Bumps in the Road

This week has started off quite rough for my writing. I think I’ve ended up burnt down (If not out) and confused, because of my attempt to work on too many projects at one time.

I’ve narrowed it down again, so not to worry on that count. But today feels very strange so far, probably because my sleep schedule has changed again. Oh well.

I’m still working on the sequel to Hunter and Seed, and the serial project Tenlyres. I think trying to add in short stories has been difficult to do on a daily basis. If I want to write these stories I will have to push them to either end of the week.

Unfortunately, discovering this has cost me a day of work. Fortunately, that is just one day.

I am feeling fairly positive at the moment. Time to push through the slump I’ve felt over the last couple of days.

Thanks for reading.

Tenlyres Chapter 4

Previous Chapter

Sunrise arrived just ahead of the Red Lector to Korlom. Ilsa watched the western horizon from within a stand of tower grass east of the village. When she sighted the black flags with red flame emblems approaching, she lowered her binoculars and then glanced at Blue. Her friend chewed a scrap of dried meat from her day’s ration.

They had ridden out of Korlom before dawn. Ilsa had tasked her strider to wake them early before she had gone to sleep in the lean-to the previous night. The Red Lector’s scouts had not been moving around an hour ago, but Ilsa had seen them rouse themselves and their runners ten minutes before the flags of the Red Lector’s main force came into view.

Blue’s morning-dusted eyes met Ilsa’s gaze. “How are you so awake?”

“The Red Lector wants something in the east. He’s a religious leader, so he wouldn’t be leading an army just to fight Chogrum.” She frowned and turned toward the village. She raised the binoculars and looked through them. “What is he after?”

The column of the Red Lector’s forces did not look huge at a distance, but they moved into Korlom at speed. Ilsa guessed there must be about a thousand light striders, creatures similar in build, but smaller than the great striders Ilsa and Blue had ridden from Dal. Here and there she spotted the forms of low cat-like runners and taller great striders.

Despite the rumors she had heard back in Morhoi, about the increasing mechanization of Ayoch’s military, this force seemed to be all riders. Ilsa saw no sign of autos or crawlers. She supposed that made sense, given the potentially treacherous terrain of the steppe and the speed of the modified animals on the plateau. Plant-piles beneath the ground could create sinkholes but striders and runners were usually light enough to avoid, or agile enough to escape a collapse.

Blue put a hand on her arm. Ilsa lowered her binoculars. Her friend wore an expression of concern. “That’s a lot of troops to ride into a tiny village.”

“The Filami should be alright until fighting breaks out with Chogrum.” Ilsa hoped what she said was true, but she did not trust the Ayochian forces or the Red Lector. “We need to get ahead of them if we want to beat them to the center.”

“Ilsa,” Blue said. “What do you know about the Red Lector?”

“Of the five Lectors that serve the royalty of Ayoch, the Red Lector is traditionally the most warlike.”

“That explains why that’s the one leading troops here.” Blue frowned. “I can barely get my head around a priest leading an army.”

Ilsa frowned. “Scripture from Ayoch tells that Tenlyres is important to the monarchy.”

“Hmm…” Blue shook her head. “They don’t really know a whole lot about the lyres, though, do they?”

“Nobody does.” Ilsa did not want to delve into the lack of belief Blue had for any religion, especially when she did not believe in Ayoch’s religion herself.

“Somebody does.” Blue glanced over her shoulder at their silent steed, crouched behind the stand of tower grass.

Ilsa shrugged.

Blue gave a frustrated sigh. “We had better ride unless you want me to try to stop them here.”

“We can’t fight a thousand soldiers.”

“But I could control their commander. Have him lead them away.”

“If you could concentrate that long on him, maybe.” Ilsa shook her head. “It’s too risky. And besides that, if they have anyone with mind senses or any war magi, we’d be completely out of place.” And out of luck.

“War magi?” Blue frowned. “What makes you think they have magi at all?”

“Ayochian forces don’t usually go into battle without them. The Red Lector could well have more than one, or even his own mind eater.”

“Let’s hope not. This is gonna be dangerous enough.” Blue turned toward the striders. “We should ride east.”

“In a moment.” Ilsa raised the binoculars and looked through them. She looked among the troops riding all over the village until she spotted a man who rode a great strider onto the main street between two rows of little houses.

He wore a deep blue coat with a red scarf hanging across his shoulders. The deep blue, the same color as the Ayochian Flag gave him away as a nobleman, and the red scarf made Ilsa wonder at religious affiliation. Even through Ilsa’s binoculars, the man’s long white hair and weathered skin gave away his age.

She guessed he might be an officer, or even the Red Lector himself.

“Blue,” she said, still looking through the binoculars, “Can you sense the mind in the center of the village?”

“Barely.”

“Can you tell me about the men there?”

“The troops are in awe of the guy in the middle. They’re all focused on him.”

“He might be the Red Lector.” Ilsa followed the white haired rider as he slowed his mount. A light strider rode to his side and handed him a scroll case. At first, the soldiers around the main street stood at attention, but then as one, they fell to one knee. Ilsa lowered the binoculars. “Definitely the Lector.”

Blue nodded. “Can we get moving, then?”

Ilsa turned toward their striders. “Let’s ride.”

 

The Red Lector did not stay long in the village. Ilsa looked back an hour’s ride east of Korlom and saw the column of troops appearing to follow her and Blue. The scouts on their cat-like runners rode ahead. They moved fast, even faster than the pace of Ilsa and Blue’s striders.

Ilsa urged her steed forward, but knew already the runners could catch up if they ran at top high speed for the next hour or two and paced themselves. She made a face as she considered having to explain to the Ayochians why she and Blue were riding east at speed. The Oshomi nomads might be able to ride away when they were in danger, but Ilsa was of the city of Dal, regardless of the fact that it was built on the plateau. If she and Blue could not find the Oshomi before the Red Lector did, completing the mission would be nearly impossible.

Blue shot her a glance as they barreled across the low grass flatland. Their striders accelerated and kicked up mud from the steppe as they went. The mud provided evidence to Ilsa the days were getting warmer. Spring was on its way. She hugged herself to the strider’s thick neck and turned her head toward Blue.

Her friend’s eyes shifted toward the column behind them. “They’re quick. Have you got a plan?”

“I think I fooled them last time, but that was back in the village.” And I never mentioned to them that my traveling companion was from Chogrum. She shook her head. “We have to outlast them.”

“How long before those runners get tired?”

“An hour, I would guess, maybe two. But if they sprint when they get close enough they could get us in rifle range in that time.”

“It’s three-hundred kilometers to Fort Sardul, and a hundred more to the lyres on the other side.” Blue frowned. “Can the striders get us that far without stopping?”

“That’s over four days in a straight line, so I doubt it,” said Ilsa. “And we can’t afford to circle like before, not with the army so close behind.”

“We can’t fight them either.” Blue grimaced over her shoulder. “There are too many, even if we got lucky and they were all useless shots.”

“Something tells me they’re not. We can’t let them get in range to start shooting.” Ilsa glanced behind her.

Eight scouts rode ahead of the column, all on fast and vicious-fanged runners. They looked to be a kilometer or more behind, but they were gaining fast. Someone with good aim might be able to hit a target with a rifle from that distance if stationary. The same shooter on a strider’s back could probably manage a similar range, but only the best and most experienced could compensate for the rolling gait of a runner.

Ilsa once saw her father make that sort of shot, years ago. His runner had been at full pace and his rifle hadn’t even had telescopic sights. She cursed the thought. Father was exceptional, maybe even unique, in his skill with all firearms. They called him Black Powder in the fraternity of mercenaries, still to this day.

Her eyes narrowed as she watched the runners gaining. A towering man on the back of one of the two lead cats raised a thick-barreled rifle. They were still hundreds of meters away. Ilsa thought she recognized the man by his build and height. Kaij Haram, the leader of the scouts, stood high in the saddle, cast in the light of morning. He leveled the weapon in their direction.

A red thought ran through Ilsa’s mind. The image of herself with a bullet-wound torn through her back and out her front surfaced. She prayed to Hathani though she knew the goddess only answered wishes with reality. At this point, her gamble for spying so long seemed foolish.

A gunshot cracked the air behind Ilsa. Both she and Blue looked back. Neither of them had been hit. Kaij had fired the weapon skyward, an ultimatum trying to convince them to stop fleeing.

Ilsa smirked. “He doesn’t think he can hit us from there.”

“I don’t know many who could.” Blue put a hand to her armored chest. “He sure scared me, though.”

Me too. Ilsa kept her eyes on the leader of the scouts. His runners’ chest heaved. The great cat began to slow. Other scouts caught up with their leader. Evidently the steeds lacked the endurance Ilsa had dreaded possible.

The scouts began to recede, now only stalking the plain. She turned to Blue. A cold breeze picked up from the northeast.

She frowned. “That’s odd.”

“What’s odd?”

“The wind felt warm this morning.”

“It’s the weather. You can’t predict everything.” They urged their striders forward.

The temperature dropped fast. The muddy ground felt firmer under the striders’ steps. A faint whiff of propellant with a metallic tinge reached her nose. “Do you smell that?”

“Smell what?”

“Ayochian auto-launch powder.”

“I don’t smell any powder,” said Blue.

That did not mean there wasn’t any. Ilsa’s sense of smell was sharper than Blue’s.

Ilsa frowned up at the sky. The air temperature dropped even further. Above her, she glimpsed a tiny shape, perhaps the size of a hummingbird, gliding fifty meters overhead. She squinted to make out the shape more clearly. Her breath misted in the frigid air and the new chill reached through her coat. Ilsa shivered but kept her gaze on the solitary bird above them.

“Blue.” She pointed upward. “Can you sense that bird’s mind?”

Blue looked upward. “I can see a speck up there. You sure it’s a bird?”

“Humor me.”

Blue closed her eyes as they rode. Frosty white patches began to form in the long mane of Ilsa’s strider. Something about that bird was off. Blue opened her eyes. “There’s no mind up there. Can’t be a bird.”

“You’re sure?”

“Completely.” Blue frowned. “There is something odd up there, but it’s not a mind.”

Ilsa trusted her friend’s mental senses. She held the reins in her left and then clenched her right hand, then spread the fingers wide. A brand burned. Her bonded shotgun appeared with its barrel pressed into her palm. She closed her grip on the weapon and began to carefully load the gun with three shells of bird shot. No sense wasting heavier ammunition on something so small. This would be enough.

Blue glanced at her. “What are you doing?”

Ilsa raised the shotgun and aimed it at the small form above them. “I’m testing a hypothesis.” She sniffed the air. The smell of auto-launch propellant remained, despite having ridden a few hundred meters since she had first noticed it. She aimed at the shape with its tiny wings. It was angling down.

The air froze at her fingers and made her wish she could afford to wear gloves. But with gloves on she could not use her weapon bonds. She looked up the shotgun barrel, eyes almost closed to keep the little shape centered. She pulled the trigger.

The shotgun roared in its familiar voice. A ring of metal on metal followed an instant later, only audible to Ilsa due to her trained ears. Her airborne target lost a wing to the bird shot, but no blood came forth. She watched the shape of the target spiral down to the plain ahead of them. Immediately the chill in the air began to recede.

Ilsa watched the ground for the fallen shape as they approached. She slowed her strider. “Blue, I want to get a look at this.”

Blue glanced behind them. Ilsa checked as well. The scouts were still over a thousand meters away.

“Alright,” Blue said. “But be quick.”

Ilsa spotted a glint of metal in the low grass. She kept her strider moving and slid part way down the mounting rope, legs pressed together to keep her steady, just like she and Cass Kalteri had done as initiates years before. Her feet bobbed just above the mud and grass without touching any of it.

She snatched the hot, bird-shot-battered, form from the ground with one hand. It was small enough to fit in her palm. She stuffed the wreckage into her pocket and then scurried up to the saddle. Her steed had only slowed a little the whole time.

Blue raised her eyebrows. “What is it?”

Ilsa took the wreckage from her coat pocket. She turned it over in her hands and frowned. The shape resembled an overly-long bullet, but with a bent and broken wing of aluminum-like metal on one side and groove along each edge, where the wings must have collapsed. The thing reeked of propellant with additional auto-launch fuel. It’s sides were etched with mystic syllables in High Ayochian, writing marred by furrows of bird-shot.

“It’s a projectile,” said Ilsa. “Based on an Ayochian magus round, I think.”

“So they do have war magi.”

The air felt warmer around Ilsa already. War magi powers had limited range, but symbols like those on the bullet could be used to extend that range. She frowned. “I’d say at least one ice magus, probably among the scouts.”

“This continues to get better.” Blue sighed.

“It doesn’t change our plan. We have to stay ahead of that army.”

“Fair enough,” said Blue. “But I don’t know if I can beat a full magus.”

“Hopefully, it won’t come to that.” Ilsa stuffed the magus round into her pocket. We have to keep up our pace. She looked ahead. In the distance clouds hovered on the eastern horizon. Keep on hoping, Ilsa thought. Another memory of Cass returned, this one far more recent. Stay red, Ilsa.

Stay red. She urged her steed to full pace. Blood pounded in her veins.

 

Sunrise arrived just ahead of the Red Lector to Korlom. Ilsa watched the western horizon from within a stand of tower grass east of the village. When she sighted the black flags with red flame emblems approaching, she lowered her binoculars and then glanced at Blue. Her friend chewed a scrap of dried meat from her day’s ration.

They had ridden out of Korlom before dawn. Ilsa had tasked her strider to wake them early before she had gone to sleep in the lean-to the previous night. The Red Lector’s scouts had not been moving around an hour ago, but Ilsa had seen them rouse themselves and their runners ten minutes before the flags of the Red Lector’s main force came into view.

Blue’s morning-dusted eyes met Ilsa’s gaze. “How are you so awake?”

“The Red Lector wants something in the east. He’s a religious leader, so he wouldn’t be leading an army just to fight Chogrum.” She frowned and turned toward the village. She raised the binoculars and looked through them. “What is he after?”

The column of the Red Lector’s forces did not look huge at a distance, but they moved into Korlom at speed. Ilsa guessed there must be about a thousand light striders, creatures similar in build, but smaller than the great striders Ilsa and Blue had ridden from Dal. Here and there she spotted the forms of low cat-like runners and taller great striders.

Despite the rumors she had heard back in Morhoi, about the increasing mechanization of Ayoch’s military, this force seemed to be all riders. Ilsa saw no sign of autos or crawlers. She supposed that made sense, given the potentially treacherous terrain of the steppe and the speed of the modified animals on the plateau. Plant-piles beneath the ground could create sinkholes but striders and runners were usually light enough to avoid, or agile enough to escape a collapse.

Blue put a hand on her arm. Ilsa lowered her binoculars. Her friend wore an expression of concern. “That’s a lot of troops to ride into a tiny village.”

“The Filami should be alright until fighting breaks out with Chogrum.” Ilsa hoped what she said was true, but she did not trust the Ayochian forces or the Red Lector. “We need to get ahead of them if we want to beat them to the center.”

“Ilsa,” Blue said. “What do you know about the Red Lector?”

“Of the five Lectors that serve the royalty of Ayoch, the Red Lector is traditionally the most warlike.”

“That explains why that’s the one leading troops here.” Blue frowned. “I can barely get my head around a priest leading an army.”

Ilsa frowned. “Scripture from Ayoch tells that Tenlyres is important to the monarchy.”

“Hmm…” Blue shook her head. “They don’t really know a whole lot about the lyres, though, do they?”

“Nobody does.” Ilsa did not want to delve into the lack of belief Blue had for any religion, especially when she did not believe in Ayoch’s religion herself.

“Somebody does.” Blue glanced over her shoulder at their silent steed, crouched behind the stand of tower grass.

Ilsa shrugged.

Blue gave a frustrated sigh. “We had better ride unless you want me to try to stop them here.”

“We can’t fight a thousand soldiers.”

“But I could control their commander. Have him lead them away.”

“If you could concentrate that long on him, maybe.” Ilsa shook her head. “It’s too risky. And besides that, if they have anyone with mind senses or any war magi, we’d be completely out of place.” And out of luck.

“War magi?” Blue frowned. “What makes you think they have magi at all?”

“Ayochian forces don’t usually go into battle without them. The Red Lector could well have more than one, or even his own mind eater.”

“Let’s hope not. This is gonna be dangerous enough.” Blue turned toward the striders. “We should ride east.”

“In a moment.” Ilsa raised the binoculars and looked through them. She looked among the troops riding all over the village until she spotted a man who rode a great strider onto the main street between two rows of little houses.

He wore a deep blue coat with a red scarf hanging across his shoulders. The deep blue, the same color as the Ayochian Flag gave him away as a nobleman, and the red scarf made Ilsa wonder at religious affiliation. Even through Ilsa’s binoculars, the man’s long white hair and weathered skin gave away his age.

She guessed he might be an officer, or even the Red Lector himself.

“Blue,” she said, still looking through the binoculars, “Can you sense the mind in the center of the village?”

“Barely.”

“Can you tell me about the men there?”

“The troops are in awe of the guy in the middle. They’re all focused on him.”

“He might be the Red Lector.” Ilsa followed the white haired rider as he slowed his mount. A light strider rode to his side and handed him a scroll case. At first, the soldiers around the main street stood at attention, but then as one, they fell to one knee. Ilsa lowered the binoculars. “Definitely the Lector.”

Blue nodded. “Can we get moving, then?”

Ilsa turned toward their striders. “Let’s ride.”

 

The Red Lector did not stay long in the village. Ilsa looked back an hour’s ride east of Korlom and saw the column of troops appearing to follow her and Blue. The scouts on their cat-like runners rode ahead. They moved fast, even faster than the pace of Ilsa and Blue’s striders.

Ilsa urged her steed forward, but knew already the runners could catch up if they ran at top high speed for the next hour or two and paced themselves. She made a face as she considered having to explain to the Ayochians why she and Blue were riding east at speed. The Oshomi nomads might be able to ride away when they were in danger, but Ilsa was of the city of Dal, regardless of the fact that it was built on the plateau. If she and Blue could not find the Oshomi before the Red Lector did, completing the mission would be nearly impossible.

Blue shot her a glance as they barreled across the low grass flatland. Their striders accelerated and kicked up mud from the steppe as they went. The mud provided evidence to Ilsa the days were getting warmer. Spring was on its way. She hugged herself to the strider’s thick neck and turned her head toward Blue.

Her friend’s eyes shifted toward the column behind them. “They’re quick. Have you got a plan?”

“I think I fooled them last time, but that was back in the village.” And I never mentioned to them that my traveling companion was from Chogrum. She shook her head. “We have to outlast them.”

“How long before those runners get tired?”

“An hour, I would guess, maybe two. But if they sprint when they get close enough they could get us in rifle range in that time.”

“It’s three-hundred kilometers to Fort Sardul, and a hundred more to the lyres on the other side.” Blue frowned. “Can the striders get us that far without stopping?”

“That’s over four days in a straight line, so I doubt it,” said Ilsa. “And we can’t afford to circle like before, not with the army so close behind.”

“We can’t fight them either.” Blue grimaced over her shoulder. “There are too many, even if we got lucky and they were all useless shots.”

“Something tells me they’re not. We can’t let them get in range to start shooting.” Ilsa glanced behind her.

Eight scouts rode ahead of the column, all on fast and vicious-fanged runners. They looked to be a kilometer or more behind, but they were gaining fast. Someone with good aim might be able to hit a target with a rifle from that distance if stationary. The same shooter on a strider’s back could probably manage a similar range, but only the best and most experienced could compensate for the rolling gait of a runner.

Ilsa once saw her father make that sort of shot, years ago. His runner had been at full pace and his rifle hadn’t even had telescopic sights. She cursed the thought. Father was exceptional, maybe even unique, in his skill with all firearms. They called him Black Powder in the fraternity of mercenaries, still to this day.

Her eyes narrowed as she watched the runners gaining. A towering man on the back of one of the two lead cats raised a thick-barreled rifle. They were still hundreds of meters away. Ilsa thought she recognized the man by his build and height. Kaij Haram, the leader of the scouts, stood high in the saddle, cast in the light of morning. He leveled the weapon in their direction.

A red thought ran through Ilsa’s mind. The image of herself with a bullet-wound torn through her back and out her front surfaced. She prayed to Hathani though she knew the goddess only answered wishes with reality. At this point, her gamble for spying so long seemed foolish.

A gunshot cracked the air behind Ilsa. Both she and Blue looked back. Neither of them had been hit. Kaij had fired the weapon skyward, an ultimatum trying to convince them to stop fleeing.

Ilsa smirked. “He doesn’t think he can hit us from there.”

“I don’t know many who could.” Blue put a hand to her armored chest. “He sure scared me, though.”

Me too. Ilsa kept her eyes on the leader of the scouts. His runners’ chest heaved. The great cat began to slow. Other scouts caught up with their leader. Evidently the steeds lacked the endurance Ilsa had dreaded possible.

The scouts began to recede, now only stalking the plain. She turned to Blue. A cold breeze picked up from the northeast.

She frowned. “That’s odd.”

“What’s odd?”

“The wind felt warm this morning.”

“It’s the weather. You can’t predict everything.” They urged their striders forward.

The temperature dropped fast. The muddy ground felt firmer under the striders’ steps. A faint whiff of propellant with a metallic tinge reached her nose. “Do you smell that?”

“Smell what?”

“Ayochian auto-launch powder.”

“I don’t smell any powder,” said Blue.

That did not mean there wasn’t any. Ilsa’s sense of smell was sharper than Blue’s.

Ilsa frowned up at the sky. The air temperature dropped even further. Above her, she glimpsed a tiny shape, perhaps the size of a hummingbird, gliding fifty meters overhead. She squinted to make out the shape more clearly. Her breath misted in the frigid air and the new chill reached through her coat. Ilsa shivered but kept her gaze on the solitary bird above them.

“Blue.” She pointed upward. “Can you sense that bird’s mind?”

Blue looked upward. “I can see a speck up there. You sure it’s a bird?”

“Humor me.”

Blue closed her eyes as they rode. Frosty white patches began to form in the long mane of Ilsa’s strider. Something about that bird was off. Blue opened her eyes. “There’s no mind up there. Can’t be a bird.”

“You’re sure?”

“Completely.” Blue frowned. “There is something odd up there, but it’s not a mind.”

Ilsa trusted her friend’s mental senses. She held the reins in her left and then clenched her right hand, then spread the fingers wide. A brand burned. Her bonded shotgun appeared with its barrel pressed into her palm. She closed her grip on the weapon and began to carefully load the gun with three shells of bird shot. No sense wasting heavier ammunition on something so small. This would be enough.

Blue glanced at her. “What are you doing?”

Ilsa raised the shotgun and aimed it at the small form above them. “I’m testing a hypothesis.” She sniffed the air. The smell of auto-launch propellant remained, despite having ridden a few hundred meters since she had first noticed it. She aimed at the shape with its tiny wings. It was angling down.

The air froze at her fingers and made her wish she could afford to wear gloves. But with gloves on she could not use her weapon bonds. She looked up the shotgun barrel, eyes almost closed to keep the little shape centered. She pulled the trigger.

The shotgun roared in its familiar voice. A ring of metal on metal followed an instant later, only audible to Ilsa due to her trained ears. Her airborne target lost a wing to the bird shot, but no blood came forth. She watched the shape of the target spiral down to the plain ahead of them. Immediately the chill in the air began to recede.

Ilsa watched the ground for the fallen shape as they approached. She slowed her strider. “Blue, I want to get a look at this.”

Blue glanced behind them. Ilsa checked as well. The scouts were still over a thousand meters away.

“Alright,” Blue said. “But be quick.”

Ilsa spotted a glint of metal in the low grass. She kept her strider moving and slid part way down the mounting rope, legs pressed together to keep her steady, just like she and Cass Kalteri had done as initiates years before. Her feet bobbed just above the mud and grass without touching any of it.

She snatched the hot, bird-shot-battered, form from the ground with one hand. It was small enough to fit in her palm. She stuffed the wreckage into her pocket and then scurried up to the saddle. Her steed had only slowed a little the whole time.

Blue raised her eyebrows. “What is it?”

Ilsa took the wreckage from her coat pocket. She turned it over in her hands and frowned. The shape resembled an overly-long bullet, but with a bent and broken wing of aluminum-like metal on one side and groove along each edge, where the wings must have collapsed. The thing reeked of propellant with additional auto-launch fuel. It’s sides were etched with mystic syllables in High Ayochian, writing marred by furrows of bird-shot.

“It’s a projectile,” said Ilsa. “Based on an Ayochian magus round, I think.”

“So they do have war magi.”

The air felt warmer around Ilsa already. War magi powers had limited range, but symbols like those on the bullet could be used to extend that range. She frowned. “I’d say at least one ice magus, probably among the scouts.”

“This continues to get better.” Blue sighed.

“It doesn’t change our plan. We have to stay ahead of that army.”

“Fair enough,” said Blue. “But I don’t know if I can beat a full magus.”

“Hopefully, it won’t come to that.” Ilsa stuffed the magus round into her pocket. We have to keep up our pace. She looked ahead. In the distance clouds hovered on the eastern horizon. Keep on hoping, Ilsa thought. Another memory of Cass returned, this one far more recent. Stay red, Ilsa.

Stay red. She urged her steed to full pace. Blood pounded in her veins.

A Return to Podcasting and Hobbies?

I love listening to podcasts, and I really want to do one of my own. I’ve started a solo show called “Live After Writing” in the recent past but got stressed out by the production schedule and lack of subject matter without someone to help bounce ideas around.

Live After Writing was a show I planned to produce after writing sessions, kinda as a reward to myself, but I didn’t focus on how much fun I would have.

Well, I think I’m going to bring it back, but as something even more relaxed (if you can believe it) than it was originally. I’m not gonna have a schedule, despite what everyone who gives that very valid advice on podcasts suggests. I just don’t have the energy to do that and write the multiple projects I have on the burner.

However, I still hope to produce at least one show a week. I might occasionally reach out to other writers of all levels to chat with them, but to be honest, I really want to do a show for practice and to build my skills at talking.

I know this isn’t exactly a glowing self-recommendation, but I have enough trouble treating my fiction as a career. I don’t want to make more by requiring weekly time to a podcast. Lately, I’ve started to think that with hobby projects (Like this podcast) it is better to do something poorly than to not do it at all.

This could also apply to my derelict miniatures collection. Hmm… Anyway, I am happy to say that a hobby where I stress about how well I do every stage is a lot less joyful and inspiring to me than one where I just focus on having fun.

A bit of advice from me to me. “Don’t beat yourself up over stuff.” Heck, that may be useful for everyone.

Chapter 4 of Tenlyres is all set to drop tomorrow. Hope you’re all doing well this week.

Thanks for reading.

A Little Buddhist Parable

I have had some issues with feeling antsy while working. I think they have something to do with my natural ADHD, but on the other hand, I am still getting stuff done.

As I walked down to the coffee shop this morning, I recalled a Buddhist Parable I’ve heard before. I have taken a few liberties with it, but hey, it’s fiction anyway.

*

Two monks, a master, and a student, are on the road after a fresh rain. They find themselves walking alongside a woman when they reach a place where the road has been reduced to a morass of mud.

The woman imposes on the two monks to carry her across the muddy patch. Being compassionate monks they agree, and so they carry her over the mud, with her being obnoxious to them terribly the whole time.

But eventually, they get across and set her down. They keep going on their way.

Eventually the road splits. The monks go one way. The woman goes another way.

Miles along, the student monk begins to grouse to his master about how irritating the woman was to impose on them to carry her, and now he is sore and more tired than he otherwise would have been.

The master listens calmly.

The student becomes more strident in his complaints.

Still the master only listens.

The student asks, “Master, you’re far older than me, so you must sorer, for having carried that terrible woman. How can you be so calm about her?”

The master says, “I stopped carrying her miles ago. Why haven’t you?”

And may everyone hope the student took a step toward enlightenment.

*

I love the lesson of that story. I hope you all can get something out of it, regardless of your personal beliefs, religious or non-religious.

And by the way, the woman is only a woman in this story because that’s how I heard it told. No sexism is intended.

Thanks for reading.

It’s Red, It’s Black, It’s Blue

I just hammered out another chapter for this serial novel. This one will release on Friday. I am pleased to announce I am enjoying this book immensely though I sometimes have to work harder to spark that excitement over the past 10 weeks.

Tenlyres is getting, even more, fun and I’m now a quarter of the way through this rough draft.

Colors are proving important to this story. Hell, I could have expected this part of the story if I had thought about it.

Red and Black are scattered throughout this most recent chapter. Stay red. Black Powder. It’s all pretty obvious now.

Come on, one of the main characters is named Blue.

Anyway, I like the way color-coding of a sort is making me think about this story in the process.

In other news, I am enjoying twitter more and more with every passing day. Being open on twitter is as much fun as chatting with everyone on this blog, just a bit more brief.

I still have writing in the other book to do today. I’m thinking I can get myself out of a bit of the funk I sometimes get into in starting scenes by considering different approaches to each point of action along the story. Even if I don’t take the routes I consider in the actual book, considering them makes the story better.

That happened with this latest Tenlyres chapter. I thought the chapter would be one thing initially, then got hung up on not wanting to do that. I considered a few different options over the weekend as I tried to write the second scene in the chapter (In a near panic, truthfully). When I wrote that scene over the last hour or so, I took a path I had not consciously considered.

I want to get better at being conscious of what way I want to go, but at the moment, a lot of decisions get made without careful input. This happens to me a fair amount. Option A, B, C… I choose Option 2! Yes, that’s not on the list. That’s the point.

Well, it seems to be working. I have some nice reviews on my novel Hunter and Seed up over at Amazon as of the weekend. They are making me quite happy.

A little bit of positivity goes a long way.

I hope you all have a good day.

Thanks for reading!

Tenlyres Chapter 3

Previous Chapter

The strider sprang over a stand of two-meter-tall tower grass. Ilsa sat high in the saddle. After a four-days-ride across the plateau’s steppe, Ilsa and Blue had left the driest part of the western plateau behind. Forty meters away, a set of cold geysers issued misty spray into the chill air of late winter, evidence of a Lotok pile formation beneath the soil.

Though Ilsa had ridden on the steppe near Dal as a girl, and later as a neophyte in Hathani’s clergy, she had never before traveled this far into the center of the plateau, this close to Tenlyres. Over two hundred kilometers from the city limits of Dal, small wisps of smoke drifted over the Filami village of Korlom, clearly visible above the waves of wind-blown tower grass that concealed all but the very tops of the cluster of tiny houses.

Blue whistled as she and her strider caught up with Ilsa. She glanced at Ilsa. “Looks like the place is still standing.”

Ilsa nodded. “For now.”

Once war struck, the Filami could well vanish. They had not faired well in the last struggle between Chogrum and Dal. Though neither side considered the native settlements as targets they also did not offer them shelter or give them distance. Unlike the Oshomi and Vogmem nomads of the plateau, the Filami villagers were tied to their homes and the plant piles that sustained them. Already few in number, the Filami had barely survived the crossfire between city-states.

Ilsa sighed. Far too many people would be dragged into the war if Dal and Chogrum clashed again. The conflict seemed inevitable, but for the Unification’s sake, Ilsa hoped she and Blue would not be too late in reaching the Oshomi, the most powerful of the nomad peoples around Tenlyres. She shifted her heels to spur her strider. They rode into the village.

Blue looked around and sniffed the air. The village consisted of some twenty-five small houses, all of simple design but with small charms of carved animal bone hanging on strands of plains-grass around their doors. A young boy, probably not more than ten, looked up at Ilsa and Blue’s striders, the beasts themselves taller than any house in the village. He gasped, his stare moving between Ilsa and Blue. An old man limped to the boy’s side from one of the nearby houses. He stood protectively in front of the child.

“Who are you?” he asked in the odd dialect of Yrian the Filami used which mingled the old and modern languages.

Ilsa turned and gestured to the red staff strapped sideways across the back of her saddle. “I am a priestess of the Unification. This is my partner.” She motioned to Blue.

The old man shifted his head. The motion rustled his mane of gray hair. His eyes were bright. “You work for the Unification? Can you help us with a dispute?”

Blue glanced at Ilsa.

Ilsa kept her eyes on the man and the boy. “What kind of dispute?”

“You’re not the only travelers Korlom’s has seen lately.”

Blue closed her eyes and sniffed the air, a sure sign to Ilsa she was trying to reach out with her mind. The man and the boy didn’t seem to notice Blue’s change in demeanor. They both kept their eyes on Ilsa. Good, it might make them less suspicious if they missed Blue using her powers.

“Can you tell me about the others?”

The boy’s eyes roved over the striders. The old man nodded to Ilsa. “First one rode into town yesterday. He rode a white strider and didn’t say anything to anyone. My grandson got a good look at him, but I didn’t.”

Ilsa turned shifted her gaze to the boy. His face flushed. “Miss Priestess, I saw him. He had dark hair, and wore armor, with a lot of saddle bags.”

“Thanks.” Ilsa smiled at the boy, who reddened further. “You said there were others?”

“Two more.” The old man nodded. “After the white strider, there was a man and a woman, both pale with black hair traveling together last night. Sounded Chogrumian when they asked for directions. Said they were brother and sister, out to study the Lyre near here.” The old man snorted and shook his head. “They headed a kilometer north-east to the Lyre. The brother had one arm shorter than the other.”

Blue glanced at Ilsa. “Lemuel?”

“Sounds like it. He was at the stables for a reason, and we circled around once we left the city to avoid being spotted on the direct route.” Ilsa folded her arms. She turned to the old man. “You said there was some kind of dispute?”

“For some reason, the brother and sister don’t like the man who rode through first. We heard shots this morning. One of our patrols saw them in some kind of standoff by the old burial mounds near the Lyre around noon.”

Blue frowned.

Ilsa nodded. “Thanks for the help, friend. We’re heading that way, so we’ll see what we can do.”

“Thank you much.” The old man bowed. “I fear there is worse to come.”

“If we can help it, we’ll see to that too,” said Ilsa. She glanced at Blue. “Come on.”

They spurred their steeds to the northeastern edge of Korlom. The westernmost Lyre came into view, a curved arch of dark stone that loomed over even the clumps of pale gray tower grass that dotted the plains here and there. They rode onward.

 

Ilsa heard a gunshot as they approached the Lyre over the low grasses. With her steed close to Ilsa’s, Blue turned to her. “You’ve got to be kidding me. A gunfight between strangers?”

“Don’t be so sure they’re strangers to each other.” Ilsa frowned ahead at the Lyre. Nobody was in view, but as they had drawn closer to the towering twenty-meter-high arch of the Lyre, the burial mounds had begun to present ample places to hide, in addition to the stands of tower grass in the surrounding area.

Ilsa smelled the remains of a ballistic propellant on a cool breeze from the north. A metallic tinge permeated the odor. Her nose gave her far more information than her eyes. She always recognized that metallic smell in propellant. Whatever caliber or make the firearm might be, it had been loaded with western-style auto-launch bullets, the kind made in Ayoch and, even years ago, all too common in Dal.

“Let’s hope there are still two sides to talk down,” Ilsa added. She tugged the reins and turned her steed toward the smell. “This way.”

“Aren’t we gonna talk about this?” asked Blue.

Ilsa hesitated, spurs poised to drive her strider to a gallop. “If we can’t keep three people from killing each other, we can’t unify the plateau.”

“You could say the same thing if we get killed.”

“Since when are you afraid of a few bullets? You’ve got your armor.”

Blue grimaced. “We’re on a mission to find the Oshomi Protector. That’s more important than some random folk in the middle of nowhere.”

Ilsa shook her head. “Fine, stay here. I’ll go ahead and see what the problem is.”

Blue urged her steed ahead with a motion of her heels. “No way, Ilsa. I’m watching your back.”

“Thanks. We’ll discuss our priorities again once we’re on our way.”

“Ilsa, that’s actually kind of reasonable. What brought that on?”

“Hey, I can be very reasonable. Let’s go.” Ilsa spurred her steed and the beast ran forward between two burial mounds that towered even over the head of the massive strider. Blue was close behind.

She rode the strider on a curving path that led her toward the north, sniffing the air for any more traces of propellant. She caught the tinny smell of shot again just twenty meters from the looming Lyre. She was close enough she could see the metallic strings of the infamous landmark. She wondered when last the huge instrument had been played, but knew from her studies in the Unification that it had to have been a century at least.

The smell of auto-launch propellant grew thick in the air at a place between four mounds. Ilsa reined in her strider. The creature’s long mane blustered in the breeze. Strands threatened to obscure Ilsa’s vision, so she leaned to one side. The smell of the strider and the propellant did not make a good mix. However, the propellant here was older, its odor mingled with grass and dirt. She looked down and searched the short-grass for glints of metal. A few spent shell cases lay scattered at the base of the mound nearest the Lyre, evidence of the earlier shots.

Blue caught up with Ilsa. “Anything?”

“Someone shot from the side of that mound, but hours ago from the look of things.” Ilsa looked up at the Lyre. A slim shadow flitted across the raised stone base of the archway, only visible for a moment, but long enough for the shape of a rifle to be clear. “Up there, under the arch. I think that must be the shooter.”

“I believe it, but who was she shooting at?”

“First things first,” said Ilsa. “Stop the shooting.”

“Good goal.” Blue’s eyes flicked toward the Lyre. “Should we try to flank her?”

Ilsa nodded. “Good plan.” I’ll take the direct approach. Can you try to get closer?”

“Sure. I can’t stop what I can’t sense.”

“That goes for everyone.” Except father, I guess. Ilsa nodded to Blue. “Head north. I’ll go east. Stay low.”

Blue closed her eyes and then twitched her reins. The strider squatted to lower its profile, then waddled between the northward burial mounds, moving awkwardly despite the additional joint in its legs that provided it additional flexibility while running. Ilsa turned her strider and rode east into the wind.

She hunched forward, close to the strider’s neck. She flexed her free left hand and produced the pistol from the bond there. The brand burned for a moment, but then the pain faded.

At times like these, she wished father had insisted she bond with a rifle instead of one of her other weapons. Maybe someday she would have the courage to endure another brand so she would never be without a long-range option. She ought to do that, but she hated the idea of being burned again. The memories were too vivid, even nearly two decades later.

She kept her head down and loaded the pistol with the same magazine she had used back in Dal. She would be short the bullet she had ejected back then, which left nine shots. She doubted she would need more, but did not dare hope she would be able to avoid firing this time. She had pulled the trigger too many times to think she could avoid killing completely.

Her strider carried her up a black-stone ramp, pristine of the plains-grass except where a few plants crept onto the edges, that led up to the Lyre. The stones that made up the Tenlyres were nearly unbreakable, and also completely unknown elsewhere on the plateau. Granite cracked and developed fissures in time. Plants broke granite. Nothing grew on whatever stone the Lyres were made from.

Ilsa dismounted her strider using the climbing line on the saddle. She landed, cat-like, and sank into a silent crouch on the eastern side of the Lyre’s thicker side. Her eyes moved toward the open archway where the strings stood, looking as thin as any smaller instrument’s, and somehow stretched eternally taut.

Her gaze drifted to the northerly burial mounds visible between the strings in the archway. She saw no sign of Blue or her strider, but a dark cloaked figure stood between two sets of strings, shoulder-length black hair moving in the wind so it slapped a high collar. Lemuel held a long scroll in his deformed right hand and wrote on it with the pencil gripped in his left. The sound of the pencil scratching was audible despite the breeze.

She crept forward, listening for any other sounds. Her soft-soled boots made no sound on the stone. Her heartbeat might have been louder, but if Lemuel had not noticed her strider’s breathing her heart would not give her away. She kept her gun’s barrel pointed downward and made her way to the edge of the wall by the archway. There, she stopped and looked back at the plains. Behind her, loud thumps of strider feet clapped the soil.

A white shape bounded around the side of the arch just five meters from the base of the ramp. Saddlebags hung on the creature’s saddle, along with a shovel and pickax lashed to the side closer to Ilsa. The strider carried a man with dark hair and tawny skin, wearing a suit of armor similar to what Blue wore, but much less well-maintained to Ilsa’s eyes. Armor like that could stop blades and bullets equally.

He turned his head and saw Ilsa, but didn’t look worried, or even surprised. He raised one open palm from the reins. He carried no visible weapons, and short of the pickax on his saddle he appeared completely defenseless. Ilsa knew looks could be deceiving. Still, why had that woman with the rifle shot at him?

Footsteps under the arch made Ilsa turn. The woman with the rifle, a youthful face, and hair the same color as Lemuel’s stepped between two strings. She was slender, or she might not have fit. She looked down the sight of her rifle at the man on the white strider. Ilsa raised her pistol and stood up. “Don’t pull that trigger.”

The girl with the rifle whirled and aimed it at Ilsa. “Who are you? Talk fast.” Her voice bore the same unmistakable Chogrumian accent as Lemuel’s.

“I’m a priestess of the Unification. I met your brother back in Dal.” She slowly lowered the barrel of her pistol.

“You met him?” The girl lowered the barrel of the rifle. “Then you know he’s totally harmless, not like that man.” She jerked her head toward the man on the white strider, who had turned his mount and begun to ride toward them cautiously. The girl pointed the rifle in his direction. “Don’t make another move, Thoss.”

The man raised both hands leaving the reins completely unattended. He said something soft that Ilsa could not hear. His strider stopped in its step, planting both of its thick, multi-jointed legs on the grass at the edge of the ramp. He nodded to the girl. “You’ve got me, girl.” His voice carried a Chogrumian accent heavier than that of either the girl, Lemuel, or Blue. “I surrender.”

The girl lowered the barrel of the rifle barely a centimeter. She furrowed her brow. “I don’t believe you.”

“Of course, you don’t.” The man bowed his head “But it’s true.”

“Get down from that strider,” said the girl. “Go on.”

Ilsa decided it would be for the best to have everyone on the same level. She glanced at the girl and then at the man. “The villager said they heard gunshots. What’s the problem here?”

The girl grimaced. “This man is Ferdinand Thoss. He’s a grave robber.”

“N-Now, d-don’t be rude,” said Thoss with a small but noticeable stutter. He grimaced. “I am a professional adventurer.”

Ilsa frowned. Footsteps approached through the archway. Lemuel stepped out beside the girl with the rifle. Side-by-side their familial relationship was, even more, obvious, pale skin and thick black hair. He rolled up the scroll he carried and glared at Thoss. “If you’re not here to rob these burial mounds, what are you doing here?”

The girl shook her head. “Why bother asking? He’s a liar.”

Ilsa glanced at Ferdinand. He gave her a small smile. “I think the priestess would like to hear what I have to say.”

She nodded. “That’s true.”

Lemuel turned toward Ilsa. “What are you doing here? Did you follow us from Dal?”

“I didn’t follow anyone,” said Ilsa. “My partner and I are on a mission to the central Lyre. We heard about a dispute from the villagers and came to see if we could help.”

“It’s too bad. What my sister said is absolutely true. Ferdinand Thoss is a grave robber, petty thief, and most of all a liar.”

“P-Petty th-thief?” Ferdinand glowered at Lemuel. “C-Come d-down here and say that to me, cripple.”

Lemuel grunted and stepped past his sister. Her hand fell onto his shrunken right forearm. “Don’t bother. I can kill him from here once the priestess is satisfied.”

A chill ran through Ilsa’s chest to hear such a young woman speak so callously about murder. “I won’t be satisfied if we can’t all leave this place alive.”

Lemuel raised an eyebrow. “Priestess, please.”

“My name is Ilsa.” She met his eyes. “And I won’t let you kill someone over treasure kept by the dead.”

Ferdinand smirked. “It seems she agrees with me, Lemuel.” His voice had steadied completely. He met the sister’s eye and winked.

She raised her hunting rifle in a fluid motion and aimed at Ferdinand’s face. Ilsa’s pistol flew back to aim at the girl. “Don’t shoot him.”

“Or what? You wanted to avoid violence. Well, once he’s dead he won’t cause any more trouble.”

“And what about you? You think killing him won’t hurt you?”

Lemuel leaned toward his sister. He whispered in a voice barely audible to Ilsa, “She may be right.”

“What would either of you know? Brother, you’ve never even held a weapon.” The girl’s finger began to squeeze the trigger.

Ferdinand tensed, then sprang to one side. One arm extended. Whatever he was doing he would be too late.

Ilsa shoved her pistol into her coat pocket, safety still locked. At the same time, she leaped toward Lemuel’s sister, also too late.

The girl’s aim shifted. A heavy crack rang in Ilsa’s ears. She rammed into the girl and knocked the rifle out of her hands. The weapon skidded down the ramp. A spent shell case rolled ahead of it. Ilsa grabbed the girl by the collar of her coat and shoved her down. Surprised or simply overpowered, Lemuel’s sister fell into a sitting position despite Ilsa’s hurried lack of proper technique.

Ferdinand Thoss leaped forward, unhurt. Ilsa glimpsed a single flattened pancake of a bullet fall from his breastplate. A lance of gleaming black steel stretched from the end of his left arm. It’s basket-guard completely concealed his hand, including the brand Ilsa realized must be there. He was bonded to his lance like she was to her guns.

He raised the lance to thrust past Ilsa at the fallen girl. Ilsa pulled the pistol from her pocket and removed the safety in the same motion. Lemuel shouted a warning. Lightning fast, she aimed and fired at the lance’s conical steel blade. The bullet dented the weapon’s metal shell, crumpled, then deflected to the side.

Ferdinand stepped sideways, obviously fearing Ilsa’s shot but too late to have dodged the first bullet if she had wanted to kill him. Lemuel’s sister threw herself out of reach of the blade. She landed with a grunt on her seat with her back to a set of unbreakable Lyre strings clustered together.

Ferdinand’s lance sank away into his hand, reabsorbed by his weapon bond. He clawed at his temples with both hands and a grimace on his face. A soundless scream formed on his face.

Blue stepped out from the archway. “You heard the priestess. Nobody dies today.”

Lemuel dropped into a crouch beside his sister. “Tirica, are you alright?”

Tirica glared at Ilsa. “I’m fine, brother. But it looks like we’re outgunned.”

Ilsa returned to her full height and removed the magazine from her pistol. She kept the bullet in the chamber, just in case. Her heartbeat seemed louder than before. “Is everyone alright?”

A dull moan issued from Ferdinand. He sank to his knees. Blue walked over to Ilsa. “He’ll be fine. Nothing worse than one’s own memories, though.”

Ilsa nodded to Blue and then turned to Lemuel and Tirica. “So, you two are here to study the Lyre?”

“I am,” Lemuel said. “My sister is here to protect me from people like Thoss.”

Ilsa frowned. She turned to Ferdinand. “And I suppose you really are a grave robber.”

On his knees, Ferdinand nodded. “Th-The d-dead d-don’t need treasure.”

“And you don’t need to kill each other. Get back on that strider and go treasure hunting somewhere else.”

Ferdinand looked up at her from between strands of dark hair. “Alright.” His expression turned hard. “I don’t blame you, priestess. But tell your mind-eater never to get into my head again.”

Ilsa shrugged. “She’s my friend, not my servant. I don’t control her.”

Ferdinand Thoss pushed himself up from his knees. He turned his back on Ilsa. “If you don’t control a mind-eater then you can’t stop them from controlling you.” He walked over to his strider and then climbed the rope unsteadily back to the saddle. “Until next time, Lemuel Chollush.” He turned his steed and rode northward.

Lemuel shook his head. “Let’s hope this is the last time.”

“I wouldn’t be optimistic about that.” Tirica turned toward Ilsa. “Thanks for saving me.” She glanced at Blue. “You too.”

Blue shrugged. “Stay out of trouble, if you can.” She turned to Ilsa. “We should go back to the village. I bet they’ll show their gratitude with a hot meal.”

Ilsa smiled at Blue. After four days of nothing but dried food and rationed water, she hoped her friend was right.

 

The dinner ovens in the grandfather’s house had been cold for an hour by the time Ilsa and Blue left to go to the lean-to on the edge of the town where their striders were tethered. Blue burped gratefully as they walked. The lean-to was dark, but despite the winter chill, Ilsa was grateful for its presence.

Having to roll out her dry-mat and sleeping bag under a tiny tarp with her strider close by for added warmth had gotten old over the last few nights. No doubt she would sleep under the stars in the frigid air many more times in the coming weeks, but for now, she and Blue had a roof, if not a door. She took off her heavy outer coat, leaving her light shirt and tough riding pants.

She sat down cross-legged on her dry-mat between a large saddle-bag and her pack. Blue unrolled her sleeping bag and then set to removing the composite plates of her armor. One of the striders outside grunted softly. The modified steeds slept heavily most nights and had been developed not to vocalize unless ordered. That grunt was a warning, like a dog’s bark. Ilsa unfolded her legs and stood up.

She walked to the entrance of the lean-to and looked out into the gathering twilight. The soft tread of large paws on the grass along the village path warned her of a different kind of steed approaching the lean-to. She stepped out of the lean-to and looked into the shadows, squinting in the fading light of the sunken sun.

Not one, but five riders made their way along the path down the center of the village. They rode, not striders, but smaller, four-legged hybrid creatures, called runners. Runners had cat-like faces, complete with fanged jaws, but they also had dog-like loyalty and animal cunning easily equal to striders. Built smaller and lower than striders, they could run faster over short distances, but tired more quickly. On the steppe, they did not make sense as one’s only steed, yet here were five of them.

Ilsa stepped into the path. She tried not to look nervous as she faced the man who rode on the central runner’s saddle. He was huge, easily over two-meters tall, and wore a dark set of riding gear and winter coat. On one side of his creature’s saddle, stood a pole bearing a flag with a white diamond on a deep blue field, the standard of Ayoch. On the other side, another pole flew a black flag with a red-flame emblem on its field. Ilsa recognized that flag was well, a symbol of the Red Lector, one of Ayoch’s five highest priests.

She bowed her head to the group as they stopped before her. At the same time, she prepared herself in case she needed to draw a weapon. Then she realized she had left her ammunition in her pack in the lean-to. Stupid, careless. She had let herself relax too much. She raised her head. “Hello.”

“Who are you?” asked the huge rider who sat between the two flags. His accent was similar to a Dalite, but Ilsa caught the tell-tale tonal hints of an Ayochian native-speaker. As if she needed further confirmation of his origins. Those flags announced his allegiance more clearly than any words or accents.

“My name is Ilsa Barrett. I am a priestess of Hathani, from Dal.”

The man nodded. His severe features melted into a handsome smile. “My name is Kaij Haram. My brother, Yunn…” He motioned to the rider on his left, another tall man, but far thinner than Kaij. “…And I are the leaders of the Red Lector’s scouts.”

“The Red Lector? He’s here?”

“Not in Korlom, yet.” Kaij’s runner prowled forward a few more meters, leaving the rest of the riders behind in their line. “He will be here by sunrise, along with the rest of our forces.”

“Why has Ayoch sent troops so far across the plateau?”

Kaij smirked. “Have you been traveling this wild place, long?”

Ilsa shook her head. “No, I only left Dal last week.”

“I’m surprised you do not know, then. Chogrum has sent a force from the eastern side of the plateau. The council of Dal requested assistance from Ayoch, and here we are.”

“War.” Ilsa breathed in.

“Perhaps.” Kaij’s smile slipped slightly. “But don’t worry, priestess. The Red Lector will drive them back. For the good of both Dal and Ayoch, we march on the central Lyre.”

“The central Lyre.” The Oshomi Protector’s people dwelt too close to there for comfort. Could this be a coincidence? Regardless, a battle in that place would be a disaster for diplomacy and the Unification. She nodded to Kaij. “Thank you, Mister Haram,” she said. “My companion and I will keep clear of there.”

“That’s a bit of wisdom. Hathanians like proverbs, right? Perhaps there is one to be found there.”

“Perhaps. Good luck, soldiers of Ayoch.”

“Thank you, priestess.” Kaij turned to his scouts. “Secure the village’s perimeter. Meet up with the others on patrol and form pairs. We can’t have spies about when my father arrives.”

The other scouts guided their steeds away from the path, intent on their new orders. Kaij and his quiet brother, Yunn, each gave another nod to Ilsa, then rode back toward the center of the village. Ilsa returned to the lean-to and found Blue sitting with her back to the wall by the entrance, eyes wide.

“War,” she whispered.

Ilsa nodded. “We’ll have to hurry to beat them to the central Lyre.”

“Yeah.” Blue folded her hands. “We have to.”

 

*

Fiction Press!

The first two chapters of my serial, Tenlyres, are now up on fictionpress.com and the next chapter will release on Friday, at about the same time as it appears on this blog. That chapter is gonna be a doozy ‘cause it ended up being a long one.

My username over there is TimNiederriter.

Not much else to say today. I’ve got writing to do on the sequel to Hunter and Seed. The opening is already in motion, and I can’t wait to be able to share all the new stuff with you folks.

I know this is a very short post, but hey, blogging 2 days in a row just isn’t that good of an idea. I may have to revise my approach and space those days out through the week. If you have an opinion on this, let me know.

Thanks for reading.