Featuring mystery/thriller Critical Hit by W.M. Akers
How do you win a game that’s trying to kill you?
A twenty-nine year-old clerk at a games store in the Appalachian hamlet of Jett Creek, Tennessee, Callie Myles lives for the weekly RPG sessions run by her beloved brother and gamesmaster, LB. Under his watchful eye, she and her friends wage war, harness magic, and battle evil. When the dice are rolling, they are heroes, and all of Callie’s anxieties slip away. The fun stops the night LB burns to death in a bizarre fire.
Asked by her friends to keep the weekly game alive, Callie does her best to set her grief aside. She puts on the monocle LB wore during sessions and finds herself sucked into a life-sized recreation of her brother’s game. Inhabiting the body of her beloved character, the legendary Arabeth, she thinks she has found the ultimate escape. Her paradise is spoiled when she discovers that something inside the game killed LB—and one of her fellow players was in on it.
To save herself, to avenge her brother, Callie Myles must pull on her armor and beat LB’s game from the inside out. If she gets killed along the way, well, at least she’s having a great time.
A fast-paced hybrid of mystery and adventure, CRITICAL HIT captures the breakneck joy of tabletop gaming, where life and death depend on the whims of a plastic die. It will be on Kickstarter from May 25 to June 25, and available on DriveThruFiction and Amazon after that.
I left my friends behind. They were far below me now—thief, gladiator, bard, and mage—waiting on the frozen mud of the Blackbriar courtyard, waiting for the gate to break, for an army of thousands to pour through the door. I’d been with them, but I broke and ran—not from cowardice, but because I had a better idea.
The doors exploded off their hinges. The Horde was inside.
I sprinted up icy steps, never doubting this was the only way. Far below, the Heroes were surrounded. For the first time in their lives, they looked small. I could not hear the battle. Up that high, there was no sound but the roar of the wind and, far above me, the creaking of bone.
I threw my bow over my shoulder and planted a foot on the lip of the wall. A snowflake caught on my numb lips. It tasted pure.
With a deep breath, I hurled myself into space.
The Hordesmen looked up. In their white armor, they were hard to distinguish from the ice on the ground. The ground that was, I realized, rushing up to meet me very, very fast.
If this doesn’t work, I thought, I’m going to look like such an asshole.
And then a shadow swept out of the darkness: a massive, keening, riderless bird.
I crashed into its side.
My fingers clawed desperately at its bloody feathers. The great beast rolled, and the ground surged to meet me, and I was more certain than ever that death was coming tonight. I hung on tight, and when the roll stopped, I thudded into the leather seat on its back and did not let go.
“Thank you,” I said, and the griffon screamed loud enough to knock a platoon of Hordesmen to the ground. I tugged on the reins. With a beat of its massive wings, it flung us into the clouds.
My breathing was steady. My hands didn’t shake. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Blackbriar Keep, shrunk to the size of a child’s toy. I wondered if any of my friends were still alive.
Didn’t matter. The griffon crashed into the slushy, frozen clouds, which soaked me from head to toe. The sky went black. There was no sound but the occasional thump of the griffon’s wings. And then we exploded above the clouds, where the Duke was losing the battle for the sky.
Of the hundred griffon-riders he had launched so optimistically before the assault began, only a handful were still in the air. In the light of a cold blue moon, they wheeled around their target: a hundred-yard long flying Horror made of sinew and bone. It snapped at the griffons and batted them aside with indifferent swipes of its barbed tail. The lances of the griffon riders clattered harmlessly off the beast, coming nowhere near their true target: the Queen of Skulls.
She was a smudge of green between the beast’s shoulder blades, a warrior whose armies had broken a continent and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocents. Only Blackbriar stood between her and Winterwind, and Blackbriar would fall unless she died. The griffon riders were never going to hit her. No one could make that shot.
No one but me.
For I was Arabeth of the Golden Mail. Arabeth the dead-eyed, Arabeth the level 12 marksman. Arabeth the best goddamned shot on the Plateau. I nocked an arrow, slowed my heartbeat, and lined up the shot that would end the war.
About W.M. Akers
W.M. Akers is a novelist, playwright, and game designer. He is the author of the mystery novels Westside and Westside Lights; the creator of the bestselling games Deadball: Baseball With Dice and Comrades: A Revolutionary RPG; and the curator of
the history newsletter Strange Times. Born in Nashville, he spent a lucky thirteen years in New York before moving to Philadelphia in 2019. Learn more about his work at wmakers.net.
Find him online:
W.M. Akers will be awarding a $50 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.