but he loved that car.

Tonight he wasn’t a gym teacher, though.  He was a superhero.

Red Mantis allowed ten seconds to pass after losing sight of the van.  Then he crept the Prius to within a block of the alley, gliding along the curb.

There was no other activity in sight.  It was past ten o’clock at night, after all, and this was a small business neighborhood.  There were no residents here.  No one to notice any suspicious activity.  No one to hear a young girl scream.

He eased to a stop, threw it in park, and turned off the engine.

From across the street, Mantis could see that the alley was flanked by a small adobe-faced shop on the left and a larger, dark building on the right.

Papito’s Tailor and Dry Cleaning was a square, one-story structure with a large, darkened front window.  The mechanical centipede of the rotating dry cleaner’s rack made an ominous shadow on the other side of the glass, but there was no obvious movement inside.

The other place was a much larger lodge hall, three stories of dark brick.  The Honorable Brotherhood of the Sunset Horizon, the sign read.  The lodge crest looked Native American in theme: a red semi-circle resting on a thick black line, irregular, like a brush stroke.  A falcon or hawk soared above and a sinuous snake crawled beneath.

“That even sounds like a cult,” Red Mantis mumbled to himself.  “Why hasn’t anyone looked into these guys?”  He peered over his steering wheel.  “Huh.  Maybe that’s why.”

A smaller sign read: “Food Pantry: Tuesdays 5-7pm” and “Bingo Night: Thursday at 7”.

Maybe I’m chasing the wrong suspicious van

He looked at his watch, its face spun around to the underside of his left wrist to allow for the rigid plastic brace that was strapped to his forearm.  The digital display read 10:14:49, alongside the time zone and his current pulse rate, which was an excited 92 and anticipating more.  (Let’s face it, the watch had probably cost more than he’d needed to spend, too.)

He’d now allowed twenty-seven seconds to pass since the van had left his sight.  Too long.

Without another second of hesitation, Caesar Hernandez—the Red Mantis—popped out of the driver’s seat, adjusted the crimson plates of his segmented combat armor, pulled the pointy-frilled mask down over his face, and burst into action.

The big cargo van idled in the alleyway, its side door ajar, brake lights casting a sinister crimson glare behind it.  Two figures in shiny green robes, like shapeless satin gowns, were struggling with a blanket-wrapped bundle between them.  Or rather, the bundle was struggling in their grip.  One emerald-cloaked cultist was backing away, the other was still inside the cargo hold.

Neither was prepared for the stout, muscular man in red plastic armor who came sprinting into the alley in a wide-curved arc, heading right for them.

The Red Mantis came hurtling through a haze of scarlet-lit exhaust fumes and ploughed straight into the cultist standing on the ground.  The villain was blasted off his feet and thrown to the asphalt.  Thanks to his armor and mastery of balance, Mantis bounced off his victim and near-perfectly replaced him, catching his end of the blanketed burden.

Something squirmed and kicked inside, bound by hooked bungee cords.  The prisoner was petite, not much more than five-feet tall and little over a hundred pounds.

The man on the other end of the bundle stood paralyzed, hunched over in the van, shocked by the sudden transposition he’d just witnessed.  Mantis shoved the writhing thing between them, forcing the second cultist backward and feeding all three of them back into the vehicle.  The cultist—a brown-skinned man with a black scrunchie for a headband—stood with mouth agape and eyes wide in surprise.  His hands unconsciously fumbled with the human bundle as it slipped away from him and folded up on the van floor.

Two red-plated fists struck his bulging eyes shut and slammed him against the van’s opposite hatch.  Mantis then hugged and flung the man bodily.  The thug nearly cleared the prisoner on the floor and rolled against the extended van’s rear doors.

“It’s all in the hips!” Mantis bragged, panting.

He snapped toward the driver’s seat.  (His unexpected speed in the ring had always been Caesar’s greatest asset.)  A third villain, the wheelman, sat half-turned around, arm wrapped around the headrest, hipster glasses mismatched with his heavy Cheech and Chong style mustache.  Just as he opened his yap to fling out a string of curses, Red Mantis’s thick hands slapped onto either side of his head.  He squeezed and pulled simultaneously, jerking the driver half out of his seat.

The Spanish obscenities came fast and loud as the driver tried to wrestle with the forearms that had arrested his face, but he found gripping the irregular arm guards problematic.

Mantis pulled again with his full weight, dragging the now screaming hipster cultist into the cargo space.  He let go with his left hand, only to bring it back with a vengeance.

The blanket-bound captive screamed too, the high-pitched wail of a teenaged girl—Mantis had stepped on her.  The van’s hold was big, but not that big.  Collateral damage was unavoidable when fighting outnumbered in a confined space.

Then the entire world came unhinged: the van was moving!

“The brake!” Mantis realized aloud, spitting the words into the wheelman’s face, as if it were his fault he was no longer standing on it.

Selective darkness moved beyond the windshield as the headlights probed the walls on either side of the alley.

Mantis climbed on top of the kneeling driver and dove between the seats—but found that his broad shoulders with their (perhaps overly ornate) armored plates couldn’t squeeze through.  His head poked into the cab and came to an abrupt stop.

Just in time to see someone new appear in the headlamps.

Mantis gasped.  This headlong tumble into chaos was all happening too fast.

A figure stood before the runaway vehicle, buttoned-up in a trench coat with an old-style fedora on his head.  His hands flashed up as if to somehow stop the two tons of rolling steel.

“Move!” Mantis roared.

But the man only had time to stare up at him.

Half a second later, he was under the van.

Mantis froze.  Hunched over, shoulders pressed between the headrests, too stunned now to act.  The momentum of his attack had been broken and someone had just been run down by the errant vehicle, thanks to his rash, thoughtless assault on the driver.

If he was real.  Did he even have a face? 

In that flash of panic, as the figure had glanced up just before disappearing beneath the van’s nose, Caesar’s eyes had been convinced that there was no face in the V formed by the raincoat’s up-turned collar; nothing at all beneath that archaic hat brim.

His weight jostled as bodies moved behind and beneath him in the chaotic cargo hold.

The van continued to idle further down the alley’s throat, picking up speed.

Hands clawed at Mantis from behind.  Both cultists came at him again—were already on top of him.  The black scrunchie headband, swollen eyes, the hipster glasses, a bloodied nose.

Three men became entangled in a very tight melee, all on top of the poor girl bound in a blanket on the hard steel floor.

Have to end this quickly, he thought.

Luckily, this was his element.  Little did the cultists know that Caesar Hernandez was even more adept at ground work than slugfest.  His days in the MMA circuits had made him a consummate grappler.  Even tangling with two men at once wasn’t much of a challenge when his opponents were untrained in the arts.

He wrapped one flailing arm—he didn’t know whose—against his own shin and pulled.  Something snapped audibly, followed by a howl of pain.  The scrunchie curled to one side, no longer a threat.

Boom!  The van—and their world—suddenly crashed to a violent halt.

The dogpile of bodies lurched forward.

Mantis found himself near the bottom now, with a whimpering lump beneath the small of his back, a hand wedged against his throat, and gritted teeth growling above him.  He heard the click of a switch blade and saw the van’s pale internal light glistening off the thin plane of steel.

“You’re dead, muchacho,” Hipster Chong snarled.  He stabbed down to pierce the would-be hero’s heart, but the strike was blunted by his sturdy plastic armor.

Finally good for something!  The thought blurted across his mind, but his relief was short-lived.

The blade dragged itself across his red chest plate, dropped a quarter-inch off the edge, and found nothing but cloth backing to protect the sternum beneath.  The gap between plates was little more than thick elastic.  The chink in his Red Mantis armor.

A toothy grin split wide beneath the fogged lenses and their thick, black frame.

Every muscle in Mantis’s body exploded in an effort to escape, but they failed to free him.  His burst of motion managed only an inch of disruption.  Not enough to save him from the knife that was about to splinter through his breastbone.

The girl squirmed under him.  Once he was dead, there’d be no one to save her.

Suddenly, two gloved hands appeared on either side of Hipster Chong’s sweaty, wild expression.  Ten fingers curled around his ears and yanked him backward.

He disappeared with a yelp.

Mantis shot up into a sitting position.

Outside the van, Hipster Chong was stabbing wildly at a trench coated figure who now had the thug in a sleeper hold.  The knife landed several vicious points right into the man’s face, but he never blinked.

In fact, he had no eyes.  Nor any other features.  The head beneath the hat brim was smooth, blank.

He had no face at all.

* * *

Chapter 2 up tomorrow!