Only six more days until I leave Boulder for 9 months in New Zealand, and holy hell do I still have a mountain of tasks to accomplish! Yet I just had to take a break to share some cool writing-related news. You might remember I wrote a Lizaveta story for Grimdark Magazine's Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology, which was funded through Kickstarter last year. I'm delighted to say the anthology is complete! Backers already have their ebooks, and print editions are in the process of shipping. If you missed out on the kickstarter, the ebook is currently available to buy on Amazon, and you can preorder the beautiful illustrated print edition, which releases to the public on June 16. This book contains the first new fiction of mine to come out since Labyrinth of Flame, so I'm pretty excited!
I just read the ebook last week, so I can confirm the anthology has some great stories. Not only did I enjoy the insight into antagonists from series familiar to me (Teresa Frohock's Los Nefilim, Mazarkis Williams's Tower and Knife, Janny Wurts's Wars of Light and Shadow, Jeff Salyards's Bloodsounder's Arc, Bradley Beaulieu's Song of the Shattered Sands), I found some new-to-me authors whose work intrigued me, which is always lovely. (Especially when I'm about to do some marathon plane flights. Time to load up that Kindle!)
Anyway, to celebrate the anthology's release, I thought I'd share a little excerpt from my story, "A Game of Mages". This snippet is from a scene partway through the story, and takes place about ten years before The Whitefire Crossing. You'll see a familiar face...
Lizaveta stood beside the warded window of her study, gripping the jeweled silver band of a message charm. Outside, the sun slowly sank behind the serrated ridgeline of the Whitefire Mountains. Ninavel’s soaring white stone towers stood out sharp against a sky ablaze with crimson and orange.
The sunset’s beauty did little to assuage Lizaveta’s frustration.
Three years. Three long years, and no spell she and Ruslan cast revealed the least trace of Simon. That surely meant Simon remained in Alathia, concealed by the border wards, but the spies she sent to search Alathian cities and countryside had no better luck.
Ruslan was content to lie in wait and train his akhelyshen. Lizaveta was not.
She frowned at the message charm. She detested the need to depend on nathahlen spies, who were irritatingly limited and fallible. Before ciphered missives could be charm-sent to Ninavel, they had to be couriered across the border, a laborious process subject to all manner of delays. The message she expected today was already late. Perhaps it would only be another litany of failure, but she had particular hopes for this spy, more determined and methodical than most. His last message had said he intended to hunt deep into Alathia’s rugged northern wildlands, after discovering in some crude little village that two of the area’s most experienced trappers had never returned from a scouting trip. Lizaveta knew the trappers’ disappearance was probably the result of the wild’s many natural perils, rather than murder by a fugitive akheli intent on remaining hidden, yet she could not help but hope...
A tentative young voice spoke. “Khanum Liza?”
Kiran stood in the study’s arched doorway. His small face and hands were scrubbed to alabaster perfection, though chalk smudges and magefire burns still marred his clothes.
“What is it, little one?” She had to admit that so far he’d proved a better akhelysh to Ruslan than she imagined. That was in no small part thanks to Ruslan’s scrupulous adherence to Lizaveta’s advice in preparing Kiran’s relationship with Mikail. Once introduced, the boys had quickly settled into the ideal pattern to mold Kiran’s character: Mikail fiercely protective of his younger mage-brother, and Kiran idolizing him in return, doing his utmost to follow Mikail’s lead in their training.
Kiran bowed low. “I did well with my spell designs today, so Ruslan said I might ask you for a story.”
At first, she had been a touch exasperated that Ruslan kept finding excuses for the children to interact with her. Yet his desire for them to win her love had been so evident, she had not the heart to deny him. Besides, she found the boys more entertaining than expected. Kiran, shyly adoring and endlessly curious, listened rapt to tales of her travels and shared her appreciation for nature’s myriad wonders. Even stiff, serious Mikail begged her to share stories of legendary mage-battles and cuddled up to her with kittenish eagerness when she offered affection. The boys worshiped and feared Ruslan in equal measure, as they should. But since Lizaveta had no need to worry over their training or mete out punishments for their mistakes, her, they simply loved.
“Not tonight,” she said gently to Kiran, and showed him the message charm. “I am waiting for news of some importance. Tomorrow, perhaps.”
“If you’re too busy for a story, might I at least read the star book again?” Kiran peered up at her, his blue eyes wide and winsome.
She relented. “You may come in and read, so long as you are quiet.”
“I’ll be so quiet you won’t even notice me,” he promised, tiptoeing for the shelves lining the study’s marble walls. As he passed her, he paused and said in a rush, “I hope the news you wait for is good. So you won’t have to worry anymore.”
His sensitivity to her mood was a sign of the empathy she still feared would cause trouble in years to come. Akheli needed steel in their souls, not kindness. But that was Ruslan’s problem and not hers.
Unlike Simon. Lizaveta ran a finger over the jeweled band, willing her spy to hurry up and send his report. “My worries are not yours, little one. Read if you wish, but no more talking.”
Kiran made straight for the “star book”—a treatise she had written on the movements and nature of celestial objects. The treatise had been born of his eager questions when she first showed him the patterns of the stars. What is the sky made of? Are the stars magelights? Can you cast to bring one down for me to see?
She did not need polished lenses such as the scholars of the great cities of eastern Arkennland used to magnify and study the sky. She cast with all the power of the confluence to scry the distant stars, and discovered to her wonder their immense size and the improbable distances between them. Nor were those distances wholly empty. Globes of rock and gas circled the stars, though none she had yet scried were rich with magic and life like the world beneath her feet. Countless smaller chunks of sky-stone hurtled through the silent darkness like shrapnel from some immense concussion.
She wrote the treatise to record her findings for her own future use—and because Kiran was still too young and untrained to cast spells that would let him experience such wonders directly. But oh, how he loved to read of them. Already, he had settled into a cushioned chair, clutching the slender leather-bound volume like he held the most precious of treasures.
The glory of the sunset outside faded. Magelights glimmered and sparkled like a rainbow of gemstones in Ninavel’s twilit towers. Finally, finally, the message charm warmed in her hand, signaling the spy’s missive had come.
Lizaveta sent an eager spark of her ikilhia into the charm to trigger the waiting message. A vision of hastily scrawled words appeared in her mind’s eye: The man you seek is living amid ruins in the Greenward Hills. I know not what he does in the ruins. I did not dare get close enough for him to discover me. He has been there long enough to build a cabin, and he shows no sign of leaving. I believe no other shadow man has yet located him.
Lizaveta sucked in a sharp, delighted breath. Kiran looked up from the star treatise, the azure blaze of his ikilhia flaring with curiosity, but she ignored his unspoken questions.
Simon found, at last!
Those of you who backed my Labyrinth of Flame kickstarter might be wondering, "Hey, what about the short stories for us?" Fear not, friends! One short story is complete and will be available to all in the near future. The Cara novella The White Serpent still needs a bit more work, but once I get to New Zealand, I should have the time I need to finish not only the novella but the Ruslan story and Lena story I have in progress.
Now back to packing (and panicking over packing)...