I've enjoyed reading this book. There are a few rough edges and hitches here and there, just as there are in almost any author's first venture into a new genre (including my own!), but overall I rate it a very promising beginning. I've already told Jason to hurry up with the next volume!
For this morning's Snippet, I've chosen the opening fight in the book, where the protagonist finds himself pitchforked into a completely unexpected and alien combat against a thing out of nightmare. The reason I chose this segment is that any other would introduce "spoilers" that would give away too much - the book is packed full of such details, and I don't want to spoil the author's fun in introducing them in sequence. For the benefit of those who don't speak "guns", I've included a few links to provide more information about the weapons mentioned.
Sometime later I jerked awake. I didn’t know if I’d heard something or what. All I knew is I was burning up under the comforter. Dad’s cheap window mounted air conditioner must’ve finally shot **** because it was silent. I sat up and looked around.
The room was still mostly dark, and my alarm clock was dead. Great, power must’ve died. I had no idea what time it was. Probably sometime around five or six based on the minuscule amount of light peeking around the blinds. Sonofabitch. I listened intently and could hear the wind rushing about angrily outside, but the thunder and rain I’d fallen asleep to were gone. It suddenly struck me that all I heard was the wind and whatever was being blown about, and my breath caught in my throat. Wind that fast, I should’ve been hearing wood creak and a metric ****ton of leaves, but the only creaking I heard came from the house and I certainly didn’t hear any leaves. What I did hear outside, on the other hand, made no sense; one part omnipresent hissing, a healthy dollop of light sliding rasp, and some randomly thrown in tiny pebble strikes. I froze — well, vapor locked is more like it. I knew that sound from several long trips to the Middle East. That was the sound of the wind picking up sand. On top of that, the clingy humidity of summer in southern Missouri was long gone, replaced with a dry heat that was easily another ten degrees hotter. Sitting up in my bed, I suddenly felt more mid-deployment to the sandbox than weekend away from things in southern Missouri.
“The hell is going on?” I muttered as I reached for my pistol. Not that I expected the pistol to be helpful with whatever this was, but facing the unknown armed usually worked out better than the alternative in my experience.
In the distance I heard something keen, a sound somewhere between a howl and snarl. I knew that Missouri’s Department of Conservation insisted there weren’t any mountain lions or bear out here, or at least that’s what Dad told me when I was younger. Based off the sound, I was pretty sure my pistol was only going to piss off whatever it was making that noise. The next sound it made reminded me of a particularly pissed off mountain lion crossed with something bigger, like an actual lion. Having heard both of those in person, the summation seemed to fit. I mean, it didn’t make a damn lick of sense, but it fit. Whatever the source actually was, the drawn-out call reached into primitive parts of my hindbrain that, before this moment, I’d been pretty sure the Army burnt out years ago. Whatever it was, if it came near me I was going to kill it and kill it dead.
I considered my options. The AR should work on a plus-sized supposedly non-existent mountain lion. The OBR was too damn heavy for my broke ass if I had to lug it for any appreciable amount of time, but it was good for big game so presumably it was good for plus-sized mountain lions. Honestly, as angry as that thing sounded I wanted the BAR, but that beast was twice as heavy as the OBR.
The little voice in the back of my head that always got me in deep **** when I was private suggested that Dad’s LAW, at 5.5 pounds was a bit over half the weight of the OBR and a pound lighter than the AR. Sure, it was one use, but if I needed more than one, none of the other guns were going to save my ass anyway.
The part of me that was wholly responsible for me making NCO sighed and told the other part that explaining to the Conservation guys why I had a mountain lion splattered across half the hillside along with a sizable divot and obvious blast pattern might not be something I’d want to do. Things like that generally involved the ATF eventually. Sadly, those clowns don’t have any more a sense of humor than the Conservation agents. They’d probably be in an extra sour mood too, seeing as I don’t have a dog for them to shoot.
I sighed and got out of bed. While the idea of having an extra doors and walls between me and whatever it was appealed to me, the master bedroom’s windows were facing the wrong direction. The idea of not seeing it coming was a non-starter. I threw on some fresh jeans and a t-shirt. It took another thirty seconds to slip the sheath for my tomahawk on the belt as I wove it through my belt loops and to buckle both the hawk in and the belt on. Granted, it was an afterthought, but I holstered my XD on my way to pick up the AR. One can never have too many weapons in a fixed position that isn’t on fire or in danger of flooding or collapse. On a lark, I started to grab the BAR figuring if I stayed inside, it’d make a great couch gun, but I stopped at the last second to grab the Thompson instead, along with two stick mags. I also moved my AR to the couch next to the Thompson out of habit. I was used to how it handled after more than a few years of using its cousin with identical optics. The M855 I just loaded into it was certainly not the right round, but I had thirty of them. Quantity is a quality all its own.
Thankfully, Dad had a box of .45ACP Federal HST in the cabinet. I listened to the wind howl and what I figured was sand scrape against walls while I loaded up mags for the Thompson. Thirty rounds of ‘Get bent’ aught to be more than enough. I’d shot it enough as a kid to know I could handle the recoil fairly well if I kept it to short, controlled bursts. More than a decade and all the extra muscle the Army gave me since then should make that a breeze.
Loading the magazines, a voice in the back of my head asked me if I was sure this wasn’t some kind of PTSD flashback. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I was still sleeping in my bed having a nightmare. Of course it wasn’t actually a voice asking me things; I just compartmentalize stuff. It was a rational thing to ask myself, so clearly that was the NCO in me. I stood up and racked a round into the Thompson’s chamber. My PTSD flashbacks had always taken me to that little ****hole where I got blown up. I never saw anywhere I considered home when they happened, so this was entirely new if this was a flashback. Also, I could’ve sworn flashbacks didn’t last this long. I mean, I’m not really an expert on these things big picture-wise. I just knew how mine normally acted, which is to say **** would get trippy when the flashback hit, I’d freak out for a bit, and it’d be over and done a short time later. This wasn’t that. Though, I couldn’t discount the idea I was still asleep. I did regularly have dreams realistic enough they were hard to tell apart from reality. If this was a nightmare then at least I had guns. A lot of guns. Oh, so many guns. And a LAW. Can’t forget the LAW.
My heartrate picked up a little as I walked over to the twin windows on the kitchen side of the living room, and then it dropped to a steady beat much lower than normal. My skin was tingling and I realized I’d lost the hitch in my step. I felt almost normal. No, not normal, I felt better than normal. I felt like I was home, doing what I was supposed to do. Now, let’s see what’s outside.
I didn’t react to what I saw when I pulled the thick daylight shades back in much the same way I hadn’t really reacted the way most people would to the sound earlier. First instincts didn’t always serve up the best reaction. Stay frosty, stay in control. Panic kills. What I was seeing outside sort of made me want to panic, though.
Outside wasn’t outside. By that I mean nothing that was supposed to be there was there. There weren’t any trees. Or grass. Or anything other than a thick layer of dark as far as the eye could see, interrupted by what might’ve been husks of charred tree. This is too surreal. Roughly matching the topology of the area around where the actual cabin stood, this sea of dark whatever-it-was extended all the way to a heavily clouded horizon that reminded me of what it looked like at night when a city was burning in the distance, except this was a bit brighter. It struck me that if only a large section, not the whole horizon, had been lit that way, it would’ve looked like a massive forest fire in the distance. Though, forest fires threw red light, not daylight. Whatever the hell it was, it left everything in this weirdly omnipresent dim lighting, a bit like a dream but not quite.
If this was a flashback or a nightmare, it was a hell of a lot more realistic than any I’d had before. I closed my eyes a second to pull back from the urge to panic, and then continued to look about. The clouds looked about as black as the ground did. For a moment I was standing back in Iraq pulling overwatch on an intersection where some hadjis had hit a fuel tanker convoy. Everything within fifty yards of where each of the tankers had been hit had burnt furiously. Sand, dirt, buildings, none of that had mattered. Once the fires had burnt themselves out, they’d left a curious char everywhere the burning fuel had spread. The ground outside looked exactly like that.
I blinked a few times, not quite believing what I was seeing before my Good Idea Fairy voice pointed out that it was pretty sure you don’t get PTSD flashbacks inside a PTSD flashback. It was also certain that if you did, then this world was more ****ed than we’d thought. For the first time since I was an E-4, I agreed with that voice and so did the NCO part of my brain.
Somewhere out front, something chuffed, a throaty vocalization usually made by big cats that sounded like the start of a failed purr or someone trying to kickstart an old motorcycle. It wasn’t a cute little mountain lion chuff either. No, this was something a lot bigger and not something I’d ever expected to hear in southern Missouri. I’d heard it first at the St. Louis Zoo from the big cats, and again from something that stalked the mountains outside our FOB my first trip through southeastern Afghanistan. Never saw what made the noise in the ’Stan, and suddenly I didn’t want to see what was making the noise now. Whatever it was made a low growling sound followed by a few squeaking noises that almost sounded exactly like a mountain lion.
With deliberate slowness, I lowered the daylight shade back into place and cautiously, quietly stepped my way around to the couch where I retrieved my PVS-14 on the way to the front door. It was dark outside, and any light amplification would be nice. I was very small, very quiet, and very not here. As I got to the door, whatever it was rubbed up against the outside of the house just around the corner from me, closer to the near side of the cabinet even. Problem is, it wasn’t the kind of soft sound you’d expect from fur against ****** siding. No, it was this weird grating noise that clacked every so often. The sound brought me back to the sandbox, back when I saw some tanker start to lose traction on a tread as his Abrams went over a car.
What. The. ****. I was even whispering in my thoughts as I tried to look through the glass at the top of the door while trying to minimize the odds of it spotting me first. And holy ****, did I see it. Or rather, I saw its hind quarters as it turned away from me to rub against the house again. If it had had fur, I would’ve said by the gait that it was most definitely a plus-sized mountain lion that had made off with a few folks off the back of their Walmart scooters. Here’s the problem I had with accepting that designation: it didn’t have fur; it had big scales that glinted irregularly in my monocle. It was clearly kinda-sorta a cat, but pretty much a lizard too. Some weird kind of up-armored panther? When it rubbed up against the house again, I saw the rest of it from about five feet away. The vestigial wings and scaled body nixed the panther bit, despite how it moved what had looked a six-hundred-pound minimum, black-bear sized bulk.
My Good Idea Fairy declared it a Cat Lizard Panther Dragon, CLPD for short. I didn’t argue. Neither did my NCO voice. Seemed a perfectly reasonable identification to both of us. CLPD it is.
As much as I loved the Thompson, I was suddenly fairly sure that hollow points wouldn’t do **** against those scales. Good Idea started quoting descriptions of various young dragons and their armor classes I’d learned by heart when I played D&D as a kid. I felt very under gunned. I knew I should’ve grabbed the BAR. Mother******.
Just as quietly as I’d crept to the door, I crept back to the master bedroom and traded the Thompson for the BAR after making sure I’d engaged the Thompson’s safety. It didn’t see me; I can take my time. No need to panic, Tom. Chill. Hunting down magazines for the BAR was a bit harder, but I spotted a few tucked in the corner of the safe. From the red tape, I was pretty sure these were Dad’s hand loads he’d been trying out. I vaguely remembered them being steel core AP, which was a big plus, but don’t tell the ATF that. Politicians, and therefore the ATF, frown on actual armor-piercing rounds in civilian hands for some reason. Don’t ask me why, I’m not the idiot whisperer.
In fact, it’d be better if the ATF never heard a damn thing about any of this, if at all possible. Thank *** folks mind their own business out here. Nobody out here called the cops for anything for the most part other than clean-up or to deal with **** that got off their property. Nah, nobody around here would call the cops over someone belting out a few dozen rounds. I frowned at the next thought that occurred to me. Here’s hoping I’m not going to need backup. A full magazine of AP through a BAR should be more than enough. Right?
I shook my head to force myself to focus. As far as I knew, there was no “around here” anymore. I then realized my next problem. I didn’t have any load bearing equipment on hand. Belt, vest, whatever, LBE of some form would’ve been nice. I could’ve stuffed some BAR mags in the bigger pouches even if they didn’t fit right. Stuffing BAR mags in jeans was fantasy. Pretty sure this is how women feel about the lack of pockets in their clothes. ****, almost missed it. I grabbed the bandoleer hanging in the back of the safe and stuffed what few magazines Dad had left in it. **** it. If I need more than four mags to deal with this, I should’ve picked a better weapon. Right. Better weapon. I grabbed the LAW.
It wasn’t the rocket launcher I wanted; it was the rocket launcher I deserved. I’d take an iffy old LAW that might not fire due to age instead of the AT4 I found myself wanting any day of the week if the only alternative to the LAW was empty hands. A Javelin would’ve been nice right now. Another part of me, my voice of reason probably, pointed out that firing an AT4 or a Jav indoors would’ve been a bit inconvenient. Yeah, I guess the whole concussion/backblast bit ****ing you up or killing you is pretty inconvenient when you stop and think about it. That’s before looking at minimum ranges for any of them. Or firing arcs. I could go for an airstrike, though. I may have suppressed a shudder at the idea of calling in artillery danger close. Been there, done that. Hard pass.
Speaking of minimum ranges, going out the back door suddenly sounded a good idea. The thing would be nearly in my lap if I went out the front. Yeah, great idea. And then the glass on the screen door shattered. ****. I slung the LAW over one shoulder as I cautiously took a few steps backwards to peer out the bedroom door, just in time to see a set of claws puncture the wooden inner door and tear out a chunk. I quickstepped into the living room to get a better angle and dropped to a knee at about the same time the thing’s dimly glowing emerald eyes widened.
It saw me. I saw it. Only I was looking through the sights of the BAR.
“Cowabunga it is, mother******.”
I lit it the **** up. You know, it’s amazing how quickly you can chew through a twenty round magazine when you’re firing at six hundred rounds per minute. It seems like such a long time when you’re starring in the face of some ungodly nightmare fuel that just decided you’d make a good snack. Even longer when, thanks to the adrenaline, you can see the sparks every round left as they glanced off scales. Good Idea informed me after I heard the bolt slam forward on an empty chamber that it took precisely two seconds.
“Shut the **** up, you’re not helping,” I muttered, yanking out the box mag while the CLPD reared and roared at me loud enough that my ears rang. I pulled the bolt back and slammed in the new magazine just as the roar was petering out.
Good Idea pointed out matter-of-factly that dragon scales were notoriously weaker on the underbelly, and that I really should hurry up and find out if the lore was correct. NCO figured it was worth trying right as I braced for recoil and lit off the next magazine into the thing’s belly.
Again, adrenaline is an interesting thing. As with the first magazine, time lurched to a trickle and I got a front row seat to another series of ricochet flashes, except I was pretty sure four or five of them went through this time. Well, that or I missed, but who the hell misses a six-hundred-pound CLPD from maybe twenty feet away? Me, evidently. Except for the last shot. That one definitely punched through. I saw some black ichor spurt out like I’d punctured a balloon full of thick snot mixed with heavily over-used motor oil, the sort you see shared as both a meme and a warning.
Would you believe all I managed to do is piss it off? Nah, it’s okay; I didn’t believe it either. That’s why I was a bit flat footed when it shouldered the door straight off its hinges and shoved aside the solid oak cabinet next to it, the one with a few hundred pounds of ammo in it, like it was barely there. I might have made a little “Eep!” when it charged me. I barely managed to jump out of the way and almost fell over into the second couch under the twin windows I’d peered out earlier.
Mother****** crushed my couch! Well, Dad’s couch, but that couch had been in the family since the 70s. The thing had also shoulder checked the wall behind the couch, and bent most of the cheap pine in at a good angle, including the oak boards Dad had sistered up to them to stiffen them ages ago. ***damn.
I yanked the BAR’s bolt back. The CLPD’s eyes narrowed. I won’t lie, I might’ve started getting a bit scared here. I may have accidentally thrown the empty magazine out of the BAR and fumbled the third one just as the thing scrunched down into a huddle. I was raising the rifle when all three of us in my head recognized the subtle butt wiggle. ****. It jumped straight at me, claws first, and there was no dodging that **** this time.
I’ve been shot, shot at, and I’ve also been blown up by IEDs, admittedly while in a mine resistant vehicle. “Friendly” artillery was in that list, too. None of that prepared me for getting hit by six hundred pounds of angry cat lizard. Prior experience did help with that feeling you get when something that really shouldn’t be there tears into your abdominal cavity, but then again, the whole being punched through a wall made of cheap wood and now-shattered glass windows like a Hollywood stuntman was entirely new, too. Imagine rolling around naked in a pile of Legos while being crushed by six hundred pounds of pissed off cat lizard, but the Legos are made of glass. And they’re all broken. It’s pretty much like that, but completely different.
Next thing I knew, I was sprawled out in the ash some twenty feet from the back of the house with a healthy cloud of the stuff sprinkling down on me since I’d just slid through it. I coughed because I’d inhaled some and instantly regretted it. Everything below my ribs felt like it was on fire. I could hear the thing getting back up.
Sure as ****, there it was, limping towards me. Loud noises startle animals, right?
“Hey asshole!” I bellowed at it. It slowed a little as I pawed for my XD. I found only shattered plastic where the holster should have been. Okay then, Plan B. “Yeah, you, ****stick. **** you.”
Maybe telling it to go **** itself wasn’t the right play. That’s what NCO-me said anyway as the thing growled and lumbered over. I scrambled back, or rather, I tried scrambling back. Most of my lower body had evidently decided that laying down and dying was a good idea and didn’t manage more than a dying fish wiggle.
Still, in my panic I saw sparks drop out of the spot the BAR had punched through and not like just a little bit of sparks either. Little jets of them spurted rhythmically. To a heartbeat? As it got closer I could hear the wound sizzling. Pretty sure those rounds were steel core not incendiary. Dad didn’t mess with incendiary. Not usually anyway, something about what he’d seen in ’Nam.
Not that it mattered. I was about to be kitty chow, but at least I knew I’d hurt the ****ing thing, right? I had that going for me. I hoped this bastard got the kind of indigestion rivaled only by eating too many White Castle jalapeno sliders and lived the rest of its days nursing some horrible burn scar that reminded it of me. **** you.
I grabbed for the only weapon that made sense at this point. Well, the only weapon I had left really. That’s not to say much of anything made sense here, mind you, but the LAW my head was uncomfortably laying against wasn’t going to do a damn thing from ten feet away. It wouldn’t arm at less than thirty feet.
No, I jerked my RMJ Shrike tomahawk from the belt scabbard half under me. Miraculously, the scabbard hadn’t broken like my XD holster, and the axe hadn’t popped out. When the cat lizard lunged the last time for a tasty, tasty Tom-flavored treat, I buried the sharpened three inch, Kevlar-helmet-piercing, steel spike on the back right into the thing’s ***damned eye. **** you.
Now, I expected the thing to howl. I mean, I’d pretty much just jammed a steel spike into its brain, and last I checked nobody enjoys that kinda thing. Though, on second thought, you could probably find some place on the internet populated by folks who do. No, scratch that. Do not google that. Rule 34 is a thing. But, like I was saying, I was expecting it to react poorly. It did.
It reared back, yanking the hawk out of my hand while it swatted and clawed at its face. What I didn’t expect was for its face to immediately start sizzling and spurting flaming blood everywhere like some kind of psychotic blood-fueled roman candle.
The thing screeched and rolled away from me, clawing at pretty much everything from its face to the ash and nearby random tree husks, which disintegrated like the kind of cheap plywood even Lowes or Home Depot would reject, all the while spurting more burning goop everywhere. I’d clearly blinded it. At least I had that going for me.
The incendiary reaction, though, started diminishing the moment it managed to yank my tomahawk out. Good Idea informed me that some magical creatures like the fae were vulnerable to cold iron, and in some mythologies they reacted a bit like this. He was just as puzzled as I was over the fact that the tomahawk was steel, not iron, but whatevs. Take what little the universe lets you keep.
By that point it had rolled a decent distance downhill, certainly past where my pond should have been. It occurred to me that this was conveniently farther than thirty feet away. I couldn’t quite get into a sitting position, but I managed to flop into something loosely resembling one while screaming. Or at least that’s what I gathered because NCO told me to stop being a bitch and shoot the ****ing thing.
Copy that, Sarge. Pull pin, remove front cover, extend the tube smartly and lock it open. **** my backblast area.
“Hey, chuckle****!” I managed to rasp right before depressing the rubber firing boot. “Say cheese!”
There was a brief sputter and for a second I almost let the launcher droop. ****ing figures! And then there was a harsh pop followed by a bright streak that jumped through the air and nailed that ****** right in the gut.
I let the blast shove me onto my back and laughed as chunks of cat lizard fell out of the sky. You might’ve shrugged off 30-06, cat lizard, but you’re not immune to anti-tank rockets! Get rekt, scrub.
I found myself in the middle of another coughing fit a few moments later. Not ash this time, cat lizard chunk. By the time I’d coughed to the point of nearly vomiting, Good Idea pointed out it didn’t really taste quite like chicken like he’d expected. Somewhere between pork and a fishy chicken, with a little extra gamey flavor. I told Good Idea he wasn’t helping again, and he went off to pout.
After taking a few seconds to try catching my breath and failing, I poked around my belly. On the plus side, it didn’t hurt. On the minus side, and boy was it a big minus side, it didn’t hurt. That meant shock, amongst a few other things. My hand came away with an awful mixture of ash and blood that I could barely see in the dim light.
“Could you stop twitching and ****ing die already? ***damn. A little courtesy please? I’m not checking out until you do, asshole,” I shouted at my mortally wounded opponent.
Since it was dim and ash covered everything, I went ahead and smelled my hand. Ash covers the smell of a lot of things, but there was a hell of a lot of blood so I could still make it out over the ash. I could also smell something else you never wanted to go with abdominal wounds. ****. No, that wasn’t me swearing. I could smell my own **** over the ash, too. Ain’t that some ****?
I’m sure there were plenty of poop jokes that went through my mind at that instant, but I heard something moments later that I definitely didn’t expect to hear while bleeding out in the middle of *** knows where after shooting a ***damn cat lizard with a rocket launcher: crows.
“The **** are crows doing out here?” I mumbled to myself and craned my head back towards the sound to find that I’d actually been ended up a fair bit farther from the house than I thought. I recognized the slope, kind of. I mean, nobody can really say, “Oh yeah, I totally recognize the bottom of my pond from here,” with a straight face and get away with it, but I **** you not, I was pretty sure I was half in where the pond would’ve been if there was water here. I looked right about where the dock should have been. Instead, there was a creepy set of shattered limestone or marble plinths that lined what might’ve been a set of stairs or something that descended into the ground. Not that I was sure about that last part, mind you. I was completely at the wrong angle to make the stairs judgement, but it did make a bit of sense given all I could see was darkness between the shattered plinths. Honest darkness, even, not the heavily limited light because of the eternal twilight and all the dark ash.
The wind died completely in the span of a heartbeat, and then a woman’s voice echoed up out of the dark, a clear ringing voice echoing like she sang in a great stone room. The enchanting voice’s song tugged at the back of my mind. I didn’t understand the words, but I knew the sound, the oddly lilting accent. The words were Gaelic, and as I listened to the angelic voice the words bounced around in my head and somehow came out making sense. Not that they suddenly became English, mind you. No, it was certainly still Gaelic, but I knew Mo Ghille Mear meant My Gallant Hero and I knew the song was a lament about losing her love.
I might’ve almost teared up, listening to the pain in her words and forgetting my own in the process, while her lilting voice graced the air between us. I felt a bit sad as the words tugged at my heart, but otherwise I was just calm. And cold. Definitely a creeping cold, but I didn’t care so long as she kept singing. Sadly, all good things come to an end, and as the last note faded I was left feeling completely and utterly at peace and strangely certain about what was happening. This is how it is supposed to end. It was always going to end this way. I’ve always known she would come for me, and now she has.
Something emerged from the dark, stepping up onto the ash. Score, I was right about the steps. I made out a feminine figure in white as she glided across the ash toward me. This is a good death. A Man’s death. A Soldier’s death.
She came to a halt a handful of feet from me and gazed down at me with a reserved smile.
“Thomas Edwards,” her angelic voice broke the silence in lilting Gaelic. I simply understood despite never learning the language. “Few men have seen me in a quite some time. Fewer still did not fear my calling their name. Son of Eire, Alba, and the Goths, your blood remembers its roots. You have earned the notice of the Phantom Queen. Do you seek to return home?”
When she said her name, I recognized it. The Morrigan smiled down at me. Her eyes briefly pulsed a faint aquamarine glow, exactly the sort of blue the core of a running reactor at the bottom of its cooling pool would make. The Morrigan, Nightmare Queen, Chooser of the Slain, Goddess of War and Fate.
Her smile widened.
“You flatter me with such titles. No human has thought those words in hundreds of your years and known the truth behind them the way you know to your bones right now. Before you answer, come. We must speak.” She held her hand out to me, beckoning.
Well, there it is - the start of the adventure. I hope you enjoyed it. I recommend "Dusk Knight" as a worthy first attempt at a modern fantasy novel.