Invisibles 7

Hey everyone, Tim here, just a quick reminder I have two new books out.

The Mangrove Suite

Soul Art

Now back to the story.

Invisibles

Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.

Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.

Sarsa, city of countless exiles.

Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.

Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.

That is the Sarsa to be watched.

And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.

7

Kelebek crept down the alleyway, leaving Saint behind her on the street. He was too conspicuous to follow closely but fast enough to catch up with her if he sensed trouble ahead. She had built enough golems to trust in that fact.

Saint’s senses caught not only Kelebek’s movements but also the group on the street in front of the Watertakers’ hideout. Though they were almost a block away, he could hear them creeping toward the door. Saint hefted the massive scattergun he carried onto his clay shoulder. He hoped Alina would be more careful this time.

Alina and Percival lurked by the steps at the front of the building.

Martin stood back from Alina, armored hands clenched. He knew he could not afford to be reckless, but they were taking too long if Ceth meant to harm the woman he had just tugged inside seconds ago. These two were young, but compared to him they had ice in their veins. Once, Martin had been sworn to protect, as all members of the Hound Legion. Of the places he had been, only Sarsa seemed to strip away virtue so quickly.

He circled Alina to the foot of the steps. He marched up them.

Saint heard his footfalls and knew the plan was going awry. Martin was a skilled brawler, but he was also a good man. Sometimes Martin wished he had been more like Martin when alive. The rest of him figured that would have gotten him killed even faster. He followed Kelebek toward the back of the building, not worried about his heavy steps. Martin was making noise up front. The Watertakers would be busy by the time Saint arrived.

Percival whispered to Martin, “What are you doing?”

Martin ignored him and knocked on the front door of the building they planned to rob, a building full of korda gang members. The slat in the door opened with a click. “What do you want, legionnaire?”

He met the eyes looking out at him from the door with an even gaze. “I’m off duty. Not really a legionnaire right now.”

“Then get lost. You ought to know where you are, dog man.”

“I know exactly where I am, watertaker.”

“Ceth!” said the door guard.

Martin’s stone-gauntleted hands punched through the door. Fingers unwrapped an grabbed the man’s forearms. He pulled, so the korda hit the door between them. He groaned and fell to the floor. Martin pulled the door open.

Percival and Alina stared at him. Another pair of eyes glared in Martin’s direction from the far end of the hallway behind the door. They glared at him over a jeweled korda breathing mask. “Legionnaire,” said Ceth. “What are you doing here?”

Alina scrambled up the stairs, Percival at her back. She grabbed Martin’s shoulder just as he freed his hands from the broken door. “This is trouble.”

“I’m good at trouble.” Martin’s eyes did not leave Ceth’s. “Bring it on, korda.”

As Percival reached the second to the top step, just behind Alina and Martin, he spotted four more korda gangsters as they emerged from doors on either side of the hall, between Martin and Ceth.

“Time to go,” Percival said.

“No.” Martin stepped into the hallway. Percival may be practical, but in this situation pragmatism became cowardice. Martin was a trained soldier. He did not need to back down from a handful of men with knives, especially with Saint so close by. The korda would be lucky if they only met his fists.

He hefted a mallet in each hand, both of them small, but with stone heads. Martin’s skill in geomancy allowed him to make those heads hit harder than they had any right. He marched into the hallway. The first korda lunged at him. Martin broke his arm and kicked the knife behind him. He heard Alina pick it up. Two more of Ceth’s goons rushed Martin. He sent one into the wall and cracked the other’s knee.

Ceth backpedaled, trying to put distance between himself and Martin. Percival did not blame the gang leader. Too bad for us there are still ten more of them in there. No way will Martin have an easy time of it, and either way we’ll all have a new set of enemies in these parts. Percival grimaced as he saw Alina holding the knife dropped by the korda gingerly in one hand.

“No use,” he said, “If they get past Martin we had better run.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so.” Alina did not like the idea of shedding blood, but she had seen enough of it to know that’s often how gangs worked. She followed Martin into the hallway, past the moaning and whimpering forms of fallen Watertakers.

Martin dropped the fourth goon. He smiled at Ceth, who was fumbling with a bag on his belt a few feet away.

“What’s the matter?” he said. “Attached to your limbs.”

Ceth grunted. He pulled a pistol, all brass in color, from the bag and aimed it at Martin’s head. “Don’t take a step further.”

Martin lowered his mallets to his sides. “Hey, good effort.”

“I won’t miss,” said Ceth. “You’re a dead hound now.”

Martin knew all too well what the pistol could do at that range, but he was now stuck in this hallway.

The door behind Ceth slammed open like a gunshot. Smoke poured out of it, gray and choking. Ceth whirled to look behind him. Martin’s mallet cracked down on his skull. Ceth staggered, then crumpled against the wall. Alina ran forward and pulled the gun from his hands. The smoke in the room beyond him resolved into the form of a woman, Rethe, the korda woman who had walked beside her on their way down the street.

Rethe regarded Martin with a smile visible through her breathing mask. “What do you know, a knight to the rescue,” she said. “Good timing.”

He frowned at her. She did not look like she had been in trouble, which meant she could have been playing them all along.

“Who are you?” Martin asked.

 

#

 

See you next week for the next installment!

Invisibles 6

Hello friends, Tim here.

It’s been a whirlwind week, between returning home and completing edits on a book called The Mangrove Suite. This is a story I’m intensely proud of, and it’s now available on amazon.com in the kindle unlimited program. I need your help to get noticed, so please read or buy the book, and if you do, give it an honest review over at amazon.com. Thanks!

Check out The Mangrove Suite here.

In other news, progress on the new books keeps on coming, and I think I am back on the horse as far as writing rough draft goes. Good thing too. Writing fiction is among the best parts of my life.

Now, the heist went off over the last five weeks, but the Invisibles still need to make ends meet.

Read on to find out the details of their next job.

 

 

Invisibles

Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.

Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.

Sarsa, city of countless exiles.

Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.

Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.

That is the Sarsa to be watched.

And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.

 

6

Clouds rose from the canals and into the Sarsan night. These streets and islands were called The Fog. The place was well-named, Percival thought, as he prowled down the alleyway, leading the way for Alina and Martin. The pale mists obscured structures new and old, sitting squat along the streets in the darkness.

He looked from the alley’s mouth into the street. A squad of Red Guards, the city police force, marched along the damp street, their lanterns offering wispy strands of light and diffuse apprehension to any would-be thieves who happened to be wandering outside their home-turf.

Percival’s summoned rain-imp winged her way over the buildings. He focused himself to share the demon’s senses with accuracy. She dropped onto a slanted rooftop just above the gutter. Then a hand slapped down on Percival’s shoulder. He emerged from the demon’s mind with a start. Alina’s touch would have been welcome, but the hand on his shoulder was heavy, cold with a stony gauntlet.

Martin Leng liked moonlighting, even when he could not see the moon in this mist. Percy grunted at him. Martin lifted his stone-clad hand easily thanks to his geomantic abilities. He might not be a shaper who could craft golems like Kelebek or sculpt weapons like the Rogue Hound, but without the metal armor he usually wore under his stone cladding he could move as naturally and quietly as most anyone. He peered around the corner as the Red Guards and their lamps receded.

“Looks like we’re clear,” Martin said.

Percy grunted again. “Give me a second with my imp. Then I’ll tell you if we’re clear.”

The summoner still had not forgiven Martin for being a member of the Hound Legion, evidently. He would have shrugged if Percy could see him. Of course, even in a good mood, Martin figured Percy did not like the direct approach.

Alina caught up with them. She adjusted her posture to walking normally rather than staying low to avoid light, and went out into the street without missing a step. She would keep an eye on the Red Guards for them. Martin trusted her more than any demon Percy could summon.

She walked into the middle of the street, feeling exposed, though she knew Saint was listening from the alleyway on the opposite side of the street from Percival and Martin. Nonetheless, she proceeded down the street toward the Watertakers’ hideout. She had never dealt with the Watertakers in the past, but she knew their reputation from the few Korda she met in Nicodod Ring.

The Watertakers were all Korda exiled from their peoples’ mighty eastern sky fleets. Though they were human-like, arguably fully human, Korda did not mix with westerners well. Alina spotted a figure emerging from a building near her on the right.

Like most of the Korda in dusty Sarsa, this one wore a mesh mask over her mouth and nose. Her hair was lank and yellow, but unlike many of her people, she left it uncovered. She wore a long black dress with practical shoes, odd to see given the neighborhood. What little of her skin was visible was pallid, as if she never saw the sun. The woman fell into step alongside Alina.

Martin turned to Percy. “Someone suspect her?” he asked.

“Not likely,” said the summoner. “That Korda isn’t a Watertaker.”

“How can you tell?”

“She’s not wearing blue.”

“You can see that?” Martin could not help the incredulity from his voice.

“My imp can,” said Percival. “Don’t go clanking out there trying to help.”

“I don’t clank,” said Martin.

“Not that you can hear,” said Percival, hoping the big legionnaire would catch his meaning. “Stay in the shadows.”

Alina sneaked another glance at the woman walking beside her as they crossed the street, still heading toward the Watertakers’ building. They were close enough together, Alina smelled alcohol an chemicals wafting off of the woman. She could not place the foul smell,  but it was clearly present.

“Where are you going so late?” asked the woman.

Alina smiled. “Home,” she lied.

“You don’t live around here,” said the woman.

Alina did not let her smile slip. “You got me. I’m taking the midnight ferry back to land.” The small docks did lie further on this way, so the untruth would be difficult to guess.

The woman nodded, and Alina thought she saw a ghost of a smile beneath the breathing mask. Funny, how common the device appeared, because Alina and the others were here to steal a far more decadent version from the Watertakers. Ceth, the leader of the gang, should not have worn it around so proudly, letting its sapphires sparkle in the sunlight and start the rumors spreading.

Percival and Martin followed Alina and the woman to the hideout. There, Alina kept walking past the building. But the woman turned and approached the doorway to the building. Martin glanced at Percival. “What were you saying about her not being with the Watertakers? People can change their clothes, you know.”

“Just watch, please.” Percival crept ahead, following the street after Alina, who had passed out of the Korda woman’s line of sight and was circling around to meet up with him and Martin.

Martin watched the two younger members of the crew approach each other, then turned his attention to the front of the Watertakers’ hideout. The woman knocked on the door. A slat opened and a small square of light fell on the woman’s black dress. He listened as well as he could to the voices speaking.

“You’re late, Rethe,” said the man behind the door.

“I’m here to pay,” Rethe answered.

The door unlatched, revealing a man in a sapphire-jeweled mask. He grabbed the woman by the forearm. “You have no idea,” said Ceth. He pulled the woman inside. The doors slammed, and the bolt locked.

“Did you see that?” Martin asked as Alina and Percy returned.

“I heard everything.” Percy shook his head. “Told you she wasn’t with them.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” said Martin. “Does this change anything?”

Alina shook her head. “Only makes it tougher. “Saint and Kelebek should be on their way inside by now.”

Martin nodded. He hated the idea of what Ceth would be doing to the woman he had just dragged inside. He made a face but knew there was a heroic urge inside him. Tonight would have been dangerous enough without Rethe’s appearance.

He glowered at the Watertakers’ door. Not long now.

 

#

 

Thanks for reading! Come back next week for more Invisibles.

Invisibles 5

Hello everyone, Tim here. I’m on vacation right now, so I’ll be ringing in August with my family back east-ish. Anyway, the latest chapter of Invisibles is the last in the first set.

Check out my new book, “Soul Art” Amazon/Other Sites

Check out my work on Instafreebie.

Now, on to the story.

Invisibles

Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.

Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.

Sarsa, city of countless exiles.

Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.

Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.

That is the Sarsa to be watched.

And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.

 

5

Alina woke up quickly once the soporifics wore off. She sat up on the couch where she lay and looked around Hajur’s back room meeting place. Smoke and shadows dominated, but she made out the shapes of her fellow thieves on the chairs and couches around her, except for Saint, who would not have fit through the door.

They had all made it out of the score all right.

The room was warm but smelled less of the sweet narcotics she expected, then of… burning paper.

“The letter?” Alina asked.

Hajur grinned and lowered her pipe. In her free hand, she held the burnt edge of a piece of paper. “Disposed of,” she said. “After I read it, of course.”

“You wanted the letter to burn it?” Alina sat up fast, her face hot with temper. “He’ll just write another letter, you know?”

“Calm down, girl,” said Hajur, dropping the remains of the paper to the floor. “This letter was the Rogue Hound’s message to his legitimate leader. As I suspected it was time sensitive. By the time the couriers deliver the second letter, my associates will be long out of danger.”

Alina scowled at Hajur, past Percival, Kelebek, and Martin.

For their part, the other three thieves in the room looked puzzled, but Alina doubted any of them would care once they were paid. But Hajur had made Saint, and Martin who really should care, betray their leader, however nefarious, and that should be worth extra. Alina took a deep breath and explained her opinion to Hajur.

“Correct, indeed, girl.” Hajur took a puff on her pipe. “I will pay them an extra half share each.”

Martin gave a satisfied grunt. “Sounds alright. Now, if I hurry, I should be able to return with the case the letter was in. Get another bonus, maybe.”

“And Saint?” asked Alina.

“I’ll take him his share, and we’ll be on our way together,” Martin said.

Percival and Kelebek glanced at Alina. She nodded. “Alright. Fine.”

Hajur blew smoke from her pipe. “Take your cut, and be grateful, girl. Not everyone gets away so easily.”

She knew what Hajur said was true. As she took her bag of coins while the others took theirs’, she considered saying something else, to clash again with the information thief. Alina thought better of it. She glanced at Percival as they left the dusk diner for the night outside. He pulled his collar up but caught her gaze as he did.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“Back there, Hajur only wanted us to delay the Rogue Hound’s message. Why? I don’t believe it’s just her agents getting out of trouble.”

“I don’t know,” he said. And he really did not know. However, his hatred of the Rogue Hound meant he had not questioned the job before. “Anything to slow down the war machines.”

Alina shook her head. “You really hate the hounds, Percival.”

He snorted. “When someone enslaves you for their war, you can tell me how to feel.”

Kelebek clapped them both on the shoulder. “Don’t bicker too loud, you two. There are worse things in the night than hounds and golems.” She slipped between them and headed for her home. The money jingled a little in her pocket, telling her there would be enough to help her sister’s children eat for another week. She hoped Martin did something useful with his share. She could have used the extra coin.

Eventually, she reached her shop. Once inside, she locked the door, and then bolted it. She climbed the stairs to get some rest before morning. But sleep took it’s time to arrive.

Percival and Alina walked side by side in silence for a while. He wanted to apologize but could not seem to find the words. She turned to go to the smaller, local Church of Angels in her neighborhood near Nicodod Ring. Percival started to speak, to say sorry, but she brushed off his words.

“It’s late,” she said. “I was angry too.” She did not sound angry at that moment, but Percival let her go with just a nod of assent.

She knelt down before the altar in the little church with its simple tiled floor and single tower over the sanctuary. She prayed a while, asking for forgiveness for her lifestyle, praying fervently. Eventually, she raised her head and went home to sleep, but she did not feel much better by the time she drifted off.

Percival found his way to the fortune teller who worked near his home in a run-down part of Nicodod Ring. The windows of the fortune teller’s antique shop were dark and the doors closed. He kept walking as the last of the dust storm died away. At last, he reached his building and then descended into the basement he rested. Down there it was dark as pitch. He took off his coat and sat in a musty but comfortable chair, under a lamp. He doused the light before long, and eventually, he drifted off to sleep, dreaming not of his friends, or the Rogue Hound, but of what might be the next score. Invisible in the dark, the city slept, waiting for the next dawn.

The Rogue Hound was writing his replacement letter. Hajur’s pipe-smoke gradually dispersed. Martin Leng collapsed onto his cot.

Only golems like Saint remained, watching, listening between the dying of the lights and the rising of the sun.

 

#

 

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back soon with more stories.

Invisibles 4

Hey everyone, Tim here.

I’m taking my yearly summer trip back to the family home land soon, so that’s exciting. Hope all you who share seasons with me are staying cool.

You can find my new book, Soul Art, wherever fine ebooks are sold.

Or you can download my samples at instafreebie.com.

Now, onto to the story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invisibles

Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.

Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.

Sarsa, city of countless exiles.

Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.

Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.

That is the Sarsa to be watched.

And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.

 

4

Percival climbed the steps to the second floor of the Rogue Hound’s estate in silence. Already past a handful of guards, he had split from the others back in the entryway. If he was caught out, this would be down to a foot race, hardly good odds against the Rogue Hound’s legionnaires. Still, he was their best chance at grabbing the letter if it came down to reflexes.

On the other side of the building, Alina crept down the richly carpeted hallway. Though most of the building was lit up with lamps this hallway was dimmer than the others thanks to the subtle mists Kelebek had given Alina to release midway down. It wasn’t smoke exactly, but a kind of dust that hung like fog. Alina stayed low, held her breath, and slipped past the armored guard who clanked down the passage in the opposite direction.

Kelebek found Martin on the ground floor. He was leaning against the wall in his heavy brownstone-covered armor. As most geomancers in the legions, he covered lighter metal armor in a layer of rock. He did not wear a helmet, and his east-Asian heritage made him unmistakable. She recognized him and stepped into the light just before where he stood. Martin did not startle easily. He looked up at Kelebek with a small smile.

“Dark work? What’s the plan this time?” he asked in a low voice, with a mild European accent.

She raised a hand slightly in greeting. “A letter from the Rogue Hound.”

“You want to steal it?” he whispered. “A good idea. One that needs a good plan.”

“Alina and Percival are going ahead. We’re to get them to the courtyard where Saint is waiting.”

“Sounds simple enough. Should we divert the guards?”

“I think so.” She smiled slightly.

He nodded to her. They left the ground floor’s side hall, and began to walk toward the front of the building. Kelebek indicated the flares she had brought with her from her shop. Those would burn bright and loud, and serve as ideal distractions once one of the others had the letter. Best be ready because whichever got the letter, Alina or Percival would be in a hurry on their way out.

Percival reached the end of the second-floor hallway leading to the passage outside the Rogue Hound’s study. He flattened himself against the wall and peeked around the corner. Three people stood before the doorway. Two of them were armored hound legionnaires, the other was Alina in her dusty clothes.

At first, he thought the hounds had caught her. Then he realized her hands were still free, though she held a small bottle out to the guard. The hound without a helmet wore a secured case for a letter on his hip. He had the hound’s message, Percival felt certain.

Alina said, “The Rogue Hound asked for this potion to treat his letter.”

“What kind of potion is it?” asked one legionnaire, a big man with sandy-colored hair.

“A potion of suggestiveness, effective on skin contact.”

“Intriguing,” said the blond legionnaire. “Should we see if it works?”

The other legionnaire, who wore a slitted helmet, rolled his plated shoulders. “You have an idea?”

“Girl, open the bottle.” The sandy-haired legionnaire leered at her. “We’ll test your potion.”

Alina frowned at them. She hoped they would not recognize the scent of sedatives. She spotted Percival at the corner. She caught his eye and then nodded to the guards, but so he could see. She held her breath as she lifted the lid of the bottle and then waved it between herself and them.

The scent of soporifics floated in the hallway. The helmeted guard immediately staggered to one side. The sandy-haired one’s eyes widened. He clamped his lips tight and slammed one hand on the letter case at his hip. His other hand reached for Alina. She stepped back, but his fingers closed on her wrist. She dropped the soporific and the small bottle shattered on the floor, releasing the rest of its contents. Alina could not hold her breath anymore.

Percival gulped in air, then charged past the fallen guard and went for the would-be messenger who held Alina’s wrist. He hit the big legionnaire from behind and made the man stumble forward. Already drugged, the man stumbled forward, then fell to his knees. Alina swayed on her feet, staring at Percival.

“Run,” he said, as he freed the letter case from the blond legionnaire’s belt.

She nodded, and they took off back the way Percival had come.

Alina’s head swam as they reached the top of the stairs. The soporific was having its effect. She threw an arm across Percival’s shoulder and leaned on him as they descended the grand staircase. A trio of other legionnaires emerged from the hallway she had gone down initially. They pursued her and Percival as she started to drag her feet.

They hit the front door as an explosion sounded outside into the courtyard, off to Percival’s left. He threw the door open and helped Alina with him as they stumbled outside. She left his side. A few steps later, she sank to the ground.

“Alina?” he turned toward her, but not as fast as Saint scooped her up on one of his stone arms. The dome of the golem’s casket bobbed in a nod.

“Time to go. Right,” said Percival. He sprinted for the gateway.

Saint slammed the door to the mansion with a thunderous force. Then, he bounded away on piston-like legs. Saint sensed that Kelebek and Martin had left the estate, and Percival was ahead of him. He sprang over the wall before the legionnaires had time to open the door behind him.

Saint hit the street outside with a thud that did him and Alina no harm. Percival ran over to the golem and the girl, waving the letter case in one hand. “Got it. Let’s go!”

Saint bowed his head to Percival. Kelebek and Martin emerged from an alleyway where they had hidden after placing the flares. The group started toward Hajur’s to deliver their prize.

And like that, the Rogue Hound’s letter passed out of his hands. But to what end? None of the thieves` yet knew.

 

#

 

Thanks for reading! This job is not quite done… see you next week!

Invisibles 3

Hello, everyone. Tim here.

 

Working on podcasts and fiction at the same time is going to drive me insane. I’m fairly sure of this, but like a goblin with his hand stuck in the pickle jar I’m not willing to let go of anything. Oh well, I have made my own fate.

 

Check out the series page for Invisibles.

 

Check out my giveaways on instafreebie.com

 

Finally, don’t forget to check out all my books at amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine ebooks are sold. Especially look for the sequel to Hunter and Seed. Soul Art is out now!

 

Now, back to the story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invisibles

Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.

Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.

Sarsa, city of countless exiles.

Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.

Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.

That is the Sarsa to be watched.

And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.

 

3

Through the eyes of an impish demon, fluttering over the barracks near the Vancaldor estate, Percy watched the changing of the guards. Heavily armored Hound legionnaires exchanged their positions with others who could have been the same but for the different carvings in the stone finish of their armor. Percy had left his physical form sitting in the stone carriage across from Alina and Kelebek. He turned the imp’s gaze toward the street where the carriage rumbled closer.

The imp’s sarcastic voice piped up in the back of his mind. “Some view, human.”

“It’s what I offered.” When Percy conjured a demon he shared senses with the creature while it served him. Usually, the idea of experiencing the physical reality was enough to please lesser spirits. Evidently, this one thought itself above that.

“You are a poor sorcerer to give me so little.”

“This deal will be our only one,” he grumbled mentally. Part of him hoped the disagreeable imp would agree, but such creatures were often contrary by nature.

“We will see, mortal. At least your body is healthy. I have had many hosts who did not mind their flesh…”

Philip ignored the imp’s rambling. He used the spirit creature’s eyes to trace the route of the golem carriage to the place where it stopped by the barracks. He willed the creature to descend to get a better view. The imp circled the broad, tiled roof of the barracks, then alighted on the peak of its gentle arch.

“Down below,” said Percival to the imp. “Look down at the courtyard.”

“There’s nothing to see there,” said the imp, sounding annoyed. “Were you even listening to me?”

“About what?”

“You are a very rude host.”

“Take it or leave it,” said Percy.

“The courtyard is dull. There is a stone-clad golem down there, but nothing else.”

“Does the golem have a face?”

“No, just a domed reliquary on its front.”

Percy recognized Saint’s description. He smiled inside but knew it would only appear as a twitch of the lips on his physical form.

“Thank you,” Percy said. “I’ll contact you again soon.” He broke the sense link and returned to full control over his own body.

Alina was frowning at him. She thought about how eerie it was to know a demon perceived the world through Percival when he summoned them. Worse, even a skilled summoner could lose control to a full possession if they did not take care. The more powerful the demon, the more difficult to retain dominance. She knew this only from what he had told her. She would never consort with such creatures herself.

Kelebek raised her eyebrows at Percival. “So,” she said. “What did you see?”

“A golem in the courtyard. It’s Saint.”

“Perfect,” said Kelebek. “We are in luck.”

“I hope Saint will be on our side,” said Alina.

“He’d better be,” said Percival. “If he doesn’t, this job is gonna be short.”

Naturally, Saint was not thinking about any of these three at that moment. When one’s spirit was imprinted on a relic and then sealed within in the control chamber of a golem-body, one has priorities not easily understood by the living, especially after ten years of ‘life’ as an animated clay statue.

Saint stood, apparently stock still, in the courtyard, listening with his golem sensorium to the sounds of the city in the distance. His senses—and he was definitely still a man in his own mind—were focused to a precision point. He picked out the nesting bats as they began to move around. He heard a cutpurse running with his prize blocks away.

And when he stopped focusing so hard on the distance, he heard his sometimes-companions discussing his disposition on the street as the carriage that had brought them slipped away.

“We’ll have to go in and find out if he’s with us,” said Percival.

“That’s risky,” said Kelebek. “There must be a better way.”

“There is,” said Alina. She set a hand against the dusty wall of the building closest to the gate Saint watched over. “I’ll go first. Percival, you can watch with your imp, and then follow when you’re sure.”

“But what about you?” asked Percival.

“I’ll be fine. Saint likes me.”

It was true, Saint thought. She reminded him of his own daughter, now fully-grown. She lived as a steward for the Great Hound on the other side of the city, employment guaranteed in part by Saint’s mortal sacrifice. He only hoped Alina would not ask him to betray the Great Hound.

Though Saint served the Rogue Hound directly, he had little respect in his stony heart for a man who bent his considerable influence to personal profit over the good of the people. Alina slipped through the gate and into the courtyard. Her footsteps were all-but silent, but Saint heard them clearly.

Alina crossed the courtyard quickly and quietly. She wished she felt as confident as she had sounded when she volunteered. She liked Saint, but the golem could be unpredictable without Martin around, and according to Percival there was no sign of the Rogue Hound’s even more rogue legionnaire nearby.

The bulky, hunched shape of Saint loomed over her, easily ten feet tall. She looked up at his faceless reliquary. Gilded steel circlets reinforced the domed, barrel-like, metal casket on the front of the golem’s body. He had no eyes, but she knew he saw her.

“Evening, Saint,” she said. “Fancy seeing you, standing guard.”

He nodded, moving his soul casket up and down in the absence of a real head. His spirit reached out, ghostly hands pulled a pen from where he kept it tucked under an armor plate. He lowered the pen to the dust of the courtyard below and started to write in the dirt without its point extended.

Alina leaned forward and read quietly.

“I heard you earlier,” Saint wrote. “Tell me the job.” The pen settled to one side of the words. As soon as Alina finished reading it, Saint’s ghost hand wiped them away like a breeze.

“We’re to intercept the Rogue Hound’s letter,” Alina whispered. “He must be writing it right now.”

Saint bobbed his casket up and down. He wrote, “I know of the letter. Find Martin. I will protect your way out.”

Alina nodded. “Thank you, Saint.”

He erased the words he had written, then tucked the pen back in its holding place.

Alina turned as Percival and Kelebek made their way through the gate just as quietly as she had.

Kelebek tipped her hand to Alina and Saint, a grateful Kalfaran gesture.

Percival brushed dust from his hair. Now, the real job began.

 

#

 

The job begins… next week. Thanks for reading.

 

Here is a share button. Enjoy!

Invisibles 2

Hello, everyone. Tim here.

 

Before we get to the serial for the week, I want to mention that my new novel, “Soul Art” the sequel to “Hunter and Seed” is now available for preorder through all sorts of outlets here. The book launches officially on July 11th, less than a week away!

 

Check out the series page for Invisibles.

 

Check out my giveaways on instafreebie.com

 

Finally, don’t forget to check out all my books at amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine ebooks are sold.

 

Now, back to the story.

 

 

Invisibles

Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.

Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.

Sarsa, city of countless exiles.

Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.

Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.

That is the Sarsa to be watched.

And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.

 

2

The Church of the Angels towered over the streets, all white stone and gilding, a western cathedral dropped into the center of Sarsa. The sounds of vesper songs had been replaced by dismissal bells when Percival approached. Dust swirled around the towers, wearing at the western-style gargoyles and sculpted feathers of stone, angel wings at the peak of each arched support.

He waited in the shadows as people emerged from the light of the front doors and proceeded down the steps, casting long strands of shadow before them. Nose covered by his collar, Percival watched for Alina’s silhouette to resolve from the interspersed light and darkness.

Alina Weir made her way down the church steps.

She wore a white sand coat with a hood that covered her dark hair. The shadows it left on her face also made her light skin less noticeable in the night. Alina spotted Percival at once, despite his skulking, and she knew immediately that meant there was work to do.

Dark work was the source of her money, but Alina felt no need to embrace the worst aspects of the trade. For one, she did not understand why Percival never seemed to slow down, let alone sleep. She supposed when one consorted with demons like he did, priorities were very different from hers. She stepped into the dusty street, shielding her face from the dust with the side of her hood.

“Percival,” she said in the slight Greek accent he recognized as much as her face, as they neared each other. “Why are you here?”

“Straight down to business, yes.” He pulled down his collar from his nose and mouth. “We have a job tonight. From Hajur.”

“What is it?”

“We are to intercept a letter from the Rogue Hound.”

“The Rogue Hound? We’ll need Martin for this.”

“I agree. How long before you’re ready?”

Alina wrinkled her nose at that. He ought to know better after sixteen months of dark work in Sarsa. “I’m always ready.”

“Good.” He nodded to her as evening parishioners streamed past them on either side. “Let’s get the others.”

“Tell me what we know on the way.” Alina preferred not to be caught out of place, and she knew Percival often got in over his head. If he didn’t, he might never have ended up in Sarsa. “Don’t make this personal,” she said. “I know you don’t like the Rogue Hound.”

“It’s just work. The Rogue Hound is an ass, but that’s all he is. Besides a good mark.”

“A dangerous mark,” said Alina.

“But a good one,” Percival smirked. If there wasn’t work to do he could have argued with Alina all night. Or, at least until she got annoyed and told him to go away. “Kelebek lives around here. We should get her next.”

 

 

Alina folded her arms as they approached the darkened block of stucco buildings where Kelebek lived over her shop. “Is that all we know?” she asked Percival.

“Hajur didn’t tell me much,” he admitted. “She didn’t think it was relevant.”

“The contents of this letter weren’t relevant to her?”

“She must have a spy close to the Rogue Hound who has her informed. But no spy can say what hasn’t been written yet.”

They stopped in front of the shop with a sign in the Kalfar’s native language and in English that read “Ayaz Golem Sculpting” in white letters. Alina frowned at the sign, but Percy had an idea the expression was meant for him.

Alina sighed. “I don’t like it. The Rogue Hound is not a kind leader, but he helps protect the city.”

“Hajur lives in the city too. If stealing the letter would threaten Sarsa she wouldn’t be asking us to do it.”

“But she doesn’t know what it will contain—Or she won’t tell us.”

A window slat opened on the first floor of the golem sculpting shop. Percy swore internally. A lock unlatched somewhere inside. He and Alina turned to the door of the shop as the door opened.

The late-thirties Kalfaran woman who stood in the doorway, haloed in yellow lamplight, glared out at them. She wore a sculptor’s smock, but without a trace of clay on the white material. Her hair was pulled back.

“Come inside,” Kelebek said. “Or do you two want the whole block to know what you’re talking about.”

“We weren’t that loud,” said Percival.

“Indeed, not,” said Alina.

Kelebek shook her head. She held the door open with one hand. “Well, you weren’t quiet. Come in.”

The two of them made their way sheepishly inside. She closed the door and turned to them.

“We have a job,” she said. “For Hajur, right?”

“I swear, we weren’t that loud,” said Percival.

Kelebek rolled her eyes. These foreigners had not respect for the ears of the city. “With what your oaths are for, that does not inspire confidence.” She turned to Alina.

Alina pursed her lips. “Hajur wants us to steal a letter. From the Rogue Hound.”

“Interesting.” Kelebek carefully removed her smock, leaving the dark brown trousers and tunic beneath. “Good timing. My latest mask needs to wait before I fire it.”

Percy chuckled. “Speaking of golems. I think we should bring Saint in on this.”

“Saint? But why?”

“The Rogue Hound’s people tend to be heavily armed. Saint is insurance.”

“We need Martin, anyway,” said Alina. “Saint could be useful.”

“Why couldn’t you two agree quietly when you were outside?” said Kelebek with a small smile. “Saint is a rough beast compared to any I’d make, but the idea is good.”

“I suppose the next stop is the barracks. Martin is a hound, at least on the surface, and Saint works for them too.”

“This should be interesting.” Kelebek set the smock on the small table near the front of the shop.

The three of them left her sculpting shop for the dusty night outside.

 

 

#

 

The crew assembles… next week. Thanks for reading.

 

Here is a share button. Enjoy!

 

Invisibles 1

Hello, everyone. Tim here.

Today is the beginning release of a new light serial. These won’t be as meaty sections but will come out regularly each Friday for a while. Because this is the first release, there is no previous chapter link.

Check out the series page.

Check out my giveaways on instafreebie.com

In celebration of the release of a sequel on July 11th, if you sign up for the mailing list before July 5th you will get a free copy of, “Hunter and Seed” through email on that date. The best way to subscribe is through instafreebie.com, where you can get some other free stories and samples as well.

Finally, don’t forget to check out all my books and stories wherever fine ebooks are sold.

Amazon.com Author Page

Rem’s Dream

Tenlyres

Hunter and Seed

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the story.

 

Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.

Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.

Sarsa, city of countless exiles.

Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.

Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.

That is the Sarsa to be watched.

And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.

 

1

The streets of Sarsa were dark and dusty as Percy made his way along them. Wind howled from the distant wastelands and brought arid storms to the city. Percy did not give a damn about wind or dust. He looked for the address on the business card tucked up his sleeve.

He looked for the familiar building on Acturehn Street.

The dust did not make his search any easier. He pulled the high collar of his shirt up to his nose. As he pressed on through the night, Percy began to wonder what another member of the crew was up to. He had no way of knowing for certain but guessed Alina would be schmoozing somewhere upscale. Then he remembered it was Saturday, which meant she sang evening prayers with the rest of her choir at the Church of Angels nearby.

Percy’s mouth was dry, and his mind went bitter at the thought of the religious order. All the religious orders bothered him. They wasted time people could better spend on their own lives, and what did they give? Only hope. Considering he had just spent the afternoon at a seance for a demon, the distaste was probably mutual.

Through the dust and darkness, Percy spied his destination. The sign by the door announced 718 Acturehn Street in mostly still-gilded letters. It was a three-story building, the dusk diner, a restaurant that catered to the night-shift. Percy forgot his previous unhappiness. In his own way, he worked a night shift. Stealing things often went better in the dark.

He climbed the ramp to the front doors of Acturehn Street’s dusk diner.

Inside, the place was lit dimly, but there was no dust in the air, just traces of smoke. Grateful for the reprieves from wind and storm, Percy seated himself as a sign suggested. He took a boot on the far side of the room, where it looked as though no one else was eating.

No sooner had he slid into place in front of the table, then a waiter arrived with a menu in one hand and a napkin in the other.

“Good evening,” said the skinny local.

Percy nodded to the waiter. “May I see the special beer list?” The words were the initiation of a secret set of phrases.

“Anything in particular?” asked the waiter.

“Something old. A rare vintage.”

“Of course. Follow me.” The waiter turned and walked to a door near the booth at the back of the room. Percy followed him through and into a dark room beyond. In this room, the smoke hung thick in the air. A coffee table with a couch on either side of it sat under the sole light in the room, a lamp of red and clear crystal hanging from the ceiling.

“Percival.” A local woman smoking a pipe on the far side of the coffee table rose from her couch.

And it was her couch. This woman was Hajur, the owner of the dusk diner, and a reliable fence for stolen goods.

“I heard you had a job,” said Percy, his voice dry.

“Of course, dear boy. But please, sit.” Hajur turned to the waiter. “Get our friend some water. I would not want to be out on a night like this.”

“It’s not pretty out,” Percy said.

Hajur motioned him to a plush seat by one end of the coffee table.

One of the two men seated on the couch opposite Hajur grumbled something in the local language, a language Percy had never been good at understanding, especially when it went muttered.

“Behave yourself, sir,” said Hajur. She wrinkled her nose. “Our game can wait for a moment. You see, it was only three hours ago I put out the word, and already a faithful friend has arrived to assist.”

The waiter placed a glass of ice water on a glass end table beside Percy’s seat, then backed away and returned to the main room.

Hajur smiled with laugh lines. “Percival, I trust. You two, please leave us alone for a moment.”

The belligerent one grunted. But both men rose and left the room after the waiter. Percy did not blame them. Hajur might be a smiling older woman, but she was also a deadly enemy for anyone who lived off the streets or conducted night work in Sarsa.

“Thank you.” He sipped his water. So cold. So good.

“I appreciate punctuality. The work I have for you is quite sensitive. A courier is to deliver a letter to the Jagged Palace tonight. I would like you to intercept that message.”

“Tonight?” Percy frowned. “I don’t know if there’s time.”

“The letter is still being drafted in the Vancaldor estate,” said Hajur.

“The Rogue Hound.” Percy scowled as he remembered the warlord who had dragged him to Sarsa in the first place. “I have unfinished business with him.”

“It should remain so. I do not ask for assassination, only the usual relief of an object from its owner.”

Percy whistled. “Tonight it is. I’ll call the others.”

“See that you do, Percival. The pay will be double your usual rate for this. It is important to me.”

“I understand.” Percy took another sip of water. He relished the opportunity to break Alina from her prayers. The others would be easier to assemble. And tonight, he had a feeling they would all be needed.

His first stop after leaving the dusk diner was the Church of Angels.

Hopefully, things there would go better than they had last time.

 

#

 

The crew assembles… next week. Thanks for reading.

 

Please share if you appreciate the story. Enjoy!

Tenlyres – Final Chapters

Hello, everyone!

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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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!

Download Tenlyres I for free!

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

Previous Chapter

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

53: Voices

 

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

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

 

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

Silence reigned over the steppe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Asurdeva?” asked Ilsa.

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

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

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

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

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

“No need to ask,” said Ilsa.

“Black Powder?”

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

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

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

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

“Not now,” said Blue.

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

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

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

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

Tirica nodded to Ilsa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ilsa looked at her, surprised. “Blue?”

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

Ashnia nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ilsa sniffed. “What do you mean?”

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

New tears beaded in Ilsa’s eyes.

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

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

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

She glanced at Cass as they rode toward Ferdinand.

“Are you alright?” Cass asked.

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

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

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

“Because of Lemuel?”

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

“I’ll give you that.”

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

“You know I’m not a great speaker.”

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

“What would I even say?”

“What do I say?”

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

“Seems to me you followed that advice.”

They closed with Ferdinand.

“Good morning, priestesses,” he said.

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

Ilsa smiled. “We’re ready to ride.”

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

“Who?” asked Ilsa.

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

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

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

Feet pounded on the steppe grass behind them.

“There he is now,” said Ferdinand.

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

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

Ilsa’s face grew hot. “What? I—”

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

“Didn’t you want to go with Tirica?”

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

“Blue?”

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

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

“Oh be quiet, grave robber.”

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

 * * *

 

54: Recoil

 

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

Do not take all your lessons from weapons of war.

 

Dear High Priestess Uopemm,

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

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

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

Regardless, I forgive you.

Goodbye,

Ilsa Barrett

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 52 – Asurdeva

This is the penultimate week of the Tenlyres serial. We’re in the middle of the climactic scenes. Enjoy!

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.

Download Tenlyres I for free!

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

Previous Chapter

The final battle continues…

With or without faith, we humans walk through the night, looking for signs of dawn.

 

Ilsa and Blue looked at the Red Lector’s children around them on the lyre. She still could hardly believe they had arrived to fight beside them, rather than to kill them.

Ashnia regarded Ilsa and Blue coolly, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. Siuku completed what healing she could on the prince of Chogrum’s ruined stump of an arm. He lay unconscious, surrounded by his guards.

Lemuel’s jaw hung open. He looked from Kaij to Yunn, to the frozen, headless body of the Gray Lector. The massive Uzan leader had not been able to reach the critical piece just severed by Kaij’s blade.

Ashnia grimaced between the strings at the battle raging beyond the lyre.

“The fight isn’t over,” said Blue.

Kaij lowered his sword and put a hand on Ashnia’s shoulder. She closed her eyes. “General Kanan is still alive.”

“Not for long.” Kaij’s lips drew back in a snarl. “He’ll pay for killing our father.” He looked down at the Gray Lector’s body. “Just like this one.”

Ashnia opened her eyes, facing the battlefield. “Not if I beat you to him, brother.”

Ilsa stared at the Ayochians. “You’re all here for revenge?”

Yunn turned toward her in the saddle. “Your cause didn’t sway us. If that’s your question?”

Siuku rose unsteadily from beside the unconscious prince. “Either way, we are on the same side for now.”

“Right.” Ilsa grunted. As much as she hated to admit the Ayochians had saved her life, she knew it was true.

Kaij glared at her. “For now.”

Blue eyed Ashnia. “Do you sense that?”

“Sense what?” asked Ilsa.

“Reach out,” said Blue. “Ashnia, this was the Gray Lector, but their god is still unbound. He is on his way here.”

Beside Ilsa, Lemuel found his words. “Asurdeva is a god. What does a god look like?”

Ilsa closed her eyes and breathed deep, focusing her spirit senses. The oppressive scale of the spirit she had first sensed moving from the center of the plateau while she had been in Chogrum, threatened to blanket the entire lyre and all the armies around it. Heavy. Choking. She opened her eyes with a gasp for air.

Lemuel touched her arm. “Are you alright?”

“Blue is right,” she said. “Asurdeva is here.”

Siuku glowered across the lyre. “He is not the only one.”

First stood beside Black Powder on the other side of the strings. The two mercenaries both held their bonded pistols. Ilsa’s eyes narrowed and she stared at them. A cackling sound echoed over the battlefield as if the lyre itself was laughing. Ilsa covered one ear with her free hand. The other still held a song pistol with two bullets left loaded.

A shadow drifted overhead. A slim shape plunged downward and landed on Black Powder’s side of the lyre. Tirica Chollush, her eyes wide open and gleaming, stared at Ilsa, a sardonic grin on her face. When she spoke, the tone and inflection were completely unlike Lemuel’s sister. “It’s good to be home. I always liked the east best.”

“She’s betrayed you,” said Kaij. His sword withdrew into the bond on his hand. He raised a pistol in the other.

“Wait,” Ilsa shouted.

Lemuel rushed toward Kaij.

Too late.

Kaij shot Tirica twice in the chest. Her frame buckled with each impact. Ilsa stared, never doubting the two bullet’s deadly accuracy.

A low rumble shook the lyre from within.

“Good aim, child,” said Tirica in the same odd and amused tone. Her face was hidden by the veil of her hair. The bullets fell onto the lyre’s base, rattling against eternal stone. “But it will take more than that to harm this vessel.”

“You mean—”

“I am Asurdeva, children. You may have stopped my Uzan, for now, but that matters not. You cannot destroy my vessel.”

“What do you want?” Ilsa locked eyes with Tirica as the girl raised her head.

The gaze of Asurdeva was as cold and lethal as Yunn’s ice.

“You will understand, Ilsa. Because you are the work of my greatest disciple.”

First smirked and trained her pistol on Siuku.

Black Powder bowed his head and sank to one knee. “You do me too much honor, master.”

“All glory is mine. But I will share it with my chosen ones. Those marked with my seal upon their souls.”

The brand on Ilsa’s hand burned with sudden pain. It hurt as if the scar was still fresh from the fire.

Her fingers tightened. She glared at Tirica and her father. Last winter she had not believed her mother could see spirits, but now she had to contend with a god just as new to her. With the revelation of the spirits, though, she might have a way to fight back. She had to resist.

“Don’t be afraid, Ilsa,” said Asurdeva. “This is the moment where you’re precious Unification becomes reality. The ripples of my disciples, empowered by your father, will reach out from within. And the bonded will conquer this world at my will.”

First sneered, but made no sound.

Black Powder returned to his feet. “Ilsa, do not fight now. The song you played did more than seal the Uzan, it empowered our bonds. We will complete the work of Asurdeva together.”

She clenched her teeth. “I thought you didn’t believe in Unification?”

“I don’t. Not as can be achieved by mortals.” Her father’s gaze locked with hers. “The war we are about to begin is the triumph all of history has been leading toward since the Three delayed it all those millennia ago.”

Ilsa’s brands glowed with inner light. She dropped the song pistol in her hand and conjured her own guns. The most vital of her instincts were silent, leaving only thoughts to run through her head. Total control of her own body. Total awareness of every heartbeat, every breath, every step as she walked toward Asurdeva and her father.

The others stood, frozen. Kaij screamed from behind her, but the sound seemed far away.

“No lesser bonds will join us. Only the chosen,” said Asurdeva.

Ilsa slipped between the strings of the lyre and approached the place where Tirica stood under Asurdeva’s control.

First’s branded hands glowed with inner light.

Her father reached for her, sleeve falling back to reveal an arm marked by countless brands from palm to elbow. Every one of them glowed in a pattern that signified a spirit bond.

“Don’t fight us, Ilsa,” he said.

She glared into Tirica’s eyes. “Snap out of it,” she said through her teeth. “Tirica, you didn’t agree to this. I know you didn’t.”

“The vessel need not be willing,” said Asurdeva. “All I require is a bond to the spirit to take control.”

Ilsa’s heart pounded.

She raised her pistol and pressed it to Tirica’s forehead.

“That isn’t loaded,” said the god.

“Like it would matter if it was,” said First with a snort. “Give up, kid.”

“A bullet cannot harm the god of weapons. And that,” said Asurdeva, “Is what I am.” She reached for Ilsa and caressed her cheek with her unbonded hand.

Tirica had only one bonded weapon. What would happen if that brand was disrupted? Ilsa’s thoughts ran with the rest of her awareness, ever onward, ever closer to chaos.

Blue’s mental touch plucked the thought gently from Ilsa’s stream of consciousness

Tirica’s hand pressed to her cheek. “You must know the moments when not to fight, child.” Her lips parted in a lurid smile. “Now is the ultimate moment.”

This is the moment.

This is the moment.

The moment to act.

Ilsa lowered her pistol and reached up and gripped Tirica’s wrist. She closed her eyes. “You may be right,” she said. “Please. Show me mercy, Asurdeva.” She tried to fight but her own voice sounded reverent. Unwilling, but obedient.

Asurdeva brushed the hair from Ilsa’s brow with her fingertips. Her other hand rose to cup Ilsa’s face.

“Child, what kind of god would I be if I could not forgive a convert?” Tirica’s forehead pressed to Ilsa’s. Her hands raised over her head, arms spread wide and open.

Ilsa opened her eyes and met Tirica’s, now lit by the glow of the weapon bond from Tirica’s hand.

An arrow flew in silence until it hit the center of the brand with a bloody, painful-sounding, thunk. The light on the brand flickered and went out. Tirica lowered her arms and howled in pain, clutching at her mangled hand.

On the other side of the lyre’s strings, Siuku lowered her bow with deliberate slowness. And the spell of Asurdeva’s will broke as surely as the bond had been broken by the wound torn in Tirica’s hand.

“How dare you, infidel?” roared Asurdeva in Tirica’s voice. “You think you can trap me in this body?”

Siuku and Blue exchanged glances.

“Which one of us are you talking about?” asked Blue.

“If you will not unify in my war, you will perish before me!”

Tirica’s unwounded fist crashed into Ilsa’s stomach with such force, Ilsa’s feet left the stone of the lyre. She flew backward and rebounded from unyielding strings with a cry of pain. A series of shocks ran along her spine.

“Black Powder,” said Asurdeva. “Destroy these mortals.”

Her father raised both hands, a pistol in each fist. “As you command, master.”

Ilsa rolled onto her side and loaded her pistol with a magazine from her belt.

Black Powder and First took aim and began to fire over her head. Screams cries, and return fire answered them.

Ilsa got to her knees and took aim. First saw Ilsa targeting Black Powder and whirled to shoot her. Ilsa threw herself forward and rolled, trading misses with First.

She found her feet behind Tirica and right of her father who’s guns continued to speak. Ilsa and First faced each other down, just a meter away from each other. Pistols found the aim.

“You really are hopeless,” said First.

Ilsa grunted and they each took their shots.

Ilsa shuddered with the sound of the guns so close to her on either side.

First fell to her knees, then collapsed onto the base.

No pain. There was no pain.

“It doesn’t hurt, does it?” First looked up at Ilsa’s from at her feet. “Why doesn’t it hurt?” The woman’s eyes rolled back into her head. Blood ran from the hole in her chest. Ilsa turned to focus on her father.

He raised his eyebrows.

“Looks like she missed,” he said. “First may have been my first apprentice, but she was still just an apprentice.”

Tirica marched across the center of the lyre toward the others behind Ilsa. She could not tell if any of them had been killed by her father’s shots. Her senses narrowed and she focused only on Black Powder.

Then, Tirica reached the strings and plucked them in tune, using the strength granted by the power of Asurdeva.

Reality trembled.

Ilsa and her father still faced each other, just a few meters apart. The battlefield, the flowering ground around the lyre had vanished from view. They stood, surrounded in pure light.

Their weapons were still in their hands.

Father and daughter moved toward their triggers at once.

Ilsa faced Black Powder. Father. She hesitated at the last instant. So did he. Their fingers hovered by the triggers.

He said, “I’ll take no pleasure in killing you, daughter.”

She glared down the barrel of her weapon. Words had always been useless with him. “Even if you kill me, you won’t win. You’re alone in this.”

He shook his head. “Wrong, Ilsa. Asurdeva’s song is everything.”

The notes reverberated within the walls of light that surrounded the lyre. Ilsa gritted her teeth and kept her gun trained on her father. “Why serve this thing? This god doesn’t care about you.”

“And the Three care about you? Ilsa, they abandoned the world. They are worth nothing to humanity.”

“Do your monsters care? They kill without a second of hesitation.”

Her father smirked. “I chose this path, Ilsa. I led you to it, but I can’t save you. You have to do that yourself.”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?” Ilsa’s finger trembled outside the trigger guard. “Your god is using that innocent girl—That girl you tortured, as his slave.”

“A vessel of the divine. Such an honor is more than she could have ever hoped for in her past life.”

“If she was one of your fanatics, you would be right. She is not one of yours.”

“The subject must desire power, or the divine could not manifest.”

“Don’t tell me she gave up her mind by choice.”

“Gave up? No, the process is one of bonding with Asurdeva. Something you will never experience thanks to the Keeper of Tenlyres. Her, I will relish destroying.”

“I won’t give you that chance.”

“Then stop me. If you can.”

She shot first. The bullet deflected off the stock of a shotgun Black Powder drew from his sleeve. The shot made no sound compared to the song Asurdeva continued to play. Ilsa aimed for the knee. The same shotgun’s barrel stopped that shot.

“You’re slow.”

She grunted and twisted her wrist to shoot him in the shoulder. He darted back and the bullet flew into the light at the lyre’s edge. She swung her other hand out and conjured her machine gun. He danced backward and loaded the shotgun with deft hands.

She shot at one hand, but the gun’s whirling steel stock deflected that one too. He dove to one side and sprayed shot at Ilsa. She ducked, but still tasted blood as a trio of pellets sliced across her temple. Red droplets swam in front of her vision, but the pain that went with it simply had to be ignored.

Ilsa slammed the magazine into her machine gun. She circled her father, moving away from the lyre’s strings and the source of the oppressive song. Tirica—Asurdeva—plucked the strings of the lyre with apparent ease. No human hand could manage that much strength. She stood at the center of the lyre, the arrow that had broken the seal on her hand discarded behind her.

“Do not ignore me.” Black Powder’s next blast opened a cluster of small wounds in Ilsa’s shoulder.

She jerked backward but kept her grip on her machine gun. She sent a burst in his direction. Four shots. Two in the air. One on the shotgun. One on his other arm. Blood flew from his sleeve.

On the other side of the strings, Blue and Siuku crawled toward Tirica, keeping their heads down.

She had to make sure Black Powder did not make time for them, even if it meant giving him better chances to hit her. Ilsa aimed high, then low, then targeted his center of mass with the third shot. He avoided every bullet but had to dodge back and duck low.

Siuku crouched across the strings from Tirica and reached out to touch the girl’s leg between the vibrating metallic strands. Blue held the keeper’s other hand. They were going to attempt a mental attack. Ilsa had to give them time to drive out Asurdeva, if they could even come close to fighting the spirit of a god.

She and her father traded shots, both evasive. Ilsa’s wounded shoulder and bleeding forehead began to dog her movements. She darted to one side and he emptied the last shotgun blast into thin air.

Her machine gun spent its last shot in a futile effort. She tossed it away and drew her second pistol. On the run, she loaded the weapon.

The song surrounded her. The light intensified to blinding white. Standing, his silhouette dark against the walls of brightness, Black Powder faced her, a pistol in each hand. He was breathing hard, showing his age.

I have a chance, she thought. If I can exhaust him I can win. She kept evading, shooting.

Asurdeva howled with rage behind Ilsa’s back. The song began to slow.

“No!” Black Powder’s lips drew back in a snarl. “He must not be stopped.”

Ilsa grimaced at him. “If two humans can stop your god, how powerful can he be?”

“Damn you, step aside,” Black Powder’s voice came out as a whisper. He raised both pistols and stalked forward, firing.

One of the bullets blasted through Ilsa’s already wounded shoulder. Lances of pain jabbed down from the earlier spots of damage and toward her chest. The other bullet went over her head.

Ilsa staggered toward him a step and returned fire. Her shot rent the collar of his coat and went out the back. Blood flecked his face and chin. He stumbled for a moment, eyes wild, then charged at Ilsa. His weapons blazed.

But he moved slower now.

She lost one gun to a pair of impacts on its barrel. She dodged to one side, pain flaring in her shoulder and chest. Hot blood ran into her eyes. One of his gun barrel’s snaked out and painfully connected with her jaw. She fell backward and hit the strings beside Tirica. Her world spun as she emptied the pistol into Black Powder, point blank.

Asurdeva’s scream ended. Tirica sank to the ground beside Ilsa. A heavy thump and gasp of escaping breath told her Black Powder had fallen, though she could not focus on anything but the window of sky visible through the center of the walls of light. She sagged down, pain coursing through her.

Siuku and Blue knelt down beside her. Soothing hands began to heal Ilsa’s wounds.

“You’re alive,” said Blue.

“So are you,” Ilsa murmured, still dizzy.

The echoes of the song began to fade. And the walls of light fractured into motes of chaos. She closed her eyes against the glare.

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 51 – Dirge

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Previous Chapter

 

Ilsa recovers from her wounds. The final battle draws near.

 

Some songs simply need to be played.

 

The evening after Cass’s defeat, Ilsa wandered the camp, unable to rest. She knew she would need to play the song on the Flowering Lyre once the sun rose again. She could only pray so much.

As the darkness began to close in and grow colder, Ilsa made her way back toward the tent she shared with Lemuel. He was sitting on the grass beside the tent when she arrived, under the light of a dim lamp. As she approached through the gloom, he offered a bottle of something strong to Ferdinand who sat beside him.

The two men had been enemies in the spring, but as summer began to wane they shared a drink. At least a few good things had come from this damned conflict. Ilsa hesitated in the darkness, unseen by the two men, listening to their muffled words.

“It’s not easy,” said Lemuel. “This is war, I guess.”

Ferdinand sighed. “I can still hope she’s alive. She was better than I d-deserved.” He took a swig from the bottle.

“Maybe it seems that way,” said Lemuel, “But I doubt she’d agree.”

“Am I the only one drinking here?” Ferdinand pushed the bottle at Lemuel. “Your sister is on the other side.”

“I’ll deal with that tomorrow.” But Lemuel still took the bottle, and he still drank.

“You do that. You can’t count on Ilsa forever.”

“I know.” Lemuel shook his head. “It’s strange. I used to rely on my sister. Now she could be ready to shoot me for all I know.”

Ilsa squeezed her eye shut in the dark, then opened them again. She took a deep breath and stepped out of the shadows into the illumination of the lamp that hung in front of the tent. Lemuel and Ferdinand looked up at her in surprised unison.

“You’re pretty quiet,” said Ferdinand.

“I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“Have a seat.” Ferdinand patted the ground. “We’re drinking to our troubles.”

“I heard.” Ilsa sat down beside Lemuel. He offered her the bottle. She drank and let the bitter taste to relieve a different kind of bitterness. “We’ll stop them, you know. And we’ll save as many people as we can.” She turned to Lemuel. “Even Tirica.” Her gazed continued to Ferdinand. “You know Cass is tough. If. If she’s still alive, we’ll find her.”

“I trust you.” No hint of a stutter corrupted his voice.

She handed him the bottle.

He raised the drink to his lips. “Tomorrow,” he said. And drank.

“Tomorrow,” said Lemuel.

“Tomorrow,” Ilsa murmured. She leaned against Lemuel. Their arms found the way around each other. “Tomorrow.”

 

Ilsa stood on the Flowering Lyre’s raised base as the sun rose the next morning. Siuku, Blue, and the prince of Chogrum were with her, while their troops took up positions encircling the stone base of the huge structure. Ilsa held the grips of the song pistols tighter than she had ever gripped a firearm.

The forces of Black Powder and Asurdeva spread out before her. Somehow, they looked more numerous than ever.

How could her father have amassed so many soldiers that were fanatics to the cause of the old god?

He wanted a perfect war, a war that would never end.

On her left, Lemuel stood, back to the wider support of the lyre. He held a book of notes in his hands and read from it in a low murmur.

She wanted to reassure him that they would win the day, but she did not know if she could. Even after she had started writing again, she could not muster the courage to speak in this moment. She would never be a real preacher like Cass. But she could try to save her first friend.

Black Powder had reacted quickly to losing the song pistols, but the Chogrumians and their allies had moved to occupy the lyre even as Cass had ridden to challenge Black Powder. They would fight, and they had a chance, at last, to defeat the army before them.

Uzan lumbered forward, weapons emerging from them. Ilsa closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She knew she could play the lyre, but there was no room for error. If the song was not perfect only some, or perhaps none of the Uzan would be sealed.

She clenched her jaw. “For Cass,” she murmured. For Akirette, and Hailek, and all the other beings who died for them to have a chance in this battle.

The prince caught her eye. “I will conduct with the staff,” he said. “Shoot at the string I indicate.”

“Right. The plan.” Ilsa nodded to him.

The Uzan surged forward. Their massive leader, the Gray Lector, took the lead. He was obviously the only one who had been awake these past millennia because of his deeply weathered and pitted skin.

Their weapons boomed and roared, distant and brutal. Nomads and Chogrumians alike answered with fire of their own. Ilsa turned to the prince. “As soon as you’re ready,” she said.

The air was hot and stank of all kinds of propellant.

The prince furrowed his brow and pointed the end of the red staff at the center of the lyre. Ilsa hit the string, and it vibrated with a sound almost like a gong.

She followed the point of the staff and fired. Again. Again. The sounds of the strings were louder than those of the guns.

Each pistol held twelve shots initially. Down to eight each after a few seconds of firing. Standing near her, Lemuel prepared the extra magazines, ready to reload near-instantly.

The song rose over the battle, somber and slow, but also commanding. She fell into the rhythm and continued to shoot the indestructible strings.

One gun emptied. Lemuel clicked the magazine back into it. She took it from him and emptied the other before handing that to Lemuel.

The chaos of the battle seemed far away.

Here, Boraij Kanan’s troops advanced on the flank.

There, Ganara’s Vogmem skirted the battle to angle toward the command of the mercenaries.

And ever-present, the Uzan continued to advance, killing humans with few losses to themselves.

Ganara’s riders cut back and hit Kanan’s rear. Skyriders fell upon the Ayochian traitors from above.

A glint of steel glimmered in the sun from Black Powder’s command post. Ilsa hit the next string, but her teeth went on edge. Her father had just produced a weapon from his spirit. It seemed strange to her spirit, but she could not identify it.

A heavy thud echoed from the distance.

An artillery shell, aimed with deadly accuracy, few toward the top of the Flowering Lyre.

Black Powder had finally used the stolen bombard from Howling Pass.

Ilsa’s eyes watered. She shot the string, emptying the gun again. A wave of sound spread over the field, dampening the movements of the Uzan. Some of them stumbled in their paces.

And then, the artillery shell hit the front of the lyre, creating a deafening interruption to Ilsa’s song, and setting some of the flowers around the base ablaze.

Ilsa staggered as the lyre shook with the impact. Her ears rang. Lemuel fell to the ground. A scything shard of metal whipped between the strings and carved through the prince’s outstretched arm.

He clutched the stump and fell to his knees. His guards were beside him in seconds. The red staff rolled free of his severed grip.

Blue ran to Ilsa and Lemuel, while Siuku reached the prince.

“We need to finish the song,” said Blue.

“How?” Ilsa stared at the bloody staff on the ground.

“I’ll point, you shoot.” Blue stared across the field. “We can still win.”

A sniper’s bullet whined off the lyre. Ilsa traced the shot to Tirica’s rifle, set up atop the broken Uzan artillery a hundred meters from the lyre.

“Damn it,” Ilsa said. “But you’re right.”

Blue picked up the staff, eyes glazed as she read the thoughts from Lemuel and the wounded prince to pick each string. Ilsa continued to fire.

Kanan’s surviving troops fought past Ganara’s Vogmem and joined with the Uzan in the center.

Another of Tirica’s shots rang off the lyre’s unbreakable stone.

Lemuel cringed close to Ilsa, a magazine in each hand.

The Gray Lector leaped up and onto the lyre’s base. He roared and weapons emerged from his body.

Blue sent to Ilsa. “Tirica is moving.”

“Good.” Ilsa kept shooting out the song. Each blast of the pistol sent the strings vibrating. A funeral song rose from the lyre. And the Uzan slowed again. Even the ancient Gray Lector gave a lurch of disruption as he pushed forward.

Then he was on them. His hand snaked out to grab the end of Blue’s staff.

A greatsword cleaved through his palm. Kaij Haram kicked out and drove the Gray Lector back a step. Guns bristled from the weatherbeaten Uzan, ready to blaze away. A chill froze the humid air. Ice blocked the barrels of the weapons.

Yunn grunted and guided his runner into cover behind one of the lyre’s supports.

Blue thrust the staff at another string, calm enough despite the arrival of some unexpected allies.

The Gray Lector bellowed a cry in the forgotten language of the gods. He swung to pummel Kaij, but his fist slowed, hesitating impossibly. Ashnia’s powers pinned the Gray Lector in place for an instant. She stood beside Blue, eyes clouded nearly white with her mind eater powers.

The Red Lector’s children were here to claim their revenge.

Kaij did not hesitate. He cleaved through the Gray Lector’s neck. Blood met the air and spattered Ilsa’s face.

The scarred Uzan fell to his knees. Huge hands reached for his freshly severed head.

Ilsa’s song echoed over the battlefield, drowning out all other sounds.

All around the lyre, the Uzan froze in their places. Blue lowered the staff’s point. The echoes of the song began to fade, but the monsters remained completely still.

Ilsa jammed an empty song pistol into its holster. She wiped blood and sweat out of her eyes. The legion of walking weapons was silent.

The Uzan had been sealed.

#

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