Tuesday, September 19, 2017

When Cunning and Bravery Team Up to Fight Evil

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There is a sidestory about Aubrey Sintaur coming after Book Three is published. I've been looking forward to writing it since 2013, when I published Kaza. You meet her there, where you learn that she's a Sodessi--a spy for the Imperium. She's a very gifted Dreamcatcher who wants to defect. When she meets Kaza, the means for that defection come clear.

I remember very much enjoying writing the excerpt below. Here Aubrey's full skills come into deadly focus as she, Kaza, and a slave named Tray try to escape from the Imperial warship they've been imprisoned on, and where they face imminent execution.

Enjoy!

~~*~~

Fog, Kaza!
Aubrey.
"What the hell is going on?" he repeated. "Answer me!"
Stand back.—
She hurried hastily back, as did Kaza and Tray. It was difficult not to fall over backwards.
She lowered her arms.
The door abruptly bent inwards, then exploded.
The guards who had brutally beaten Tray stood under the doorjamb, swords raised. One marched in towards Kaza, who said, "Whoa!" and shuffled back as fast as he could—
He's going to free you and Tray. Just stand there.—
The Gyssian sheathed his broadsword, then kneeled at Kaza's knee and unlocked his ankle clasps, then stood and did the same with his wrist clasps and the restraining belt that chained the entire assembly together. Finished, he moved to free Tray. The other guard stood facing away, at the door, his sword raised as though anticipating battle.
Aubrey: —Arm them.—
The guard under the doorjamb reached to his left, turned and handed Aubrey two broadswords, which she handed to Kaza and Tray.
To the guards she said: —Your will is mine. You would rather die than see us harmed in any way. Defend us!
That girlish Voice held nothing but bloody resolve in it. It was the same one Kaza heard as she stood under a dead, hanging, and mutilated Malias.
The Arilyceum is out there, Kaza, just behind us. I saw fog … and then I saw it. It followed you all this way, Storyteller. But I've also sensed the Lord Emperor. He's on his way back from Prince Trajan's flagship. This is our only chance. If we want to live even another five minutes we must get off this ship any way we can—NOW!
Tray must have heard her too, because he raised his sword in a way that had not an ounce of meekness in it.
The Gyssians led them out of the room, motioning for them to follow into the corridor only after checking to see that it was clear first.
We've only got a couple minutes before the Horg Audience recover from the vision. I couldn't have overcome their minds without you, Kaza.—
Kaza barely heard what she said. His attention was on the broadsword in his grip, on the cold silver-metal hilt. He had never used a sword before; he had no training with one.
But he would have to use this one, and expertly, if he was to get back to—the Ari?
The Ari? Really? She had followed him here? How was that possible?
And just how powerful was Aubrey, anyway? Timalan had called her formidable. The word seemed almost inadequate.
Behind the guards, they ran up the corridor. At the stairs a sailor suddenly emerged. The right guard swiped viciously across his body, and the head of the man spun off his shoulders to a dull wet thud, followed by the body, the neck spouting blood over the wood floor.
Up the stairs. At the top the guards exploded in sudden and silent fury, swinging their blades with ferocious determination at hapless crew standing in the way. There were immediate yells, orders to cease, cries for help—
Aubrey was up next. —Kaza! Tray! Move! Move! Move!
Tray muscled his way past him, leaping the final stairs three at a time, his face dark with rage, as though he had waited for this opportunity his entire life and wasn't about to pass it up. Kaza gained the landing as more shouts sounded out on the top deck. Sailors were unsheathing weapons and approaching from the sides—the booted approach of many men behind—
Behind! Kaza turned and lunged just as one leaped over the high railing of the bridge. His blade caught the soldier in the neck just under the chin, and the man hung there for a grisly moment, his lifeblood pulsing over the blade. Kaza yanked it back and turned away, not watching the body fall at his feet; he cast wildly about for Aubrey and Tray, who had disappeared in the commotion.
Bearings! He was near the stern of the boat, just a dozen or so running steps away from the railing. The guards were fighting like demons. Five or more men lay dead or dying at their feet. And Tray—!
Tray stood with them, between them, screaming like a crazed homicidal maniac, felling oncoming attackers just as quickly as the pair to his sides, both hands on the hilt of his sword, the blade lacquered to the hilt in blood. He swiped with an arcing wildness that belied cold, calculated singlemindedness. He spied Kaza, lunatic eyes, and raged, "BEHIN' YOU'S, MASTER KAZA!"
Kaza turned to watch a bowman aiming a crossbow at his head, nearly point-blank range.
The bowman's eyes suddenly shifted away, going vacant in the same tiny instant that he turned on his heel and fired at his own fellows. The arrow streaked into the eye of the closest; the others tripped over his collapsing body. A half-second bought.
Aubrey was suddenly there, right next to him. She spun in place while flicking wicked talons out through her veil as though ridding herself of pesky clinging insects—and soldiers closing the circle around them would suddenly go blank-eyed and limp, or turn and gore their own, or fall on their blades or stab themselves with their arrows.


~~*~~

A Sea Horse With a Soul Conceived in the Fire of a Titanic Battle


Tachyon, Son of Ion

~~*~~

This illustration, you may notice, has the same background as my featured post, "The King's Tree." That's because I began with the intent to draw Tachyon, but then ended up drawing the King's Tree in the middle of it, so decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Ion, you may remember, died by Necrolius' hand. Tachyon, as a result, is a little different from his fellow sea horses. He's a bit more temperamental, and, still undiscovered by anyone, possesses a few more interesting traits. At least, I believe that is so. I can't be sure at this point. There is still so much of the story to be told.

Tachyon is Conor's sea horse. Below is the excerpt of the meeting between him and Maggie.

Enjoy!

~~*~~

Four Kumiyaay strode towards her in full uniform, their faces severe and unsmiling. Clockwise was the last to flash through. They came to a halt before her, where they saluted before three took their immediate leave of her, walking silently around her towards the beasts, who had noticed them and floated to the shore of the river, chiming happily. The Supreme Commander stood waiting in front of her.
She managed to gasp out, “I ... I’m riding one of those sea horses t-to see Aedan?” And then, noting that there were five riders, including herself, added, “I take it I’ll be going with one of the warriors—?”
Clockwise gave a mad smile, said, “Of course not, Ms. Singleton. You’ll be riding the king’s own mount, Tachyon.” He looked around. “He must have wandered off. He does that. He isn’t the most social of sea horses ...”
This made Maggie’s heart flutter even faster. Even so, she caught the use of the pronoun and said, “You called it ‘he.’ For some reason I thought sea horses are sexless.”
“They are, properly speaking,” said Clockwise shortly, still looking around. “But if a sea horse belongs to a man, it comes to be known as a ‘he’; if by a woman, a ‘she.’ It sounds silly to denote them in such a manner, I grant you, but it really isn’t. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain why in a minute, given that I find him. Ah. There he is, just coming over the rise there. See?”
She looked left. Over a small brown hillock well within the salt marsh floated a streamlined, rainbow-laced shape that made her forget everything she’d seen to this point, everything she’d heard. Clockwise noted her expression and allowed himself a second deranged smile. She didn’t notice.
Tachyon floated over the river, coming around the other sea horses, who took note of his presence and immediately settled down, like children do when a stern parent enters their playroom. He loomed large, stopping just five or so feet from her. She looked up, breathless.
Tachyon was larger than the other sea horses, and shaped slightly differently. His form was leaner and longer, the great vertical fan on his back pointed, the ridges running down from it sharper, his curled tail firmer and more whiplike. Startling, irregular streaks of red-black lightning laced backward through his form from his massive chest, disappearing deep within his body—something that didn’t happen with the other sea horses.
“Tachyon,” said Clockwise in a loud voice, “this is Ms. Maggie Singleton.”
As though he had understood, the sea horse’s huge body swiveled around, stopping when it faced her. The black onyx commas of his eyes caught the sunlight, sparked as he regarded her. Maggie sensed enormous intelligence in the beast. She spluttered, “C-Commander ... I can’t ... can’t ride that, er, Tachyon. I don’t know how! I ... I have no training on them!”
“You’ve ridden a regular horse, haven’t you, Ms. Singleton?” He studied her.
“Of course I have,” she responded, unable to keep the irritation out of her voice. “I was 4-H Champion at the Kansas State Fair when I was fourteen. But that was a ... a horse, an Arabian! This is a ...” Her voiced trailed away.
“I’m glad you can see him,” said Clockwise, who had come up behind her. “Not everyone can. Sea horses can only be seen by those whose souls are strong enough.” He walked around her, extended a hand up. Tachyon drooped his head low enough so that the Commander could pat his face. Clockwise took note of her expression and said, “There is nothing to worry about, ma’am. If you’ve ridden a regular horse, you can ride Tachyon.”
The sea horse chimed as Clockwise ran a hand up and down his glassy face, but it was a chime so different from his brethren that Maggie, her heart jumping, blurted out, “What’s that?” For it had sounded less like a chime than the sound of wind passing through trees in a dense forest, or the sound of a tumbling river, or maybe the sound of a collapsing office building. She could just make out the pleasant pure notes of the chiming, but it was as though they were relegated to the background, washed out and in the distance. The beast had not stopped his consideration of her, even though he was being tended to by the Supreme Commander.
Clockwise ignored her question. Without turning around, he said, “This is the son of Ion, Ms. Singleton. His Excellency has told me you’d know who that was.”
“His Excellency—? You mean—Luis Arroyo?”
“Yes.”
“This ... is Ion’s son?
“Yes. He was part of the only clutch Ion was known to bear.” He looked over his shoulder at her. “Again, as you’ve mentioned, sea horses are sexless. They are, at least, in this stage. They have three life cycles: larval, breeder, and adult—the stage Tachyon is at now. The larvae can be found all over Earth. Gaians buy them in pet stores and the like. They are called ‘seahorses’ as well—but spelled as one word. They do not evolve beyond the larval stage on this world, though they have developed an entire life cycle of their own to ensure their survival. On Aquanus, the larval stage is just the beginning for them. There, in that stage, they are called ‘prehorses.’ When they become adults, we respell ‘seahorse’ as two words, ‘sea horse,’ to denote the time when they finally separate from the sea. When Ion was a breeder, and still in the sea, ‘he’ had a clutch of eggs. Tachyon is the only survivor from that clutch.”
“He’s ... different,” said Maggie delicately, certain the great beast watching her understood perfectly what she was saying.
“Yes,” agreed Clockwise. But he offered no more information. Instead he said, “Care to go for a ride on the king’s sea horse?”
Maggie closed her eyes and tried to gin up her courage. She took a deep breath. “Yes,” she said resolutely, knowing that the firmness in her voice was an absolute lie. “What do I need to do? I mean ... his saddle is ten feet off the ground! How do I get up to it?”
Clockwise said, “I will show you how in a moment. For now, I must tell you that sea horses sustain themselves by feeding on the Living Aecxis of their riders. When you mount this horse, you will enter into just such a relationship. Does this concern you?”
“Should it?” she asked.
“It bothers some. You will be entering into a symbiotic relationship, Ms. Singleton. The sea horse feeds on your Living Aecxis; in exchange your physical body is replenished and rejuvenated. You become stronger, healthier, as does the Living Aecxis within your spirit. It is by this symbiotic relationship that sea horses with male riders tend to start to manifest male-type behaviors,” he continued. “They become more aggressive, more impatient, more—”
“—jerkier?”
She flushed. The word had rushed out of her mouth unbidden. “Sorry ...” she said quickly. “That was uncalled for.”
But the look in his eyes, along with the momentary presence of that crazy smile, made her reconsider her apology. Because something like respect passed through that gaze as he regarded her just then. She broke the discomfort of the ensuing silence by asking, “What happens to sea horses with female riders?”
He smirked. “They become bitchy and needy three weeks of the month; the fourth they’re completely useless. Why?”
And Maggie understood Guptaamaq Jelignite, “Clockwise,” Supreme Commander of the Saeire Insu, and he understood her. Their friendship was sealed. And though the prospect of riding this splendid aecxal beast was still daunting, she knew she’d be okay. He’d see to it. She laughed without sound, nodding, looking into his eyes, a self-effacing touche! grin spreading over her face.
He said, “Come. Let’s get you acquainted with him. Go ahead, touch him.”
She did as told, first barely and very cautiously touching the sea horse with her fingers before becoming quickly more confident and running her full hand up and down the side of Tachyon’s massive face. The king’s mount felt quite real, just like Tawny, her old horse—almost. The surprising velvety softness of his face was contradicted by an iron hardness beneath that belied the beast’s semi-translucent, seemingly ethereal nature. Tachyon chimed—his very disconcerting chime—then dropped his head a little and nudged her beneath her chin, tossing her ten feet backward onto her butt on hard, baked earth.
She goggled up in awe—and then burst out laughing.

~~*~~