I’m almost finished with my next pair of stories to be available on Kindle probably around the start of the year, possibly sooner.
This time I’ll be featuring one of my rare fantasy stories, about a couple of bounty hunters who end up teleporting to an unexpected location.
Below is a preview to it, I hope you enjoy and look forward to when it’s published on Kindle soon!
Queen of Bones
Leaf turned in a slow circle, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword as he surveyed the land they’d appeared in a moment before. Dry, cracked soil stretched out in each direction to a horizon marked in the east by low mountains, and in the north a closer, sharper mountain. It was all wrong.
He grunted and turned to where Yyzot knelt beside him with her hand burrowed into the crusty earth, the hood of her dark cloak hanging low over her head. Her spell was supposed to bring them a few miles outside of the town of Trondhill, where their target had last been seen.
“The shape of the ground is right,” he said. “But there should be trees ahead, and grass on the ground. And that mountain to the north, I don’t recognize it.”
Yyzot lurched to her feet. Her hunched back lowered her already short stature so that she stood, at most, four-and-a-half feet tall. Her hood obscured most of her features, but a few wisps of white hair floated out into view. Leaf watched her brush the dirt off her soft, small hand.
“This can’t be Trondhill. We have gone astray somehow,” she said. Her voice was high and smooth. “The earth is dead here, I can draw nothing from it.”
“Can you take us away from here?” Leaf said. Hot, dusty wind tousled his shaggy, red hair. “Back to Petha so you can try the spell again?”
Yyzot’s curved shoulders shook with silent laughter. “It is not so easy, Traveling. It takes much élan to come as far as we did, and if I cannot draw more from this dead earth, we are trapped here.”
Leaf frowned and squeezed his sword hilt.
“But,” she continued, “if we can find something living, then there will be hope. Find life and we find élan.” She thunked her twisted staff, topped with a blue jewel, into the hard ground. “There is always a way! How many times have you been near to defeating me in our games? There is always a move to make.”
They walked. Leaf slowed his stride to Yyzot’s hobbling pace. It was uncomfortable to see her in such pain. Were they any other place, where élan was abundant, she would be floating beside him a foot off the ground, keeping up with him as he ran. It would be a small thing for him to carry her, but he knew her pride would not allow it.
Leaf followed the shape of the ground, letting the hills and valleys lead him toward where he felt Trond River should be. At least the signs were clear that some kind of river lay ahead.
The first hour he walked with sword drawn, eyes scanning the horizon for any motion. Time and the monotony of the terrain wore at his alertness, though, and he sheathed his sword and took a small piece of bone from the pouch at his side, scratching at it with a knife with every step. It would soon be a chess piece to join the others in his pouch, one side made from the bone of the beasts he’d slain and the other the wood of the trees from each land they’d visited.
Hot gusts of wind, as steady as breath, blew clouds of dust at them from the north. The scrape of his carving and the thumping of Yyzot’s staff lulled him into a rhythm; he lost track of the time until he stepped into the riverbed—more dry soil, but still soft.
“There could be water here,” he said.
“Lead on.” Yyzot waved a hand at him. Her breath was short and her voice wheezed. Leaf wondered how much longer she would last. He prayed there would be élan close by.
They followed the riverbed to the northwest until they came to a deeper furrow in the ground. The sun reflected back at them from a pool of murky water, surrounded by the slime of algae and some weak, yellow grasses.
Yyzot dropped to her knees and plunged her fingers into the soft earth. “Still nothing,” she said after a moment. “Perhaps if I sat here for days I could get something, but we don’t have that time.” She ran her fingers over the dry grasses. “These though, I can take the life from them. Perhaps soon our queen will be back on the board, eh?”
Leaf narrowed his brow. “Take the life? But isn’t that what Kinlove did?”
Pothos Kinlove, the man they hunted, was wanted by the Hegemony for murder. Specifically, murder by draining the life force—élan—from people to use in his magic. The practice itself was banned, as well as the teaching of it, but it did not surprise Leaf even slightly that Yyzot knew how to do it. She learned every spell she could get her hands on, no matter how useless it seemed. The fact that something was banned would likely make her want to learn it even more.
But knowing a spell and actually using it were separate things.
“That would be a crime, wouldn’t it?” he pressed.
“Kinlove took élan from people,” Yyzot said. She placed her palm over the grass, her small fingers outstretched. “Would it be against any law to rip up this grass and tear it to shreds, or eat it if we were hungry?”
“No,” said Leaf hesitantly.
“Then we break no law to take its life in any fashion we choose.”
Leaf watched the muscles in her hand flex and relax, flex and relax. She began to hum a low, steady note, and Leaf thought he could feel that note vibrating in his chest. Then she stopped, and the grass beneath her hand blackened and wilted, then crumbled to dust. The nearby slime of the algae dried and browned, then too blew away in the next gust of wind.
She let out a breath, slumping down and folding her hands in her lap.
“Is it enough?” said Leaf. “Can we get out of here?”
“Not nearly.” Yyzot shook her head, the cloth of her hood swaying back and forth. “But there might be something else I can do.”
She leaned forward, holding her small, childlike hands over the stagnant pool. For a moment Leaf caught a reflection of her face in the water—white hair like spider’s web hanging in front of warped skin pulled taut around watery, pink eyes. Then the water dimmed, and he saw only her smooth, soft hands hovering above darkness.
Yyzot hummed, and a scene formed in the water beneath her tensed fingers. He saw the jagged mountain to the north, but as if from a towering height. The scene was rippled, but clear. Then the view fell downward toward a peak and Leaf felt his stomach lurch. They went over the mountain and down the other side, faster and steeper like an eagle in a dive, targeting something at the base. They zoomed over crumbled stone and cracked ridges—
The pool cleared, and once again showed Yyzot’s reflection. She jerked back from it, as if seeing it for the first time. She wheezed like she’d just sprinted down the mountainside herself.
“What was that spell?” said Leaf. “That was the northern mountain, the one that—”
“The out-of-place mountain, the one that doesn’t belong—were we in Trondhill.”
“Yes.” Leaf furrowed his brow. The shape of the land told him that it must be Trondhill, but the mountain still didn’t fit. “Why did we see that?”
“Do you remember that divining-rod spell I used to find us water?” she said, rising on shaky legs. Leaf nodded. It had saved their lives a year ago when hunting a nomad of the Desert Kin. “Well,” she continued, “I altered it just a bit, so that instead of water it would lead us to élan. We reach out with our knight piece, and target the king—the nearest source of élan substantial enough to get us home.”
Leaf looked up at the craggy mountain stabbing up at the sky, and the hot wind dried his eyes. “There’s élan there, behind that mountain.”
Stay tuned for more!