The first draft of the next installment in the Amra series is coming along nicely, so I thought I'd share the first chapter. Remember, this is only the first draft. Anything and everything is subject to change before publication, including the current working title, which is The thief Who Wasn't There.
That said, I'm fairly happy with this, and with what comes after. Enjoy!
“There's a bunch of soldiers downstairs,” the boy, Keel, announced. I ignored him. Insinuating my own intangible, extemporaneously fashioned command key into the Telemarch's wards was a finicky, delicate business. It would have been impossible were he still alive. It required intense concentration, and it wasn't the safest magic I'd ever attempted, but if I could co-opt the deadly cobweb of defenses the Telemarch had laced into the stones of the Citadel, I wouldn't have to worry about anybody interfering with or interrupting my true work.
The mesh of commands woven about and through the tower was so dense and multi-hued, it was difficult to see through it to the physical world. Thank the dead gods I didn't need two eyes to see in three dimensions while working with the Art.
Gently, gently, I pushed with my will against the node I was virtually certain commanded the wards, and perhaps much more. If I was right, well and good. If I was wrong—
Well. Being wrong about it would not be healthy.
I could have set up my own wards, nearly as puissant as the Telemarch's, given time. I did not have time. Every day, every hour that passed might mean Amra's death. But the time for haste had passed, and all my hurrying over the past week hadn't brought her back.
“Uh, Magister Holgren? Magus?”
“Just call me Holgren,” I told the boy, not for the first time. “What do they want?”
“They wanted to see the Telemarch. I told them he'd karked it. Then they said they wanted to see whoever was living here now.”
“How do they know anybody is living here now?” I said, not really paying attention. I'd almost got the command key to be accepted by the Telemarch's wards. How much more it would afford me access to, I didn't yet know.
“I don't know. Probably all the weird lights and, and stuff.”
Some of the spells I'd tried to locate Amra with had been rather flashy. Others had been incredibly loud. None of them had given me what I wanted.
“Magus? They said if you don't come down, they're going to come up.”
With a mental and mostly imaginary click, the key finally punctured the disturbingly elastic membrane of the node and slotted perfectly, as far as I could sense, into the mesh of the Telemarch's commands. It was enough for now. Later I could explore just what I did and did not have access to, beyond the outer wards. For now I had to deal with the locals.
They probably wanted their Citadel back. They weren't going to get it until I was finished with it. Messengers had come over the last few days, petitioning the Telemarch to take sides in the civil war that was burning sullenly through the city's streets. I'd given Keel instructions to ignore them.
Soldiers, however, were a different matter.
I stood up, stretched, then with a swipe of my hand broke the circle of dust and blood I'd laid down for the work I'd just completed. I followed the boy downstairs to talk to the soldiers.
“What faction?” I asked him as we descended.
“Council. Steyner's men.” Two of the Council of Three had survived the chaos, madness, magic and rioting that had engulfed Bellarius since the night of Amra's disappearance. Both of them believed they should be the next Syndic. The third faction, the Just Men, wanted to set up a democracy, Nine Cities-style. While I was rooting for the rebels in an abstract sort of way, I didn't have time for politics. The city of Bellarius and all the rest of Bellaria could have any style of government it wanted, or none at all, as far as I was concerned. Just so long as the various factions stayed out of my way and left me to my work.
“Uh, Magister?” Keel said as we approached the main door.
“What is it, Keel?”
“Did you maybe want to put on your eye patch?”
“Ah. Yes. Thanks.” I'd taken it off when I'd started work that morning. It was still new, and distracting. I hadn't wanted to be distracted. Well, no more distracted than losing an eye the week before made me. I pulled the thing out of my pocket and slipped it on.
“Maybe a little more to the right, magus,” Keel commented. I gave him a glare. And adjusted it.
He nodded in satisfaction and opened the door. Gray, cheerless light dribbled in out of a gray, cheerless sky. Outside were twenty halberdiers in Steyner's maroon and yellow. They were led by a captain in half-plate.
“You are the mage who has taken up residence here?” the captain asked, after looking me over.
“You are required to vacate the Citadel immediately, by order of Syndic-Elect Gabul Steyner.”
“That's not going to happen,” I said.
“Then we will be forced to remove you.”
“You'll be forced to try. I warn you, captain, it won't go well for you or your men.” With a mental whisper I activated the Citadel's base wards, the primary layer of protections the Telemarch had built into the tower using the Art. The ones meant to repel physical threats.
The captain stepped to the side and ordered his men to enter and evict me. I stood inside the threshold and watched, arms folded. I was curious as to what the Telemarch had wrought. I knew this layer of wards' purpose, but not how it would be made manifest. I hadn't had the time to study the wards in detail.
The first pair of halberdiers tried to enter, and were rebuffed, as if they had encountered an invisible wall. They tried again, with the same results.
“Hack at it,” their captain told them.
“Oh, yes, do,” I said. One of the halberdiers glared at me. The other wore an expression that suggested he wasn't getting paid enough. He stepped back to give his compatriot room to swing.
The first hauled back with his overgrown axe and brought it down with not-inconsiderable force on the doorway's invisible ward. The halberd was immediately ripped out of his hands. It flew, spinning and with impressive speed, out and away from the Citadel, the haft cracking the halberdier in the face along the way. The man fell down in a moaning, bleeding heap. The halberd fell somewhere in the Girdle. I hoped that it hadn't split somebody's head open. In any case, it would likely end up in the hands of the rebels, so all in all I was not unsatisfied with the outcome.
“Right then,” I said to the captain. “If you're done wasting my time, I have work to do.”
“The Citadel is the rightful possession of the ruler of Bellaria!” he said in a tone that was verging on a whine.
“Yes, well. When he or she shows up, perhaps I'll be more accommodating,” I replied. “Meanwhile, if you bother me again, I'll turn you into a pink mist.”
I closed the door in his flushed face.