Posts Tagged ‘Dark Fantasy’

Exile of the Seas
Chronicles of Dasnaria #2
by Jeffe Kennedy
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Pub Date: 9/4/18
Around the shifting borders of the Twelve Kingdoms, trade and conflict,
danger and adventure put every traveler on guard . . . but some have
everything to lose.
ESCAPED
Once she was known as Jenna, Imperial Princess of Dasnaria, schooled in
graceful dance and comely submission. Until the man her parents
married her off to almost killed her with his brutality.
Now, all she knows is that the ship she’s boarded is bound away from her
vicious homeland. The warrior woman aboard says Jenna’s skill in
dancing might translate into a more lethal ability. Danu’s fighter
priestesses will take her in, disguise her as one of their own—and
allow her to keep her silence.
But it’s only a matter of time until Jenna’s monster of a husband
hunts her down. Her best chance to stay hidden is to hire out as
bodyguard to a caravan traveling to a far-off land, home to beasts
and people so unfamiliar they seem like part of a fairy tale. But her
supposed prowess in combat is a fraud. And sooner or later, Jenna’s
flight will end in battle—or betrayal . . .

 


Excerpt

I grew up in paradise.

Tropically warm, lushly beautiful, replete with luxury, my childhood world was without flaw. My least whim was met with immediate indulgence, served instantly and with smiles of delight. I swam in crystal clear waters, then napped on silk. I chased gorgeously ornamental fish and birds, and enjoyed dozens of perfectly behaved pets of unusual coloring and pedigrees. My siblings and I spent our days in play, nothing ever asked or expected of us.

Until the day everything was demanded—and taken—from me.

Only then did I finally see our paradise for what it was, how deliberately designed to mold and shape us. A breeding ground for luxurious accessories. To create a work of art, you grow her in an environment of elegance and beauty. To make her soft and lusciously accommodating, you surround her with delicacies and everything delightful. And you don’t educate her in anything but being pleasing.

Education leads to critical thinking, not a desirable trait in a princess of Dasnaria, thus I was protected from anything that might taint the virginity of my mind, as well as my body.

Because I’d understood so little of the world outside, when my time came to be plucked from the garden, when the snip of the shears severed me from all I’d known, the injury came as a shock so devastating that I had no ability to even understand what it meant, much less summon the will to resist and overcome. Which, I’ve also come to realize over time, was also a part of the deliberate design.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning.

I grew up in paradise.

And it was all you’d imagine paradise to be. A soft palace of lagoons and lush gardens, of silk bowers and laughter. With little else to do, our mothers and the other ladies played with us, games both simple and extravagantly layered. When we tired, we napped on the velvet soft grass of the banks of the pools, or on the silk pillows scattered everywhere. We’d sleep until we awoke, eat the tidbits served us by watchful servant girls, then play more.

Hestar and I had our own secret games and language. All the ladies called us the royal pair, as we were the emperor’s firstborns and we’d been born less than a month apart.

My mother, first wife, the Empress Hulda, and the most highly ranked woman in the empire, spent much of her day at court. When she was home in the seraglio, she preferred to relax without noisy children to bother her. Hestar’s mother, Jilliya, was second wife and kept getting pregnant, forever having and sometimes losing the babies. So, by unspoken agreement, we kept clear of her apartments, too. Something else I understood much later, that the miasma of misery has its own brand of contagion—and that those who fear contracting the deadly disease stay far away.

Saira, on the other hand, third wife and mother of our half-sister Inga, had a kindness and sweetness to her, so we kids often played in her apartments when we grew bored of games like climbing the palm trees to see who could pluck the most dates while a servant counted the time. Inga, along with my full brother, Kral, were the second oldest pair—the

second-borns, also arriving in the same month, to my mother and Saira. Less than a year younger than Hestar and me, they completed our set of four. Our six other brothers and sisters played with us, too, but they were babies still, needing to be watched all the time. Whenever we could, the four of us ditched the babies, exploring the far corners of our world, then making hideouts where no one could find us.

Though, of course, when the least desire took our fancy, someone always appeared instantaneously to satisfy us. Another of the many illusions of my childhood.

Hestar and I, we had a cave we’d made under a clump of ferns. He’d stocked it with a box of sweetmeats and I’d stolen one of my mother’s silk throws for a carpet. Embroidered with fabulous animals, it told tales of a world beyond our corner of paradise. We loved it best of all our purloined treasures, and made up stories about the scenes and creatures, giving them names and convoluted histories.

One day—the kind that stands out with crystalline clarity, each detail incised in my memory—we played as usual. Hestar had been mysteriously gone for a while the day before, or perhaps several days before or for several days in a row. That part fogs in with the timelessness of those days that never ended, but blended one into the next. What I remember is the elephant.

“And the miskagiggle flapped its face tail, saying nooo—”

“It’s called an elephant,” Hestar interrupted me.

“What is?”

“It’s not a miskagiggle. It’s an elephant, and the face tail is a trunk.”

Hestar beamed with pride at knowing something I didn’t.

“You’re making that up.”

“No, I’m not! My tutor told me.”

“What’s that?”

“A teacher. My tutor is named Ser Llornsby.”

“Is that where you went?” Hestar and Kral had been whisked off by servants, and no one would tell me or Inga where they were, just that we’d see them again soon.

Hestar’s blue eyes went wide and he looked around to see if anyone was listening. “Want to know a secret?”

Oh, did I. Even then I understood that secrets were the carefully hoarded and counted currency of the seraglio. “Yes!”

We pulled the silk throw over our heads to make a tent. It was the usual grass beneath, so we didn’t really need the carpet. Having it just made our hideaway more special—and the throw became a blanket, excellent for exchanging secrets.

“We went through the doors!” Hestar told me, whispering but much too loudly.

I hushed him. I didn’t question how I knew, but this secret held power. Most of our secrets had been silly, frivolous things, like how Inga kept candied dates under her pillow. Or ones everyone already knew, like that Jilliya was pregnant again. With the unabashed enthusiasm of children, we absorbed all the murmured gossip and repeated it with equal relish. This, though—I recognized immediately how important it was.

No wonder no one would tell us where they’d gone. Children didn’t go through the doors. Only my mother and some of the women. The rekjabrel and other servants, they went in and out all the time. But a lot of times they came back crying or hurt, so we understood the doors led to a terrible place. And yet Hestar had gone and returned, beaming.

“Was it terrible? Were you scared? Did Kral go, too?”

Hestar nodded, solemnly. “We were brave boys though. And it’s not like here. There aren’t the lagoons and it’s not as warm. They took us to a library and we met Ser Llornsby. We looked at pictures and learned animal names.”

I couldn’t bring myself to ask what a library might be. I wanted to look at pictures and learn animal names. Though I didn’t know the emotion to name it at the time, a jab of envy lanced through my heart. Hestar and I always had everything the same, only I had the better mother, because she was first wife. It wasn’t fair that Hestar got to go through the doors and learn things without me. An elephant. I whispered the exotic word to myself.

“Elephants are huge and people ride on their backs, and the elephants carry things for them in their trunks.” Hestar continued, full of smug pride. “Ser Llornsby is going to teach me everything I need to know to be emperor someday.”

“Why do you get to be emperor? My mother is first wife. Yours is only second wife. Besides, I’m older.”

Hestar wrinkled his nose at me. “Because you’re a girl. Girls can’t be emperor. Only empress.”

That was true. It was the way of things. “Well then you can be emperor and I can be empress like Mother.”

“All right!” Hestar grinned. “We’ll rule the whole empire and have lots of elephants. Kral and Inga can be our servants.”

For the rest of the day we played emperor and empress. Kral and Inga got mad and decided they would be emperor and empress, too, not listening when we said there could only be one of each and we were firstborn so they had to be our servants. They went off to play their own game, but we got Helva to be in our court, and also her little brothers, Leo and Loke. The boys were identical twins and liked any game they could play together. Baby Harlan could barely toddle, so he stayed with his nurse. Ban went off with Inga, of course, as he followed her everywhere, but her full brother, Mykal came to our side.

We didn’t care, because our court was the biggest. Besides, everyone knew the emperor gets to pick his own empress, and Hestar already promised me I’d be first wife and I could pick his other wives, just like Mother did. Which meant Inga wouldn’t get to be one. Maybe not Helva, either, though I told her she would be.

Mother didn’t much care for Saira and Jilliya, so maybe I wouldn’t have other wives at all. I didn’t need them to be empress.

Playing emperor and empress turned out to be terribly fun. Hestar made me a crown of orchids and we took over one of the small eating salons, getting the servants to clear out the table and pillows, instead setting up two big chairs to be our thrones. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Einarr Konyngrr, our father, had a throne. So we’d heard. And we badgered one of the rekjabrel who’d served in the court to tell us what it looked like.

“Huge, Your Imperial Highnesses,” she said, keeping her eyes averted.

“It towers above, all platinum and crystal, so bright you can’t look upon it. I can’t say more.”

“What about the Empress’s throne?” I persisted.

“Just the one throne, Your Imperial Highness Princess Jenna.”

“That can’t be right,” I told Hestar, when we let the rekjabrel go. “She must not have seen properly.”

“We don’t have platinum anyway,” he replied.

So we decorated the two big chairs, which ended up taking a long time. They needed to be sparkling, which meant we needed jewels. Leo and Loke were good at persuading bangles off the ladies, but then didn’t like to give them up. By the time we chased them down and got everything decorated, we had only a little time to have actual court. When my nurse, Kaia, came to get me for my bath, we made all the servants promise to leave everything as it was.

“Kaia?” I asked, splashing at the warmed milk water as she poured the jasmine rinse through my hair.

“Yes, Princess?”

“Have you seen an elephant?”

She laughed. “No, Princess. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is this one of your games?”

“No—they’re real. Their face-tails are called trunks.”

“If you say so, Princess.”

I fumed a little. How could I find out more about elephants when no one even believed they were real? “When do I get to go through the doors and look at pictures of animals and learn their names?”

Kaia dropped the pitcher of jasmine water, breaking it on the tiles. I would have scolded her for clumsiness, but she had such an odd look on her face that I stopped mid-word.

“Where have you heard of such a thing, Princess?” She had her head bowed, but with her scalp shorn, she couldn’t hide her face. She’d gone white, her eyes squinched up like she hurt. Just like that time Mother accused her of drinking from her special teapot, and had Kaia lashed until she confessed. Kaia had cried and cried, not wanting to play with me for days afterward. But this time she didn’t have any blood, so I didn’t understand why she went all pale like that.

“Hestar got to go. And Kral, too, and he’s younger. I want to go. I command you to take me tomorrow.”

“Your Imperial Highness, I cannot.”

“You will or I’ll tell Mother.”

“Up and out, Princess,” she replied, dumping the shards into a waste bin, then holding out a towel. “We must address this with Her Imperial Majesty. You can ask her in person.”

She dried me off, too briskly, and I almost reprimanded her, but she still looked so scared and I didn’t want her to not play with me for days again. “I already said goodnight to Mother.” Mother didn’t like to be disturbed after goodnights, and the prospect began to make me a little afraid, too.

Kaia wrapped my hair in a towel, then rubbed me all over with jasmine scented unguent. She worked as thoroughly as always, but wouldn’t answer any more questions, simply saying that I could ask my mother momentarily.

She pulled my nightgown over my head and had me put on a robe, too, which wasn’t usual. And we went with my hair still damp, not carefully combed dry before the fire while she told me stories.

I didn’t want to miss my stories and I began to be afraid I’d said something terribly wrong. I’d known this was an important secret. How could I have been so careless? It was the elephant. “Let’s not go see Mother,” I said.

Kaia shook her head, pressing her lips together. “I apologize, Princess, but I’m afraid we must.”

“I don’t want to. Tell me my stories. My hair is still wet.”

But she didn’t bend, which scared me even more. Kaia always did what I told her. Almost always. She took my hand in a grip so firm it nearly hurt and practically dragged me to Mother’s private salon. I resisted, and would have thrown a fit, but Mother wouldn’t like that. An imperial princess gives commands in a firm and gentle voice, never shrill, and

tears are unacceptable.

Still, when Kaia called out through the closed yellow silk curtains, and my mother snapped out a reply, I nearly did cry. And Kaia didn’t relent in her grip, which made me think she was angry with me and Kaia was never angry, even when I refused to eat my supper and demanded dessert instead. She parted the curtains and slipped me inside, kneeling beside me and bowing her head to the plush tapestried carpet. I lowered my eyes, too, though I didn’t have to kneel.

“Well?” the empress demanded in a cold tone. “What is the meaning of this, child?”

“My humble apologies, Your Imperial Majesty,” Kaia said, though Mother had clearly asked me. Her voice shook and her hand had gone all cold and sweaty. I yanked mine away and she let me. “Her Imperial Highness Princess Jenna has asked me questions I cannot answer. I thought it best to bring her to you immediately.”

“It’s not your responsibility to think,” Mother replied. A hissing sound as she breathed in her relaxing smoke. “You are to keep the princess well groomed, as she most certainly is not at the moment. Your hair is wet, Jenna.”

A tear slipped down my cheek, making me glad that I was to keep my eyes averted unless given permission. Maybe she wouldn’t see. “I’m sorry,

Mother,” I whispered.

“As well you should be. Interrupting my quiet time. Going about like a rekjabrel with wild hair. Are you a princess of Dasnaria?”

“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty.”

She hmphed in derision. “You don’t look like one. What question did you ask to upset your nurse so?”

Kaia had gone silent, quaking on the carpet beside me. No help at all. I considered lying, saying Kaia had made it up. But Mother wouldn’t believe that. Kaia would never so recklessly attract punishment. I happened to know she hadn’t snuck the tea—one of the rekjabrel had taken it for her sister, but Kaia had never said.

“Jenna,” Mother said, voice like ice. “Look at me.”

I did, feeling defiant, for no good reason. Mother reclined on her pillows, her embroidered silk gown a river of blues over their ruby reds. Her unbound hair flowed over it all, a pale blond almost ivory, like mine. In contrast, her eyes looked black as ebony, darker even than the artful shadows outlining them. She’d removed most of her jewelry, wearing only the wedding bracelets that never came off. She held her glass pipe in her jeweled nails. The scarlet of her lip paint left a waxy mark on the end of it, scented smoke coiling from the bowl.

“Tears?” Her voice dripped contempt and disbelief. “What could you possibly have said to have your nurse in a puddle and an imperial princess in tears, simply in anticipation?”

“I didn’t say anything!” I answered.

“Your nurse is lying then,” the empress cooed. “I shall have to punish her.”

Kaia let out this noise, like the one Inga’s kitten had made when Ban kicked it. The ladies had taken it to a better home and Inga had cried for days until they gave her five new kittens just like it.

“I only asked about the elephants,” I said, very quietly.

“Excuse me?” The arch of her darkened brows perfectly echoed her tone.

“Elephants!” I yelled at her, and burst into full-fledged sobbing. If you’d asked me then, what made me break all those rules, raising my voice, defying my mother, losing the composure expected of an imperial princess, firstborn daughter of Emperor Einarr, I likely could only have explained that I wanted to know about elephants so badly that it felt like a

physical ache. Something extraordinary for a girl who’d rarely experienced pain of any sort.

Once I’d had a pet, an emerald lizard with bright yellow eyes. Its scales felt like cool water against my skin, and it would wrap its tail tightly around my wrist. I’d only had it a day when it bit me. Astonished by the bright pain,

the blood flowing from my finger, I’d barely registered that I’d been hurt before the servants descended, wrapping the wound in bandages soaked in sweet smelling salve that took sensation away.

They also took the lizard away and wouldn’t give it back, despite my demands and pleas. When the salve wore off, my finger throbbed. And when they took the bandages off, the skin around the bite had turned a fascinating purple and gray. They tried to keep me from looking, but I caught glimpses before they made it numb again, then wrapped it up and I couldn’t see it anymore. I’d tap my finger against things, trying to feel it again. My finger and the lizard, both gone.

I felt like that, full of purple bruising and soft pain, as if I’d been bitten inside, and somehow numb on the outside. I wondered what might disappear this time.

“Elephants,” my mother pronounced the word softly, almost in wonder.

Then she laughed, not at all nicely. “Leave us,” she snapped, making Kaia scurry backwards. “It’s apparently time for me to have a conversation about life with my daughter.”

 


Prisoner of the Crown
Chronicles of Dasnaria #1
She was raised to be beautiful, nothing more. And then the rules changed . . .
In icy Dasnaria, rival realm to the Twelve Kingdoms, a woman’s role is
to give pleasure, produce heirs, and question nothing. But a plot to
overthrow the emperor depends on the fate of his eldest daughter. And
the treachery at its heart will change more than one carefully
limited life . . .
The Gilded Cage
Princess Jenna has been raised in supreme luxury—and ignorance. Within the
sweet-scented, golden confines of the palace seraglio, she’s never
seen the sun, or a man, or even learned her numbers. But she’s been
schooled enough in the paths to a woman’s power. When her betrothal
is announced, she’s ready to begin the machinations that her mother
promises will take Jenna from ornament to queen.
But the man named as Jenna’s husband is no innocent to be cozened or
prince to charm. He’s a monster in human form, and the horrors of
life under his thumb are clear within moments of her wedding vows. If
Jenna is to live, she must somehow break free—and for one born to a
soft prison, the way to cold, hard freedom will be a dangerous path
indeed…

 


Guest Post

Writing PRISONER OF THE CROWN was an interesting foray into history for me. See, this book is the first in a trilogy that’s a spinoff from the world established in my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms series. The Empire of Dasnaria, where PRISONER takes place, is a foreign – and aggressive – realm encountered by the people of the Twelve Kingdoms. And Dasnaria is a very different culture where women do not have the same rights and freedoms that they do in the twelve.

Part of that came from wanting a foil to my assertive and powerful High Queen of the Twelve Kingdoms, and the other part came from me being aware of the political and cultural situation in our modern world. I wanted to better understand how women can be happy raised in a culture where they’re kept “under wraps” in one way or another, where men decide their lives and provide escorts everywhere. Dasnaria became that place in my fictional world.

With PRISONER, I got to write that story from the inside, through the character of Imperial Princess Jenna, born in the seraglio of the Imperial Palace of Dasnaria. She’s spent her entire life there, surrounded by women and given a carefully crafted education. So, while I knew the societal rules of Dasnaria from my people of the Twelve Kingdoms learning about them, Jenna was my first opportunity to be in the head of a woman who grew up inside that culture, who knows those rules as immutable.

This proved to be a challenge, because the cloistered world of the seraglio is all Jenna knows to begin with. It’s not until she leaves the seraglio to be married that she begins to seriously question whether she could have another life. At first, she utterly believes that men are smarter and stronger, that only through her husband and sons – and manipulating her daughters the same way she’s been groomed – can she gain any power. She takes at face value that women must learn to pleasure men, and she’ll offer her body with complete obedience and submissive grace to her husband, no matter what he demands of her. She even nurtures a romantic ideal that if she’s beautiful and perfect, then she will have a happy marriage.

We all know how that kind of thinking works out.

This story is not a romance. The beastly husband doesn’t turn out to be a wonderful man beneath. This is entirely Jenna’s story, and how she discovers that how she’s been raised and what she’s been taught is only one lens on the world.

And that there’s more out there beyond the Empire of Dasnaria.


Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans
decades. She lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine Coon cats, a border
collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a Doctor of Oriental
Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at JeffeKennedy.com, or every
Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!
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Schisms
The Scribe Cycle #2
by James Wolanyk
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Pub Date: 7/10/2018

Three long years have passed since Anna, First of Tomas, survived the purge
in Malijad after being forced to use her scribe sigils to create an
army of immortals. Safely ensconced in the shelter of the Nest, a
sanctuary woven by one of her young allies, Anna spends her days
tutoring the gifted yet traumatized scribe, Ramyi—and coming to
terms with her growing attachment to an expatriate soldier in her
company.
Away from her refuge, war drums continue to beat. Thwarted in her efforts
to locate the elusive tracker and bring him to justice, Anna turns to
the state of Nahora and its network of spies for help. But Nahoran
assistance comes with a price: Anna must agree to weaponize her magic
for the all-out military confrontation to come.
Dispatched to the front lines with Ramyi in tow, Anna will find her new
alliances put to the test, her old tormentors lying in wait, and the
fate of a city placed in her hands. To protect the innocent, she must
be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. For even in this season of
retribution, the gift of healing may be the most powerful weapon of
all.
Scribes
The Scribe Cycle #1
Pawns in an endless war, scribes are feared and worshipped, valued and
exploited, prized and hunted. But there is only one whose powers can
determine the fate of the world . . .
Born into the ruins of Rzolka’s brutal civil unrest, Anna has never
known peace. Here, in her remote village—a wasteland smoldering in
the shadows of outlying foreign armies—being imbued with the magic
of the scribes has made her future all the more uncertain.
Through intricate carvings of the flesh, scribes can grant temporary
invulnerability against enemies to those seeking protection. In an
embattled world where child scribes are sold and traded to corrupt
leaders, Anna is invaluable. Her scars never fade. The immunity she
grants lasts forever.
Taken to a desert metropolis, Anna is promised a life of reverence, wealth,
and fame—in exchange for her gifts. She believes she is helping to
restore her homeland, creating gods and kings for an immortal
army—until she witnesses the hordes slaughtering without reproach,
sacking cities, and threatening everything she holds dear. Now, with
the help of an enigmatic assassin, Anna must reclaim the power of her
scars—before she becomes the unwitting architect of an apocalyptic war.

EXCERPT

The lodge’s main hall was quiet and hazy with a pall of pipe smoke. Most of those lying on the earthen floor were Hazani, their tunics and wraps hanging from the rafters to dry the day’s sweat. A pair of Huuri, gleaming translucently in candlelight, lay huddled together near the door with their packs clutched to their chests. But the stillness was deeper than an absence of guests; the lodge’s ornate silk carpets and silver kettle sets were gone, likely converted to a few stalks or iron bars by a crafty peddler.

Déjà vu crept over Anna, thick and threatening.

Yatrin and Baqir headed for the latrine dugout behind a partition, while Khara slumped down beside the door. The woman fished a cylinder of aspen and a blade from her pack, whittling with rhythmic scrapes, eyeing Ramyi as she wandered aimlessly between cushions and hookahs. When Anna was certain of everybody’s routines, she jogged up the spiral stairwell in darkness.

The muffled cries of babes leaked through locked doors on the second and third levels, but the fourth was silent. Anna wondered if that was conspicuous, or if it might lure unwanted attention from those who searched for that kind of thing, but she trusted in Tensic’s judgment: Many of the veterans in Anna’s company, living or dead, had arranged things through him. Sharp minds and tight lips were rare things in the north.

Anna crossed the corridor and its patches of moonlight, halting at the sixth door. She gave a soft tap with her knuckles and waited.

Silence.

She recalled her infiltrator’s instructions, the exact exchange of one knock for one cough. If she hadn’t been so headstrong, she might’ve fetched Yatrin. But she was. With heartbeats trickling through her core, Anna reached into the folds of her shawl, unlatched a shortened ruj from the clasp on a ceramic-plated vest, and cradled it against her hip. It was the length of her forearm, strangely cumbersome despite her having trained with it nearly as long as it had existed as a prototype among Hazani cartels. Two stubby barrels housed in a cedar frame, a fully-wound cog on its side, payload sacs of iron shavings waiting beside spring plungers. Most of her fighters had taken to calling it by northern

name: yuzel, thorn. Crude, inaccurate, unpredictable—but that had become the nature of this war.

Anna pressed her back to the wall and took hold of the door handle.

Cycles of training coalesced in her stilled lungs, in the hare-twitch muscles of her wrists, inviting peace in the face of unease. Clarity gave form to violence, after all. In a single breath she shoved the door inward, dropped to one knee, swept her yuzel’s dual barrels across the room.

The mirrorman’s body was sprawled out in a wash of candlelight and ceramic fragments, flesh glimmering with slick red. Stale air and sweat wafted out to meet her.

Shes’tir.” Her curse was a whisper, a surge of hot blood.

Anna stood, keeping the yuzel aimed at the shadows around the corpse. Piece by piece, the room revealed the scope of their work, starting with blood-spattered mud-and-straw walls. A dented copper kettle, an overturned table, a tapestry shredded by errant blade slashes. Then she saw it, gleaming

like a spiderweb or silk strand: a trip wire was suspended across the doorway, just above ankle-level, set with enough precision to rival some of Malijad’s best killers.

But subtlety had never been the way of southerners.

After edging to the left and right, examining the chamber’s hidden corners for assailants she suspected were long gone, Anna stepped over the trip wire and approached the body carefully.

His face was distorted, bulging out and cracked inward with oozing welts, both eyes swollen shut. A garrote’s deep purple traces ringed his neck. With some difficulty, Anna discerned that he’d also been a southerner, not a local conscript or hired hand from Hazan; he’d had naturally pale skin, now darkened by years beneath a withering sun. A mercenary. But his role—passing information through a mirror’s glints—had made him their best chance for information on the tracker’s whereabouts.

Their only chance, after three years of frayed leads and compromised operations.

Anna bent down and turned the man’s head from side to side, noting its coldness, its turgid and leathery texture as a result of beatings. His lips were dark, and—

Ink.

A dark, narrow stripe of ink ended at the crest of his lower lip, originating somewhere far deeper in his mouth. The application had been hasty, forceful even. Using her middle finger, Anna peeled the mirrorman’s lip forward. A triangular pattern had been needled into the soft tissue, still inflamed

with networks of red capillaries but recognizable all the same: It was an old Nahoran system, more a product of surveyors than soldiers, aiming to meld coordinates with time.

Here, now, her only chance.

Anna reattached her yuzel to its hook, slipped her pack off, fished out a brass scroll tube and charcoal stick. With a moment of silence to listen, to observe the empty doorway and the night market’s routine din, she copied the symbol onto the blank scroll. She then furled the parchment

and slipped it back into its tube.

Its weight was eerie in her pack, crushing with importance she understood both intensely yet not at all.

She hurried out of the chamber and toward the stairwell, but before she’d cleared the corridor she glanced outside, where she noticed a dark yellow cloth waving atop a post near the paddock. It hadn’t been there when they arrived. Her breath seized in the back of her mouth and—

A door squealed on its hinges.

Anna pivoted around, yuzel unclasped and drawn in both hands, eyes focused to the slender ruj barrel emerging from the seventh doorway. A dark hand followed, swathed in leather strips far too thick for northern fighters. She slid to the left and squeezed the trigger.

It was a hollow whisper in the corridor, perhaps a handful of sand pelting mud, a rattle down her wrists. Iron shavings collided as the magnetic coils accelerated them, sparking in brilliant whites and blues and oranges. The wall behind the shooter exploded in a burst of dust and dried grass, sending

metal shards ricocheting and skittering across the floor. A scream ceased in a single gust, as bone and cloth and flesh scattered just as quickly.

The shooter staggered forward in the haze, howling as he stared at the stump of his wrist.

Anna fired again.

When the dark cloud vanished, the shooter’s upper half was strewn down the corridor and dripping from the ceiling.

She spun away, sensing the tremors in her hands and the hard knot in her throat, and started down the stairwell. Three years of violence hadn’t made killing any more pleasurable, nor even easier, but decidedly more common. In fact, time had only made her more aware of how warriors were shaped: The nausea and terror remained, but everything was so perfunctory, done as habitually as breathing or chewing. Not that she had the luxury of being revolted by that fact. As she descended she  unscrewed the weapon’s empty shaving pouches and replaced them with fresh bulbs.


James Wolanyk is the author of the Scribe Cycle and a teacher from
Boston. He holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of
Massachusetts, where his writing has appeared in its quarterly
publication and The Electric Pulp. After studying fiction, he pursued
educational work in the Czech Republic, Taiwan, and Latvia. Outside
of writing, he enjoys history, philosophy, and boxing. His
post-apocalyptic novel, Grid, was released in 2015. He currently
resides in Riga, Latvia as an English teacher.
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“All sailors beware, for only one will the Lioness spare”

In the 34th century, vicious creatures walk the earth, and a bloodthirsty monster known as the Lioness rules over the sea. The capital city of Zargo has found that music may keep its monsters at bay, and Lucien Mooncaster, the lead violinist of the city orchestra, is the toast of the town. But even with the lifestyle of a celebrity knocking at his door, the only company he cares to keep is that of his endless supply of books.

Meanwhile, perfection proves to be fragile as Lucien’s picturesque life of comfort falls out from under him when a storm strikes, and an unearthly beautiful woman washes ashore, shipwrecked outside his home.

 

 

 

C.R. Tyra is currently doing time as a computer programmer in central Oklahoma and writing during every unoccupied nano-second. He is a science fiction and horror aficionado with a degree in computer science. When he’s not hiding in a dark corner hunched over a keyboard pouring over code or written word, he enjoys golf, music, and good food.

 

Find out more about C.R. Tyra at his website: http://www.crtyrabooks.com/   or visit him on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/CRTyra/