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.

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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!

 

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Previous Chapter

 

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

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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Tenlyres Chapter 39 – Guns of Summer

Tim here.

I haven’t been kicking back and relaxing despite completing the full version of Tenlyres last month. New stories are on the way.

But for 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, Lemuel, and Tirica go to scout the nearest Lyre to Chogrum. They are looking for Uzan, but have the Uzan found them?

When war wracks the land, armies band together, only to fall apart amid the fray.

Even in defeat, strive to help others.

 

Ilsa dashed up the lyre’s passage and ducked into open air. She kept her pistol ready as she turned toward Tirica. The Chogrumian girl continued to look through the scope of her rifle.

“Lemuel guessed right,” she said. “Two Uzan and a woman.”

Lemuel caught up with them, hand still on his revolver. He crouched and looked out over the field of flowers that stretched around the base of the lyre. “Where did you see them?”

“Just at the edge of the flowers,” said Tirica. “They sort-of appeared there. I took a few shots at one of the Uzan. Hit his god’s name with the first one, but missed the second. After that, they vanished.”

“Vanished?” said Lemuel. “Into thin air?”

“They must have a sense magus with them,” Ilsa said. “Koor mentioned some Uzan could conceal themselves and others back in the mountains.”

Tirica muttered an old-fashioned Chogrumian curse. “What are the odds that one of two has that ability?”

“Pretty likely,” said Ilsa. “If those two are meant to move around unseen.”

“So, how are we supposed to know where they are?” asked Tirica.

“Look for the depressions in the flowers?” said Ilsa.

“Even better. If we connect to the pile, we should be able to sense their ground pressure through it.” Lemuel took his hand off his revolver and pulled his interface screen from his pack.

“Good plan,” said Ilsa. “Tirica—”

“I’ll cover you two while you climb down,” said the girl.

Ilsa nodded to her, then drew her shotgun from its brand. She loaded the weapon and raised it. Then, she gave Lemuel a glance. He nodded back.

They hustled to the edge of the lyre’s base. She kept the shotgun ready as he climbed down, but saw no disturbances in the pattern of flowers beside where they had ridden up to the lyre.

Their Oshomi horses stamped the ground and snorted nervously as Lemuel dropped down. Ilsa was reminded of Hailek. Her poor loyal strider had always remained calm, right up until the end.

Horses, without the carefully engineered loyalty and genetically tweaked intelligence and confidence of a strider, could be spooked easily compared to such animals.

Ilsa kept scanning for Uzan but saw no sign of them or the woman who Tirica had seen accompanying the monsters. Her gaze locked on the path they had taken to the lyre’s base on horseback. Most of the trampled flowers had begun to shift again in the wind. Ilsa squinted and found a few small flowers, still plastered flat.

She smelled some kind of faint propellant on the wind. The scent was was subtle, but distinct enough to let her know that propellant did not belong to Tirica’s bullets.

An idea to test the wrongness of the flowers and the whiff of propellant combined to cut through her other thoughts.

She crouched low and dropped over the side of the lyre. She landed in the flowers there and leveled her shotgun at the spot she had found before.

Lemuel lowered himself to his hands and knees between her and the three horses. He inserted the needle of his tablet into a stem with as much care as his speed would allow.

Ilsa did not dare wait for him to make her certain of her guess. “Time to test a hypothesis,” she whispered.

She aimed her shotgun down the line of the path she and the others had ridden and pulled the trigger.

The spray of shot went airborne, then vanished from sight completely mid-flight. She scowled at the spot it had disappeared into a veil of illusion. The shape of an Uzan, taller than any man, with dark gray skin and the name of Asurdeva carved into its forehead, the arcane letters already marred by the slash of a bullet, appeared from the fading veil.

The Uzan bellowed in rage more than pain as shot speckled its chest and shoulder. A gun-barrel emerged from the monster’s open mouth and aimed at Ilsa. Blood ran from the Uzan’s wounds. Ilsa knew the creature was mortal for the moment.

Her shadow wavered among the flowers, but her body did not hesitate. She darted sideways and fired her pistol. The blast of the Uzan’s weapon rebounded from the lyre behind where she had been standing. Her bullet cut the jaw of the creature. Dark blood flecked the flowers.

Lemuel looked up in shock at the sounds of their shots. Ilsa ran toward him. The Uzan whirled to follow her. She skidded in the flowers, trying to change direction away from the horses.

More weapons emerged from the Uzan’s flesh. It could kill Ilsa, Lemuel, and all the horses in the next second if it fired.

Another shot interrupted the monster’s pivot. A hole burst through the Uzan’s forehead. Rather than completing a lethal sweep, the Uzan sagged sideways and collapsed in a heavy wheeling motion.

Ilsa kept her pistol braced and trained on the fallen demon, but Tirica shouted in triumph. “Hey, Ilsa, you’re not the only one to kill a monster now.”

“Don’t get overconfident,” said Lemuel as he fiddled with the interface. “We still need to find the other one and that woman.”

“Right,” said Ilsa. “Keep your eyes open.”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all this time? Got you both covered.”

The Uzan Tirica had dropped did not move. Really dead? It must be.

Lemuel finished reading the interface. “That was the only one on this side.”

“What about the others?” Ilsa asked.

“Looks like they could be circling around, right at the edge of the pile formation.”

“Damn.” Ilsa turned and scrambled up the side of the lyre’s base once again. She reached the top with her hands pressed to warm stone and shouted a warning at Tirica. “Check the back. They’re trying to flank us.”

Tirica uttered an inarticulate curse and whirled to look around the arm of the lyre, rifle in hand. A shot roared from nowhere and through the scope from lens to lens. Tirica flinched back, though she had not been hurt by the shot. A shadow fell across her. The second Uzan, the sense magus, materialized out of its illusions.

Chest still flat on the stone, Ilsa grabbed and fired her pistol at the Uzan. The first two bullets opened holes above and below the name of Asurdeva on the monster’s brow. It leered crazily, with iron-colored teeth and back-handed Tirica. She flew two meters and fell onto her front by the lyre’s strings.

A set of light footsteps approached around the other arm of the lyre. A woman in her mid-forties and wearing a scroll case on a belt without a firearm holster, but with two magazines of large pistol rounds stood over Tirica. She held a large caliber pistol with a smoking barrel in one hand.

Another weapon bond. Could she be one of Father’s apprentices?

The Uzan sense magus leveled an arm bristling with weapons at Tirica. The girl groaned and rolled onto her back. She looked alright, considering the force of the Uzan’s blow, but her nose was bleeding in two trickles that ran to her lips.

Ilsa did not give the Uzan another chance. Her shotgun roared and the name of Asuredeva shredded with dozens of pieces of shot. The weapon bucked in Ilsa’s hands and then settled against stone.

The woman who stood over Tirica smirked. The veins in her bare arms stood out as she aimed her pistol at the girl on the ground.

Tirica grimaced up at the gun.

“You’re a pretty good shot for someone unbonded,” said the woman.

Tirica coughed, sending blood from her nose into the air. “Sneaky,” she said.

Ilsa grunted. “Tirica, stay calm. I’ll get you out of there.”

“Sure you will.” The woman’s eyes flicked toward where Ilsa had risen to a crouch. “I heard you killed Melinda. Is that true, Ilsa?”

Ilsa’s stomached churned. “She gave me no choice.”

“What if I give you a choice, this time, my dear.”

“Who are you?”

“You don’t remember me? I suppose you wouldn’t. You were, what, ten last time we met?” She smiled. “Ah, those were the days. I was still getting over not wearing gloves in the cold.” she waggled the fingers of her free hand at Ilsa. They were all bare.

“You. You were one of his apprentices.”

“Not just one. I am the first. And I’m a little proud of that fact. You can just call me First because that’s who I am.”

Ilsa gritted her teeth. At this range, the shotgun could easily hit Tirica if she used it, but her pistol was down to the last few bullets loaded. “First,” she said. “You had a name when I met you before.”

“But you don’t remember it. That’s obvious.” First rolled her eyes and then looked down at Tirica. “Time to go, my talented young friend.” She aimed with her pistol. Like all of father’s students, she preferred to target the heart over the head.

Tirica squeezed her eyes shut.

Ilsa rolled onto her side to aim her pistol at First. The woman did not hesitate but immediately swung her weapon around. Without looking, she shot Ilsa in the abdomen. Searing pain burned through her, not the numbing of the paralytic venom used by Black Powder’s younger apprentices. The hot agony of a solid metal slug.

She fell onto her back but kept her pistol trained on First. She squeezed the trigger, but as she did her stomach spasmed and the shot went high. Her bullet deflected from the lyre’s arm behind First.

First shot the gun from Ilsa’s hand with her next bullet. “I think we’re done here, child. Shame I’ve been asked not to kill you. Yet.” She frowned down at where Ilsa writhed on the base of the lyre. “Your father isn’t happy about you killing Uzan.” She leaned toward Tirica. “You either.”

A cold wave of panic hit Ilsa she struggled to move the shotgun, fighting the pain of her wounds. First grabbed Tirica’s collar and tugged her up.

The Chogrumian girl spat drops of saliva and blood onto First’s face. The woman showed no sign of surprise, and she did not slow. She slammed Tirica’s skull against the lyre’s stone. With a dull thud, Tirica went limp.

First shrugged her head, but did not bother to wipe the blood and spit from her face. She slid one arm under Tirica and lifted the girl onto her shoulders.

Ilsa tried to turn the shotgun toward her. Her eyelids fluttered, close to blacking out from the shock, though not as bad as when Ferdinand’s lance had stabbed her. The bullet was still lodged in her, searing hot. Blood coated her shirt around the wound. She forced her eyes to open fully.

First and Tirica were gone. She groaned and sagged against the lyre’s base. No. Damn it. She had to get up, to go after them. Her legs responded, but she only barely got to her hands and knees, one hand on the grip of her shotgun.

Something thumped against the stone behind her. She looked at Lemuel. He crouched where had just climbed up the base. He met her desperate gaze with one of his own. “Are you alright? Where’s Tirica?”

“That woman took her,” Ilsa managed. “Not sure which way they went.” The world swam around her and her arms trembled.

Lemuel’s eyes found the dead Uzan not far away. He turned toward Ilsa. “She shot you.”

“Yeah. I don’t know how long I’ve got before I pass out.” She grunted. “Sorry.”

He crawled to her side. He brought his face close to hers. “Tirica’s still alive. We can go after her once you’re healed.”

She nodded unsteadily. He brushed her cheek with his fingers. “I can help you get to the horses. Come on.”

They moved to the edge of the stone, where he climbed down first. Ilsa slipped during her descent, but he steadied her with both hands, then helped her into the saddle. Blood stained her hands, saddle, and the bags hanging from it. She hunched forward in agony. They turned the horse back toward Atalem where Siuku could put and end to this pain.

 

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 38 – Flowering Lyre

Tim here.

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, Lemuel, and Tirica go to scout the nearest Lyre to Chogrum. They are looking for Uzan, but what will they find?

 

If we are to fight for any reason, let us face evil together.

 

Blooming flowers of every color surrounded the looming form of the Eastern Lyre. Ilsa realized what the Oshomi had told her was true, she understood why they always referred to it as “Flowering.” The plant piles close to the surface here made the name obvious by sending up their stalks for pollination.

She, Lemuel, and Tirica rode through the flowers. A shame their horses left hoof prints in the soil and disturbed the natural beauty. However, the flowers also made it easier to spot if anyone else had been poking around on a steed. Strider and runner prints would be effortless to spot in this field were steppe grass gave way to bright blossoms.

Like the other structures of Tenlyres Ilsa had seen, the easternmost was made of dark-colored stone, raised on a circular base, though this one lacked ramps. Metallic strings gleamed in the afternoon sun.

They left their horses beside the base. The animals could have leaped to reach the top, but they were already strained by the morning ride, and the stress would be unnecessary.

The three of them climbed the meter or so up onto the stone. She knew from what Lemuel had discovered about the lyres that, though the stone seemed still, they vibrated at a subtle frequency that made them impervious to the ravages of time. And they could morph to open up to allow access when the right notes were played on the lyre’s metal strings.

She led the way to the strings and looked up at the flat stone support stretching across the top of the lyre. Lemuel glanced at the broader of the two arms of the lyre, where a gate to the empty upper chamber could be opened. “Looks like part of it is still sealed.”

“Yeah,” said Ilsa. “Let’s keep it that way.”

If the lyre was opened entirely, as the central instrument had been, who could tell how many Uzan would be set free from its hidden chambers.

“I should study the piles around here,” said Lemuel. “See if they can tell us anything about the history.”

“I thought you two had been here before?” said Ilsa.

“We have. But I didn’t know what to look for back then.”

“I suppose it makes sense to check them before we play any notes.”

Tirica nodded. “Don’t want any surprises.”

“Right,” said Ilsa.

Lemuel and Ilsa walked to the edge of the raised base of the lyre. While the two of them climbed down to study the piles, Tirica took up a position by one of the lyre’s arms and began to scan the steppe around them through the scope of her rifle.

Ilsa was grateful to have someone watching, in case of nearby enemies. She was even more grateful she had not been forced to use her weapon bonds for a few weeks.

In that time she could feel the guns joined to her spirit silent, but ready as ever to spill blood and take life.

On the ground, among the flowers, Lemuel retrieved an interface tablet from his pack. He crouched down and jabbed the long needle that unfolded from one end of the screen into the stem of a flower.

The screen flickered into life, activated by the bioelectric battery within it. Information stored by natural plant piles could be difficult to decipher, but if one knew what to look for, one could uncover many things about the area in the vicinity of the pile.

Lemuel’s gaze moved over the stream of data points, mostly numbers with only a few words to label the units and title the columns. The interface translated the pile’s information into simple characters when connected.

“Looks like someone has been around here in the last ten hours. Three someones today,” he said. “One is average height, but low step pressure. Someone lightly built. The other two are a lot bigger.”

“How big?” Ilsa asked, leaning in to look at the screen, though its digits and characters made little sense to her.

“Well, they could be Uzan, but a human the size of someone like Ozleji Sammhar would be about as heavy.”

Ilsa’s blood ran cold for a moment at the thought of Sammhar, though she knew he remained a prisoner of the Vogmem nomads allied with Siuku. She had out-shot him more than once, but it did not ease her completely, as it shouldn’t for any of her father’s apprentices.

“I can’t see anything else out of the ordinary,” said Lemuel. “My guess is, even if there are Uzan around, they haven’t found the way to open up the lyre yet. It would be obvious if they had.”

“Definitely,” said Ilsa. “Is there anything else out here to see about?”

“I doubt it. If one of the piles has information the others don’t, then it would still be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

The two of them climbed back onto the base of the lyre. Tirica nodded to them. “The plains look clear to me,” she said.

“You ready to have a look inside?” Ilsa asked.

Lemuel folded his little hand into his big one. “It’s funny. Just this spring I couldn’t have imagined ever going inside a lyre. Now, I don’t know how much there is to learn down there.”

“Being trapped in one of them for a week could make anyone nervous,” Ilsa said.

“The smell of days of our own excrement. The threat of death outside.” Lemuel wrinkled his nose. “How could I forget?”

Ilsa took a deep breath and produced one of her pistols from her brand. She took her scroll case from her belt and handed it to Lemuel.

The paper inside carried the instructions to play the notes to open the top chamber of the lyre. Ilsa had written them down during their stay within the Central Lyre. Later, she had added notes on what she suspected other tunes might do after her father used the relic song pistols to open the entire instrument and free its Uzan. She had only had time to think in the evenings on their ride east after escaping the mountains.

Lemuel unrolled the scroll. “Okay, just a few strings to hit.” He related the information Ilsa half-remembered on her own.

She loaded her pistol and took a deep breath. A stray shot could bring out Uzan, but she would not miss. She took aim at the first string. “I’m ready.”

She pulled the trigger. Pivoted. Pulled the trigger again. The strings sounded more like heavy bells than an ordinary lyre, but as she played, the sound came out deep and distinct, even over the sound of Ilsa’s gunshots.

If I’m not going deaf from playing these yet, I will be soon, Ilsa thought. She completed the brief tune and lowered the pistol.

Tirica let her rifle hang in the sling around her shoulders and applauded, then jerked forward, startled by the lyre’s stone moving near her. Lemuel smirked as the wall beside Tirica opened up into a passage leading downward.

“It still amazes me the way this place works,” he said with a note of awe in his voice.

Ilsa nodded to him. They walked toward the passage, side by side. “Tirica,” said Ilsa. “Can you stay out here and keep watch?”

“Can do,” said the girl. “Someone here has to look out for trouble.” She walked a few paces away from the passage and sat down nearby. “Don’t you two distract each other down there.”

“Distract each other?” Lemuel flushed. “Sister, I don’t know—”

“I know what you two have been doing when we camp at night. And it isn’t all making notes and plans in your tent alone.”

Lemuel’s face grew redder than Ilsa had ever seen before. She stifled a laugh with her hand. Tirica did not bother hiding her own mirth.

“Sister, please,” said Lemuel. “It is not polite.”

“Brother, really?” Tirica seemed to choke on her laughter. “I’m happy for you. Besides, Ilsa doesn’t mind. That’s obvious.”

He waved his hands. “Ilsa has more experience with this sort of thing than I do.”

“That is not the sort of thing most men just admit, you know,” said Tirica.

Lemuel froze, suddenly silent, but still red.

“Your brother isn’t most men. He’s an uncommon genius.” Ilsa put a hand on Lemuel’s arm.

Everything from Lemuel’s ears to his chin flushed after that.

Tirica shook her head, then sat back against the lyre’s arm. She adjusted the scope while making a disgusted expression. “Alright, that was more than I needed to know.”

“Shouldn’t have pushed,” mumbled Lemuel. He started down the passage into the lyre. Ilsa followed him with a smile at Tirica as she walked past the girl.

Tirica pulled a disgusted face.

As they descended out of earshot of Tirica, Lemuel took a deep breath and turned to her. “An uncommon genius? Did you really mean that?”

“Of course I did. You figured out more about lyres than anyone since the ancients.”

He started to speak but stopped himself. They continued to follow the dark sloping passage, illuminated by glowing stone streaks along the walls on either side of the five-meter-broad passage.

They emerged into the empty chamber under the base of lyre visible on the surface. It appeared to be identical in structure and dimensions to the one in the Central Lyre.

“Not much to see here,” she said.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Lemuel followed the glowing lines in the stone along one of the walls. “If the passage above can be opened with a song, there could be other chambers accessible from this one using different notes.”

“Siuku definitely seemed to think so.” Ilsa frowned. “She didn’t know any of those songs, though. just the one that opened the prisons of the Uzan, and the one that got us down here.”

“If we have time, we should experiment with different notes.” He furrowed his brow. “Something tells me there are other passages out from here.”

“Intuition? You?”

“I know, I usually prefer data. But sometimes one has to make a hypothesis and then test it to learn. In this case, the hypothesis of songs is that they can help us learn without also freeing more Uzan.”

“The hypothesis of songs,” said Ilsa. “Sounds pretty poetic.”

“That’s more your field than mine,” he said. “History, information, lyre lore, that’s my skill set. You’re the one with words. I’m glad you’re writing them down now.”

Ilsa followed him along the wall a few more paces then stopped. “I only do that when I think you’re asleep.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t used to do it at all.”

“Cass told me I should, back at the lake.”

“I think she’s right. You’re still a priestess of Hathani, even without your staff.”

“I’m starting to feel that way again,” Ilsa said. “Sometimes I wasn’t all that sure what I really believed.”

“Well.” He turned to face her. He took her free hand in his larger one. “We rely on each other to figure that out. At least, that’s how it seems to me.”

She pulled him close and they shared a kiss hot as summer in the cool chamber.

“I keep counting on you,” she said as they drew apart.

Two gunshots cracked the air. The sounds echoed down the passage to reverberate inside the chamber.

“Shit,” said Ilsa. “Unfriendly company.”

“That was Tirica’s rifle.” He reached for the revolver holstered at his belt.

She turned toward the entrance and raised her pistol. They ran for the surface.

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 37 – Across the Divide

Tim here.

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Previous Chapter

Some time after the battle of Howling Pass, Ilsa and a small group of allies ride east toward Chogrum.

If we are to ride for any reason, let us ride as one people.

 

Ilsa rode the dappled gray steppe horse into the Filami village. Over the past month, she had become used to the animal, though it was completely unlike any strider or runner. In a way, that seemed fitting for a ride to Chogrum, a city where she had never been before. Everything became strange at once.

The village was tiny, as were most of the Filami settlements on the plateau of Yr. And like the rest, it was located in an area rich with underground plant piles. Atalem, however, had a dire distinguishing feature. It was the closest settlement of any kind to the Eastern Lyre, the place where Uzan slept closest to Chogrum.

If an attack was going to surprise the Prince of Chogrum, it would come from the lyre south of Atalem. The maps of the Oshomi called it the Flowering Lyre. The nomad warriors who rode with Ilsa assured her she would understand why they did once she saw it.

For the first time in years, she rode without Blue close by. Her friend was with a group of nomads further north, but also on their way eastward. They would reach Heaven’s Lyre, located just a little further west than Ilsa was now, and make certain the Gray Lector and Black Powder did not try to raise another demonic army from it.

Even so, her friend felt close.

Ilsa touched the egg-shaped locket that contained a bit of plant pile and hung from a string around her neck. It had once belonged to Ashnia Haram, but Blue had repurposed it to amplify Ilsa’s sense of spirits, at least as it applied to humans.

She had been skeptical at first but learned that if she focused a little, Ilsa could send a short message to Blue over seemingly any distance. Useful, in keeping their two groups in contact with each other while not sending out radio signals or messengers.

Her horse snorted as they passed a bale of Filami winter root. The hottest part of summer was approaching, but evidently, the people of Atalem still had some of their winter crops left over. Winter root could grow deep within piles and be extracted without damaging the rest of the organism if one knew where to dig.

Ilsa supposed the Filami here had mastered that sort of knowledge long ago. She pulled on the reins to slow her horse. That had taken some adjustment, as opposed to a whisper or flex of posture which would have sufficed to control a strider.

Siuku, the Keeper of Tenlyres, caught up with Ilsa, riding bareback with no reins, and brought her horse to a stop in the center of Atalem’s main street. Villagers emerged from some of the nearby houses with caution. Some even held firearms, though none had the weapons readied.

Ilsa understood their caution. Oshomi like Siuku and the rest of the band riding with Ilsa sometimes raided the Filami villages near them for goods and supplies. Still, she doubted it would come to violence here, and if it did, Ilsa could quickly disarm the Filami without killing them. She doubted any of them had weapon bonds, and she was confident she could out-shoot unbonded marksmen.

Siuku called out to the villagers in the steppe’s trade language. “Do not fear. We are not raiders.”

A murmur ran through the Filami. A few of them came closer to the keeper.

Siuku continued, “I am the Keeper of Tenlyres, and I seek to protect all of Yr from the awakening of Asurdeva.”

More murmurs. One of the Filami elders waved his arm at Siuku. She turned toward him. “What is it?” Her voice lost much of its grandeur. When she lowered the volume it went back to its usual monotone.

“You are Oshomi. When have the Oshomi protected anything?”

“I speak for all Oshomi now, not those of the past. In the coming days, we must all act as one if we are to survive.”

The Filami exchanged glances as more Oshomi from Ilsa’s group rode into the village, and along with them, Lemuel and Tirica Chollush. The scholar Ilsa loved, and his sister made their way toward her on their own horses, having also traded their striders to keep better pace on this ride east. She glanced in their direction.

Lemuel gave her a nod, more confident in their relationship after their time in the mountains. Ilsa felt the same way about things. They had held together under pressure without collapsing inward. She turned and rode to the keeper’s side.

Ilsa raised both her branded hands. “She speaks the truth. I am a priestess of the Unification. I am not Oshomi, and you can trust the keeper’s words.”

Another elder shook her head. “I have heard the Keeper of Tenlyres rides the lands in the center of the steppe. Peaceful or not, why should we believe you are who you say?”

Siuku bowed her veiled head. “I would not ask you to trust me on faith alone. Have you anyone with cuts or wounds among you?”

The second elder’s lined faced pinched into a frown. “The young occasionally cut themselves on the digging blades. What are you suggesting?”

“Bring me anyone with an open wound, and I will heal them.”

After a few minutes of jostling and whispers and then some talk among the elders, a young man with a bandaged forearm walked forward.

Siuku climbed down from her horse and unfastened one side of her veil. She carefully opened up the bandage with deft hands. Then, she touched the exposed wound in front of the crowd of Filami. Light flickered beneath her fingers.

The young man’s eyes went wide and he stared at the smooth skin left behind from Siuku’s touch.

“It’s true,” he exclaimed. “The Keeper of Tenlyres can heal the wounded.”

Siuku held out her hands, fingers streaked with small traces of the young man’s blood. “I have been given this power by the spirits. Please, trust that I will not betray you.”

The villagers crowded closer, their fear abated. A miracle has a way of convincing, Ilsa thought.

She suspected Siuku’s abilities were more similar to the powers of a mind eater or other magus than the keeper herself did, but the evidence was light. For one thing, Siuku’s mind did not seem to cloud with the after effects, which was a difference between her and any type of magi but the ones referred to as mind eaters.

Her powers had physical influence. That meant if she was a magus she should be emanating traces of illusive fog as well when she used them. But that never happened either.

The Keeper of Tenlyres remained mysterious to Ilsa, even after being healed by her more than once.

Siuku healed more wounded villagers. The elders inspected each one and eventually motioned for the other Oshomi to dismount. After that, many of the villagers left to prepare a feast. Others stepped forward to help the Oshomi tend to their tired horses. The band of the keeper was welcomed to Atalem with food from the local stores of crops.

As the meal came to a close a few hours later, and most of the nomads and villagers had finished eating, Ilsa and Lemuel were sitting on a wooden bench facing south, where sunlight spilled down from a cloudless sky. Siuku was talking with the village elders at a table nearby, and Ilsa caught a familiar word one of the Filami said in a soft voice.

“…Demons…”

Ilsa rose from the bench and looked toward the table, sharpening her ears to better listen in.

“Uzan,” said Siuku. “They can be difficult to detect. But you say they moved about in the night?”

“Yes. South of here, by the field of flowers,” said the elder. “There are not many of them, but there need not be to threaten our village.”

“I understand,” said Siuku. “My people will investigate the place at once.”

“You are generous, Keeper of Tenlyres.”

A rumble of agreement came from the other elders.

“If we are to be friends, we must share what we have. And I have warriors.” Siuku bowed to the elders. When she raised her head, she did not look in Ilsa’s direction, but motioned her closer to the table with one hand, eerily aware of Ilsa’s location.

“Priestess,” said the keeper. “It seems our visit to the Flowering Lyre must be today.”

“It makes sense,” said Ilsa. “I can look into it right away.”

“I will send a few of my warriors with you.”

Lemuel and Tirica approached behind Ilsa. The Chogrumian siblings drew Ilsa and Siuku’s attention.

“With respect, your holiness,” said Lemuel, “But my sister and I have studied this lyre before. We should go as well.”

“A good idea,” said Siuku. “Go now if you can. I will send a group of warriors to join you once I have them readied.”

“Thank you, keeper.” Ilsa glanced at Lemuel and Tirica. “Are you sure? This could be dangerous.”

“You know how to kill Uzan.”

“That doesn’t make it easy. Or safe.”

He shrugged. “Nothing out here is safe. Chogrum will be sending troops to fight Ayoch and Dal any day now. And who knows how many Uzan there will be.”

“Fine.”

“You can’t get rid of us that easily,” said Tirica with a grin.

“I know.” A smile tugged at the corners of Ilsa’s lips. “We’ve been across half of Yr together.”

“Damn right,” said Tirica.

They went to retrieve their horses. Once mounted, they rode south toward the place where wild flowers bloomed from the plant piles. The easternmost artifact of Tenlyres.

#

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