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Rucksack Universe update: The Roving Fiddler

While at fiddle camp, I wasn’t working overall, but I continued to write every day. I also wanted to try out a slightly different project. I wanted to figure out a short story that might go with the fiddle camp, but also work in the Rucksack Universe.

So I figured out a story about Aisling, the Awen of Ireland, from when she was younger and wandering the world, determined not to be a prisoner of a destiny she’d been told. Aisling is musical, a fiddle virtuoso—so I started to figure out a story about her at a fiddle camp in Oregon, but where she also must confront something in her past.

I’m not happy with the ending yet, but otherwise the short story “The White Sign” is shaping up pretty well. And it’s leading to some other ideas for Aisling during her world-wandering, roving fiddler years…


Announcing the release date for WANDER, the next Rucksack Universe novel

Wander - The next Rucksack Universe adventure awaits

The new can’t-miss Rucksack Universe prequel novel

Oct. 16, 1834

The explosion that comes to be known as The Blast burns across Ireland and England. The fires alter the course of history. A new era begins: “AB” or, “After Blast.”

Oct. 19, 1834

After failing at his most crucial moment, a burned and broken hero collapses into the void between living and dying, and is lost to the world he spent his life protecting.

Oct. 19, AB 100

A hundred years later, a wanderer falls between worlds. A wounded hero wakes. A guardian pursues a shadow covering all things in darkness. Their story is the story of Wander.

And on Fri., Oct. 19, 2018…

Wander will be released worldwide in e-book and trade paperback.

Follow the Black Road. A hostel in Morocco. The hills at the western edge of Ireland. The Irish Sea. A London rebuilding. The Black Cliffs of Dover at the southeastern edge of England. Wander will take you on an adventure like nothing you’ve encountered yet in the Rucksack Universe—or anywhere else.

This can’t-miss Rucksack Universe prequel novel sets in motion a speculative fiction series of myth, adventure, and intrigue. Library Journal says the series has “universe building reminiscent of Terry Pratchett,” and readers say they love the Rucksack Universe’s unique combination of “quirk, wit, travel, and magic.”

A Rucksack Universe Novel
Available worldwide Oct. 19 in e-book and trade paperback

Pre-orders and more details coming soon.

Get updates (and a free book)


Rucksack Universe update: Wander nearly ready, new manuscript underway

Last week I did something I’m so excited to tell you about.

I signed off on the copy-edited manuscript of Wander.

Yup. That’s right. My copy editor and I had some final discussion about a few points, I made some last tweaks and polishes, then told him we were good to go.

What’s next? I’m giving the manuscript one final pass, then I’ll send Wander back to my editor for proofreading. He’ll make sure everything is spelled right/consistently, things are dotted and crossed the way they should be, line breaks and chapter breaks are good, all that sort of technical stuff.

Once I’ve processed his proofing, the manuscript will be locked. That means no changes (unless I find some wayward typo). No rewriting. No second-guessing.

No touch booky.

From there, Wander will go into publication mode, being prepped for e-book formats and paperback.

What does all this behind-the-scenes author/publisher geek-out stuff mean for you?

It means that I’ll shortly be telling you the release date for Wander.

Get ready!

P.S.: Over the weekend I also started drafting the next Rucksack Universe book, codenamed Wet. I’m a couple of scenes in so far. I’ll keep you posted.


Sneak peek of Wander, the next Rucksack Universe book

Sneak peek of Wander, the next Rucksack Universe book

“How did you know it was my birthday?” asked Wander.

Sitting behind his desk at the front of the hostel, the elderly proprietor looked up from his computer and smiled. “Your passport,” he replied. “Twenty. A wonderful year. A time when many things may change.”

Wander smiled back. The past five years had been nothing but a time of change. Six months wandering South America, and another two years wandering Africa. Seven months in Ireland, a year in Russia. Indonesia in the morning, Australia at night. With no family or friends, birthdays had been just another day to check off the calendar. Now, at the southwestern coast of Morocco, the warm waters of the eastern Atlantic sent salt on the breeze, maybe a birthday could be something to look forward to after all.

Wander leaned forward. “So, what should I do on my birthday?”

“Ahh, now that is a good question.” The proprietor sat back in his chair. “Check your email and all those social thingies, then come back. I will tell you then.”

Logging on to the hostel’s computer, Wander wondered how many other people in the world had access to the internet but didn’t have a Facespace account. Or a Twitlinkpinstagramr+. Opening the daypack, Wander took out a small flip phone. A traveler on a couch looked up from their bright-screened, too-big-for-the-hand Apsamgoo iGalixel and smirked.

“Trust me,” said Wander over the beeps and boops coming from the traveler’s phone. “Last thing I need is a data plan or unlimited messaging.”

It had been a while since Wander had checked email—somewhere between Thailand and Morocco, but that time had been such a whirlwind Wander could hardly remember. Not that it mattered.

Zero messages.

Not that there was anyone who would be emailing. Or showing up for a surprise party. Or sending a card.

When your only friends were your backpack and the stretch of road currently under your feet, you learned not to make birthdays a big deal.

Still, that hadn’t been the only people. And for twenty, well, Wander couldn’t help but hope. There were people Wander had connected with over the years. Random wanderings together in a new city. Dormmates in a hostel room. The traveler in Galway, Ireland. When they met, Wander wondered what else could have happened between them. They’d exchanged info… that last touch of hand on hand had been so hard to let go… but now, on Wander’s birthday… nothing. Wander looked away. The screen must have been too bright. Of course that’s why Wander’s eyes eyes hurt all of a sudden.

There was always Paithoon in Chiang Mai too. Then again, thought Wander, maybe not hearing from Paithoon was a good thing.

With a sigh and a shrug, Wander logged off email, then the computer. Moving to the little table at the window of the hostel’s common room, Wander stared at the ocean. Blue rising. Whitecaps cresting, then falling. The dry air mingled with the sea spray, suffusing everything with the taste and scent of salt. The few days Wander had been here had been calm, refreshing—badly needed, especially after all that had happened in Thailand.

The memories stirred, the remembered dreams, the remembered past, hard won from five years of traveling and weeks of frustration and sleeplessness, trying to uncover Wander’s own forgotten history. Wander had been more than ready to move on. The southwestern coast of Morocco, staring out over the Atlantic, was as good as anywhere else, but those final moments in Chiang Mai still clung to Wander’s mind. A storm had come, a storm had passed, and now Wander was enjoying the calm. At least, it felt like the calm. But Wander knew a question cast a shadow even over the bright Moroccan morning: was the storm truly over, or was this the quiet eye—to be followed by more storm?

A tap on the shoulder made Wander turn.

The hostel proprietor smiled and held out a large envelope, bigger than a regular sheet of paper.

“What’s this?” asked Wander.

He shrugged and set it down. “Today’s mail,” he said as he went to answer the phone.

The side Wander saw was blank. Turning it over, there was no return address—not even a mailing address. Just “Wander,” written in a fine script with immaculate—and familiar—handwriting.

Wander opened the envelope and gasped.

The stiff, thick sheet inside was like Wander’s favorite painting, called “The Wanderer in the Fog.” In the painting, the figure held a walking stick, wore a black tailcoat, and stared out over mountains and valleys. This was similar, but different.

Running a fingertip over the surface of the art, the rough and smooth textures left no doubt that this was a painting. On a narrow outcropping sticking out from the edge of a rocky cliff, a figure stood before a sheer drop to a white-capped, gray-blue sea below. At the far edge of the sea, Wander could just make out a thin line, as if a new world lay just beyond. Despite the blue sky, shadow obscured the figure so much that Wander could not tell if it was a woman or a man. The black rock of the cliff didn’t look like it was in shadow though. It looked like it had been burned and charred. Below the cliff, a strange, shadowy light seemed to glow upward from somewhere unseen, somewhere down the cliff toward the sea. It enhanced an overarching conflict, as if the painting were caught between darkness and light. Calm seas had grown teeth, whipped into a growing frenzy as a storm blew in.

“The Wanderer” showed only one figure. And so did this painting—except in the foreground, at the left bottom corner.

Gloved in black leather, a left hand reached out toward the wanderer at the edge of the world.

Heart pounding, Wander turned the painting over and read:

No matter where you wander,

May you always find a

Happy Birthday

The Thai madwoman had signed her name. Wander smiled and let out a chuckle. It made no sense that the madwoman’s painting had gotten from Chiang Mai to this hostel in Morocco, but if anyone would have managed it, it would be her.

Beneath the message was a P.S.:

I dreamed recently, and at the last moment of the dream, this is what I saw. I don’t know how I knew it, and I don’t know where this is, but I knew this was you.

Wander stared at the calm seas outside the hostel’s window. The madwoman had to be wrong… but Wander knew better. Trembling a little, Wander tucked the painting back into the envelope.

“Happy birthday,” said the traveler sitting nearby, with a nod toward the card. “I couldn’t help but see.”

Wander shrugged. “I’m glad someone noticed.”

The sunlight coming through the window was warm, bright but soft. Wander had savored every moment so far, every bite of breakfast, every sensation, the touch of water on hands, the scent of tea. But the painting changed everything. A shadow hung over the sunny morning. Wander looked at the card again. A birthday could be a momentous day. A day where everything could change. A day where someone could make a decision that just might change everything.

Wander considered going back to the dorm room and putting the card in the big pack there, but decided against it. The card was a memento, a reminder of what the madwoman had helped Wander learn, there in Thailand, those lonely, hard weeks ago. The daypack always went with Wander—and so would the card.

Wander unzipped the daypack and put the card inside. By now, after all these years, the pack reminded Wander of a dog, though by now it was an old dog. It was the one thing Wander still had from then, from there, when as a teenager Wander had been left with nothing and so had left with nothing. Except for the backpack. The one constant in Wander’s life for the last five years.

With a sigh, Wander went back to the front desk. “So, what did you decide this traveler should do today?”

He smiled and leaned forward.

On a small piece of paper, he drew a map. He said nothing, only occasionally looked out the window, as if gauging something, checking something. Whenever he did, when he looked back the smile would be gone from his eyes, as if it had been taken by whatever he was looking for.

Or maybe he just wasn’t looking forward to cleaning up the puke in the upstairs bathroom.

Accepting the map with a thanks, Wander started to walk away.

“Wait,” said the proprietor. “What you got in the mail. Was it good news?”

Wander shrugged. “You tell me.” Reaching into the daypack, Wander handed him the painting.

He looked at it, saying nothing, staring and staring. He read the back. Then, at last, he looked at Wander.

“Well, this is interesting,” he said. “I indeed gave you one map, one option. But if you want, you could go here instead.”


Revisions finished on next Rucksack Universe book

First bit of Roadsong, the next Rucksack Universe adventure by Anthony St. Clair

So this morning I finished revising ROADSONG, the next Rucksack Universe adventure. How’s your day going?

“You found me because you needed to pass on the best of yourself, and what you passed on was light, guidance, and inspiration. Now I’m passing it back to you. You must inspire others. Help them find the hero in themselves. That is the person the world needs.”

I’m pretty excited about this book. Set before the other 4 books currently available—100 years and 3 days after The Blast, to be precise—we are going to see a very different Faddah Rucksack. Someone shaken and guilt-ridden, who isn’t sure about his path and place in the world. (He also wears two gloves instead of only one. We’ll find out why that changes—and why it’s more important than you might think.)

ROADSONG will be a sort of prequel for the series. But it’s also a tale of what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land, what it feels like to drop from the world you know into a place that is different. (Or, to put it another way, how I’ve felt my whole life.)

I don’t have a release date yet. Now the book goes to my Chief Reader and then my copy editor. I’ll let you know, probably later this summer, when ROADSONG will be coming out. In the meantime, catch up on the series here (and remember, you can read them in any order), or join my mailing list for other news and updates and some freebie stories I’m finishing up too.


Free Rucksack Universe Fiction: Stars in your beer

Stars in your beer - B.S. Trotter - Rucksack Universe Anthony St. Clair

From The Lost & Found Travels of BS Trotter

Originally published in London Rising

Okay, we all know that after a couple of pints you can, well, see things. But for Londoners they were not expecting to see strange things in their beer.

I want to make a distinction here: they are seeing strange things in their beer, not because of their beer. We all sometimes see strange things because of beer, typically because we should have stopped about five pints back.

Street lights turn weird for me. After I’ve had a few too many I always find that the street lights, instead of just shining and being bright, in fact have a sort of halo. The light hangs in cloudy rings around the light bulb, as if the lampposts were strangely camouflaged angels. Sometimes I think I’m seeing the world how painter Vincent Van Gogh saw things when he painted his famed Starry Night.

Then I realize I probably just need a kabob and my bed.

However, Londoners are seeing the strangest thing in their pints. Reports and calls and letters have been flooding in to London Rising that all over the city, when someone first picks up a brimming-full pint of their favorite blackest stout, they see a star inside.

Folks, that’s not fancy talk from a humble itinerant reporter suddenly aspiring to be a poet. That’s what people have said, over and over and over. The same thing.

A star.

They look at their pint, which is dark as night sky, and in the middle of the beer, it’s as if they see a small spark. It’s there just a moment, then it either fades or simply can’t be seen anymore or wasn’t there to begin with.

First Call Brewing declined a request to be interviewed for this story. However, the cheeky buggers did point out that no stars are used to brew Galway Pradesh Stout.

Keep those reports coming in, though. I’ve heard it said that after a good pint you can understand the universe. Like you I didn’t expect to see the universe in my beer, but I’ve a feeling the universe is a better place for it.

The Rucksack Universe is Anthony St. Clair’s ongoing beery travel fantasy series of myth, intrigue, and adventure.


Free Rucksack Universe Fiction: Brewing School Launches in London

Brewschool - BS Trotter - Rucksack Universe

From The Lost & Found Travels of BS Trotter

Originally published in London Rising

BrewSchool has opened in London, England. Focused on “brewing brewers,” the teaching operation will train prospective professional brewers in all aspects of the beer industry. Areas of training include developing recipes; the brewing process; equipment selection, ordering, installation, and maintenance; finances and regulation; scaling business; packaging (kegs, bottles, and cans); marketing; and serving beer.

Founded by longtime homebrewer Zara Porter, BrewSchool is an interesting new initiative in the industry. “BrewSchool gives women and men the opportunity to understand every aspect of this ancient and complex process,” says Porter. “By the time students graduate BrewSchool, they will be ready to bring value to any of the world’s breweries, or start their own.”

Porter’s younger sister, Branwen, is the newly appointed second-in-command at First Call Brewing, which recently regained its independence from Deep, Inc., and left London to return to its roots in New Galway, Ireland. First Call is among over a dozen breweries that have already pledged support for BrewSchool and its first class of graduates.

In addition to setting up shop in London, Porter has also negotiated certifications and special offers for BrewSchool graduates. Students will be eligible for business planning services, apprenticeships at small breweries and large operations such as First Call, and will also be eligible for special financing offers for new business startups.

BrewSchool offers a new way to get into the esoteric industry. “Brewing will always rely in part on the apprentice model and being a self-starter,” says Porter. “However, all brewers benefit from an understanding of the full process, and they can then build on this strong foundation of knowledge and training depending on where their professional journey takes them.”

Porter is embarking on a two-month world tour to promote the school, develop and further relationships with breweries abroad, and recruit students. The first formal training sessions, each lasting six months, are expected to begin early next year.

The Rucksack Universe is Anthony St. Clair’s ongoing beery travel fantasy series of myth, intrigue, and adventure.


It’s here! THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY, out now

The Lotus and the Barley, Anthony St. Clair

It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m so, so thrilled to tell you that, at long last, The Lotus and the Barley, the fourth Rucksack Universe adventure, is out now in e-book and paperback!

Readers are saying they were “totally blown away” and were “surprised and delighted at every page.”

You can get your copy now, or gift a copy to someone you know, all direct from me or from your favorite bookstore. And if you prefer to shop in a physical bookstore, you can request the book and they can order it in, easy-peasy.

Buying my books and telling others about the Rucksack Universe makes it possible for me to continue creating and sharing these stories. Thank you again for all your support, and enjoy The Lotus and the Barley!

The old man: the final sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairToday is the final sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY! I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride—and remember, we’re only a few days away from the release of the fourth Rucksack Universe adventure…

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

Buy now from

Get it on iBooks

Buy now from Kobo

The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Sneak Peek: The old man

THE OLD MAN HADN’T noticed the man in black before, but if he had, he didn’t know what he could’ve done differently. Picking at loose threads on his ragged gray coveralls, he drank the rest of his sample and stared at the man in black while making sure he couldn’t be seen.

The man in black drank the women’s homebrew as if it were GPS itself.

Staring down at his empty cup, Gabsir Abrigs hated to admit it, but it damn near was.

It was missing one thing though—only he didn’t know what. Not even the brewmaster knew anymore.

Before he could look away, the smaller of the two women, the quiet one, caught his eye. Before the man in black could turn around and see him too, the old man left the pub.

He had to get back to First Call. It was infuriating enough that Faddah Rucksack was back in London and sure to meddle. The brewmaster would be angry too—angrier even than about having to hear about the Malt and Hops sisters again. But he really needed to change his mind and try some of their homebrew.

Want more?

Pre-order THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY e-book from:

Buy now from

Get it on iBooks

Buy now from Kobo

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway from a chance to win 1 of 10 signed paperbacks (US only):

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


The taste-off: the next-to-last sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairIt’s the next-to-last sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY! I hope you’ve enjoyed these wee tastes of the fourth Rucksack Universe adventure.

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

Buy now from

Get it on iBooks

Buy now from Kobo

The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Tune in tomorrow for the final sneak peek!


Sneak Peek: The taste-off

“ZARA KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT tasting beer,” said Branwen. “She can taste a hop substitution while stuffed up with a head cold.”

Rucksack and Zara locked eyes and grinned. Then they each took a long draw of their pints.

“You bottled this ten days ago,” Rucksack said. “And since you did the boil on your stove, there’s some caramelization.” He took a smaller sip, moving it around his palate before swallowing. “But you anticipated that and compensated by adding more hops to increase the bitterness.”

“Is that all you notice?” Zara asked.

“The New Galway Gold hops have been less bitter this year,” Rucksack replied. “All that damn rain in Ireland. Ah, o’ course. So you also bumped up the roasted barley and used a hotter roast,” he added. “That was risky. Easily could have come out too astringent, out of balance.”

It’s like he was there with us, Branwen thought. It’s like he’s reading my notes.

“But it didn’t,” Rucksack continued, and Zara’s eyes brightened as he said, “Because you lowered the temperature while steeping the malted barley, to enhance the sweetness of the sugars being drawn out!”

They all clinked glasses and drank more stout. “It’s been ages since I could talk that level o’ detail,” Rucksack said. “Thank you.”

“Same to you,” Zara replied. “I’m… impressed. You really know your beer.”

“I didn’t know we had a brother,” Branwen said, nudging her sister.

“Oh, saying I was long lost would be putting it mildly,” Rucksack said.

“You’re not going to hit on us, are you?” Zara asked. “Because to put it mildly, you’re wasting your time.”

“Thank goodness,” Rucksack replied. “For a moment I thought you were going to hit on me.” He drank more of his pint, which was now almost empty. Then he stared at a spot over Zara’s head, then Branwen’s, almost as if he were reading something?

“You two really know your stuff,” Rucksack said. “This homebrew is amazing… but it’s not a clone o’ GPS.”

The smile fell off Zara’s face. Branwen’s breath paused.

“It’s the closest I’ve ever encountered,” Rucksack continued. “It’s a damn sight better than the swill passing off for it here tonight. It’s certainly making me feel more myself. But it doesn’t have the secret.”

“So we’ve kind of made GPS,” said Branwen, “only not GPS as it’s supposed to be, but as it is right now.”

“I suppose you could put it that way,” said Rucksack.

“How are we supposed to figure out what na Grúdairí themselves don’t know anymore?” Branwen asked. “That magic, that secret—it’s gone.”

Zara snorted.

Branwen stared at her sister. Before she knew it she said, “You don’t believe in the secret, but something can be real without anyone else believing it. Existence is truth, and it doesn’t give a damn about being believed in. You don’t believe in the secret, that’s your deal, but don’t mock me for what I think.”

Eyes wide, Zara sat back and said nothing.

Rucksack stared from one sister to the other. Again he stared above their heads. Then he was silent, as if he had traveled deep inside his self, into some private world that even from the outside felt as big as the universe. “You said you had studied the lore o’ GPS,” he said slowly. “What have you learned about what it was, and what it is now?”

“For eons there has been the beer,” said Branwen, “and some have said that without the beer the eons wouldn’t have happened. Wherever there has been joy or grief, a hard day or a good day, a lonely drink or a lively party, there has been Galway Pradesh Stout. All around the world, from taps and bottles, the beer has poured. No beer has been as popular or long lived as GPS.”

“Exactly. Today should be like any other day,” replied Rucksack. “People went to the pub after work. Couples opened bottles at dinner. Friends clinked glasses as they watched the match. Some savored their last pint, some their first. Solitary drinkers ordered another GPS, thick and black, with a pillowy-white head like a snowdrift. The stout brings it all into focus, the boldness o’ life, the black and white, the grays and bright colors. It’s said that a pint o’ GPS can make the world make sense, if only for a while. So dry and bitter on the tongue, GPS snaps people back to life, but what really brings them back, time after time and pint after pint, is what’s hidden inside.”

Branwen nodded. “Something was different that day. The beer wasn’t right, but that wasn’t all of it. People realized the beer hadn’t been right for a while.”

“That’s exactly the thing,” said Rucksack, “and it’s been happening all over the world.”

“Where have you been to notice?” Branwen asked.

“Last place I stayed a while was India. I had to deal with some nasty business, but that’s another story for another time. I just got to England a couple o’ days ago. Crossing Asia and Europe I kept encountering dodgy pints, and I realized there was more afoot than dirty lines or a keg left in the sun.”

“And now you’re really noticing that something is wrong with GPS,” Branwen said. “Because this is where First Call Brewing is headquartered?”

“That’s it in one,” Rucksack said. “All this time, people have turned to GPS because it brings them a sense o’ the universe filling them up. It gives a moment when the world makes sense. That moment hasn’t been happening for a while, but people are malleable, forgiving, forgetful. They ignored it, figured it must be them. But it’s happened too many times, and what’s more, the beer is getting worse. Something’s wrong with GPS, and people know it now. But more than that. Something’s rotten in the brewery o’ London. I’ve tried and tried over the years to appeal to the brewmaster. His second-in-command, Gabsir, and I go way back, though not necessarily as best mates. They don’t want my help.”

Zara sat forward. “Because of Guru Deep, I bet.” Bitterness cut through her voice. “Branwen and I can’t stand him.”

Rucksack smiled a thin, sharp smile. “That makes three o’ us. I’m going to sort this out. From the brew kettles o’ First Call, all the way up to Guru Deep’s office at the top o’ the feckin Lotus if I have to.”

“But Deep Inc. took over First Call decades ago,” Branwen said. “What with Galway being destroyed in The Blast, First Call was weakened, had lots of problems, and eventually Deep Inc. took advantage of that. Brewmaster Samara was still in charge when it happened, before she passed leadership to the current brewmaster, Arthur Celbridge. Now Deep Inc. owns two breweries. First Call makes Galway Pradesh Stout, and Deep Brewing brews Deep’s Special Lager. Are you thinking Guru Deep is trying to do something to First Call and GPS?”

“Yes,” said Rucksack, “because it will do what he seeks: hurt me and hurt the world.” A darkness had fallen over Rucksack’s eyes. Long-simmering hostility radiated from him like heat from a boiling brew pot.

“Sounds like you two go way back,” said Zara.

“I’m a thorn he can never quite get out o’ his side, though I try harder.” Rucksack grinned. “I’ve been opposing Deep Inc. since the company’s early days, back when it was run by his grandfather. I’ve always considered the Deeps a pack o’ shysters at best.”

“Deep Inc. began about fifty years after The Blast,” said Branwen, glaring at him. “You look pretty young for a hundred and thirty.”

“It’s not nice to ask a fella his age,” replied Rucksack. “Deep Inc. was mostly fake medical cures then, and tent-revival sermons about the illusion of the world, but always accompanied by the reality o’ the collection plate.” Finishing his pint, Rucksack leaned forward. The clamminess had left his skin and the sweat had dried. His eyes were clear. Behind the darkness, a fire burned. “A few decades ago, Guru Deep came up in the company, doing inspirational talks and self-help books, got famous for his ‘Find Your Third Eye In Half The Time!’ feel-good enlightentainment shite. Today he’s got that, the breweries, his travel guidebooks, and various complicated financial dealings. Over the past few decades he’s built a global empire. Now we’re at a culmination. I’d bet a year’s pints that Guru Deep took over First Call precisely so he could eventually destroy the brewery and the beer.”

“He’s just a big business blowhard,” said Zara.

“Some say Guru Deep is ridiculous, a sparkling nothing with a big smile and a bright suit,” said Rucksack, lowering his voice. He looked over his shoulder and scanned the pub, then turned back to the sisters. “He’s a showman for sure. But make no mistake. He does far more than all the things we just said. For months I’ve been disrupting Guru Deep’s operations. At three in particular—in Marrakech, Mexico City, and Moscow—I saw things that made me wish I was having a nightmare: experiment pits. I shut them down, but the people there… those who had survived… I did what I could, but I can only hope they’ll find a way to live again without screaming. Guru Deep had huge labs where shady and discredited scientists were using people as lab rats. It’s not fake cures anymore. He’s experimenting with reality. Poking at it. Trying to tear it. And seeing what happens to people when you do.”

The sisters leaned back. The air in the pub and the blood in Branwen’s veins felt cold. “Why… Why would he do that?”

“Some people want to rule the world,” said Rucksack. “Guru Deep considers that a lack o’ ambition. He has his sights set far higher. There are those who say the world is an illusion, the dream o’ a sleeping god.”

“That would figure,” said Zara. “Let me guess: Guru Deep doesn’t want to wake the god. He wants to take its place.”

Rucksack nodded. “He hides it well, but everything he does conceals his true self and his true purpose. Guru Deep is one o’ the most dangerous people in the world. Whatever his ultimate plans are, he’s setting them in motion.”

“What can you do about it?” Branwen asked.

“Luckily,” said Rucksack with a smile, “I’m one o’ the most dangerous people in the world too.”

“Who are you, anyway?” Zara asked.

“I’m Faddah Rucksack,” he replied. “The world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage. The hero o’ old and the hero o’ now. He who flew and he who fell. He who lost and he who is trying to regain and restore. I am ten thousand years old. I am the fire o’ life, the tiger’s roar. Time and again in history, I have been the one who kept this world not only turning but thriving, saving lives and ensuring tomorrows. And I am the one who, yet again, will stand against Guru Deep.”

Branwen grinned. I’ve been searching for the secret, she thought. I think I might have found it… And now I have also found someone who can tell me I’m on the right path. She looked at her sister—and even Zara had a brightness in her eyes beyond her usual smoldering hardness and skepticism.

Rucksack’s smile fell away. “I’ve a horrible feeling that I can’t stop him though.”

“What?” said both sisters.

“You are amazing brewers,” said Rucksack, “and I believe we’re meeting for a reason. I trust you—it’s in the beer, who you are, how you make it. You know something I don’t. Something Guru Deep doesn’t. Something even na Grúdairí and the brewmaster don’t know anymore. I can’t stop Guru Deep.” He looked from Branwen to Zara and back to Branwen. “But I reckon we can.”

“How?” Zara asked.

Rucksack nodded at the briefcase. “How about I show you?”

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Anthony St. Clair - Travel Fantasy Author / Craft Beer Writer / Business Copywriter

Author and copywriter Anthony St. Clair has specialized in online content since 2000, blogged since 2004 and is the author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series.

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Anthony's third book, FOREVER THE ROAD, is a Best Books 2015 Fantasy pick from Library Journal's SELF-e, and a 2015 Oregon Book Award nominee.

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Rucksack Universe

Travel fantasy tales
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