Stolen Parts Episode 2

This week the Stolen Parts serial continues with part two.

Odette and Jeremy have a lot of unresolved business between each other.

But missing pieces take priority.

Read on for part two.

 

 

Jeremy parked the car midway along a block adjacent to the morgue where Sam managed the night shift. It’s a bad part of town, but Jeremy and I were all too familiar with it. The sky turned purple in the west. Autumn air breezed around him, playing with his short curls in a way I never did. I tended to be more focused on his skin.

He took the big automatic pistol from the trunk of the car and slung the holster around his shoulder.

“Isn’t that a bit conspicuous?”

“Sam probably knows I’m on my way already.” Jeremy closed the trunk and followed the sidewalk to the corner. There was no one around to pay any attention to the gun he wore openly. His jacket swished around his shoulders with every step. I remembered right then how I fell for him at first. Sexy walk? Check. Mysterious? Check. Confident? Well he puts on a good show. 

“Are you trying to distract me?” he said under his breath.

He crossed the street and turned to the morgue’s side entrance, the one we necromancers go through. That used to let Sam know we were there to buy. Jeremy marched up to the door, looked both ways to check for goons, and then stopped stock still. So far, so good, I thought. A shuffle of feet sounded deafening even with a car horn going off on the highway a few blocks beyond the morgue.

Jeremy reached for the pistol slung over his shoulder. He’s never been what I’d call a ‘good shot’, but the big guns keep living people from causing him any trouble. Both hands on the gun, he whirled and pressed his back to the wall beside the door to the morgue. A big zombie dragged one leg on the sidewalk as he approached Jeremy. The zombie wore a white tee and jeans, and his eyes glowed with green haze. This one belonged to Sam for sure, poison powered by pain; green was the color of his magic. Necromancers can have all sorts of different talents and Sam got charged up by pain he felt. Yet, somehow I used to think he was a sensitive guy. The big Z shuffled closer.

“Ready for the show to start?” I asked Jeremy.

“You know what…” Jeremy’s heart thumped in his chest. “Not yet.”

One hand flew to the door handle. He pulled the door open and darted around it. Sam’s zombie was just a few yards away, but Jeremy kept cool. He ducked into the morgue and looked both ways.

There was one silhouette moving against flicker of a fading light from a window at the end of the hallway. I couldn’t tell by the slow shift of its movements if it was a living assistant, a zombie, or something worse. Jeremy backed away from it one step and pressed his shoulder against the door. The big Z hit the other side, but the door held. The Z rebounded.

“Nows our chance!” I said. “Get going.”

Jeremy broke into a run. Feet pounded on tiled floor. He raced toward the shape at the end of the hall. The shape turned toward him, slow, dead, a zombie woman wearing a dirty nurse’s smock. He stumbled to a stop a few feet from the undead and leveled the pistol at her. He pulled the trigger before she could take a single step.

He isn’t much of a shooter, but at less than five feet and with both hands bracing the gun, he couldn’t have a better shot on a Z. Jeremy’s gun roared. The head burst and the zombie fell to the floor. The sound of the gunshot echoed, probably through the whole morgue.

“We gotta get to the freezers,” Jeremy said. His ears rang and I barely made out his words.

Can you still hear?

Not very well, he thought in my direction as he turned to the door.

He looked up from the remains of the zombie he’d just shot, then kept going down the hallway. Behind us, the door burst open from the big zombie’s hammering blows. Jeremy didn’t look back, so I didn’t see if the big Z was following us. Sharing Jeremy’s head gave me crazy nerves. I had no idea how anxious he could get.

Jeremy moved down a side corridor. This one led toward the freezer rooms at the center of the building where they kept cadavers on ice. He lowered the pistol and drew the witch dagger out of his belt loop. Witch daggers are the inverse end of blessed instruments or other magical tools. One cut will cancel all the spells on a person or object.

“You ought to be careful with that.” If it nicked his collar I’d have my one way ticket to the next world punched.

“I know what I’m doing.” He kept his voice low as he approached the doors of the freezer room. “Where are all the Zs?”

“Out walking,” said a calm voice from behind. Sam.

Jeremy whirled. The blade of his dagger rose to point between the eyes of a pale-faced man in a black coat too long for this weather. Sam didn’t have a collar around his neck and he didn’t need it to control his Zs like the rest of us did. Shadows crept all around him despite the bright electric lights overhead, moving like slender limbs. I still haven’t met another necromancer as powerful as Sam.

But even then, I knew a couple who are more canny. Me, and Jeremy.

“Honey, if you shoot him now we may have a chance,” I said.

This has got to be a trick, Jeremy answered silently. His ears still rang with the gunshot from earlier. Damn things are so inelegant.

Jeremy backed away from Sam, and toward the freezer room doors. Sam stood with his arms folded, solemn smile on his face. “I’m sorry I got Odette’s first,” he said. “I know you two had a relationship of sorts. But she was mine first and just couldn’t resist. She practically asked me to tear it out of her.  But you know that. You were there.”

I did no such thing. Didn’t have time to say much before, and its hard to speak with ice cold finger literally wrapped around your heart. Sam got under my skin, but all I could do was watch. In the silence following his words watched Sam’s face, pale and devilishly handsome and wreathed in shadow. One corner of his lip curled.

The gun in Jeremy’s hand spoke, but he should have known better than to shoot it one-handed. The recoil slammed his shoulder back and the bullet went wide then punched a hole in the wall The gun made its explosive sound. Jeremy’s arm flared with pain from wrist to shoulder.

Sam’s smile vanished, replaced by a vicious grin. In a burst of shadows that flowed from him in all directions, he rushed forward and slammed into Jeremy, bowling him off his feet. Jeremy’s a strong guy. Sam’s got inches on him, but more importantly, Sam must have been invoking some sort of greater power. Jeremy sailed through the double doors to the freezer room, flinging them open in the process.

He hit the first empty gurney in the room and knocked it over. Jeremy’s back and shoulders screamed. His gun skidded away across the floor to one side of the room and came to rest by a black boot. He kept his grip on the witch dagger, and the scroll case pressed into his side. He lurched forward as he sat up. Zombies lined the walls. The scroll could be good here. It could take out all these Zs in a second.

Sam started to advance on him as the doors swung shut. He moved like a big cat, lethal and beautiful.

“Odette, he wants my heart too.” Jeremy grunted with pain and climbed to his feet. His head spun from the sudden elevation.

He could barely stand. I’m no ace at astral projection, and I’m a beginner at possession, but I know the basics.

“Hon, I’m taking over.”

I didn’t wait for permission. Jeremy’s eyes glowed my color, red, under my influence. Already being in his head, I tweaked his flares of pain with a gentle touch as they hit me. I felt them. I took them for myself. Could have screamed, but no voice at the moment. It wasn’t full on possession, but it would do for the moment to freshen him up. Zombies closed in around Jeremy. With a couple of quick thrusts of the witch dagger he disenchanted all of them.

Undead turned to regular dead. They fell.

He stood, looking around, confused by the sudden clarity. “Thanks.”

“Not done yet.” I nudged on his motor cortex. His legs carried him around the gurneys that formed a circle in the center of the room. Something dug at the back of my mind just as the cold started to make Jeremy’s skin turn to goosebumps. We’re close.

My heart was in the room. A girl can always tell.

Sam threw the doors open. He had sure taken his sweet time getting to the room. Now that he was inside, things could get a lot tougher. Jeremy turned to face Sam. The poison master towered over him.

“I think my hearts behind us,” I said.

Good to know, he replied without a sound. His breath misted before him. “Sam, I don’t know what you’re doing. But I don’t care.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” Sam stopped beside the gurney Jeremy had knocked over when Sam hit him. “I’m cleaning up the neighborhood.”

“You’re breaking the law. Killing other necromancers. Keeping hearts on ice.”

That’s my Jeremy, always got justice on his mind. “Hon, buying time won’t work without a plan.”

Think one up, then! He sure got demanding all of a sudden.

I stared through Jeremy’s eye at Sam as Jeremy back into the center of the circle of gurneys. The four remaining Zombies couldn’t easily get him in there because of the obstacle posed by the carts. Too dumb to push them out of the way, what with the wheels and all. They simply waited, eyes glowing green with Sam’s command.

A little orange sports cooler sat in the center of the circle. I could practically feel my heart in side, even with it frozen in ice.

“That’s it,” I said. “Jeremy, my heart is in that cooler.”

“You sure?” he muttered.

“Baby, it’s my own heart.

Sam’s lip curled. Jeremy knelt, and picked up the cooler. It was light on his muscles. Good because his shooting arm still throbbed with pain.

“Talking to someone?” Sam asked. “Funny. I don’t hear any voices on the wind. But judging by your eyes earlier you have a passenger.”

“Funny,” Jeremy smirked. “But I’m just a mess in your neighborhood. So I don’t think I’ll share.”

“So. Odette isn’t gone yet.” Sam’s face darkened. “I hoped her death would be quick.”

Jeremy glared at Sam, heart hammering, pulse pounding. “You bastard. What’s your game?”

“I thought you didn’t care?” Sam motioned with one hand. His zombies closed in on either side of Jeremy and started pulling at the gurneys, trying to knock them over.

Jeremy don’t let him get to you.”

He scowled. Intense dark eyes fixed on Sam’s green ones. “Try me.”

“Cleaning up the town is just bonus.” Sam’s eyes glimmered as they locked with Jeremy’s. “The hearts of mages are where our power comes from. They can be used to gain access to realms beyond this one.”

And here I thought I was a girl caught in the middle of two guys. I’m actually kinda disappointed.

“That’s all?” Jeremy brandished the witch dagger. “You plan to buy a condo in some other reality?”

“You lack vision, boy.”

Jeremy smirked. “I just thought the same thing.”

“Enough!” Sam snarled and leapt over the gurney circle with a furious burst of shadow power. He flew down toward Jeremy. Sam’s boot connect with Jeremy’s wrist, keeping Jeremy from stabbing with the witch dagger. Jeremy kept his grip on the weapon. I always thought Jeremy had nice hands.

Jeremy staggered and swung the plastic bulk of the cooler high. I mentally flinched as the rounded corner connected with Sam’s head and knocked him back a few paces. A trickle of blood flowed from Sam’s temple. He sank to his knees. That only lasted for a second before he surged to his feet, the blood on the side of his head sizzling on his skin. Apparently he’s not as coldblooded as I thought.

“There’s no time,” Jeremy said.

He pushed through the gurneys, passed the Zs, and carried my heart down the hall as fast as his legs could carry him. Sam followed, gliding on shadowy wisps of wings.

His roar of fury echoed down the hall. That hit to the head must have pissed him off, pain magic or not. Jeremy flew past the body of the zombie he shot on the way in. He cornered into the hallway beyond. The door stood open up ahead. Jeremy bolted toward it. Sam sailed into his path, fast as a snake. Jeremy slashed out sideways with the witch dagger. Sam caught his wrist with both hands.

“Tut tut, improper form.” Sam drove a boot into Jeremy’s stomach.

The kick knocked Jeremy to the floor.

I took Jeremy’s pain again. The shock disoriented me, but even if it hadn’t I couldn’t return the breath Jeremy had just lost. He looked up at Sam, who stood over him. Orange streetlights glowed on the windows from outside. The cooler with my heart lay at Jeremy’s side.

You’ve got to get up. Sam knelt down before Jeremy. His hand drew back, mirroring the strike that had torn out my heart hours ago. Sam wore a cold smile. His hand stabbed toward Jeremy’s chest.

I focused on Jeremy’s hand that held the witch dagger. I pinched a tendon that moved his forearm. In that instant, I think I graduated to full possession.

Jeremy’s dagger flew into position. The blade sliced a tiny gash along the edge of Sam’s hand. Sam’s shadows evaporated from that arm and his palm slapped off Jeremy’s shirt, strength gone.

Sam leapt backward, still surrounded by shadow. He looked down at his hand, frustration rather than disbelief showed on his face. Jeremy stood unsteadily, cooler in one hand, dagger in the other. He raised the blade. “I don’t care which dimension you go to, but you can’t stay here.” He rushed toward Sam, ready to strike again.

Green eyes flashed within darkness. Sam vanished into shadow. Jeremy reacted fast. He lowered his shoulder and hit the door.

“Change of plans, Odette,” he said mentally.

Jeremy burst through the morgue door and out into the night.

#

If you enjoyed this part of the story check out the mailing list for more free fiction.

You can get Tim’s full novels and other fiction on Amazon.com, right HERE.

Thanks for reading!

Stolen Parts Episode 1

This week we begin a three-part serial of my short story, Stolen Parts!

This takes place in an urban fantasy setting where a couple of down on their luck necromancers are having a rough day already.

And someone’s heart has been stolen.

Here is part one.

 

 

Life can be complicated for a necromancer.

My usual work days amounted to talking to ghosts or working in morgues for a bit of money. Sometimes I did scarier things for worse people to get the money that kept me in a nice apartment in my little town. That Friday I had just gotten home after a rough day, that started with a fight with Jeremy, my boyfriend, to find a master necromancer waiting in my kitchen. Things blurred in my memory between that moment and the next.

A little droplet of sunlight fell through the part in the curtains and spilled across the floor of my living room where Jeremy paced back and forth, all six feet of him swaying like a drunk. He shook his head and rattled the locked iron collar around his neck that kept my soul bound to his mind. My body lay in the bedroom, an identical collar around my throat, and a large hole in the chest where my heart used to be.

“I’m sorry,” Jeremy murmured, forgetting that the bond he had made with me through the collars after he had burst in let me hear his thoughts as well as share his senses.

I spoke into his mind, “I know.” Never mind that you talked about breaking up with me this morning. Never mind that’s what you came here to do, and I still don’t understand why.

He heard that thought and tensed. “Odette,” he said. “I never wanted this to happen.” He hesitated, but his thought continued. He wondered if it was really Sam, though he had seen him standing with his hand in my chest. How dense can a guy get?

“It was him. Who else could have done this? Not exactly normal necromancer activity, tearing hearts out.” I hoped my tone went across. I was going for something wry, that sort of downplayed the gaping hole and my missing heart. Stolen heart. Sam wants to use it for something. Sam never cared that much about my heart when we were together.

Jeremy hunched in a red armchair and put his head in his hands and tried to ignore my wandering thoughts so close to his own. He hadn’t cried yet. He acted so tough for a guy about to turn twenty six. Of course, I was only a year older than him. “What are we going to do?”

I wanted to put my flower-and-snake-tattooed arms around him, hold him close, and tell him everything would be alright. No heart means no holding. “It’s up to you,” I said. “Even if you choose to let me go, I’m glad I got to say goodbye.”

“I’m not going to let you die.”

 

“A little late for that.”

“Don’t say that. Odette, as long as your heart is alive, and your body is…” He took a deep breath as he searched for words. He ruled out ‘alive’ and ‘stable’. “…intact, I can join them back together.”

 

“In theory,” I said, “And I suppose in theory Sam would have gone back to the morgue if he wasn’t going to use it right away.”

“The morgue.” Jeremy stood up, suddenly energized. He walked from the living room to the kitchen at the center of my apartment. “Do you have any weapons here?”

 

“None that could kill a master like Sam.”

Jeremy’s mind sprinted over a list of dozens of weapons, potions, and tools useful against necromancers. Then he narrowed it down to only those that worked well against ancient masters. Three items remained, the haunted nooses, the witch daggers, and the cursed scrolls. I went over the shortlist with a bit of approval mingled with disappointment.

 

“Sam’s the only one I met who has ever even seen a noose. My dagger should be in the knife block in the kitchen, and my scroll should still be in the safe in the bedroom. Not sure if either of them still works.”

He stopped before the knife block and looked down at my bone handled witch dagger. It stood out a little among the ordinary knives. He hesitated to draw the weapon. “Odette, I have to say I’m glad I never got on your bad side.”

 

But you were about to break up with me this morning. I knew it, but didn’t want to admit it.

“You’ve seemed so distant…” Jeremy shook his head in frustration. I decided not to press the subject just then.

He took the knife and slipped it into the belt loop of his jeans. Then he turned toward the door to the bedroom. He did not want to go in there. I couldn’t tell if his reluctance was his usual awkwardness or if he just didn’t like seeing me that way.

 

“Go on,” I said. “We can’t get any closer together than we are now, and you’ll need that scroll.”

He walked to the bedroom door, took a deep breath, then pulled it open.

My body lay on the bed looking very small, arms covered in tattoos ranging from snakes to feathers folded on my stomach, bloody hole in my chest, torn clear through my shirt. Blood had sprayed up to my collarbone and now seeped onto the iron around my throat, and the opposite way down to my stomach. A few flecks even found their way into my twist of blonde hair.

Sam’s hand had been ice cold.

I wasn’t exactly what my mother would call ‘decent’, and the bed was gonna get soaked, but that was the least of my worries. The iron collar around my neck gleamed with rays from the vanishing sun. That locked ring of metal and the one around Jeremy’s neck were the only thing keeping me from flying off into ever after. If I still had motor impulses I would have shuddered. I was lucky Jeremy had arrived at that moment, just not lucky enough for him to be five minutes earlier.

 

“The safe is under the bed.”

“Alright.” Jeremy’s voice sounded dead. He walked around the bloody queen where my mortal form lay, and to the night table on the other side.

 

“Sorry, tiger. Other side.”

“I am so, so sorry.”

 

“Just don’t look up my skirt. Dead girl’s gotta have some dignity.”

He inhaled slowly, then exhaled, before moving to the other side of the bed. He dropped down to his hands and knees and felt around past my legs for the safe. Finally his hands closed around cool metal, a cube the size of a big lunch box. That’s it, I thought.

Jeremy pulled the safe out and fiddled with the combination lock. It didn’t take him long to open it. I didn’t remember ever telling him the combination and I kept combinations like that tight to keep mind readers from just grabbing them, but I told myself I had bigger problems right now.

“I did it by ear,” he said. “Remember, I used to do some bad stuff.”

 

“You mean, other than raising the dead?”

“These days, I’d say a lot of people would agree robbing a bank is at least that bad.”

I would have giggled. But I couldn’t. Jeremy lifted the scroll case off my social security card and pile of emergency cash. He put the safe back carefully, but his arm brushed my leg. He shivered at the cold touch.

 

“How much time do we have?” I asked.

He tucked the scroll case into the pocket of his jacket. “Moon rise is in less than three hours. It’s full tonight. Sam won’t have to wait if he has a ritual he wants to perform.”

 

“That’s probably why he did this today. Any chance he’s not at the morgue?”

“I don’t know what he wants with your heart, Odette. But until we get it back, we don’t have time to find out.”  His voice turned hoarse. “Don’t worry. I’ll put things right.”

 

“If you somehow manage to kill Sam, you’ll be in worse trouble than him. Killing another necromancer in cold blood…”

“My blood isn’t cold.”

 

“Not like mine.” What can I say? Death makes me punchy.

“Not like his, either.”

 

“Then you’ll break up with me?”

Jeremy’s face twisted into a grimace. “One problem at a time, Odette.”

Death can be complicated for a necromancer.

#

If you enjoyed this part of the story check out the mailing list for more free fiction.

You can get Tim’s full novels and other fiction on Amazon.com, right HERE.

Thanks for reading!

 

Null Media

I have been plagued by a peculiar fixation over the past year or so, possibly even longer than that.

I just thought of a term for it. Null Media.

What does this goofy pair of words signify to me, you ask?

They represent a category of information and entertainment, most commonly, a combination of the two, infotainment, which paralyzes artistry and destroys work ethic. I’ve found this form of media to be particularly addictive and toxic because it typically covers current events, thus presenting itself as important and interesting.

Interesting, perhaps. But important to me as a writer? Almost never.

Ever since I started watching news and current events on youtube, I found myself drawn into this goofy, wasteful format. Not to say news on TV is good. I’d argue it’s much the same. I’ve never been tempted by TV news, though.

Null media provides an insidious medium for what Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art” calls resistance, pushing back at the things I personally can achieve and making them more difficult. The term, “Null Media” may just be a fancy way for me to say “news distractions” but it’s tough not to think of these issues in the world as important.

Well, for me null media has broken one of the productivity rules I did not realize I had created for myself years ago.

That rule? For me, it applies to life, not just art.

Only work on projects that you personally can complete.

As an independent author, I’m a solo artist. I don’t call upon other people to make my stories except for some very specific elements (The ones requiring reader response during editing). I have a support network, but I don’t rely on them to do any of the work for me. I nearly loathe the idea of collaborating with another writer.

So, imagine my surprise to discover that when I listened to these activists, entertainers, and news-people on youtube, I often start feeling like my approach to life is inadequate. What do my stories do to change the terrible situation the world is in? By making my work feel unimportant, null media has contributed to my depression over the past year or more.

All media requires a contribution from its viewers, if only in time and attention.

Positive media provides a sense of satisfaction. Null media? Only void and depression.

What kind of bullshit is this? I’ve been paying attention to the worst events of the world as if they were some kind of terrifying soporific. I cannot keep lending my eyes and ears to every hopeless, emotionally ruinous programs. In the name of staying informed, my productivity has suffered. Yet, the addiction remains strong.

Well, there are only so many things I can do, only so much time each day. I can’t afford to piss away minutes or hours on the news. I never did until recently. I’m sure I’ll know enough of what’s going on without having to listen to the same verbatim spiel about Saudi Arabia from a youtube host every day, and sometimes more than once a day.

This post is here to help me take a stand. I have avoided null media for the day. Now, I really need to keep that up. I predict that every day of ignoring world events that make me feel powerless will improve my state of self-awareness and productivity.

Thanks for reading. I’ll keep you all posted on my progress.

Accountability and Editing

I have not been writing many new words over the last few weeks. The editing urge had me strong, and I am near-completion of the sequel to “Hunter and Seed,” now entitled “Soul Art”. The book should release sometime in June.

While I’m proud of “Soul Art,” and the editing process went well, I have felt pretty inadequate lately, as I’ve been failing to make writing a habit. Almost nothing new went to the page this month. I’m sorry to say it, and I will change things going forward.

How?

I want to become barbaric, wild, and relentless when it comes to writing. Write. Always. Write whatever I want in that moment.

In the past, I definitely made some headway doing this sort of thing. I have been hampered by taking writing advice too seriously. I have to see my own way as a viable path once again. Because it is.

This post is not meant to attract sympathy. I have the best job in the world. Now to get to it.

Thanks for reading.

Tenlyres – Final Chapters

Hello, everyone!

This is the final installment of Tenlyres here on the site.

It has been a long journey. Thanks to everyone who followed the story.

These last two chapters go together, so here they are on the same day, in the same post.

I couldn’t be more grateful for this experience, and though Tenlyres is over, I will continue to serialize stories here, on Fridays. This story is over. Other stories must begin. However, for the near future look at a few short tales as I work on the next long-form serial.

Thanks for reading.

Tenlyres: The Complete Serial Edition is out! For five dollars, get the complete story. Buying my ebooks is the best way to support the free content on this blog and help it continue.

At the top of the sidebar on my website there is an email list sign-up form. You can also sign up at this link. Signing up is also a great way to support the serial and show you want to keep seeing it.

Sign up for the mailing list at either location, and you will receive my new short story in the Tenlyres world, Mount Higatha, as well as a copy of Tenlyres II, for free!

 

Download Tenlyres I for free!

Buy Tenlyres: Complete and read the rest of the story right away!

Previous Chapter

 

The battle is over. The time has come to count the cost.

 

53: Voices

 

When the voice of one is silent, the knowledge of all suffers.

When one voice drowns out all others, that is even worse.

 

The last of Asurdeva’s light faded from around the base of the Flowering Lyre. Ilsa gripped Blue’s arm and muttered a prayer to Hathani as she opened her eyes.

Silence reigned over the steppe.

Uzan stood frozen. Mercenaries and Ayochian traitors looked down at the weapons they had abandoned, surrounded by Vogmem and Chogrumian troops.

The battle was over. The voices of the guns faded.

Ilsa looked at the failing body of Black Powder. His breathing came and went fast and shallow where he lay with his back to the lyre’s northern arm. His brands had gone dark, and blood dripped from his jaw line.

Siuku finished sealing Ilsa’s wounded shoulder. She reached for her forehead and closed the cuts above her brow. Ilsa bowed into the keeper’s hand. “Thank you, keeper.”

“You fought for all of us. I wish we could have helped you.”

“You did. If you had not gone after Asurdeva—Tirica—He wouldn’t have given me the chance.”

Siuku frowned at Black Powder’s fallen form. “He was exceptionally quick. And uniquely dangerous.”

“Was.” Ilsa took in the damage her bullets had done to Black Powder. Six bleeding wounds formed a spiral on his chest. He might still be alive, but not for long. He had never done anything but evil to her, but still, tears began to creep into her eyes.

Blue got to her feet beside Ilsa. She helped up Siuku, then offered Ilsa her hand.

“You’ve taken more than enough hits for me,” she said. “Let me help you.”

Ilsa clasped her friend’s hand and pulled herself up into a standing position. She looked back down at Black Powder. “I almost can’t believe it. We won.”

“Almost?” Blue’s expression cracked into a grin as she fought laughter. “I can’t believe it at all.”

“The alliance between Chogrum and the nomads was strong,” said Siuku. “But the Uzan would have beaten us without your song, Ilsa.”

“Not really mine. Credit to the ancients.” Ilsa looked down at Tirica’s unconscious form. “Is she—?”

“She is alive.” Siuku rubbed her red eyes. Were those tears there?. “I can hear her heartbeat.”

“What about Asurdeva?” asked Ilsa.

“Suppressed, but not gone.” Blue sighed. “I don’t know if what the keeper and I did will last.”

Lemuel rushed to the set of strings, then turned sideways and eased through. He crouched next to Tirica. “She’s alright.”

Ilsa sank down beside him. She put a hand on his shoulder. “Thanks to Blue and the keeper.”

Ashnia picked her way between the strings after him. “She could be. But as long as that god lives within her, she is in danger.”

Tirica’s eyelids fluttered open. She looked up at Lemuel and Ilsa. When she saw them tears began to flow. “I—I’m so sorry. Ilsa, I can’t—” She sobbed. “I can’t ask you to forgive me.”

“No need to ask,” said Ilsa.

“Black Powder?”

“He’s dying.” Ilsa reached for her eyes but decided the tears there deserved to stay. “I shot him.”

“How could you beat him? Cass didn’t stand a chance.”

Ilsa’s tears flowed. “Cass—Tirica—Is she—?”

“She’s alive. He wanted to torture her.” Tirica looked at Black Powder’s fallen form. “I guess he won’t get the chance.”

“Not now,” said Blue.

“Never again.” Ilsa looked at her father’s body as the breathing slowed, then stilled.

Tirica followed her gaze. “You beat him. How?”

“He cared too much about that monster in you.” Ilsa shook her head. “That gave me an opening.”

“Rest,” said Lemuel to Tirica. “You’re alive. You’re free. That’s enough.”

Tirica nodded to Ilsa.

She rose and took in the scene on the other side of the Lyre. The prince still lay unconscious, his severed arm stretched on bloody stone. His bodyguards hovered around him. A few of them had been wounded as well. Kaij and Yunn stood side by side, glaring at the Chogrumians nearby.

“Thanks for the help,” Ilsa said to them. “I guess we’re even after all the times you tried to kill us.”

“I’ll tell our mother you said that,” said Kaij. “After we take General Kanan’s head.”

As more allied troops arrived from the battlefield, many of them leading prisoners of war, it became obvious Boraij Kanan was not among them. Megalli’s hawk touched down on the far side of the strings from the prince. She dismounted and reported that she had seen him disappear in an explosion.

“A blast seal,” said Ilsa. “He’s still alive.”

“We’ll find him,” said Kaij. “And he will pay.” He turned to Ashnia, who now stood, pensive, beside Blue. “Are you coming with us, little sister?”

Ashnia’s gaze moved to Blue, then to Tirica. “There’s something else I need to do.”

“Something we have to do,” said Ilsa’s friend.

Ilsa looked at her, surprised. “Blue?”

Blue caught Tirica’s eye as Lemuel helped the girl to her feet. “If anyone knows a way to exorcise Asurdeva, it would be the Temple of Colors.”

Ashnia nodded.

Blue sighed and then turned to Ilsa. “We’ll need to go east of Yr to find the temple’s heart.”

Ilsa approached Blue. “I need to head back to Dal. My mother isn’t insane. She needs to be released.”

“So, I guess this is goodbye,” said Blue. “For now.”

“Take care of yourself, Blue.” She wiped the tears from her eyes. “I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this mission.”

“Neither could I.” Blue clapped a hand on Ilsa’s shoulder. She looked ready to cry herself.

Ilsa pulled her into an embrace. “Go on,” she said.

“Maybe this way I can find out who I was, who I am.”

“I can tell you who you are.” Ilsa tightened her arms around Blue, then released her. “You’re my friend.”

“Always will be. Memory or no memory.” Blue sniffed back tears. “I’ll see you later, Ilsa.”

Ilsa released her and nodded. They had a lot to do to clean up this battlefield, and there was still peace to negotiate between Chogrum and Dal. But the monsters were silent. For now, that had to be enough.

Siuku touched Ilsa’s arm, then withdrew a short distance. “You have been able protectors, the two of you. It is not easy to say goodbye.”

Ilsa sniffed. “What do you mean?”

“This alliance must spread. Chogrum and Ayoch will have peace if I can speak to their leaders at once.”

Ilsa smiled. “It’s been an honor, keeper.”

“The west is calling,” said Siuku. “Go, help your mother.”

“Thank you.”

“We worked together to bring us to this point. Now, let me see to the peace.” The keeper’s expression softened. “Tomorrow is ours to shape, whether we stand in one place or not.”

New tears beaded in Ilsa’s eyes.

 

One week later Ilsa prepared to ride west with Cass. The red-haired priestess had recovered enough with Siuku’s healing to sit in the saddle. Ferdinand and his white strider waited for them and their borrowed Chogrumian runners on the edge of the camp.

The sun was just rising at their back. Ilsa guided her runner between a row of tents. Her mind wandered to Lemuel. She had not had the heart to ask him to come with them. His sister needed him more than Ilsa did.

She had left a letter in their tent for him. Hopefully he would understand. Her mother had been a prisoner for too long. Now she could go free, and there were things she could teach Ilsa about the spirits.

She glanced at Cass as they rode toward Ferdinand.

“Are you alright?” Cass asked.

“Save the concern for yourself,” said Ilsa. “When we found you we weren’t sure you’d live.”

“Looks like Hathani gave us both a second chance.” Cass leaned forward in the saddle. Her bandages and slings made her look almost like a box kite as they flapped in the wind.

Ilsa sighed. “Maybe that’s why I feel like I’m starting over.”

“Because of Lemuel?”

“Yeah. Him and Blue. It will be strange, not being around them.”

“I’ll give you that.”

Cass’s eyes moved to the scroll case on Ilsa’s saddle. “You’ve been writing. Do you think you’ll start preaching?”

“You know I’m not a great speaker.”

“Hey, if you’re starting over you can learn.”

“What would I even say?”

“What do I say?”

“Before I rode out of Dal you told me to be red.”

“Seems to me you followed that advice.”

They closed with Ferdinand.

“Good morning, priestesses,” he said.

Cass touched her lips with one hand and blew him a kiss.

Ilsa smiled. “We’re ready to ride.”

“Not yet,” said Ferdinand. “We’re missing someone.”

“Who?” asked Ilsa.

“Lemuel didn’t tell you? That figures.”

Ilsa’s eyes widened. “Are you—? You’re kidding me.”

“Not in the least. But it looks like the bookworm slept in.” Ferdinand grinned at Ilsa. “You know, I like being the bearer of good news.”

Feet pounded on the steppe grass behind them.

“There he is now,” said Ferdinand.

Ilsa turned in the saddle. Lemuel rode toward them on a runner of his own. He held onto the saddle with his big hand, and waved with the little one. “Wait for me.”

“About time,” said Ferdinand as Lemuel caught up. “Looks like Ilsa tried to ditch you.”

Ilsa’s face grew hot. “What? I—”

“We didn’t talk about it,” said Lemuel sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I was just… nervous. Ilsa—”

“Didn’t you want to go with Tirica?”

“Ashnia told me the Temple doesn’t keep written records. Tirica told me she could handle herself. And Blue…”

“Blue?”

“She told me not to let you leave without me.”

Ferdinand whistled. “You cut that last one pretty close.”

“Oh be quiet, grave robber.”

Ilsa giggled. “That’s plenty.” She reached for Lemuel’s small hand and took it. “Let’s ride.”

 * * *

 

54: Recoil

 

A firearm pushes back when fired, but for humans the only direction is forward.

Do not take all your lessons from weapons of war.

 

Dear High Priestess Uopemm,

When last you saw me, you condemned me for my father’s deeds. It once seemed true that I could never forgive you. Since then, things have changed. I send this letter with Cass because I know I am not welcome at Saint Banyeen’s. Please, be kinder to her than you were to me. She did a great service for me, and for all the nations of the plateau in dueling Black Powder. I will let her tell you the rest.

No doubt you have heard of the peace negotiations between Chogrum and Ayoch. Let us both pray that hope is realized. That is out of both our hands now, but I wish the Keeper of Tenlyres the greatest fortune in executing her plan.

I am writing to tell you that your payments to the hospital will no longer be required. My mother is to be discharged. I will see to that myself. High Priestess, I have learned as much from my travels as I ever did from you. Both you and they have been great teachers, both harsh in your own ways.

Regardless, I forgive you.

Goodbye,

Ilsa Barrett

 

 

#

Thanks for reading. Sign up for my mailing list to show your support for Tenlyres. The form is at the top of the sidebar on timniederriter.com. Or, click the mailing list link here.

Share and enjoy!