Book Two of the Epic Fantasy/Sci-Fi Golden Threads Trilogy
What high fantasy & science-fiction lovers say
“If you thought this series was another wimpy fantasy with fairies and elves flitting around, forget that notion […] the author mixes Science Fiction with Fantasy…” – Amazon Review
“Fantasy lovers will not be able to put this book down. With a strong female lead and a cast of supporting characters you will fall in love with…” – Goodreads Review
Ticca, a junior mercenary woman doing everything possible to earn a recognized name, and Lebuin, a new wizard seeking powerful magics to become a master wizard, thought they had escaped their pursuers. Except their Nhia-Samri pursuers set a trap in the ancient city of Algan ensnaring them. They’re discovery that they are being targeted for death by the mysterious Nhia-Samri, led by an evil, demi-godlike Grand Warlord, tosses everything they knew into the wind. To survive Ticca, Lebuin, and Ditani must stop a guild of mercenaries capable of threatening entire kingdoms. Events spiral out of control as they discover shocking truths about their attackers and themselves. Joined by unexpected allies, they must play the deadly games in a race for forbidden knowledge hoping to prevent the coming war.
Oh, Lord, what have I done? Why didn’t anyone ever explain any of this to me? Oh, no. All they said was stuff like, ‘Here is an incantation that makes a shield,’ and ‘If you pull from an air mana line, you must first filter it and only mix it with mana from a fire line as you direct the powers away from you.’ You’d think somewhere in the twenty years I have been studying magic at the Guild, someone could have said, ‘Don’t touch an assassin’s blade with your bare hand. It will entangle you!’
All I wanted was to become the best librarian the Guild had ever had. Why did they send me out here with all this dirt and killing?
This was supposed to be a rescue. Ticca had been captured by one assassin–or Knife, as they were called by common folk. He and Ditani had located where, in the deep forest, Ticca was being held, and they had surprised the Knife. When out of nowhere, another Knife showed up and attacked him.
He felt his own blood soaking into his shirt. At least, I’m not wearing anything I care about that will get ruined by my bleeding. I’m tired of losing good clothing to these fights. Maybe that is why mercenaries always dress so poorly.
It was difficult to swallow, and he felt a tremendous pressure trying to crush him. Lebuin searched his memory, trying to find a defense or incantation to escape the prison he was being held in. He could feel the blade’s incantations burrowing into his defenses. Like worms boring into an apple, the blade’s tendrils of power forced their way through his shields.
The tendril surged through his magic channels like a red hot knife being driven through the palm of his hand and up his arm.
Lebuin glanced at the beautifully dressed woman before him. She was frozen, mid-strike, with a look of horror. Her mouth hung open as she looked at him. Her forest-patterned silk shirt was a perfect match for the formed, padded, leather armor she wore over it. The silk shirt was worn outside of her light green, grass-colored leggings. Her calf-high boots with brass buckles were top quality. Not new—in fact, they were well-worn, but cared for. Her cloak reminded him of the cloak he had taken from the dead assassin in Llino, which had blended with shadows.
For an assassin, she must be well paid. That outfit is at least nineteen crosses. Those boots alone are nine crosses. I wonder if that cloak is magical like the other one I took. It might explain why I didn’t see her when I was scrying out the situation for this rescue.
A sharp pain in his arm brought his thoughts back around to the fact he was under attack magically. He tore his gaze away from the ice-blue eyes of the female frozen before him, to look at his hand. The strange assassin’s blade he had pulled from her belt was clutched in his right hand. But he couldn’t open his hand to drop it. His knuckles were white from being convulsed around the hilt of the weapon.
I can’t block it, but I might be able to absorb it. It is magic, after all.
Lebuin concentrated and tried to pull the burning tendril of power into his own magics, blending it and taking control. The tendril was boring into his system, so grabbing it was an easy matter. The energies shifted as he tried to match it and pull the power from it, so he could drop the blade.
The tendrils tried to snap back, but Lebuin held them. Lebuin’s powers mixed with the blades, and he could see a connection that reminded him of the interconnecting incantation the Guild used between its mages.
Tracing the incantation, he found the path led to the woman in front of him. As he connected to her, he suddenly knew her. Her name was Runa-Illa. She had been born on the Nhia-Samri base called Outpost One. Her father was a respected Nhia-Samri officer called Runa-Emry, and had been chosen by the rare ancient blades of his mentor, at the death of that mentor. Runa-Emry, like other officers who held the ancient blades, didn’t always agree with the Nhia-Samri orders, and sometimes worked to find loopholes to prevent bloody actions. Runa-Illa had been trained as a warrior even though her father did not wish it.
Her mother had died giving birth to Runa-Illa’s baby brother. Lebuin felt an instant connection with that memory, as his own mother had died giving birth to his sister. Runa-Illa’s baby brother had died a short time after her mother, due to complications. Runa-Emry always challenged Runa-Illa with complex moral questions, and often told her obedience was honor, but so was having inner strength to question, if possible. Runa-Illa had a unique combination of perfect pitch and balance, and an innate grace that allowed her to rise rapidly through the ranks.
Lebuin left Runa-Illa, following the link to the next person, who turned out to be the warrior Ticca and Ditani were fighting. This warrior was named Ossa-Ulla. He had been born in the great fortress of the Nhia-Samri, Hisuru Amajoo, to a general of Shar-Lumen’s. Like Runa-Illa, Ossa-Ulla had a natural talent, grace, and speed. Ossa-Ulla had been singled out by Shar-Lumen and trained with the best warriors before being sent to Llino, nine cycles before, as his first external assignment. He had ambition, and his father expected great achievements from his son. Unfortunately, Ossa-Ulla would never fulfill his ambitions, as he was dying of a chest wound Ticca had just delivered. Still, Ossa-Ulla seemed proud that he was dying at Ticca’s hand.
The next person in the chain was a long way away, and called General Eshra-Zunia. She was a mighty warrior, proud, intelligent, and sure of herself. Eshra-Zunia’s pride was not without merit; she had worked hard and followed the Nhia-Samri code. She wasn’t born a Nhia-Samri. In fact, she was adopted at the age of five by another Nhia-Samri warrior who found her while he was on a scouting mission. Her real name had been Bethia, and her family had lived near the deadly Circumveni Desert. Her tribe had been killed by some kind of wasting disease. The Nhia-Samri squad had come on her returning from a mission in the desert. The warrior had taken her with them to Hisuru Amajoo and made her his own. She was strong and learned quickly, adopting a new Nhia-Samri name in honor of her adopted family. She had risen through the ranks and was second in command of the main outpost in this region.
Leaving General Eshra-Zunia, Lebuin followed the link further. The next person in this chain of connected warriors was close to Eshra-Zunia, and a powerful man. Lebuin didn’t know how, but he knew before his mind connected that the man he was about to touch was the warlord commander for all of the Nhia-Samri in the north-eastern realms of the continent. His name was Maru-Ashua, and he was a dangerous and powerful man.
Lebuin concentrated stopping the progression before he touched the warlord.
These two are Nhia-Samri warriors! They aren’t Knives at all. Why did they capture Ticca?
The warlord in the distance drew his own odassi, plunging his mind into the link and tracing back towards Lebuin. Lebuin retreated from the warlord’s determined advance.
I can’t let him find us! We’ll be dead in hours if he finds us. I have to break this link somehow.
Lebuin fled back to Ossa-Ulla’s blades and searched frantically through the incantations in the blade for a key node. The warlord’s mind started probing Ossa-Ulla’s dying mind for details. Lebuin felt overwhelming joy when he found a critical node in Ossa-Ulla’s interconnection incantations. Lebuin sent all the power he had left at it, trying to burn the node out and break the incantation. His power wasn’t enough.
There was power available from the blade he held. He didn’t bother to figure it out; it was available and he used it. Power flowed through him like the day he nearly died in the market from the assassination attempt there. This time, he let the power flow, not bothering to try to contain or filter it. He used his skills to direct it at the node in Ossa-Ulla’s odassi.
The warlord’s presence touched Runa-Illa’s blade as the incantation’s node flared under the assault, breaking the links that held the incantation. With a screech like someone being stabbed, the odassi blade’s incantation unraveled.
Lebuin felt shock coming from the woman before him. He looked at her. The woman’s face flushed as she cried out, “Forgive me, Lord! I am yours to command.”
She fell to her knees before him hard enough he knew she had ruined the fine light-green leggings. He felt a moment of displeasure at the ruining of such a fine outfit for no good reason. The woman shuddered and he felt her fear at his displeasure through the odassi link connection that was blending with his own channels. She dropped her head and held her one remaining blade out to him.
He couldn’t move, but the tendril from the odassi was blending with his own. He was connected to the woman, too. He could feel her mind and there was more. A different kind of connection he hadn’t seen before. Curiously, he reached for it and pulled it to himself.
Ticca stood transfixed, blood dripping from her dagger and hand. The warmth of the blood on her hands held her mind on the sudden happy look of Ossa-Ulla’s face, at the strange revelation that also shocked him immobile, preventing him from blocking her attack. Her dagger had plunged into his chest, hitting a major artery. Blood had come out in a rush when she automatically twisted and pulled her dagger free, as she had been trained to do.
His face didn’t even register the pain. He smiled as he collapsed, his blood pouring from the wound. I knew being a Dagger was going to mean some fighting. I can see why my father didn’t want this life for me. I wonder how many people my uncle killed.
Ticca stared at Ossa-Ulla, lying on his side at her feet, as she smelled his blood mixed with the forest loam. He held his odassi blades so tightly, his hands were white. The copper bands at the base of his odassi blades blazed a brilliant gold, illuminating the pool of blood that touched her boots. The light reflecting off of the steam rising from the puddle mesmerized her. The life faded from his open eyes, and his smile faded, too. As his life expired, his muscles failed, and he rolled forward into the pool of his own blood.
The sight of the dead body, lying face down in front of her, brought to mind the image of the dead Knife who had attacked her the night everything went sideways.
I am a killer now. I can never turn that away. How many more will die by my hands?
Deep down, she only regretted that life had to be taken—not that she was the cause. She’d wanted to be a Dagger since before she could remember. Her uncle and trainer had made her into a dangerous weapon, armed or unarmed. The body at her feet was a testament to their training. Although only twenty, thanks to magic she didn’t understand she had lived many years more and witnessed atrocities. Her mind was hardened like her knives, tempered and ready to protect the innocent. Her mind, heart, and soul burned with the Dagger ideals trained into her to stand against evil, regardless of the consequences.
Ditani stepped up next to her, his knives held ready, snapping her attention back to the present. Lifting her head, she saw Lebuin’s fight was still not over, although she was unsure what to make of it. Five feet away, Lebuin stood at a defensive ready, holding his own knife in his left hand and Runa-Illa’s odassi in his right. Runa-Illa knelt before him, head down in total supplication to Lebuin. Her body shuddered in fear. However, in contrast to her shivering body, Runa-Illa’s right arm remained rock steady, level, and straight out toward Lebuin. Her other odassi lay flat on her palm between her and Lebuin at a forty-five-degree angle, so that its copper band and stamp were visible to him. The bands at the base of Runa-Illa’s odassi blades glowed, as those on Ossa-Ulla’s blades.
No one ever mentioned something like this was a possibility!
Together, she and Ditani waited for a resolution to the scene before them.
Lebuin didn’t move, and the golden, glowing energies reminded Ticca of the energies he had let loose at the market the day after she had become a killer. Lebuin had killed his own would-be assassin, too. Her stomach quivered at the memory of the market attack where Lebuin’s onslaught of raw power caused the attacking Knife’s arm to explode, as the assassin was turned into a living torch. She recalled the smell of burnt flesh and the sounds of meat slapping the market tents as bits of the Knife’s arm fell to earth.
Is he going to burn her down? She isn’t fighting. She’s Nhia-Samri, but I can’t let him burn down someone who is surrendering.
The symbols on Runa-Illa’s odassi shifted. Is that possible? Or am I seeing things? A sound like the wail of a mortally wounded woman started, softly at first, but grew louder. The sound came from her feet. Looking down, she saw that the two odassi blades held in Ossa-Ulla’s hands had a series of glowing cracks running from the bands, down the length of the blades.
The sound is coming from the blades! Lords and Ladies, what is going on?
The wail reached an intensity that made Ticca and Ditani step back, as the copper bands on Ossa-Ulla’s blades snapped with the ring of a bell, followed by the blades cracking down the length, with a sound like breaking glass.
When she looked up, the scene had not changed, except that the symbols on Runa-Illa’s blades had stopped glowing. Lebuin looked around as if dazed or confused. Runa-Illa still knelt, trembling, holding her arm toward Lebuin. Ticca tightened her grip on her own knives and tensed, ready to leap to Lebuin’s defense.
Lebuin looked down and appeared to realize where he was. He slowly straightened and sheathed his knife. Then he flipped the odassi so he was holding it by the blade, and held it out to Runa-Illa.
“Take this and remain there.”
What is he doing?
She jumped forward over the body of Ossa-Ulla and started to move to defend Lebuin. But he held up a hand.
“Ticca, stop. She’s no threat.”
Stepping up to attack, she said, “Are you mad? She is a Nhia-Samri and she has orders to kill you.”
Runa-Illa had taken the other odassi and held it out as the first, so that the two blades crossed. She remained on both knees, her head down.
Lebuin jumped between her and Runa-Illa and held his hands out. “Ticca! Stand down. She answers to me now.”
That stopped her. Answers to him? What happened? Her feelings must have shown on her face.
Lebuin pointed at the fire. “Ticca, please let me sit down, warm up, and think this through. I need to process this. She won’t move and you can keep your dagger out and guard her, if you want. But please, I ask you to not harm her without provocation.”
He is the commander here, but I am not going to let my guard down.
She backed up to the fire and stood, facing Runa-Illa. Looking down, Ticca realized she still needed to cut the remains of the ropes from her feet and wrists.
Pointing at Ossa-Ulla’s pack, she said, “Ditani, please hand me some cloth from that pack to clean this blood off with.”
Ditani wiped his blades clean on his pants and sheathed them while moving to examine the supply pack. He found a shirt and gave it to her, then sat down to go through the rest.
Lebuin walked over and dropped into a cross-legged, sitting position in front of the fire and stared into it. The light of the fire reflected off of his golden eyes.
Gold eyes? His eyes are green. I must be seeing things.
Ticca stopped and stared; Lebuin’s eyes were golden. As she watched, they faded from gold, to their normal dark green.
Must have something to do with doing magic. Might be a good way to tell if a wizard is doing something unseen.
Lebuin was far away and his eyes remained locked onto something deep within the fire.
Keeping an eye on Runa-Illa, Ticca cleaned the blood from her hands and knives, using the shirt, and then set to cutting the knots of rope from her wrists and ankles. No one said anything, and Runa-Illa didn’t move. After almost a quarter of a mark, Lebuin looked around and saw Runa-Illa was still sitting in the supplication position.
“Illa, please sheath your odassi and sit at ease.” Lebuin glanced at Ticca before adding, “Please move slowly until I can explain this.”
Ticca watched as Runa-Illa slowly sheathed her odassi and then shifted to a more comfortable kneeling position, keeping her legs under her. Runa-Illa looked up, locking her eyes onto Ticca’s. Runa-Illa had a peaceful look in her eyes and a smile that seemed genuine. Oddly, Ticca didn’t feel threatened by Runa-Illa’s gaze. Still, she stayed on guard.
Her trainer’s voice came up out of her memory: ‘Assassins can smile warmly while cutting your throat.’
Ticca recalled how her trainer was always happy and smiling, even when hitting her sides so hard he bruised her ribs, when she made a stupid move sparring. She kept her attention on Runa-Illa and listened to the forest for anything out of place.
Ditani looked at the body. “Lebuin, we should move that, or at least do something with it.”
Lebuin looked over and answered, “He got his honor back in the end. We should give him a proper burial. Then it would be wise to get out of here. There might be dangerous visitors soon.”
This is too much. What is going on? I had everything set up to get all the answers we needed. Then these two blaze in, ruining that plan with their rescue attempt, and now Lebuin seems to have gone loopy. Looking over at Runa-Illa, she thought, So has she, for that matter. What was all that stuff about asking Lebuin to forgive her and then dropping to her knees, swearing to be at Lebuin’s command? I feel like this is some kind of bard’s tale. She couldn’t help it. She smiled at the thought. Maybe I’ll live long enough to hear what the bards make with my name. They might even be able to explain this to me.
“Lebuin, if it’s all the same, I’d like to know what happened here. You are acting strange. How do we know you’re not under some Nhia-Samri spell?”