Stolen Parts Episode 1

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

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

And someone’s heart has been stolen.

Here is part one.

 

Life can be complicated for a necromancer.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

“I’m not going to let you die.”

 

“A little late for that.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“None that could kill a master like Sam.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sam’s hand had been ice cold.

 

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

 

“The safe is under the bed.”

 

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

 

“Sorry, tiger. Other side.”

 

“I am so, so sorry.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“You mean, other than raising the dead?”

 

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

 

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

 

“How much time do we have?” I asked.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“My blood isn’t cold.”

 

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

 

“Not like his, either.”

 

“Then you’ll break up with me?”

 

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

 

Death can be complicated for a necromancer.

 

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 44 – The Spear

Tim here.

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

Check it out here!

Of Mooks and Monsters will return next Wednesday, so you can get your RPG fix with another session of Actual Play.

This Sunday will see the releases of the first episode of Alive After Reading, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

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 suffered through the test of the Prince of Chogrum. She and her allies try to solidify a new alliance, while enemies wait in the shadows.

 

Fighting is not always the best option, especially in war.

Sometimes one must wait and listen, or even retreat to improve the odds when one returns to the fray.

 

Dawn’s light crept in under the slit of the door frame. Ilsa dressed in Chogrumian city clothes and concealed her ammunition belts under a skirt she wore over a pair of trousers. Yes, it looked silly, but she had seen people with the same sort of clothes the previous day. It would do well to hide the magazines. She kept the bullets loaded in one pistol. She felt confident she could produce the weapon easily, despite that complication.

Lemuel rose and went to the window. He pulled on his clothes, tucked a revolver into the waistband of his new black pants. She nodded to him.

“Let’s hope we won’t need these,” she said.

“Definitely,” he said. He pulled on his overcoat to hide the gun. “Let’s go make an alliance.”

 

 

They met Siuku and Blue along with Megalli at the suite upstairs. Ferdinand and Cass were on the roof, keeping an eye out for trouble in the skies over Chogrum.

So far, it seemed no battles had been fought on a large scale between the east and west. Not yet. Soon that would change if they did not do something.

The prince would meet them at the parliament building near the palace at the city’s center. Ilsa and the others took the tram to the north. Her pain had mostly faded. Only small hints remained.

She rode in silence. Even Blue seemed subdued, or maybe tense. She did not reach out with her mind and talk to Ilsa. They both knew the other was tense.

Her eyes watched the buildings passing outside. All of this should be protected, even if it was Chogrum. No, because it was Chogrum. It was so much like Dal where she had grown up, even with the many differences between the two cities. Ilsa swore to herself she would not let them destroy each other if she could help it.

The nomads too were hers to protect as long as she could. As long as she drew breath.

The tram turned away from the palace and toward the parliament building. The charged guiding wires over the track emitted a low crackle as one set disconnected and the next attached. Ilsa rubbed at her eyes to clear the last of the sleep dirt from them.

Blue looked across the tram at Ilsa. She wore her armor openly. “It’s been tough to sleep.”

“Today could be a moment of truth,” Ilsa said. “If we don’t succeed it may cost us the war.”

Blue leaned forward and folded her hands together. “It could cost the peace.”

“You’re right.” Ilsa frowned down the length of the tram.

Besides her and Blue, most of the others had come with them.

The young Okko and the veteran lightning catcher who had ridden into town with Ilsa, Siuku and Lemuel sat near the keeper. Lemuel was beside Ilsa. On his other side, Megalli fiddled with the spare buttons on her trousers.

Only Ferdinand and Cass were elsewhere. They had ridden out on separate striders to look for trouble ahead of the tram. Ilsa had barely had any time to talk to Cass since the mountains. They always seemed to be moving parallel to each other. At least they were going in the same direction.

The tram pulled to a stop at the station in front of the broad parliament building. Ilsa led the others down the steps and then up to the troupe of bonded palace guards fanned out on the ramp leading to parliament. The ramp was broader and less steep than the one to the palace. Her senses felt sharper. She could feel each of their bonds, two or more for each guard. Ilsa felt certain none of them were bonded to the spirit, and not just because her father’s technique was so rare. Somehow she could feel each of them had their shrine somewhere in Chogrum.

Ilsa suspected the guards were only here because of the prince’s presence, because groups of ordinary soldiers also patrolled the building, their radios sounding of static as two of them moved along the street nearby.

The leader of this group of palace guards, a big woman with a thickly scarred jaw, bowed to Siuku as the Keeper of Tenlyres walked toward them.

“Your Holiness of Tenlyres. Bless me, please.”

Siuku’s eyes narrowed. “You serve a different master, the Prince of Chogrum.”

“Indeed. But my family has often prayed at the Flowering Lyre. I have heard what you did in Atalem. You healed their wounds.”

Siuku’s eyes relaxed. “Then I bless you, servant of Chogrum. Proceed in the ways of the spirits.”

“Thank you, your holiness.” The guard leader turned to her squad as the rest of Ilsa’s group caught up with her and Siuku. “Allow them to pass. The keeper and the prince have words for parliament today.”

They climbed the ramp, past the first group of palace guards. Then past another set at the top. They passed through burnished doors painted with murals depicting Chogrum’s founding a thousand years prior. Ilsa fought the urge to marvel at the sights of the grand building. Dal has structures like this too, she reminded herself, though she had rarely seen them up close.

Okko did not resist the same urge. He craned his neck. “This is the biggest tent ever,” he said in the Oshomi language.

The older lightning catcher gave a disapproving click of her tongue and tapped the top of his head with her hand. “Keep your guard,” she said in the same language Okko had used.

He laughed at her. “There is an army around us.”

“An army, but not our army,” said the veteran lightning catcher. “Stay alert.”

“I’ll keep my eyes peeled.” He went on gaping as they entered a columned passage forty meters broad, the public corridor into the parliament hall. It was lined with more palace guards, but fewer than there had been outside. Wall mounts held bioelectric lights.

Someone snapped a photograph of them, the flash dazzling even in this bright hallway. Ilsa looked in for the source of the flash and found a cluster of news teams. Most had large pile cameras for video. As she turned to them, though, another series of bright flashes made her blink.

“The press is allowed in?” she murmured.

“Parliament exists for the people,” said Lemuel from beside her. “And the Keeper of Tenlyres has never visited the city in all of its thousand years.”

“You would know about that.” She smiled at him.

He flushed.

They reached another set of double doors, smaller and less colorful than the ones outside, but not by much. These, two large men, in uniforms not belonging either to the ordinary soldiery or the palace guards, hauled the gate open as Ilsa and the others drew near. Each of the big men wore a large battle ax on a baldric tied around the back of their deep green and gilded uniforms. Neither was a weapon bond.

She glanced at Lemuel.

“Parliamentary Lictors,” he said to answer Ilsa’s questioning look. “They are mostly ceremonial, have been since powder became more common.”

“Why the axes?”

“Chogrum’s founders are said to have lived for a time in the forest east of the plateau. Tradition holds that woodsmen served as representatives of the commoners in those days.”

They passed the lictors with their axes and entered the hall of Chogrum’s parliament. Ilsa looked out at a huge room set in muted tones, except for the rings of red tiles among the gray of the floor at the center of the ranks of desks.

“One hundred and twenty members. And nearly all of them should be in attendance because the prince is here.”

Ilsa nodded as she took in Lemuel’s words. Part of her did not like that she felt the power in this room. As if politics could accomplish everything it claimed.

On the other hand, democracy could be beautiful in the right circumstances. Ordinary people deserved more power than they had in Ayoch and many of the Morhoenese monarchies.

A pair of green-clad lictors led them down to the floor below the desks. “You will stand before the prince, in the sight of the people,” said one. “As foreign representatives, you may not sit during the proceedings.”

Lemuel sighed. “Never thought I’d have to hear that, personally.”

Megalli bounced on the heels of her shoes. “You keep foreigners off guard. I like it. I may have to do something like this once I return home.”

The lictors looked at her with solemn expressions.

Blue directed an unrestrained smile in Ilsa’s direction. “At least someone is going to benefit from our sore legs.”

Ilsa nodded. “How long do parliamentary proceedings last?”

“Hours, usually. For something like this, at least three or four. And it could be a lot longer than that,” said Lemuel.

Ilsa patted his shoulder. “Lean on me if you need to. I can handle it.”

“Four hours?” said Megalli. “That’s a lot of the day. How do these people have time for it?”

“The members of parliament are mostly ordinary citizens like me and Blue, but they receive compensation for their civic duty.” Lemuel glanced at Megalli. “Money means more in the city than in the mountains.”

Siuku turned to them. “These may be ordinary people, as you put it. But they represent our chance of an alliance.”

Megalli nodded, a little of her exuberance suppressed. She straightened her back a little. “I can be dignified too.” She pressed her lips into a line. “Just watch.”

Okko covered his mouth with his hand. His suppressed laughter still sounded too loud.

The lights above them dimmed. Then, a plain door, almost invisible when closed, opened in the center of the wall of the low part of the room where they stood. Two palace guards processed in, hands folded. After them came two lictors, and then the prince of Chogrum, flanked by two more lictors. He wore a white robe and carried the True Red staff. His feet were bare.

All six guards bowed their heads and stepped off to the sides of the room. The prince stepped into one of the two circles formed by red tiles and motioned for Siuku to stand in another near him. The members of parliament took their desks.

The prince tapped his staff on the floor twice.

From behind Ilsa, two bells chimed.

“Session begins,” whispered Lemuel.

They stood as the prince introduced the Keeper of Tenlyres to parliament. They stood as the heads of parliament responded to the prince. They stood for an hour as Siuku made her case to the people and bureaucracy of Chogrum.

Ilsa noticed that, though there were one hundred twenty desks, each one sat both a representative and a government bureaucrat to assist them. In the gaps between different representatives standing to speak and then sitting back down again, others conferred quietly with the bureaucrats beside them. The system struck her as sensible, with advisers for representatives whose jobs were not normally political.

Ilsa could not follow it all. She had been a mercenary and priestess for half her life. Her field of action was not here.

In the second hour, her legs began to feel stiffer and stiffer, though she did her best to shift them to keep from cramping. When the session ended, at last, it had been four hours, and she fairly lurched back up the steps to leave the room. This time, the prince walked with them. He moved slowly with the true staff of Hathani in his hand.

They descended the ramp outside the building. A plain black car waited on the street by the tram station, surrounded by a squad of palace guards. Ilsa wondered how dangerous the city would actually be for the prince, though she did not doubt the guard were necessary.

News-people took photographs and videos. Others shouted out questions, which the prince and Siuku ignored. Okko laughed and called out words Ilsa didn’t know in Oshomi, including one he repeated every time the cameras flashed.

“Bakasta. Bakasta.”

Ilsa glanced at Lemuel.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not an expert on Oshomi language.”

Megalli smirked at them over her shoulder. “It sounds rude.”

“It is,” said the dour lightning catcher walking close to Siuku. “You’re better off not knowing. Shut up, boy.” She tapped Okko on the back of the head.

“Bakasta,” he said and then gave a snort of laughter.

The older lightning catcher rolled her eyes, an expression of exasperation that existed across cultures. As they reached the car at the bottom of the ramp, Ilsa’s small smile morphed into a frown. There were weapon bonds on the sidewalk, and not all of them were members of the palace guard.

“Wait,” she said. “Somethings wrong.”

Lemuel glanced at her, as the prince reached his car, closely followed by a cluster of news people, held back by the presence of just a few guards. One of the news-people, an older woman with stringy white hair, looked strangely familiar.

Ilsa’s eyes went wide as realization struck her. The woman might be different above the brows, but other than the wig and the camera in her hand there could be no mistake. Black Powder’s first apprentice snapped a photograph of the prince.

Ilsa clenched her hand, preparing to draw her loaded pistol. She leaped from the last meter of the ramp toward the car. Her pistol appeared in her hand as she landed beside the prince. The guards began to produce weapons. Ilsa shouted in warning as First started to move a pistol produced in the hand not holding a camera.

For a second no shots were fired. Ilsa faced First down.

“What is the meaning of this?” bellowed the prince.

“This woman is one of Black Powder’s apprentices.” Ilsa kept her eyes on First.

The woman swung her weapon hand. She fired twice, and two of the guards holding back the news-people fell. Ilsa’s retaliatory shot hit First in the other hand, smashing through the camera.

Her father’s apprentice flinched backward.

People screamed. More shots went off, exchanged between the prince’s guards and more of her father’s hidden weapon bonds. The enemies emerged from their cover all down the sidewalk in front of the parliament building.

Ilsa put herself between First and the prince. She fired another shot. Then a third.

First ducked around the front of the car and evaded both bullets. Ilsa cursed almost as much as Okko as the bullets ricocheted off the pavement.

One of them hit a genuine newsman. He fell to one knee, his leg ripped in and out by the bullet. The man clenched his teeth and shouted in pain, but as he did he pointed behind Ilsa.

Ferdinand Thoss rode his white-furred great strider down the thoroughfare, towering over the low-built cars and even the tram. He thrust his long spear into one of the mercenaries who had just dropped a palace guard.

Ilsa called to the prince, “Stay close to me. We have to get back inside.”

A high caliber shot rang out from across the street and another of the guards fell. The prince ducked his head but raised his staff. “That looks to be a risky proposition at the moment, priestess.”

Caught on the end of Ferdinand’s spear, the weapon bond struggled with something under his bloodstained summer jacket. Ilsa smelled powder. A bomb.

“Ferdinand, drop him!” she called over her shoulder.

He did not hesitate but withdrew the spear into its bond. The wounded mercenary vanished in an explosive roar that sent shreds of his jacket flying through the air. Ilsa winced from the blast, surprised at the lack of blood with such a concentrated detonation.

First darted around to the street-side of the car, firing a pistol at the guards on the steps. The other mercenaries appeared to have fallen or retreated.

Ilsa scowled as she stepped around the prince. “Stay here, sir.”

“I am not eager to fight,” said the prince, hunkering down behind one of the car’s rear wheels. “Finish this attacker.”

With what pleasure there can be, Ilsa thought. “I will.” She snaked around the back of the car, moving to flank First.

The older woman shot another guard on the steps. She broke from behind the car just as a rusted van barreled down the street toward them.

Ferdinand, his strider now on the sidewalk, jumped down and joined the prince, Lemuel, and the rest of Siuku’s group near the car and the dazed members of the press.

One of them actually kept taking pictures. Apparently cooler-headed than the rest. Or crazier.

First reached the other side of the street and the van screeched to a halt between her and the guards on the parliament building ramp. Ilsa glanced at Ferdinand’s strider. The creature’s eyes glinted and swung his long body, sending one of the mounting lines flying to Ilsa. She grabbed the line and scurried up.

The strider swung back and she leaped off the line onto the top of the van. Her stomach roiled, and then shock ran through her legs. She took aim at First, who had just finished crossing the street.

Ilsa’s bullet hit her father’s sadistic apprentice in the leg and sent her staggering.

Beneath her, Ilsa could hear firearms being loaded. She gritted her teeth. More mercenaries, but she could tell where they were by sensing their bonded weapons. She fired the remaining rounds in her pistol through the thin metal roof of the van. She killed the occupants, all except one.

That one kicked out the windscreen and climbed out. He wore the same kind of hooded jacket of light material as the man who had blown himself up. And he leveled a shotgun at her.

Cass’s bullet hit him from behind. The red-haired priestess rode in from the end of the street opposite the way Ferdinand had come. He stumbled on the hood of the van, then pulled the cord of the explosive vest he wore beneath his coat. The blast burned through the van. Ilsa leaped from the roof.

She rolled onto the pavement two meters down, limbs and spine aching. Her arms had shielded her head from the worsts of the fall. She scrambled to her feet and went after First at a fast limp. One leg burned with pain from scrapes through the leg of torn pants. Her vision narrowed with intent.

Stop First from escaping. Find Tirica.

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 43 – True Red

Tim here.

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

Check it out here!

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

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

 

Back to Tenlyres.

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

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

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

 

Download Tenlyres I for free!

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

Previous Chapter

 

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

Electricity. Genetic shaping. Magi.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“My friends and I were looking for someone.”

“Someone? Who?”

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

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

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

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

“The prince?” someone asked. “Why?”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who are they?”

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

“And the fourth one?”

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

“A noble prisoner from Ayoch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could only hope.

Her gaze returned to the leader of the palace guards.

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

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

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

Lemuel and Okko were brought in last.

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

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

“Impure?” said Ilsa.

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

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

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

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

“You’re next, priestess.”

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

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

Then, the pain burned her from within.

Heat could scarcely even serve to describe it.

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

She forced herself forward, pushing further into the passage.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ilsa. What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

The prince of Chogrum smiled.

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

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

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

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

“It is.”

“Where is your staff of office?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Then who did?”

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

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

Kaij’s eyes boiled. He said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“We know. Lemuel and Okko told us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyelids closed. “I will be ready.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Very late.”

They pulled each other close and slept.

#

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Straight from the Subconscious! It’s Urban Fantasy!

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So, I’m writing this blog post from the depths of my near-delirious state. I hope it is, at least, understandable when I post it.

Stayed up late last night talking to my twin brother online.

This kind of 2-3 hour conversation was of the sort of scale I have fairly often with my brother, but last night’s talk was something special as far as the amount of fun I had. It reminds me how well these conversations can go.

We discussed A LOT of different story stuff, mostly related to dark stories (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Narcos, Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books), and the anime Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Now, of those four TV shows and one book series, I have only barely read or watched about half of the total stories. However, these are all up my brother’s alley.

I told him he really seems to like dark stories to a degree I do not (Though I like at least some things about most of the stories I mentioned above). While I don’t think I really fall in love with the dark stories, I do enjoy them. Of course, as a writer, that distinction is important.

The most powerful ascendant element of fiction for me right now is adventure, not tone or grit. I enjoy adventure stories and having realized recently how much Urban Fantasy I’ve been writing over the past few years, I think this is an important element to emphasize. Some Urban Fantasy goes more toward horror, while others lean on romance. Mine rely on adventure, at least at this point. And I do not plan to fight this (Apparently) natural development.

With a mighty mental leap, I managed to fit my thoughts into Urban Fantasy. My brother and I also talked about genre last night.

My first released novel, and the sequel I’m working on, the whole Maker Mythos really, is Urban Fantasy. That point is fairly clear to me now. It has a contemporary setting in which technology from present Earth can have an effect on the supernatural and fantasy elements (Unlike something like Harry Potter where guns and phones are pretty much unknown among wizards, for example). So, that one fits.

Many of my other series ideas surprised me a bit in this regard, but I realized I could just slightly tilt them and have them fit as kin to the genre of Urban Fantasy if not quite fit them in as kind.

A few examples from other story-worlds I have not released much stuff for yet…

Rem’s Dream has a novel out, and even though I’ve categorized that as cyberpunk, I realize now how much magic and crazy fantasy elements are effectively present in the story. Young people can alter the dreamworld at will. Nightmares become real monsters. There is a lot in just those two sentences that make the story as much fantasy as near-future.

Next up, my short stories.

Stolen Parts deals with necromancers in the modern United States in a small-town setting. It is DEFINITELY Urban Fantasy in the most customary sense of the moment, a la The Dresden Files.

Weirder to think of as Urban Fantasy for me is Ludosensitivity. This is a VERY short story I released a bit over a year ago. It’s also set in a setting I always thought of as Science Fiction, near future, but still. However, there are people who gain psychic abilities temporarily by drinking the blood of strange nonhuman characters as a major part of the story and world. It takes place in a city on Earth. Huh. And the technology level is basically similar to the present, despite the year listed. So, my point? This could easily qualify as Urban Fantasy too, even though my personal prejudice wanted it to be some kind of science fiction. The larger, unreleased stories from this universe fit the family even more clearly.

Does that not cover all my current releases (Except for Tenlyres I, which probably does not fit)?

One last example is a book I wrote years ago, with no consideration for genre whatsoever.

This novel’s working title was Hanging Jupiter, and it takes place in a modern city on a different Earth (Much like a couple other unreleased stories I will not go into here because they are not as complete at the moment). There is magic in this book, side-by-side with technology. There are nonhumans, a protagonist with a dark past. Huh. I guess this is pretty close to Urban Fantasy tropes too.

You see? I write and have written a goodly amount that can be classes in the Urban Fantasy sub-genre. I don’t think that is a big stretch.

Anyway, my point is this: I can fit a lot of stuff into this genre, world-wise.

So, I’m waking up now. I’m happy to report that this post actually has helped me get my thoughts together this morning.

I can only hope you will get something out of it.

What are some favorite books of yours in Urban Fantasy? Do you like dark stories or prefer a lighter tone?

Let me know in the comments if you like.

And you can check out Rem’s Dream and Hunter and Seed today on most online stores.

Thanks for reading!