Tenlyres Chapter 49 – Scarred

Tim here everybody.

The story is back!

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

Previous Chapter

 

Ilsa has been wounded badly, and returns to the camp by the village of Atalem.

 

 

 

 

 Each of us owes our lives to someone else, parents, friends, saviors of all kinds.

That does not mean we should not do what we can to protect ourselves.

 

 

The world spun and then stabilized. Ilsa heard voices fading away, accompanied by the pure and consistent agony of her wounds. Grazed head, burnt hand, torn side, wounded leg… they were all still there. Somehow she had survived. Again, she survived.

She lay on a cot in a tent, a large pale-colored one from the Chogrumian military, rather than the small homes of the Oshomi. She looked up at the ceiling. Her groan of pain joined the sounds of other wounded that filled the space.

The triage tent dimmed with the passing hours. Some screams silenced. New cries began.

Ilsa found a discarded rifle on the floor beside her cot. She lurched to stand up. She had to find Lemuel and tell him what had happened. She had to, though the feeling in her stomach that built when she thought of telling him about Tirica’s choice made her hesitate.

Eventually, she found a crutch to lean on and then left the rifle behind. She limped toward the exit of the tent. Her wounds were all wrapped to stop the blood flow, but her head still felt light. She hated waking up in a hospital alone. It had happened too often lately.

She made her way through the camp north of Atalem. Despite her lightheadedness, she reached out for Blue’s spirit. “Find me,” she murmured. “Please.”

She staggered past a dozen tents and was halfway to the trenches the Chogrumians had dug out for shelter from the bombardment before Blue and Lemuel found her.

Her eyes filled with tears when she saw them in the fading daylight. “You two,” she said. “You made it”

Lemuel threw himself over the side of his horse and ran to her. “Ilsa?” His voice broke. “Is that really you? I heard… Cass and Ferdinand told me you were dead.”

She looked at him and nodded. “I used a blast seal to escape the fall. Took a Chogrumian carrier back here, but I don’t know the rest.”

“I don’t care how it happened.” He threw his arms around her. They pressed themselves to each other, warm, and alive, despite everything.

Her crutch fell to the ground. She held onto Lemuel instead.

Blue’s gentle pressure in her mind made her look at her friend over Lemuel’s shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” asked Blue.

“Too much, Blue,” she said. “I’ll tell you everything. Both of you need to know. I just need to sit down first.”

She staggered along with them, Lemuel supporting her. He helped her onto his horse and then led it while she rode. She thought of her own horse. She hoped the animal had made it to safety.

At least Ferdinand and Cass had survived.

Blue told her through mental communication that the Uzan had fallen back from Atalem, but most of the village now lay in ruins, and the cost in lives to the Chogrumians and the Oshomi had been high.

“They’ll come back, you know,” said Ilsa softly. “First was out there today. And Black Powder won’t give up.”

“Neither will the Gray Lector or Asurdeva, I suspect,” said Lemuel. “We have to hold on.” He sighed. “I hope Tirica is alright.”

“She’s alive,” said Ilsa in a dry croak of a voice. “I—I saw her today.”

“You saw her? Where?”

“When the blast seal transported me out of the launcher I ended up at a medical center for the mercenaries. She was there.”

Lemuel turned to stare back at her where she sat on the horse, eyes wide. “You saw her?”

“Yeah.” Ilsa felt an urge to cry, but she channeled it into a single deep breath. “Lemuel, I don’t know how to say this—She—She has a weapon bonded to her spirit.”

“What? Why would they do that?”

“She agreed to fight for them.” Ilsa touched her side. “She shot me. Here.”

Lemuel dropped the reins he been using to lead the horse. He bent down to reach for them, but his big hand shook too much to pick them up.

He shook his head. “It can’t be—She wouldn’t.”

Ilsa lifted her wounded leg despite the pain that shot through her as she did. She climbed down and then supported herself on the horse’s side. Lemuel stared at her.

Blue’s mind withdrew. She brought her strider to a stop behind Ilsa and Lemuel. Yet, she said nothing.

Lemuel’s lips trembled. “I can’t believe it.”

“I don’t like it anymore than you do,” said Ilsa. “They forced her into it after First’s attack in Chogrum failed.”

“She’s alive,” said Blue. “Get me close enough to her and I can stop her. We aren’t dealing with true belief. Once she’s free of them, she won’t keep fighting us.”

Lemuel nodded, but tears began to leak from his eyes.

Ilsa let go of the horse and staggered toward him. A jagged flare of pain shot through her calf and she stumbled. She fell forward but caught herself on Lemuel’s shoulder. He sank down slowly, and they sat on the trampled steppe grass.

His face close to hers, he sniffed, trying to fight his tears. She pressed her forehead to his.

“This doesn’t change anything,” she said, halfway to tears herself. “We will get her back, even if we have to fight her to do it.”

“She isn’t free,” said Blue.

“Right.” Ilsa brushed the tears from Lemuel’s cheeks. “We won’t give up.”

Lemuel’s small arm wrapped around Ilsa’s back. His little hand patted down her spine. “Thank you, Ilsa.” He breathed in deep. “And Blue. Thank you, both.” His big hand found Ilsa’s cheek and cupped her face. “I studied and studied, but I never could say I would trust anyone outside my family with my life before I met you two.”

“Lemuel.” Ilsa pulled him to her, one hand around the back of his head, the other around his waist. “You’ve got us. We won’t abandon Tirica.”

His little hand touched the freshly-dressed wound on her side. She let out a gasp of pain. He withdrew his fingers. “I’m sorry. She did this to you.”

“It’s not as bad as my leg. And she didn’t hit me there.”

“You’ve fought so long. I know you wish you could stop.”

“I won’t stop fighting until my father is defeated. Until the Uzan are beaten, none of us can stop.”

“Until peace is in sight,” said Blue.

“How can we see peace from the battlefield?” said Ilsa. “That’s what I worry about.”

“You’re both warriors. It’s what you do.”

“We have a cause.” Ilsa sighed. “I just don’t know if that’s enough.”

“It has to be,” said Blue.

“We have to hope it is because we don’t fight for a nation, we fight for the people, to protect them and save as many as we can.” Ilsa looked into Lemuel’s eyes. “And we’ll protect your sister too.”

“What if she doesn’t give you a choice?”

“I’ll die before I kill her.” Ilsa blinked back tears and hoped her brave words were true, though she doubted them. She gritted her teeth. “I swear—”

“Don’t. You can’t sacrifice yourself.” Lemuel’s hand moved down her face to her shoulder. “I would never ask you to do that.”

Ilsa held on to him in silence for a long moment, aching, pained. “Thank you. I’ll do everything I can to be worth your trust.”

“You already have,” he said.

The sound of hooves, four or five horses, and half a dozen goat runners, drew close through the camp.

“Priestess,” said Siuku as she and a group of other Oshomi leaders caught up with them. “You should have stayed in triage.” Behind her veil her eyes were tired. “You were seriously wounded.”

“I know,” said Ilsa. “I just couldn’t lie there.”

“Let me heal you.” Siuku climbed down from her horse. She approached Ilsa and Lemuel.

Ilsa’s eyes met his, and then they disentangled themselves. Behind Siuku, Ilsa saw Ganara, the Vogmem chieftain, and priestess of Vada who had wielded the True Blackwood staff at the battle of Howling Pass. The blond woman gave a curt nod to Ilsa.

Siuku knelt down beside Ilsa. Lemuel got to his feet nearby. The Keeper of Tenlyres unfastened the seal on her veil. Without the veil, she looked even more exhausted.

How many people has she saved today? Ilsa wondered. How many former enemies owe her their lives? This is how we can unify the people, by healing instead of killing.

The pain from her calf faded. Siuku sealed the cut in Ilsa’s head. Then, the keeper touched her side where Tirica had shot her. The pain there vanished with a touch of a weary hand.

Siuku replaced her veil. “You will have a few scars,” she said. “And I can’t help your hand.”

“Thank you,” said Ilsa. “I’ve been through the worst wounds of my life from the mountains to now, and I wouldn’t be alive without you.”

Siuku’s voice came out less monotone than usual. “I saw you in my visions, Ilsa Barrett. Since we first met you have become important to me.”

Ilsa bowed to the keeper. “I will protect you as long as I am able.”

“Let us both pray that you remain able.”

Siuku stood, and offered a hand to help Ilsa to her feet. She turned to Blue. “Has the prince of Chogrum arrived?”

“His force is setting up in the northern part of the camp,” said Blue. “They should be almost done by now.”

“The prince is here?” Ilsa asked.

“Scouts have sighted more of Black Powder’s forces approaching our position,” said Blue. “We don’t know the exact numbers, but from here we will defend Chogrum from both men and monsters.”

“What about Ayoch and Dal?” said Ilsa. “Their armies are still moving east.”

“Indeed.” Ganara tossed her head. “Allies or not, we can catch the Uzan and their human friends between our forces and theirs if we hold here.”

Ilsa nodded. “That could work. We can still win.”

Lemuel glanced at her with reddened eyes. His unspoken question was obvious.

She folded her hands together. “And we’ll get Tirica out of there before it’s over.”

Great hawks called to each other as they flew overhead. Ilsa looked up. Skyriders.

She brought her gaze down to level with Blue. “How did you destroy the artillery?”

Blues shrugged. “The raiders delayed them long enough for Chogrum’s weapons to find the range. After that, their crews started to run. Even Uzan won’t survive a hit from the big guns. Just too bad they got most of their weapons out of there when they went.”

Ilsa frowned. “How many were destroyed?”

“Two. They still have at least three left.”

“If we move fast enough, they can’t hit us,” said Ganara. “My warriors will deal with them next time.”

“We should meet with the prince,” Siuku said to Ganara. “We have plans to make, and you can tell him what you just said.”

“I’ve never seen so many soldiers in one place,” Ganara said. “Chogrum has a mighty army.”

“Ilsa,” the keeper said. “Will you, your scholar, and Blue accompany us? There is much to discuss for the coming battle.”

Ilsa glanced at Lemuel. He nodded to her.

“As you wish,” said Ilsa. And they set off toward the prince’s part of the allied camp.

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 40 – The Mission

Tim here.

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

Now, back to Tenlyres.

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

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

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

 

Download Tenlyres I for free!

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

Previous Chapter

 

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

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 37 – Across the Divide

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.

Also, at the top of the sidebar of 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

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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Tenlyres Chapter 33 – Visions from Room 216

Hello, everyone, Tim here.

2016 is almost over!

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Previous Chapter

 

Ilsa and her comrades are in the northern mountains, allied with the Vogmem tribes there.

            In the midst of a bloody battle, a massive explosion rocks the mountain pass. Ilsa takes shelter.

Ilsa’s mother swam into view before her eyes.

“Ilsa,” she said, “I’m glad to see you.”

“Mother…” Ilsa gasped as she remembered the explosion. The world seemed far away, the pain, and the tears distant. Melinda had killed Hailek. She had forced Ilsa to kill her. “It’s all so terrible.”

“What’s terrible Ilsa?”

“War,” she said. “The battles I’ve been fighting. It’s all wrong. But I felt like I had the best reasons.”

“It’s war,” said her mother seemingly from far away. “And war is awful, no matter why someone fights.”

“You’re right. Of course, you are.” Ilsa’s heart felt ready to burst. “Is it strange? I’ve fought so many battles, but I never realized that before now.”

The world swam around her. The pass returned, cold, and painful, and filled with bitter smells. Lemuel lay beside her, his arm around her. They lay side by side within the curve of Hailek’s still bulk. Ilsa’s ears were ringing, yet she knew what her mother said next despite physical deafness from the explosion.

“It’s alright, Ilsa. Everyone keeps learning.”

“Mother,” she said and sat up. The bodies of mercenaries and Vogmem warriors were scattered across the stones before her. Further down the pass, she glimpsed the banners of the Red Lector, many of them torn and tattered from flying debris. Small fires burned in bodies and wreckage all around.

Lemuel groaned and looked at her. He said something, but she could not hear his words, and judging by the look on his face, neither could he. She shook her head and tapped one ear.

He nodded. She got up carefully, a pistol in her left hand, and her right locked tight from Melinda’s poison, the gun she had held in it dropped in the rush to find cover.

The girl’s body lay near Hailek’s head, completely still except for the spreading blood around her. Someone so young should have been given the chance to survive, Ilsa knew, but she had given Melinda every chance she could. Damn her, Ilsa thought with a flush of rage as she looked at Hailek. But there was no way left to punish her steed’s killer.

Lemuel stood up and put his hand on Ilsa’s shoulder. She noticed the revolver still tucked into his waistband. He had yet to fire a shot.

Good.

Hopefully, he would never have to feel what she experienced in the heat of the fray.

A gun held in an angry hand. She scanned the battlefield as her hearing began to return little by little. The other Vogmem group had survived the blast of the exploding artillery shells unscathed, but Ganara’s lead troops had been devastated. Blue had fallen behind in the charge, so Ilsa could hope she was safe. Most of the other riders and goat runners were in the same state as Ilsa and Lemuel or lay bloody and torn, unmoving.

She wandered back the way they had come, looking this way and that, Lemuel at her side, carrying her still-unloaded shotgun in his big hand. The machine gun had returned to Ilsa, and if she tried to summon it now she would have a full magazine of ammunition. So that would be simple enough to remember.

She stumbled between two runners and glimpsed a black staff beyond one of them, lying close to pale, out-stretched fingertips. Ilsa circled the fallen goat. Ganara lay beside her steed, her fingers slack where she had been reaching for the staff. Bloody lines and holes cut through her coat, and red speckled her face from chin to closed eyelids.

But her breath still misted in the air above her.

“Lemuel,” said Ilsa, in a voice that sounded far away. “We need to get her help.”

Ilsa sank down beside Ganara.

Lemuel stayed standing and looked this way and that, but no one else moved nearby. Ganara’s wounds looked serious, life-threatening judging by the amount of blood on the shards of shrapnel beyond her. They had to move quickly.

Ilsa pressed her good hand to the largest wound, a gash across Ganara’s shoulder and nearly down to her chest. She applied what pressure she could with her one hand to hold back the blood-flow, and her fingers quickly turned red and sticky.

“Ilsa?” But it wasn’t Lemuel who spoke. It was Ilsa’s mother, standing by her side in a ghostly white hospital dress.

“Mother,” Ilsa said. “She’s dying.”

“The spirits can heal her.”

“Siuku,” said Ilsa. “Of course. We need to find her.”

She reached out, searching for Blue’s spirit. Two bright beacons in the other column of Vogmem, far from the front line, appeared in her vision. Blue rode near Ashnia Haram. She must have gone to make sure the Ayochian mind eater did not escape.

“Blue,” Ilsa said. “Get Siuku. I need your help on the other side of the pass.”

Blue answered her with a confused flurry of thoughts. Of them, only one stood out intelligibly. “Ilsa, you’re alive!”

“I am,” she said. “But Ganara is dying. Get Siuku now.”

Lemuel put a hand on her shoulder. His voice sounded small after the blast. “Who are you talking to?”

“Blue. I contacted her.”

“You can do that?”

Beside Lemuel, Ilsa’s mother nodded, and made a small smile.

“Yeah,” said Ilsa. “I-I think I’m like my mother.”

“Your mother?”

“She was never crazy. She saw things other people couldn’t.”

Mother folded her arms and her smile grew. “Ilsa, I have to tell you something. Your demons can be killed. If you separate them from their god.”

“She’s talking to me now.” Ilsa turned to Lemuel. “We can kill the Uzan if we separate them from their god.”

“The old gods… Asurdeva.” Lemuel circled Ganara and knelt down to press his hands to a wound on her side opposite Ilsa. He grimaced and turned pale as his hands became bloody. “Every Uzan has a name on its brow,” he said. “I’ve seen it, and they’re written in the old language.”

“Their god’s name?” said Ilsa.

“It’s worth a shot,” he said. “Literally.” He turned his head, averting his eyes from Ganara’s wounded form.

Ilsa nodded to him, but tears formed in her eyes. She leaned her face to Ganara’s ear. “You can’t die,” she said softly. “We’re all nomads today, and nomads keep moving, no matter what happens.”

Ganara’s eyes twitched open. She gave Ilsa a sideways glance but said nothing before she closed her eyes again. But she went on breathing. She went on living.

Ilsa did not know how she and Lemuel held Ganara before she heard the steps of striders and the hoof-beats of horses. The Oshomi arrived, Siuku in the lead, and Blue riding beside Tirica Chollush, who carried her long rifle across her saddle.  A group of Vogmem leading the prisoners including Ashnia Haram, and Ozleji Sammhar, followed behind the steppe nomads.

Ilsa looked up at Siuku. “Quickly, Keeper, she needs your help.”

Siuku leaped from her horse’s back and then ran the final meters. She unfastened her veil as she reached Ganara’s side. Her hands moved and touched and healed.

Ganara remained still for a long time. One eye opened. “I never thought an Oshomi would save my life. But you, you’re paler than me…” she said. Then her eyes rolled back and closed. She slept.

A cheer went up from the Ayochian line. The Vogmem who had pressured them on the western side of the pass had been forced to a stalemate. A few of the hawks from Megalli’s skyriders lay on the field where they had fallen. In a moment of fear, Ilsa realized she could not see Megalli herself among the riders still circling over the battlefield.

The Red Lector and his few remaining protectors stood at the front of the Ayochian line where the Vogmem had lost their momentum. Haram himself waved a red-streaked saber in his hand and shouted loud. “Which of you Four barbarians shall fall next?”

Siuku’s riders helped Ganara onto one of their horses along with her black staff. The Vogmem chieftain slumped in the saddle between two Oshomi, still unconscious. Ilsa and Blue exchanged glances.

“I’m losing my sense of Megalli,” Blue said softly.

Ilsa’s stomach turned.

War is terrible. War is always terrible, and Koor’s oracles were right that they would lose a leader.

To fight a battle is always to lose the peace, Ilsa thought, as tears ran down her cheeks.

The Keeper of Tenlyres turned to Ilsa. “Ride. We can still break through. His line is weak, no matter who he has killed.”

Ilsa and Lemuel climbed onto separate horses, behind different Oshomi riders. The Keeper of Tenlyres collected the survivors of Ganara’s column. She wheeled her forces, both Vogmem and Oshomi and pressed the attack on the broken side of the Ayochian line where Ilsa’s father had detonated the gun carriage.

Had he known it would explode? Could even he survive that blast? Ilsa doubted it, but she had no tears for him when so many others had died in this windy pass already. She rode through gaps of the enemy lines in the wake of Siuku’s fresh troops.

The Red Lector’s forces fell back to a rise in the center of the pass two or three kilometers back from where the Vogmem charge had begun. They could not stop the nomads fighting past them on either side.

For a few minutes of riding and fighting, Ilsa thought they could escape without much more resistance. Then, a roar went up from the column ahead of them. A typhoon of incredibly varied gunshots and the smell of ancient propellant, bleak on the wind, reached Ilsa. Huge semi-humanoid shapes waded into the fray, uncaring if they killed Ayochians or nomads.

With bursts of bullets and swinging hammer blows, they killed.

With furious blasts of shotguns grown from bloated bellies or yawning jaws they killed.

Screams and roars and cries of despair rang out from both sides.

The Uzan had arrived.

#

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