New Release – Battle Mage


I hope you’re ready for a new book!

That’s right, Spells of the Curtain 2: Battle Mage is out today! I briefly mentioned this on my facebook page and personal page earlier today. This story has been a long time in the making, just like book one. I am thrilled to finally be releasing these books and the future ones in this series.
Anyway, I am totally brain-fried today, but here is the link to the book again.

Thanks for reading.

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7 Minutes to a New Series!

Hello folks! Another 7-minute blog coming at you today.

This is an announcement for my new series, Spells of The Curtain, and especially the first book, Court Mage, available for pre-order at the link in the image below.

I’m very excited to finally have a pure-fantasy series in the works, though I will continue supporting the Root Conspiracy series as well.

I have the time and writing speed to keep this new magical world going alongside the odd future of Memory Lost and the newly released sequel, Mind Chase (Out today! Click here to check it out).

I enjoyed writing the Root Conspiracy books so far, but I LOVED writing Court Mage and the other books in this series.

Follow Edmath Donroi, a young mage on his path to joining the imperial court and making a name for himself.

Mysteries, magic, and love await in…

Thanks for reading!

I really appreciate all of you and your support. The more of you who buy my books as they launch, the more chance I have to keep working on all my series.

So, thank you all much. I’ll write to you again soon.

 

Tenlyres Chapter 45 – First

Tim here.

The giveaway for my novel, Rem’s Dream is still active until March 31st.

Check it out here!

This Sunday sees the releases of the next episode of Alive After Reading, so prepare your brain for more writerly madness.

Back to Tenlyres.

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

 

Ilsa pursues her father’s first apprentice from a bloody melee outside the government center of Chogrum.

 

 

A chance at reconciliation is not too much to ask from the gods.

 

First limped down an alleyway, trailing blood from the wounds Ilsa’s bullets had left in her hand and leg. Damn it, though, she kept moving. Ilsa glimpsed her father’s wounded apprentice just as she flashed around the corner ahead of her.

Catch First.

Find Tirica.

She dragged herself forward and reloaded her pistols with the magazines she had kept under her torn skirt. These city clothes were less durable than the sort she had worn on the steppe. Far less.

She rounded the corner, both pistols readied. First crawled onto the rooftop to her right. A rusted, iron tube for vines hung down a meter from the edge, just over the dented roof of a small car.

Ilsa doggedly pulled herself up and onto the hood of the vehicle. The pain in her leg might as well be nothing after the trial Hathani’s staff had put her through in the dark passage.

She stuffed both her pistols into the waistband of her pants.

She threw herself at the crook of plastic tubing that reached the top of the building. One ankle flared with pain but she got a grip on the tube. Her fingers dug into a layer of rust.

With a surge of adrenaline, she forced her arms to boost her upward. She reached for the edge of the roof above her. Her outstretched fingers passed over it then came down and grabbed hold. She pulled herself over the top.

Panting with pain and exertion, she crouched there and looked around the flat roof of the squat building. First looked back at her with a grimace from the far side of the building. A figure in a hooded jacket threw down a crude bridge from the rooftop across the next alleyway ahead of First. First did not hesitate.

Neither did Ilsa. She drew her pistols and stormed after the woman. Her legs were battered, but First was already dragging one appendage. Ilsa fired the moment she found the range.

The bullet clipped First’s shoulder. The bullet ripped the press badge from the woman’s disguise. A splash of blood hit the rooftop in front of her, but she did not slow for a second.

“Slow her down,” First said.

The other figure faced Ilsa across the bridge as Ilsa raced across it. Her footsteps thudded on the scrap metal and boards tied together by hasty hands.

Then she was on the other side. She took aim at the mercenary in her path. “Out of my way.”

“It’s me, Ilsa.”

The hood fell back. Tirica’s dark hair and pale face appeared. Ilsa twisted her hand to aim away as she continued forward. Her finger fell from the trigger. Instead, she spread her arms wide and wrapped Tirica in a hug that bowled the girl over backward.

They rolled onto the rooftop.

“Ilsa, get away,” said Tirica. “She’s got me wired to go.”

Ilsa’s eyes widened.

She pulled open the front of Tirica’s jacket. Rows of powder explosives with their natural smell were wrapped around Tirica’s chest, and neck.

“Pitiful. You fell for it,” wheezed First as she backed away from them across the rooftop. She held a small but unmistakable detonator in one hand and a pistol in the other.

Tirica shoved Ilsa in the chest. Ilsa’s legs bunched together, then she kicked out. With strength of desperation she shoved Tirica in the chest. The girl rolled to the edge of the roof. Ilsa sprang up, trying to get as far as she could in the second before the bombs detonated.

“Don’t do it!”

First panted for breath. “Too late.” She dropped the detonator to the rooftop. The blast from behind Ilsa ripped through the roof. She tripped forward toward First.

“Damn you!” Ilsa swung the barrel of her pistol into First’s face. The weapon cracked against bone. Tears streaked Ilsa’s face.

Tirica, gone into the air, just like that.

She swung blow after blow into First, until the woman sagged to the rooftop.

First grinned up at her with flecks of blood on her puffy face. “I guess you’re angry.” Her eyes were cold. “Totally meant to do that, but you know the best part? You don’t. Or you wouldn’t be beating me. You’d just finish me off.”

Ilsa stepped back from the woman’s battered form. She looked down at her, tears running from her eyes. “What do you mean, you twisted bitch?”

“She’s not dead. It’s just an old trick.” First lay on her back, looking up at Ilsa, head on the cracked plaster that covered the rooftop.

“You can’t be serious.”

“Your father never told you about blast seals, did he? Turns out—” She coughed and blood trickled down from her broken nose. Then a laugh broke from her, real audible mirth.

Ilsa stared, trembling, at the bloody mess laughing at her.

“—You can summon a human from anywhere to anywhere using the same technique as bonds. You just need a lot more bang!” She pulled open her own coat, revealing a vest of explosives like the one Tirica had been wearing.

Ilsa scowled at her, eyes cloudy. “Why are you telling me this?”

“He told you to quit fighting. You didn’t. He won’t spare you again if you meet him on the steppe. Bye now.”

Then, First pulled the detonator cord on her vest.

The explosion was larger, and the building, already damaged by the first explosion, collapsed in on itself. Ilsa fell into agonizing darkness.

 

Spirits with human faces and horse’s bodies crowded around where Ilsa lay. They looked just like her mother had always described them, horse up through the mane, then the eyes followed by features of people Ilsa knew.

They spoke to her, told her things she couldn’t understand in voices that sounded like musical instruments ranging from drums to silver to wind.

She saw her mother among the horses, fully humanoid, in her gown. “Mother,” she said. “Hello, again.”

“Ilsa, you’re hurt.”

“Must be pretty bad this time.” Ilsa grunted. “I can’t even tell where I am now. I was in Chogrum.”

“You’re still alive.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Ilsa, do you trust me?”

“Now that I’ve seen what you see, yeah.”

“You know I’m not crazy. I can go free if you help me, Ilsa.”

“Yeah… It wasn’t right to leave you in that place. I’ll get you out of there. Just let me… Just let me…”

“I trust you, Ilsa. But right now, you have to wake up.”

“Wake up,” Ilsa said. “Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say. I have to tell Lemuel. His sister survived.” She reached out her mind and found she could feel the entire plateau. She smiled as best she could through the pain that began to eat at the edge of her senses. Tirica was out there, within a few days travel of Chogrum. So were Black Powder and First.

There was also something larger, a spirit but unlike the ones she saw as horses with human faces. At once it seemed more powerful, far stronger, but also more brittle. Her mind pulsed as she regarded the being through building pain.

“Asurdeva.” As she said it, she knew she was right. The ancient god of the Uzan seethed and turned in her direction. She looked to her mother. “Yeah, I need to go. Need to warn the others. And you need to warn Dal if anyone will listen.”

“Warn Dal about what?”

“The army is moving east. It should be ready to fight a god.”

 

She woke with a sweaty brow, and pain. Aches ran through her whole body. A soft pillow supported her head. She was alone, and that worried her. But she hurt too much to get up.

For the next few days, she saw only a few nurses who came in with food and changes of underclothes. She found her legs worked, and she had no need for breathing tubes or other devices. One arm had apparently been dislocated at some point, and she was bruised all over. Considering the shape the building she had been on was in, she could have been a lot less fortunate.

And Tirica was still alive. On the third day, she felt well enough to leave the hospital. One nurse gave her a map of the city, a cane, and the coins she had with her when she had been found. Ilsa took the tram back southward to the hotel where Siuku had been staying with Blue, Lemuel, and the others.

She arrived, tired and aching.

Blue met her on the ground floor. “Ilsa.”

“Why didn’t you visit me?” she asked, sounding petulant, even to herself. “I’m lucky to be alive.”

“We knew where you were, but if we let on, we were worried the mercenaries would try to kill you.”

“Oh.” Ilsa blinked. “That makes sense.”

“Lemuel fought us on it. I insisted. Sorry.”

“No, you were right.” Ilsa flushed. “I need to tell him, his sister is alive, but she isn’t in the city anymore.”

“How do you know?”

“First told me. And I sensed her while I was out.”

“Alright. It’s going to take some getting used to, you just knowing things when you wake up.” Blue frowned. “We need to get ready. Chogrum is moving, and the prince wants us to ride with the army.”

“I guess we succeeded then.”

“It’s true. I almost think it’s a trap, the way they attacked the prince so close to the first battle. It’s like they meant for Chogrum to bring more forces against them. It worked for someone, one way or the other.”

Ilsa frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Someone got Ashnia away from the suite while we were out.”

“Yunn.”

“Maybe. Either way, she’s gone.”

“Damn,” said Ilsa. “We should watch out then.”

Blue nodded, then sighed. “We have to get moving, no time to worry about her now.” She touched Ilsa’s shoulder gently. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Me too,” said Ilsa. “We’ll find her again, Blue. I know she’s important to you.”

“Dangerous too,” said Blue. “If her brother freed her, at least she’s safe.”

Ilsa nodded. She did not know what else she could say. Ashnia was a powerful mind eater and a dangerous enemy. Still, Blue cared for her.

But the war was here, and it was guiding them west.

 

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 43 – True Red

Tim here.

The giveaway for my novel, Rem’s Dream is still active.

Check it out here!

I survived the daylight savings time transition, though some other madness this week really nagged at productivity. But all is well that ends well, as they say.

I am preparing a new podcast to run parallel to the Of Mooks and Monsters show. This new one is more focused on fiction. Exciting times lie ahead.

 

Back to Tenlyres.

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

 

Ilsa and her allies have reached Chogrum, but some old enemies, the brothers Haram, have arrived as well. After a skirmish in the street, Chogrumian sodiers take Ilsa and a few others in for questioning.

 

 

Electricity. Genetic shaping. Magi.

The gods, whichever you believe in, left their powers to humanity. It is up to us to know when to wield them.

 

The Chogrumian soldiers at the security center gave Ilsa more than a few curious glances as they processed her. Show us your hands. Take off your shoes. Are those all weapon bonds?

“Not all of them. Some are just scars.”

She tried not to give them a reason to be upset with her. After all, she had not fired even when Kaij pressed her. Being a weapon bond was not illegal in Chogrum any more than it was in Dal. Still, she was Dalite, even if she could fit into a crowd in Chogrum better than most.

She decided it would be best to stay silent and let Lemuel talk them out of this one.

An officer turned from talking to Lemuel. The officer approached Ilsa. “What were you doing so close to the palace?” he asked.

“My friends and I were looking for someone.”

“Someone? Who?”

“My friend’s sister,” she motioned to Lemuel with her head because her hands were still cuffed. “He could tell you more.”

“His sister, huh.” The officer took a note on a piece of paper.

Then his eyes glazed over with the control of a mind eater. Ilsa noticed Blue’s spirit. His expression returned to normal.

Blue made him signal to the others. “Let’s go. The prince wants to see them.”

“The prince?” someone asked. “Why?”

“By the gods, I don’t know,” said Blue’s officer. “But it has to be right now. Bring them all.”

Blue had chosen her target well. The other soldiers obeyed.

 

Ilsa and Lemuel were marched out of the lock-up and led side by side with Kaij to the five hundred meter-long black ramp leading to the gates of the palace. Behind them, the Chogrumian soldiers herded Okko. The young Oshomi kept looking over his shoulder. Ilsa hoped his worries of being shot in the back were groundless. She doubted that even with Blue in control of the lead officer in front of them.

The palace loomed over them as they started to climb the ramp. Walls of black and red stone were topped by high crenelations. Even on the hot summer day, this place was warm within the city. Waves of heat rose from black courtyards on either side of the ramp.

As they climbed, Ilsa wondered how Blue planned to get them out of here if they failed to convince the prince to ally with the nomads. He may not be as absolute a ruler as he once had been. Before the parliament was installed. Even still, all Chogrumians still answered to their prince in the end.

They arrived at the gates high atop the ramp. There, a squad of palace guards in black and gold stepped forward and stopped the officer ahead of Ilsa.

“Who goes there?” The leader of the guards looked around the officer at Ilsa and Lemuel. His eyes lingered on Ilsa.

“The prince made clear to me his desire to meet them.”

“Who are they?”

“A priestess of Hathani, a scholar, and an envoy from the Keeper of Tenlyres.”

“And the fourth one?”

The officer looked over his shoulder at Kaij. Blue must have been thinking fast because Ilsa saw the man’s face pinch for a moment with surprise. She had to be nearby to keep her control over this officer so absolute, but she must not have realized Kaij was still with them.

“A noble prisoner from Ayoch.”

Kaij’s eyes flashed. His cuffs rattled on his wrists. “Let me go and I can have you all spared.”

The leader of the palace guard squad sneered. “Impudent, even when captured.”

“Don’t take him lightly,” said Ilsa. “He and his brother killed an entire patrol south of the city.”

The guard leader’s eyes narrowed. “I see. I will send an extra detail to ensure the prince’s protection.”

“A good idea,” said Blue’s officer. “Now, they are cuffed because of suspicions we had of them fighting.”

“Understood,” said the guard leader. “Leave them to us.”

Blue’s officer bowed to the palace guards, and then he and the security soldiers with him descended the ramp back to the low gates of the palace. Ilsa wondered if they would make it back on the tram before they realized what had happened to them. Would there be enough time to convince the highest leader of Chogrum before they returned?

She could only hope.

Her gaze returned to the leader of the palace guards.

“You’re almost pretty for a priestess,” he said.

She shrugged her shoulders the best she could with cuffed hands. “It’s not often I’ve been called pretty. Please, take us to the prince.”

The other palace guards behind their squad leader exchanged glances. A heavy one grinned. None of them spoke. The leader grunted. He had the squad take each of them inside one by one, starting with Kaij, and followed immediately by Ilsa.

Lemuel and Okko were brought in last.

The guards escorted them to a narrow passageway going deeper into the palace. The walls within were sheer. With no light fixtures along its length, the only flicker of color was at the far end of the passage, a warm yellow glow.

“Enter,” said the guard leader to Kaij. “Any of you who are impure will be tested.”

“Impure?” said Ilsa.

“The bonded and the magi use powers beyond the understanding of mortals. If you have those gifts, prepare for hardship.” With that, he fell silent. The squad formed into two lines, one on either side of the prisoners.

Kaij growled. “They’re lying to you. These people are not what they seem.”

“Are you?” asked the guard leader. “We could kill you where you stand if you are. Someone like you. The prince would not punish us.”

Kaij’s lip twitched. He turned to face down the passage. With a deep breath, he stepped into the darkness. His footsteps faded away until they sounded like a kilometer away, even with the reverberations in the small space.

“You’re next, priestess.”

Ilsa nodded. She braced herself for the test, jaw set, and started into the darkened hallway. Almost immediately, she lost her sense of the world outside. Her hearing seemed muted, except for the sounds of her own footsteps.

Her brands began to ache as the light at the far end of the passage grew larger. She could not tell where Kaij was, or whether he had left the passage yet or not. Her brands began to tingle with pain.

Then, the pain burned her from within.

Heat could scarcely even serve to describe it.

Agony only began the march to the indescribable gates of suffering which Ilsa began to push open. She groaned. One foot moved. Then, the other.

She forced herself forward, pushing further into the passage.

Every step hurt more than the last. She grimaced, her face sore with the reflected pain from her brands. She felt like screaming, but she would not give them the satisfaction. She sagged in on herself. She had emerged into the yellow light on the other side.

Kaij sat on his knees a few meters away. Tears streaked his face. Ilsa realized she was crying too. Who wouldn’t, given the pain both of them had just experienced?

“What. What was that?” she managed to say. She sank to her knees on the floor, looking up at a vast basalt throne. Before the throne stood a slim, dark figure in a white robe. The prince of Chogrum carried a red staff, the True Red staff of Hathani, Ilsa felt sure in a wild moment. He carried it with him.

Ilsa fell forward. Her hands, still aching with remembered pain, pressed on the cool tiles of the floor, cuffs still around the wrists. And she held herself up, just a little. She had made it into the throne room. Going any further might not be possible, but she had made it inside.

Lemuel and Okko emerged from the passage behind her. Both of them rushed over. Lemuel crouched down by her side.

“Ilsa. What happened?”

“It hurt. Not a test. More like torture,” she murmured.

Okko looked from Kaij to the prince. Ilsa followed his gaze with wavering eyes. There were guards around the room, but all of them were dressed differently from the ones outside.

These wore all black. And Ilsa suddenly knew they were weapon bonds. All of the guards in the throne room were weapon bonds, and there were at least twenty.

“Stand, strangers. If you can,” said a firm, high voice.

Ilsa struggled, and pushed, and got to her feet. Nearby, Kaij somehow managed to find it in himself to do the same.

The prince of Chogrum smiled.

He had a small black beard, with a few hints of gray. Tall and thin, he wore no crown or jewels, only the white robe, and the red staff. The light in this room came from a skylight in the center of the domed ceiling.

“You have experienced the trial of Hathani, newcomers.” The prince motioned to his guards to stand back. Then, he marched down the steps from his vast throne. One end of the red staff clicked on the tile. “I take it you know what this is.” He indicated the staff in his hand with three elegant fingers.

“The true staff of Hathani,”  said Ilsa, her legs wobbling.

“Yes,” said the prince. “My guards tell me you are a priestess of the goddess. Is that true?”

“It is.”

“Where is your staff of office?”

Ilsa gritted her teeth. “It was broken in the mountains of the northwest. I was fighting against Ayoch.”

“Indeed?” The prince’s gaze moved to Kaij. “So, this could be one of your enemies from there?”

“He is,” said Ilsa. “All four of us were there at Howling Pass. We three—” She indicated herself, Lemuel, and Okko. “—Fought alongside the nomads, the Vogmem at the Lake of Saints.”

“My spies tell me the Red Lector died there. Is that true, priestess of Hathani?”

“It is, prince of Chogrum.” She straightened as the pain from the trail began to subside. “But we did not kill him.”

“Then who did?”

Kaij glared at Ilsa, teeth clenched. “He was betrayed. By his general. And by Black Powder.”

“Black Powder. The mercenary bonder is known to us. For killing my enemy, perhaps I should thank him.”

Kaij’s eyes boiled. He said nothing.

“He is still on the steppe.” Ilsa lowered her eyes from their lock on the prince. “He is on his way east.”

“You are well-informed priestess. Something tells me you know Black Powder. How?”

“He is my father,” she said through her teeth.

The prince raised one eyebrow. “Interesting. You have earned my curiosity. I will listen to what you have to say.”

Ilsa explained the mission to the prince of Chogrum. Lemuel helped when the pain from the trial flared up again, as it did in waves. The prince listened with quiet attention. At last, he nodded to her.

“I believe what you say. Priestess, you fight for the Unification. But I have never felt pressured by them, not from Koor in Morhoen, or Embrana the Islander. I trust you also are not trying to pressure me, Ilsa Barrett.”

“I would not presume,” she said. “I came to Chogrum with the Keeper of Tenlyres. She seeks to ally with you and your people to protect the plateau.”

He nodded. “I will speak with her. Tomorrow. At parliament.” He motioned to Kaij. “Guards, take this one to the cells. We will send him for interrogation as soon as we can.”

He turned to Ilsa and the others. “You used deception to enter this place, but after that told only the truth. You intrigue me, priestess. The guards will show you the way out.”

Ilsa nodded. She almost lost her footing to a wave of nausea and had to steady herself on Lemuel’s arm. The guards led them to a side passage, and then out of the palace. There, they ordered a tram that took the group back to the hotel. She could only sit, eyes closed, and pray for the pain to fade away.

 

Back at the hotel, Ilsa collapsed onto the bed. When she woke, Lemuel was talking to someone in the doorway of their room. Ilsa sat up, feeling less pain than she had when she had returned from the palace, and looked toward the hallway where the muted voices were coming from.

“I’m awake,” she said in their direction. “You can talk in here.”

Blue and Lemuel walked into the hotel room. The sky was dark outside the curtains. Ilsa sat up.

“Whoa,” said Blue. “Take it easy. Whatever that trial did to you, it was rough.”

“Can’t afford to stay down.” She groaned. Lemuel winced. “The keeper needs to meet with the prince.”

“We know. Lemuel and Okko told us.”

Ilsa rubbed her temples. “What about Megalli. Where is she?”

“She’s back in the suite. Got here before you did.”

“Tell her thanks. She tripped Kaij back there. If she hadn’t we might not be having this conversation.”

Kaij. He had tracked them all the way to Chogrum. And his brother, Yunn, was still out there.

Ilsa shook her head. “I think the Ayochians could try something.”

“We’ll be ready for them if they do,” said Blue. “But we could use your help if you recover in time.”

“I’ll be ready,” said Ilsa. She clenched her jaw. She had to make sure everything went right if only to justify the pain she was suffering through in that moment.

Her eyelids closed. “I will be ready.”

She felt Lemuel’s hand on her shoulder. “Come on, you can’t do anything more tonight.”

But later that night, when he was asleep, she climbed out of bed and limped painfully to the writing desk in the room. By moonlight, she wrote another set of words for the day. Words of endurance. Words she believed were true.

Lemuel woke as she climbed back into bed. “What’s going on?”

“I felt a little better,” she lied. “Had to get some words recorded.”

He stroked her chin, and then reached back to touch her earlobe. “You are amazing.”

She put a hand on his lips. “Shhh. It’s late.”

“Very late.”

They pulled each other close and slept.

#

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.

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Tenlyres Chapter 40 – The Mission

Tim here.

Writing is going well. New stories are in the works.

Now, back to Tenlyres.

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

 

Ilsa has been wounded by the mysterious First, who also captured Tirica. Ilsa and Lemuel retreat to the village nearby.

tenlyres-iii-chapter-40-mq 

When humans stand united, we can face any challenge and succeed.

 

Once a warrior had dug out the bullet, Siuku healed the wound in Ilsa’s stomach with a few careful presses of her hand. A bruise remained, painful and black, an artifact of the internal damage caused by the shot. Ilsa gave Siuku a grateful nod as the keeper replaced her veil. It hid her face except for her weary red eyes.

The keeper left the small room where Ilsa lay and went out to the parlor.

They were in a house in Atalem, with probably four hours until dusk. The Oshomi were making camp south of the village. Siuku had gathered forty riders from the bands they had encountered on their way east. Almost all of them were planning to stay near Atalem. From the village, it was only three days’ ride to Chogrum on horseback.

Ilsa groaned as she thought over the plan, lying on her back on a bed in the low-ceilinged Filami house built from packed Earth and tower grass. One of the few companions who would have gone all the way to Chogrum had just disappeared. She swore she would do everything she could to find Tirica.

She did not want to think of what her father’s apprentices would do to the girl if Ilsa took too long. Target practice looked optimistic, the way she saw it. Tirica had survived so much, and she had come so far. Ilsa would not let Black Powder just snap his fingers and have her killed.

She swung her legs off the bed. Voices came from the parlor, one obviously Siuku because of the monotone. The other belonged to Lemuel.

“I won’t just let them take my sister.”

“You cannot save her alone.”

“You think Ilsa won’t agree with me?”

“She may. But I suspect she will see things my way. We have a mission to ally with Chogrum.”

“My sister has saved me more times than I can count, keeper.”

“I am sorry about your sister. Truly. Right now we must do the greatest good we can.”

Ilsa made her way to the doorway of the parlor. She ducked her head to step out of the windowless bedroom. The parlor was almost as shadowy as the room she had just left. Only one small window let in sunlight. The door to the street out front was closed. Good. The villagers did not need to hear this argument.

“They could kill her,” said Lemuel softly, just as Ilsa stepped into the room.

Both Lemuel and Siuku’s eyes moved to look in her direction.

Siuku said, “That woman could have killed her already if she wanted. It would have been easier.”

Lemuel’s gaze remained on Ilsa. “Please, Ilsa.”

A cold pain mixed with the churn of her stomach to make her feel sick. “Lemuel. I hate to say it, but the keeper could be right.”

“Or she could be wrong,” said Lemuel.

Ilsa touched the egg-like locket hanging around her neck. “I can contact Blue, ask her to scout for Tirica’s mind.”

“We must move on,” said Siuku. “The Prince of Chogrum holds Hathani’s True Red staff. If it’s powers are anything like the True Blackwood, we will gain more than an army once Chogrum is our ally.”

“I don’t like it,” said Ilsa, eyes downcast. “But it’s true.”

“We can save your sister while we save the rest of Yr. Trust me, Lemuel.” Siuku managed to soften her voice just a little with the last word.

Lemuel sighed and shook his head. “I understand the stakes. Promise me you’ll help me find her once we have Chogrum on our side.”

“I promise,” said Ilsa.

“As do I.” Siuku bowed to Lemuel. “We leave at dawn. Let us give this family their home back.”

They left the house and went out into the street.

Lemuel turned to Ilsa. “Are you alright? It looked pretty bad.”

“It doesn’t hurt as much as Ferdinand’s lance, but its close.”

He nodded. “I’m sorry. You were hurt, and all I could worry about was my sister.”

“She’s in more danger than I am. Thanks to Siuku healing me.”

Lemuel nodded. “You put yourself in so much danger for your mission.”

“The mission is important. That doesn’t mean it is all I care about.” She put her arm around him. “We’ll find her. Believe me.”

“I believe you more than the keeper. She seems so cold most of the time.”

“She can seem that way, but I can tell she cares.” Ilsa looked after Siuku. The keeper made her way over to a group of villagers and warriors. “It was her idea to offer protection to the Filami, and her compassion doesn’t end with them.”

Lemuel nodded. “She even managed to make peace with the people who killed her family. I might not be able to do that.”

Ilsa nodded. She had done what they were talking about, but she didn’t want to say so. Her mother had done the same. Chogrum had taken a lot from Ilsa’s family, and her father, though only partially Chogrumian, threatened to keep doing so.

 

A few paces beyond the last house to the east in Atalem, Ilsa reached out with her spirit. She strained to connect to Blue, over two hundred kilometers to the north. She had never reached so far with conscious intent, even to her mind eater friend.

She focused on Blue’s mind, her gregarious manner, her enthusiasm combined with her discipline.

Her friend met her mind to mind.

“Ilsa, you seem upset. What’s wrong?”

“One of my father’s apprentices captured Tirica.”

“How? When?”

“She out-shot me, I guess. It was just this afternoon, less than two hours ago.”

“Did you get her name?”

“She told me to call her ‘First.’ Said I had met her before. I don’t remember her.”

“That’s not too helpful.”

“She got away. Blue, can you help me find her?”

“I doubt it. I can only connect to you at this distance because of that temple locket. But once we both get to Chogrum, maybe.”

“How far out are you?”

“Just two days ride.”

“You’ll probably get there first. Oh, the Flowering Lyre is still sealed.”

“That’s good news,” said Blue. “So far, it looks like the Gray Lector has only managed to gather a couple thousand Uzan from the middle lyres.”

“Only… Well, two less, as of today,” Ilsa said.

“You killed more of them?”

“When First attacked. I shot one, and Tirica killed the other. She actually got the first one.” Ilsa’s mind darkened. “I’m worried about her, Blue.”

“We can’t help her right now. You’ve always been good at focusing, Ilsa. Use it.”

“Right. How are things going with Ashnia?”

“I’ve got her suppressed.” Blue’s mental presence rippled with frustration. “She can’t break out, but I wish I could talk to her. She’s so close, and I keep remembering more about my time in the temple.”

“Anything from before that?”

“Not yet, Ilsa. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that far back.”

“Good luck with her, Blue.”

“You too. How’s Lemuel holding up?”

“He’s worried about Tirica. I don’t blame him. But there was one other thing…”

“What is it?”

“First told Tirica she was a good shot. That’s true. I guess it’s not impossible Black Powder, my father, may want to recruit her.”

“They’ll be in for a surprise if they think they can control her,” said Blue. “She’s as stubborn as Ashnia. And that’s on our side.”

“I don’t know. Black Powder offers things to gunfighters they can’t get without him, the deepest form of weapon bond.”

“Bonded to the spirit. I wonder why it seems like no one else can figure that out.”

“I wish I knew.”

“Hold it together, Ilsa. Oh, I think we’re losing connection.”

“Stay safe.”

“You too.”

Their mind drifted apart. Ilsa opened her eyes on the edge of the village. When they met up in Chogrum, she would have a prayer to find Tirica again. But her mission remained, to prevent the war from consuming Yr. She may not have much respect for her mentor, Koor, any longer, but her goals had not changed. She would fight for a greater peace, as paradoxical as that seemed.

 

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Lightning, Rain, and Prerelease Eve

 

magic-the-gathering-card-back

I’ve been a bit remiss about blogging after Monday in recent weeks. Well, not this week, because I have some things to talk about.

Lightning and rain marked my morning walk over the past couple of days.

But there’s far better news than interesting weather.

I am going to a Magic the Gathering prerelease event at midnight tonight. I’ve played magic on and off for years but I’ve never gone to anything like this before.

For those who do not know, Magic has these events for every new set of cards at stores around the country, and they feature the cards from the new set in a sealed-deck format tournament. Sealed means you get a limited number of cards to build a deck from (And there is no draft of cards). I think my rusty card-skills should be of some use in the competition side of things, but luck is also a big factor in what cards I am given.

Fingers crossed. And excited.

Also, I gotta get to the pages of my book. There’s fiction to be done.

Hope you all have a great weekend, and I’ll chat with you on the other side.

Rem’s Dream and Hunter and Seed are still out there in the world. If you haven’t checked either of those novels out, go get you some.

Thanks for reading.

Tenlyres Chapter 27

Previously…
Ilsa’s lethal battle at Nurse Mountain has driven the scouts back.
But the larger war is just beginning.
Recovering from the night battle, Ilsa has a plan to buy time against the Ayochians.
Negotiations.

Previous Chapter
Buy Tenlyres I at your favorite online retailer

Tenlyres II - Chapter 26 White Feathers pt2 mq

When Siuku woke later that day, Megalli sent a skyrider under a flag of negotiation to General Haram. Once Ilsa and the others informed the Keeper of their plan, the camp mobilized quickly. Ilsa and Blue rode with Siuku, her two closest riders Takudu and Okko, and a party of Ganara’s Vogmem. Their group left the larger force, led by the other Vogmem chieftains and accompanied by Lemuel, Cass, and Tirica, and climbed the slopes on their steeds.

They crested the mountain’s arm and wheeled to the northwest, toward the glade of trees off the western shoulder of Nurse Mountain. They arrived at the appointed place in the late afternoon. The summer sun was still high in the sky as the month approached the solstice, but despite the bright day, the air was cold.

Down in the glade, nestled between the rocky slope of two mountains, Ilsa slowed Hailek’s pace with a tug on his reins. She did not like the scarcity of brush and bracken beneath the evergreens. Besides the trees themselves there was not a lot of cover in this place. And trees would not always stop a small fast bullet like those of the caliber she used in her pistols. She reminded herself they were not here to fight. They were here to talk.

She kept her hands closed as they rode into a clearing at the center of the glade. From the other side of the clearing between trees, the Ayochian party advanced. A dozen soldiers rode lighter steeds behind two women on great striders.

The older of the two women, Ilsa guessed, was General Shayi Haram. She wore a red cloak and a gray and blue uniform with a fine layer of gilded metal along the edge of her shoulders. Strangely, she wore a hood pulled over her gray hair so only one short strand was visible on either side of her face. She carried no visible weapons, but ammunition belts hung across her saddle, and she held the reins of her strider without gloves despite the chill in the air.

She must be a weapon bond, Ilsa thought. Judging by the varied calibers of bullets, she probably had multiple guns bonded to her. Ilsa had never heard much about Shayi Haram’s personal fighting skills but was still glad they were here to parley.

Blue stiffened as the younger woman brought her strider even with General Haram. She wore a heavy coat, with the hood pulled back. Yellow hair and the same color of eyes as her brothers, along with Blue’s reaction, made Ilsa certain this was Ashnia Haram, the young mind-eater Blue had met in the Temple of Colors. Elegant features and a confident bearing combined with what must be a brilliant talent as a magus to explain Blue’s attraction.

Ilsa’s friend sent a thought to her. She’s cute, but don’t let your guard down. She can be ruthless.

The rider closest behind Ashnia and Shayi reaffirmed Blue’s comments to Ilsa. Ferdinand Thoss rode his white shaggy strider with a dull expression on his face, still under Ashnia’s mental control. Ilsa wondered how long she could keep up that kind of power, but Ashnia gave no indication of effort as she and her mother approached the Vogmem and Siuku.

Ganara rode out in front, holding a black staff that marked her status as a priestess of Vada, along with Siuku in her white veil, feathered raiment, and steppe clothes. The Keeper of Tenlyres looked small on horseback next to the much larger striders and Ganara’s goat runner. Ilsa and Blue followed the two leaders toward Ashnia and Shayi.

“Chieftain Ganara,” called Shayi in a throaty voice. “And the Keeper of Tenlyres, I presume?”

“Indeed,” said Siuku in her usual monotone.

“Strange partners.” Shayi’s eyes glinted. “Last year when I arrived in this place, you were enemies.”

“Times change.” Ganara grimaced. “Sometimes we must choose one thing we hate over another.”

“So, you wish to choose this Oshomi over my queen’s friendship?”

Ganara’s hand was steady, the staff held before her. “Your queen in Ayoch does not offer friendship for my people, only death.”

Ilsa frowned. This negotiation would not go anywhere if Ganara kept talking. Her eyes flicked to Blue. “Can you do anything?” she asked in a low voice.

Blue shook her head. “Not with my powers. She is countering me.”

Apparently, Ashnia must have power to spare. She looked completely collected and serene despite managing her control of Ferdinand and blocking Blue’s power. Ganara scowled at Shayi. “I take it you want me to hand over the Keeper?”

“Have these Unificationists been in your ear, Ganara?” asked Shayi. “This is not like you.”

Ganara bristled. “Stranger that you would meet me in person. Coward, that you are.”

“I’m not afraid of you and that artifact in your hand. You may believe in three gods, but I believe in my queen and my troops.”

Siuku folded her arms. “And your husband, the Red Lector? Do you believe in him?”

“He was able enough to block your escape route through the pass southward. I’d say my faith is well-placed.” Shayi smiled. “You did well to evade him and my sons to get here, Keeper of Tenlyres. But the time has come to join Ayoch. All the blood you’ve shed will be forgiven.”

“I’m hardly confident in that,” said Siuku.

“We are at war with Chogrum and the rebel forces in our own land. I do not think the Queen desires the Oshomi as another enemy, and the same goes for the Vogmem.”

Ganara snorted. “I’ve had my whole life to learn not to trust Ayoch.”

“Then your life may not be much longer, chieftain. And I wonder if the other three will be so eager to die for this new alliance.”

Blue’s brow furrowed with concentration. “Someone’s coming,” she said under her breath.

Ilsa leaned toward her. “Who? Can you tell?”

“No,” said Blue. “Too much interference. The Hermit is against me too.”

“Is he definitely allied with Ayoch?”

“With Ashnia. The Temple of Colors fights for its own.”

“Damn.” Ilsa’s eyes moved this way and that, looking for signs of new arrivals behind Shayi’s forward party. She saw no one else in the frosted glade.

Ganara was glaring at Shayi. “I do not know why the others thought negotiating with you was worthwhile, Summer Devil. The name we gave you is fitting.”

“As I understand it, devils are an important part of your culture. Sounds as though your respect me.”

“As an enemy, perhaps.” Ganara’s lips drew back in a snarl. Ilsa was amazed at the woman’s constant temper. The Vogmem chieftain spat in the frost between her and Shayi.

Ashnia leaned toward her mother and said, “I take it that is the end of this parley?”

Behind the Ayochian mind eater, Ferdinand shifted in his saddle. Ilsa kept her eyes on the possessed adventurer, watching for signs that he would summon a weapon. A dull crunch of slow footsteps approached through the trees in the silence that followed Ashnia’s question.

Ilsa listened closely, but as the sound grew louder the deliberate noise made it obvious whoever walked in the woods was drawing near. She looked this way and that, searching for the source of the steps. Siuku did the same, along with her riders.

Shayi and Ganara’s eyes locked. Shayi’s smug smile slipped into a fierce glare. “Reinforcements, Ganara? Do you mean to betray our truce?”

“I would ask you the same thing.” Ganara grimaced. “But I take it you did not plan this either.”

“I have every advantage. There’s no need for me to divide you like this to strike.”

Ganara drew a pistol from her belt, but did not aim it at anyone. Shayi’s hands tensed on the reins of her great strider. Ilsa’s eyes narrowed as she glimpsed the scar on the back of Shayi’s hand, a weapon bond. Shayi’s words hung in the air as the footsteps crunched closer.

Two sets of feet from what Ilsa could tell. Still, no one from either advance party moved to leave the circle, for to move would be to risk setting off the violence bubbling like a cauldron beneath the surface.

Blue’s brows furrowed. She glanced at Ilsa. “They aren’t human,” she said in a low voice.

Ilsa’s eyes widened, and she smelled an unknown propellant she recalled from the steppe days ago. Uzan. “They’re here,” Ilsa murmured. She turned to Ganara and Siuku and raised her voice. “The creatures approaching are real devils,” she said, “There are Uzan in this forest.”

“What are you saying?” Shayi never took her eyes from Ganara, but let her reins fall from her hands. “I was told they would not approach the lake.”

“We know little about the Uzan,” said Ilsa. “And what we think we know could be wrong.”

Ganara trained her revolver on Shayi. “Ride away, and we will not shoot. Go.”

“Lower that weapon.” Shayi’s eyes narrowed at Ganara. “I will not turn my back only for you to make your words a lie.”

“I have honor, unlike you.”

Ilsa looked over her shoulder, frustration building as the footsteps crunched closer. She flexed her hand, ready to produce a pistol, but uncomfortable with the possibility the Uzan would have the first shot if the leaders kept bickering.

Siuku seemed to sense the same thing. She put a hand on Ganara’s arm. The Vogmem chieftain pulled away from the Keeper.

Siuku shook her head. “I hear at least four Uzan, but cannot tell where they are. We will not win if we fight each other.”

Ganara jerked her head toward Shayi, Ashnia, and Ferdinand. “I will not join one devil to fight another.”

The smell of propellant igniting, subtle to most but sharp to Ilsa, drifted to her on the wind. A bittersweet burn preceded the roar of not one but many guns.

Ilsa shouted a warning and waved her arm over her head. Too late.

The fusillade of bullets tore into steeds and riders on either side of the evergreen glade. Screams from both Ayochians and Vogmem echoed around Ilsa and the others in the center of the parley. Takudu and Okko’s horses sprang forward and caught up with the center, but the cries of goats and striders, men and women, howled through the glade, almost as loud as the thunder of Uzan guns.

Ganara locked eyes with Shayi. The Ayochian General clenched her left hand and conjured a pistol, medium caliber, larger than Ilsa’s pistols. She turned her strider. Ganara’s shot missed. Shayi did not retaliate, but loaded her weapon and scanned the glade behind her where her troops began to return fire against Uzan hidden in the trees. There had to be more than four of them, far more, surely.

Ilsa pressed her feet heels into Hailek’s sides. Ashnia squeezed her eyes shut.

Ganara screamed in pain and rage. The revolver trembled in her hand, then moved toward her temple. Blue grunted. Her face contorted with effort. Ganara dropped her pistol and it fell into the snow.

Ilsa rode toward the chieftain and the Keeper as the mind eaters battled for control. Behind her, she heard the Vogmem returning fire on the assailants she had yet to see.

Smokey scents, the crack of shots, and the biting cold, surrounded her. She rode Hailek between Shayi and Ganara just as the Red General leveled her pistol at the blond Vogmem leader. A pistol appeared in Ilsa’s hand, and she loaded it as she took aim. Shayi sensed her preparing a shot. The general’s arm extended toward Ilsa.

A 9mm round screamed from her pistol. Ilsa did not return the shot. A loud clank sounded behind Ilsa. Blue fell from her strider’s saddle, armored over her heart dented by the impact of Shayi’s shot.

Ashnia’s eyes snapped open and she looked to where Blue had fallen. Ilsa turned Hailek toward her fallen friend. Blue started to stand up, looking dazed but otherwise unhurt.

An arrow from Siuku’s bow buried itself in Shayi’s steed, just in front of the Red General’s extended gun hand. The great strider barely seemed to notice the wound.

Ganara broke free of Ashnia’s control just in time to deflect a spear thrust from Ferdinand with her black staff. She shouted over the sound of the battle, “Riders to me.” Her voice carried through the glade. Another Vogmem sounded a horn.

Ilsa hoped the noise would be enough to get them reinforcements from the larger force outside the glade.

She rode toward Blue, as her friend got to her feet.

A javelin bounced off Blue’s armor, and she staggered with a grunt. Ferdinand and Ashnia on their great striders closed with Ilsa and Blue.

Ashnia’s eyes fixed on Blue. “Nameless, surrender and I will show mercy.”

“I believe you.” Blue nodded to the Ayochian mind eater. “But you don’t speak for the whole Temple.”

Ilsa reached Blue’s side. Her friend’s strider circled behind Blue and bent down for her to climb up.

The roar of Uzan gunshots died away. Ganara and Siuku and the other Oshomi rode back toward the surviving Vogmem who seemed to have driven the Uzan back, despite their losses. Ilsa trained her pistol on Ashnia and squeezed the trigger. Ferdinand’s second javelin leaped from the sole of his foot, the leg extended behind it in a kicking motion. It struck Ilsa’s pistol and made her shot go wide. The gun flew from her hand.

She grunted and drew her machine gun from its brand. As she moved to load it, Ferdinand’s long spear swung around to point at Ilsa. Ilsa grimaced as he stabbed at her. She did not want to hurt him if she did not have to, but that qualification seemed more and more tenuous by the second.

She ducked the blade, but a blunt force hit her in the small of the back as the weapon snaked over her shoulder. He pulled the spear back and Ilsa fell from Hailek’s saddle.

She tumbled to the ground beside Hailek but managed to land on her feet with crunch of boots in frost and grass. “Move,” she called to the strider. “It’s too dangerous here.”

Hailek obeyed and ran toward the Keeper and the other riders on their side of the clearing.

Siuku shouted a warning and aimed her bow at Ferdinand. She drew back the string and arrow as one. His spear spun, and knocked the first arrow off course. The following shots kept him distracted.

Blue leaped onto her strider’s back and turned the steed toward Ashnia.

“Don’t fight me, Nameless,” said the Ayochian mind eater. “Don’t make me harm you.”

Blue frowned at her. “You still belong to the Temple, and to Ayoch.”

“This is not about Ayoch,” Ashnia’s eyes met Blue’s. “It is about us.”

Ilsa looked between the two as Ferdinand continued to duel with Siuku at a distance. If there was some way to disrupt Ashnia’s control over him, they could get away for sure. The Ayochians who had survived the Uzan onslaught had rallied together with their general and begun to advance into the clearing at the center of the glade. If those troops caught up, Ilsa had a gnawing feeling she and Blue would not escape.

She fired two shots from her machine gun into Ashnia’s speed. The creature bucked and groaned, but was too hardy to fall immediately from such damage. Ilsa hated to hurt the animal but saw her actions result as Ashnia cringed to the saddle, clutching the reins in both hands.

Ilsa fired one more shot, splitting the reins from the strider as the steed reared up.

Ashnia fell backward, holding the broken reins. She did not cry out and hit the ground with a thud that likely made speech impossible as it drove the air from her lungs.

Ilsa scrambled forward and snatched her pistol from where it had fallen. She reached Ashnia and leveled the weapon as the mind eater started to stand up. The barrel of the pistol pressed to Ashnia’s forehead. Her eyes went wide and she looked suddenly very young and afraid.

Ilsa’s finger moved toward the trigger.

Blue and Ashnia’s eyes locked over Ilsa’s shoulder. One of her friend’s thoughts flashed into Ilsa’s mind.

Don’t kill her. Please.

Ilsa’s mouth went dry. She lacked the time to send back. The Ayochians would be in range in seconds. She drew back the pistol, finger on the trigger. Ashnia closed her eyes. Ilsa slammed the butt of the gun against Ashnia’s skull. The mind eater staggered and her knees buckled. Ilsa caught one of Ashnia’s arms and pulled the stunned Ayochian with her toward Blue and her steed. Ilsa pulled her up to Blue’s saddle despite the protests of mind and muscle.

She slung Ashnia across the saddle between her and Blue. Her friend turned the strider and they retreated, the last to leave the glade following Ganara and Siuku and their troops. As they rode, Ilsa glanced back and spotted two pairs of Uzan, one on either side of the clearing, trudging after them, guns withdrawing into their bulky bodies.

She turned to Blue. “Faster.”

“Not an option,” said Blue. She grimaced back at Ashnia and Ilsa. Her eyes moved from the Ayochian who was struggling to move. Ilsa pinned the girl to the saddle with her knees. Blue looked up at Ilsa’s face. “Thank you.”

Ilsa grunted with the effort of keeping Ashnia pinned but nodded to Blue. She owed her friend enough not to question why Blue wanted to spare Ashnia. But she began to wonder exactly what lay between the two, as they rode up the slope into a freezing mountain wind, even as she kept her eyes on the Uzan marching behind them.