Clyde B. Northrup

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Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 12, Part 1

Posted by gwermon on August 15, 2018 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

14 August 2018


Welcome back! In today’s installment, from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, we begin a new chapter, returning to Kesa as she struggles to find evidence that Baki is innocent of murder, beginning to question Baki’s roommate, Gelfi. . . .


Chapter 12, Part 1

“Tell me what you know of the relationship between your roommate, Baki, and Master Maki’s daughter, Nela,” Kesa noted drily; she was sitting in a small room facing Gelfi, who sat stiffly in the chair facing her. Beside her was another chair, but her master now stood looking out of the small room’s window; she glanced in that direction and saw another dull, gray day, with tiny specks of snow hitting the glass.

Gelfi frowned, which wrinkled his round face, his short-cropped, brown hair and scalp wrinkling with his forehead. “What does anyone really know about the relations of another?” he said. “They’ve been seeing each other for some time now.”

“How long?” Kesa asked.

“Over a year, perhaps longer,” Gelfi replied. “Master Maki has been thuro for as long as I’ve been here, and so frequented the citadel, usually bringing his wife and daughter on formal occasions, so we have all known Nela for a long time.”

“Were they serious?” Kesa asked.

“Baki told me so,” Gelfi answered, “and during those times she was here, she had eyes for no one else. They were planning to marry, before her father put his foot down, on the night he died.”

“What happened that night, starting with before your roommate left?” she asked.

Gelfi thought for a moment before speaking. “We had worked hard that day, under the hand of Master Koro,” he began, “and so had returned to our room to rest before dinner. We spoke of his intent to marry, and I reminded him that Master Maki did not like him, and probably wouldn’t give them permission to marry. After that we spoke of his rivalry with our fellow initiate, Jakadi, and I told him Master Maki liked him better than Baki. He mentioned a strange ring Jakadi had begun to wear, and how he thought there was something strange about Jakadi.”

“Strange? What do you mean?” she interrupted.

“He never spoke of his family,” Gelfi answered, “which was odd, since, in the beginning, nearly all of us speak constantly of our families, no doubt because we were all young and had just left home to join the order.”

“And this ring?” she prompted.

Gelfi shrugged. “A black metal ring that Baki thought unusual,” he answered, “for its clasped, clawed hands. I told him it was probably a family crest, or maybe he just likes claws,” he laughed, stopping when neither Kesa nor Master Thalamar joined in. “Anyway,” he went on, “Master Wogar, the Gatekeeper, interrupted us and gave Baki an official message from Master Maki, demanding he come to the thuro’s office at the eleventh hour. He left and didn’t return until long after dark, telling me then, not only did he refuse to give his permission, he threatened Baki, and then had his guards throw him out of his office. He related to me that he had gone again to see Nela, found her in tears, and then he wandered around Karle.”

“Did he mention any place he visited, apart from the thuro’s office and home?” she asked.

Gelfi shook his head. “Only that he had wandered around town,” he answered. “After that, he told me that Master Wogar was angry with him, for his late return, I don’t doubt.”

“Why not?” Kesa prodded.

“Huh?” Gelfi replied, not understanding, and Kesa sighed to herself, reminding herself that this was another kortexi initiate.

“I meant, why weren’t you surprised by Master Wogar’s anger at Baki?” she tried again, trying to smile.

Gelfi snorted. “Master Wogar had to deliver an endless chain of letters between Baki and Nela,” he said, shaking his head.

A thought occurred to Kesa. “Does he have these letters?” she asked.

Gelfi shook his head. “He burned them after reading them.”

Kesa paused, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest. “Tell me what happened on the day Master Wogar was killed,” she said.

“When I returned to our room, later than usual,” Gelfi began, and Kesa interrupted.

“Why were you late?” she asked.

“I had duty that afternoon,” Gelfi resumed, “and Kamo did not come to take my place, so Master Belmo wouldn’t let me leave until he did, or until someone came to replace me. Anyway, I got back to our room and saw Master Wogar leaving, looking angry, and when I entered, I saw Baki standing stiffly at attention, as if our master had just berated him. I saw him drop the last piece of burning parchment, and guessed he must have gotten another message from Nela. We spoke for a time before Jakadi came in, telling Baki that he needed to go and take Kamo’s place. He wrote a quick note before leaving, giving it to me to deliver.”

“Did you?” Kesa put in.

“Yes,” Gelfi replied, and then paused, rubbing one hand over his chin, “at least, I think I did.”

“What do you mean?” Kesa asked.

“I don’t actually remember delivering the message,” he admitted, “but I no longer had the message, so I must have delivered it.” He frowned.

“I still don’t understand what you’re saying, Gelfi,” Kesa said. “Did you deliver the message?”

Next time, Kesa continues to question Gelfi, without learning anything useful. Until then," target="_blank">get our ebooks here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 11, Part 5

Posted by gwermon on August 11, 2018 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

10 August 2018

Welcome all! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, we conclude this chapter as this new character tells us what he knows of the whereabouts of any other survivors. . . .

Chapter 11, Part 5

“And how are you called?” Kovaine asked, her voice polite.

The nefali looked at her for several slow seconds before answering, and Telor saw that his eyes were bloodshot. “Kefi,” the nefali finally said.

“Kefi, what happened here?” Kovaine asked. “We came because no one had heard from or seen any of your people in ten years; have you been living here in the ruins by yourself for ten years?” she added, sorrow in her voice.

Kefi shook his head. “No, but our decline began ten years ago,” he said, “when the Glufater exploded, an eruption like none had ever before seen. We have endured eruptions before, and although this one caused more destruction and death, the survivors returned to our normal routines. Half of us had died, and so we suspended trade operations to focus on rebuilding and repair, hoping to reopen the mines within a short time,” he paused, eyeing them. “Do you have anything to drink? I’ve been out for several days.”

“How careless of us not to notice your need!” Kovaine exclaimed, nodding to her husband, who went forward and offered him a drink from the flask always hanging from his belt, the one with the old kortexi symbol.

“Here, drink some of the Waters,” Blakstar told Kefi, “they will restore you.” He passed the unstoppered flask to Kefi, and waited while he drank. Telor saw Kefi’s face and whole form change, looking suddenly healthy and strong. The nefali dropped the flask, which Blakstar caught deftly, a faraway look in his eyes. “Peace, Kefi,” Blakstar said, clapping Kefi’s shoulder, “the Waters of Life are potent.” At once, Kefi focused on the kortexi, smiling widely.

“I had heard stories of such an elixir, but did not believe until now!” he exclaimed, returning to his narrative as if there had been no interruption. “Before we could do that,” he went on, “or even make many repairs, the Glufater erupted again, as powerfully as the first time, and this eruption was accompanied by severe earthquakes that shook the ground for days. Many more were killed, and the survivors returned again to repairs, but more eruptions and earthquakes followed, the last quake three days ago, which trapped me down here,” he stopped, sitting down and accepting rations and a different flask from Blakstar; he began to eat slowly, savoring each bite.

“Are there any other survivors?” Kovaine asked.

Kefi shrugged. “I have seen no one else in the city for months,” he replied. “A plague came last winter, food supplies short, killing those who were still here. There might be survivors out on the farms, but I have heard nothing from any of them in several years.”

“We should go and check, dear,” Kovaine said, her voice lowered. “They might also require aid.”

“We can send him,” Blakstar said, pointing to Kefi. “He cannot stay here, there is little to eat, and also those creatures of stone and fire.”

Kefi stopped eating and looked at Blakstar. “So you’ve encountered the purstanem,” he suggested.

“Is that what you call them?” Blakstar asked.

“It makes sense, dear,” Kovaine put in.

Blakstar nodded to Kefi. “We fought with them in the sewers, after arriving.”

“Where did they come from?” Kovaine asked.

“The Glufater, following the first eruption,” Kefi answered. “They killed many of us before we learned how to kill them.”

“We have never heard of them,” Kovaine said, “or encountered anything like them, and we have been all over the face of our world.”

“Our wise ones studied them,” Kefi went on, “after they first appeared and attacked us, but they could learn nothing of their origin, beyond coming from the Glufater, which means they come from the heart of the world.”

Blakstar shook his head and Kovaine frowned. “I don’t like it,” she said. “We should consult with our brothers–they might know more.”

“That will have to wait,” Blakstar replied. “You say no one else survived here?”

“Just me,” Kefi answered.

“Then we need to move on and inspect the Glufater,” Blakstar said. “Perhaps there we can learn more,” he added, and then turned to Kefi. “I want you to go and check for survivors on the farms.”

Kefi frowned, and that frown sent chills down Telor’s spine, making him shiver. “I think they can take care of themselves,” Kefi said. “I’d rather stay with you and learn what caused all this destruction, and the deaths of so many.”

For a long time, Blakstar and Kovaine stared at each other, and Telor wondered again if they were communicating with their minds. He glanced at Kefi, whose eyes were fixed on the others, and shivered again. Telor did not want the big nefali to come with them; he had to admit to himself that Kefi frightened him, although, if the stories were accurate, his appearance was nothing compared to his ancestors who converted from Gar.

“We’d still like to check on the others,” Kovaine finally spoke. “Is it possible to check on some of them on our way to the Glufater?”

“It would only be a little out of our way,” Kefi said, “to check on those nearest Oinosto.”

“Then we will take you with us, Kefi,” Kovaine said, smiling that withering smile that made Telor want to do anything she asked; he was glad that she was not looking at him.

“Thank you, lords,” Kefi replied, standing and bowing to them with a grace that made Telor revise his view of this large nefali. “At least with you,” he added, “I will know where my next meal is coming from.”

Kovaine smiled again, turning to Telor and indicating he lead them out. Under that smile, Telor forgot all about his plan to ransack this building’s treasure vaults, if they even existed.

Next time, we return to Karle as Kesa continues to try and gather evidence to prove that Initiative Baki is innocent of the crimes for which he has been accused. Until then," target="_blank">get our ebooks here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 11, Part 4

Posted by gwermon on August 7, 2018 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

7 August 2018

Welcome all! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, Telor and his companions find a single survivor in a terrible state. . . .


Chapter 11, Part 4

“We’ll have to try a lower level,” Blakstar noted.

Telor snorted. “Only if its door is not stuck!” he hissed, moving deeper and briefly checking each door as they passed. They came to the end of the passageway where they found a wider door partially open. Telor squatted and touched the floor, letting his fingers slide over the freshly made scratches in the stone. He turned to look at the others.

“This door was opened after the cataclysm,” he said, pointing to the scratches.

“What makes you think that?” Blakstar asked, coming closer and squatting beside Telor. “Sometimes buildings shift as they settle, and this door could have been skewed long before.”

Telor shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “This scratch is rough compared to the rest of the floor.”

Blakstar reached forward, touching the scratch. “I see what you mean, Telor, but we had to move a lot of fallen stone to get in here.”

Telor glanced back the way they had come. “I suppose the stairwell could have been blocked later, after the initial destruction, allowing someone to descend and then blocking that person inside.”

“So you are suggesting someone could be down here,” Blakstar said.

“Someone or something,” Telor agreed, “but I don’t think any of the creatures we have seen have been here–no burn marks on the floor.”

“Could be a survivor,” Kovaine suggested, “but unless they kept emergency stores down here, that person, or thing, might already be dead.”

“That’s an unpleasant thought!” Telor said, sniffing the air again, trying to find any hint of death, but the orthek providing him with clean air also eliminated all scents; he frowned and slipped past the partially open door, glancing down the stairs. He moved forward, hearing the others following, the kortexi making a scraping sound as he forced himself through the too small opening. Telor smiled to himself, beginning to study the stairs; he saw fewer cracks here than in the hallway, but enough that he stepped gingerly as he descended, ready at the slightest hint to bolt. The stairs behind him creaked ominously as the two wethem began to descend. He reached a second landing and found another door, partially open and leading into a hallway much like the one above. He looked closely at the floor.

“It looks like whoever was here entered this floor,” Telor said over his shoulder, “but returned the way he had come.” He turned to look up the stairs at the others, looking a question at them.

“Do the tracks descend?” Kovaine asked.

Telor nodded. He saw the wethem exchange a glance before either answered.

“I think we should follow the tracks first,” Kovaine said, “in case we can help this person, whoever she is.”

“I agree,” Blakstar noted, but there was no need, for Telor saw it in the kortexi’s face.

The awemi shrugged, and then turned to examine the stairs before beginning to descend; he noted that there were fewer cracks, and that these stairs looked safer. He followed the track down to a final landing, although there were two doors: one like the previous levels, wider and pushed open, while the second was smaller and looked like it hadn’t been open in years.

“That door probably leads down to the sewers,” Telor pointed, moving through the open door and into the third level below ground. There were fewer doors, and all of them were open. He passed each looking inside and finding some kind of storeroom, the crates all open and rifled through. “He’s been here,” Telor noted after looking in the first door and moving on.

At the end of the hallway Telor found a final door, also open, and what he could see inside told him that someone had been living inside; he saw a makeshift bed and the detritus of many meals. He stepped inside cautiously, hearing the doubled hiss as the wethem drew swords. He reached for his own short sword, and before his fingers touched the handle, something large and heavy crashed into him, knocking the wind from him; he gasped for breath, struggling to escape the arms that held him bound.

“Stop where you are!” a voice croaked behind him, and Telor stopped struggling, seeing the wethem outlined in the doorway. “One more step and I’ll kill this one!” the voice hissed. Telor saw his companions stop.

“Be easy, friend,” Blakstar said, slowly sheathing his sword and quenching the golden flames. “We mean you no harm; we came here to find out what happened to your people. I am Sir Blakstar, and this is Lady Kovaine, my, uh, mate,” he added, pausing as if he stumbled over the word. “We have food, friend, if you hunger.”

“What about this little one?” the voice croaked.

“He is named Telor,” Blakstar answered, “a klitodweri helping us.”

“How do I know you are who you claim to be?” the voice asked.

Telor saw Blakstar raise his right hand, finger extended and a mark in his palm; Kovaine imitated her husband’s action, showing her own right palm with the same symbol inscribed, and it seemed to Telor that both marks glowed. He felt the arms holding him loosen, and then he was turned around to face his captor. He looked up and saw that the figure was taller and larger than the kortexi, the figure’s face like, but unlike, his wethi companions; it looked as if it were chiseled from ruddy stone, with a nose wider and larger than a wethi’s. Telor realized that, although in the shadows, the figure holding him was one of the nefali, descendants of those ponkolum and purem who converted to the One before the last battle. He looked as if he were worse for the things he had suffered, looking too lean, even gaunt. One arm was held bound in a sling, with dark stains on the cloth; his clothes were torn and dirty, looking as if he had been wearing them for weeks.

“I apologize for doubting you,” the nefali said, releasing Telor and setting him carefully on his feet. “The only things now living in our city are anemum and stanpurm,” he growled, “and they don’t speak,” he finished, laughing hoarsely.

Telor slowly walked away from the nefali, keeping his pace even although he wanted to run, only turning when he reached the wethem.

Next time, we conclude this chapter as the nefali tells them what he knows of what happened to all his people. Until then," target="_blank">get our ebooks here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 11, Part 3

Posted by gwermon on August 3, 2018 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

3 August 2018


Welcome all! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, Telor and company begin exploring the destroyed city. . . .

Chapter 11, Part 3

“It’s fine, dear,” Kovaine soothed him, going to and touching his forehead and repeating the orthek, “nemfakenawet,” she purred, and Telor thought there was something more in her voice than when she had touched him. “That should make searching easier.”

Blakstar smiled and nodded to his wife, turning in the direction he had before indicated.

“I really mean it, mistress,” Telor repeated in a whisper, touching Kovaine’s are and causing her to look down at him. “For a moment, I thought I would choke to death.”

“We should have thought of it sooner, Telor,” she assured him as both started after Blakstar. “We have been near eruptions in the past, and should have recognized the need before it arose.”

“Other eruptions?” Telor asked as they followed Blakstar, his eyes moving all around them, seeking anything out of place amid the remains of this city.

Kovaine nodded, and Telor could tell that she was searching the ruins around them even as he. “Aperkolu erupted several times following the Great Year,” she replied, “and my husband and I went one of the times to inspect it,” she paused and shook her head, looking around, “but there were no cities nearby, so we’ve not seen such devastation.”

As they moved closer to the center of the city, they found themselves scrambling over the rubble from larger buildings strewn over the street; this slowed their progress such that they did not arrive at the destined district until late afternoon, as the sun began sinking below the horizon in front of them. Blakstar stopped, looking around.

“We will need to find a safe place to camp,” he noted.

“Safe?” Telor interrupted. “Where will you find someplace safe in this mess?”

Blakstar turned and looked at Telor, and the awemi felt suddenly uncomfortable. “All these buildings,” Blakstar waved his arm in an arc around them, “had multiple lower levels; perhaps one or more of them escaped destruction and could serve as shelter for the night.”

Telor snorted, and then laughed out loud. “Look around,” he said, “nothing survived!”

Blakstar frowned. “Some of these buildings were designed, following the Great Year, to withstand such forces.”

Telor opened his mouth to retort angrily, but Kovaine spoke over him.

“Yes, dear, especially the ones where they kept their ghelwum and gemstones,” she said, an impish grin playing across her mouth.

This declaration stopped Telor from arguing with the kortexi; instead, she had turned his attention effectively away from the danger of the ruins to the possibility of easy wealth. “Which ones?” he asked, looking around greedily.

Blakstar looked a question at his wife, and she only smiled.

“It has been long since we were here,” she began slowly, “and much has changed, but I think it could be one of these buildings,” she added, turning her withering smile against Telor. “Only a thorough search would confirm my suspicion.”

Telor had begun to hate that smile of Kovaine’s, for it erased his anger. He found himself nodding in agreement and looking around, resolved to search. “I’ll start with this one,” he pointed to one that still showed some of the walls. He scrambled over the rubble, ignoring his companions and their sudden hushed whispering, his mind fully focused on fulfilling the lady’s command. In his mind, he rebuilt the fallen building, moving toward the area he reasoned should have held the guarded stairway going to the lower levels and the vaults where untold treasures might be lurking. He searched among the ruins for half-an-hour, twilight falling, forcing him to light a torch, before he found what he was looking for; he called to the others.

“I think I found something,” Telor said, waving to Kovaine and Blakstar, “the stairway going to the lower levels; it is blocked by rubble, but I think we can move enough of it to get inside.”

Telor waited, watching Kovaine and Blakstar clambering over the ruins to where he waited. When both stood beside him, he pointed down at the stairway below. Blakstar glanced down dubiously, shading his eyes from the glare of Telor’s torch.

“You may be right,” Blakstar agreed.

“Let’s see what happens if we start moving it,” Kovaine added, drawing her short sword, which flashed with blue flames. “Steighud-todhilum,” she sang, pointing at the rubble filling the opening; the first layer rose slowly, following the tip of her sword; she continued to sing the words, moving the point of her sword and lifting the fallen rubble, and then directing it off to the side where she set it down carefully.

“I can help, if you need me,” Blakstar noted.

“I’ll be fine for a time, dear,” she smiled at him, and in the glare of Telor’s torch, he saw sweat beading on her forehead and beginning to trickle down her face, “but thanks for asking.” She lifted more rubble, moving it to the side and working methodically. After several slow minutes, Telor could see that he had been right in choosing this stairwell, as the rubble only extended a few feet into the level below.

Kovaine swayed where she stood, and Blakstar moved to support her.

“I think it’s enough, my lady,” Telor noted politely, beginning to descend the stairs revealed.

At the bottom Telor found a dark, narrow passageway, with cracks through the floor, walls, and ceiling; he hesitated, thinking the whole thing could collapse at any moment.

“We must be careful,” Telor whispered to the others. “This passage doesn’t look very safe.” He moved forward cautiously, all his senses straining for any telltale signs of an immanent collapse. He heard Kovaine sing behind him, and the passage was suddenly illuminated brightly; he dropped his torch and moved on. They passed several doors, all of them looking rumpled, the doorframes twisted and bent. Telor tried to open one of the doors and found it jammed. He tried several more as they moved deeper into the passage, all of them stuck shut.

“This doesn’t bode well,” he turned and noted after the fourth. “This passage may have survived, but the doors are all jammed.”

Next time, as they explore this building, they find a single survivor in a terrible state. Until then," target="_blank">get our ebooks here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 11, Part 2

Posted by gwermon on July 31, 2018 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

31 July 2018


Welcome all! We remind our readers that the Smashwords Summer Sale is on through, today, July 31st, and all our ebooks are half-price!" target="_blank">Get them here and share them with your friends! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, Telor, with Blakstar and Kovaine, continue through the sewers, finally reaching a place where they can ascend into the streets of Oinosto. . . .


Chapter 11, Part 2

Blakstar turned and stared at Telor, making the awemi cringe. “We find a ladder up to the surface,” he said.

“That’s not what I meant!” Telor spat, and then spoke in a lower voice, mumbling to himself. “Why did I come on this fool’s errand?”

Blakstar laughed once. “Because your father asked you to,” he said, turning and pointing to a branch going east. “We might have better luck if we move toward the eastern edge of the city.” He moved into the side tunnel.

Telor made a face at Blakstar’s retreating form; he felt Kovaine’s hand push him gently, and he allowed the push to start him moving.

“Really, Telor,” Kovaine said as they followed Blakstar, “you need to stop worrying. There is nothing that we cannot handle, not even strange stone creatures.”

“So you claim,” Telor said, moving after the kortexi.

They traveled in this direction for a time, Blakstar dispatching any of the creatures they met, and they were fewer and fewer as the companions continued to choose the branches going east. Finally, they turned into a smaller passage that forced Blakstar and Kovaine to stoop, stopping before a ladder going up into the streets above.

“This one should do,” Blakstar pointed to the ladder. “Go up and see what’s there,” he told Telor.

The awemi felt a surge of anger at the command, folding his arms across his chest. “I’m not your slave!” he snapped.

Blakstar turned and frowned down at Telor. “I never suggested you were,” he said.

“Then don’t issue commands!” Telor added, smiling to himself as he saw confusion wrinkling the kortexi’s face.

“That was not a command,” Blakstar replied. “Besides, it’s what you are trained to do, isn’t it?” he suggested.

“You still can’t order me around,” Telor growled, grabbing the rungs and beginning to climb.

“What’s his problem?” Blakstar asked, and Telor heard, although he spoke in a low voice.

“You!” Telor hissed over his shoulder. “Now be quiet so I can listen above.” He clambered the rest of the way up the ladder, stopping when he reached the grate, focusing his ears on the street overhead. He heard only a low, sighing sound that he reasoned was the wind; he checked the grate for a lock and found that only the weight of the iron grate held it in place. He descended, dropping silently onto the stone floor.

“Nothing but the wind,” he told the others, “and the grate is too heave for me to lift.”

Blakstar nodded once, ascending the ladder with an alacrity Telor would not have believed.

“We’re in this together, Telor,” Kovaine noted softly. Above, Telor heard a small scraping sound, followed by a clatter.

“I don’t want to be in it at all,” Telor replied, climbing the ladder for the second time. He blinked and covered his eyes as he climbed out of the opening and into a narrow, side street, the stones buckled all across the street and covered with a layer of coarse, gray ash. The light was bright but diffuse, for a layer of smoke and steam filled the sky overhead. The surrounding buildings were only heaps of stone, and Telor could only tell that they were houses by the shape of the rubble piles.

“What happened?” he asked, looking around for anything that escaped the destruction; he moved from foot to foot, not liking the feeling of the ash under his bare feet. The breeze shifted and brought with it the smell of smoke and putrefaction; he took out a cloth and covered his mouth and nose, trying not to breath in the awful scent.

Blakstar wrinkled his nose and looked around. “A cataclysm, I would say,” he replied.

Kovaine came up through the opening to stand beside them, her eyes traveling around them. “Oh, my!” she said, and Telor could tell that she was as stunned by the destruction as he was. He wondered what they hoped to find in this mess, and his anger flared anew when he realized there was little treasure to find in these ruins.

“I wasted my time coming here!” Telor spat. “There is nothing in these ruins worth my time!”

Blakstar noted. “We came here to find answers, not treasure,” he noted, and then pointed east, toward the city’s center. “The administrative district is that way; perhaps we will find answers there.”

“They’re all dead!” Telor spat. “Who do you think will answer you? Corpses?” he added and laughed hoarsely, the ash in the air sticking to and drying his throat; he took a drink from his belt flask to clear his throat.

“How do you know they are all dead?” Blakstar asked, his eyebrows rising, turning to look at Telor.

Telor laughed again. “Look at this place,” he replied, waving one arm over the rubble around them, “nobody could survive such destruction.”

“We survived worse,” Blakstar noted, “following the end of Gar.”

This statement made Telor laugh a third time, a laugh that turned into a choking cough; he tried drinking more water to clear his throat, but he continued to cough.

“We’ll have to do something about that,” Kovaine noted clinically, her eyes on Telor, “we won’t last long breathing this ash.”

Blakstar shrugged. “As you wish, dearest.”

Kovaine moved closer to Telor, reaching out and touching him. “Nemfakenawet,” she sang in her alto voice, one hand on his forehead and the other on her own.

Telor was suddenly able to breathe, the ash choking the air gone. He coughed a few more times before his throat cleared; he took another drink from his flask and replaced it on his belt. “Thanks, Kovaine,” he said, gratefully.

“That’s Mistress Kovaine to you!” Blakstar growled.

Next time, our heroes begin to explore the city, finding little that survived the cataclysmic eruption. Until then, we remind all our readers that today is the last day our ebooks are on sale for half-price at Smashwords!" target="_blank">Get them here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 11, Part 1

Posted by gwermon on July 28, 2018 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

27 July 2018

Welcome all! We remind our readers that the Smashwords Summer Sale is on through July 31st, and all our ebooks are half-price!" target="_blank">Get them here and share them with your friends! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, we return to Telor, with Sir Blakstar and Lady Kovaine, in the sewers beneath the nefali city of Oinosto, where our awemi faces a creature unlike any he has ever seen. . . .

Chapter 11, Part 1

Telor brandished short sword and dagger, although he did not know what harm they would do to these strange creatures made of molten, burning stone; the creatures were only slightly shorter, but broader, than the average wethi. He backed further away, stopping when the wall of the passageway struck him from behind. It was over, he knew; there was nothing he could do to defend himself. Reflexively, he hurled the dagger in his left hand at the nearest creature, reaching for him with one of its stumpy arms, and to his horror he saw the arm stretch, lengthening as it reached for him; his dagger plunged into what must have been the chest of the creature, blade and handle disappearing, absorbed by the stone. The stretching of the arm paused, and the creature glanced down at its chest, where the stone hissed and bubbled, a jet of reddish black steam spurting from the wound. The orange, glowing eyes sought and found Telor’s, and the awemi went cold, in spite of the intense heat slamming into him from the creature. The arm moved again, reaching toward Telor; he tried to flatten himself against the wall, and then sink into the wall to escape that arm. When he failed to slide into the wall, he tried to scrabble up it, but the panic gripping him did not lend itself to the concentration necessary for wall climbing. The arm and its lumpy hand reached closer, and he cringed, ready for the searing touch of this creature, feeling streams of sweat sliding down his face, neck, and arms.

Telor saw a flash of blue light at the neckline of the creature about to destroy him; the lumpy head rolled forward, smashing onto the ground. Telor leaped up in surprise and managed to catch hold of a ledge high on the wall, where he dangled, his eyes fixed on the headless stone creature, which began to slump and spread a puddle of molten stone across the floor; only the head maintained its shape, hissing and smoking where it touched the molten stone spreading over the floor. A shining figure leaped over the expanding puddle, an arc of blue light moving with this figure, the light coming down upon the head of another of these creatures, cleaving the stone figure into its chest. Unlike the first creature, this one did not slump, but with a flash of blue light surrounding its body, this creature solidified, hissing and steaming for a moment. Telor saw a second figure wreathed in light, wielding a smaller brand of blue, cleaving the head of a third of these creatures, freezing it in place with another blue flash. Only one remained, and it seemed, to Telor, to be oblivious of the destruction of its fellows, for it turned to attack the second figure of light, a figure that dodged to the side, swinging its blue-glowing weapon and freezing this last stone creature.

The haze filling Telor’s vision cleared, and he found himself dangling from a narrow ledge, looking down at Blakstar and Kovaine.

“Are you all right, Telor?” Kovaine asked.

Before he could answer, Blakstar spoke. “You fool!” he exclaimed. “You should not have run away! We were barely in time to rescue you!”

Telor dropped and landed on his feet next to the puddle of the first creature, still hissing and smoking; he shuddered as he considered how close he had come to being burned to ashes and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“I, uh, I,” Telor stammered, “I don’t know what happened,” he finally admitted, his eyes still on the smoldering remains.

Blakstar snorted, which caused Telor’s anger to flare anew. “You panicked,” the kortexi noted drily, “and ran; you are lucky to be alive.”

“I wouldn’t be in this situation if you hadn’t dragged me out of my home!” Telor snapped, angrily gesticulating. “And I just lost my best dagger!” he complained.

Blakstar glared at him. “Be glad you didn’t lose more,” he spoke in a cold voice, turning and stalking back up the side passage.

Telor watched him go, not moving for several long moments, and then he jumped over the smoking puddle, moving past the other, statue-like forms, which were still hot, to follow the kortexi.

“My husband is correct,” Kovaine noted, falling in beside Telor as he passed, “you are lucky.”

Telor shrugged, pushing down his anger. “I’ve always been lucky,” he said. He could feel her eyes on him.

“Be careful not to trust your luck too far,” she said. “It will desert you.”

Telor shrugged a second time. “Likely,” he agreed. Under the sound of Blakstar’s heavy tread, he could again hear the hissing sound. “More are coming,” he noted.

“Let us deal with them,” Kovaine said.

“Absolutely, my lady,” he replied with a mocking bow.

Again, he could feel her eyes boring into him; he tried to ignore the sensation, striding faster to catch the kortexi.

Telor caught up with Blakstar just as the kortexi whirled his blue-flaming sword into an overhand stroke, hacking into the head and chest of the molten stone creature, freezing it into a statue; Blakstar twirled his sword and slid it into its sheath, quenching the flames.

Telor stopped and looked at the now solid form of the creature. “What is it?” he asked, looking from the creature to Blakstar and Kovaine.

“No idea,” Blakstar noted.

“It looks like some combination of elemental earth and fire,” Kovaine added, coming to stand beside Telor and examining the creature. Heat still emanated from it, although Telor could tell it was cooling fast.

“But you don’t know what it is?” Telor repeated.

“We’ve never encountered anything like it,” Kovaine answered.

“Not precisely,” Blakstar put in. “We did meet creatures of stone in Shigmar’s tomb, but they were more like piles of rocks loosely bound together, with a single, orange-glowing eye; it was the eye-gem that animated them, or so Thal claims,” he finished with a shrug.

“I was not with you, my dear,” Kovaine smiled, “but I have heard all of you speak of them, and these creatures are much different. That is why I suggested a hybrid of earth and fire.”

Telor shuddered. “Walking statues!” he hissed. “What next!”


Next time, our heroes continue through the sewers, finally climbing up to the city streets, finding them empty and destroyed. Until then, we remind all our readers that our ebooks are on sale for half-price at Smashwords!" target="_blank">Get them here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 10, Part 6

Posted by gwermon on July 24, 2018 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

24 July 2018

Welcome all! We remind our readers that the Smashwords Summer Sale is on through July 31st, and all our ebooks are half-price! Get them here and share them with your friends! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, we conclude this chapter as Kesa continues to speak to Nela. . . .


Chapter 10, Part 6

Kesa bit her tongue, trying to hold her anger in check, although she expected nothing less from Nela. “Initiate Baki, with whom you are more than acquainted,” she went on after taking a breath to calm herself, “has been accused of these murders, and the evidence is purely circumstantial. . . .”

Nela snorted. “So you claim,” she spat, “but all know he is guilty!”

This was too much for Kesa, and she lost control. “How do you know he’s guilty?” she snapped back, her anger flaring. “Did he confess to you?”

“He came to me, my father’s blood red on his hands,” Nela hissed, “and tried to convince me to leave with him! As if I were a complete fool!”

“There was no blood,” Kesa replied, “I’ve examined the body myself, and there was no wound.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Nela screamed. “And you know that!”

“It is not possible,” Kesa countered, “for your father was murdered when Baki was here, visiting you!”

“That’s not true!” Nela shouted. “He came here after he killed my father!”

“How do you know?” Kesa asked, lowering her voice and struggling to regain her composure. “What information do you have that I don’t? That is why I’m here–to find out what you know. Now if you will please calm yourself and sit down, then we can discuss this matter as civilized persons.” She indicated one of the chairs facing her.

Nela glared at her. She opened her mouth to retort angrily, and her eyes shot to the side, where she noticed that they were not alone. This recognition caused a war inside, and Kesa saw a multitude of conflicting emotions playing across her face. Finally, she smiled, composed herself, and sat down.

“That’s better,” Kesa noted, “now tell me, about what time did Baki visit you on that day?”

Nela’s smile widened. “I don’t know,” she said, her voice now sweet, “I wasn’t paying attention to the time.”

Kesa laughed at the absurdity of Nela’s blatant lie. “Surely you had arranged for a time to meet?” Kesa prodded.

“I don’t recall.”

“You’re lying, Nela,” Kesa said bluntly. “I, too, am a wetha, and know by the sugar sweetness of your tone that you are not telling me the truth,” she added, not mentioning the fact that she could see it in the surface of her mind. “You were in love with Baki, and you continued to see him in spite of your father’s displeasure.”

“That’s not true!” Nela denied, standing up angrily.

Kesa looked up at Nela, one eyebrow rising slowly. “You convinced him that you were, so well that he asked your father for permission to marry,” Kesa noted. “Tell me how that you were not in love?”

“I’m telling you!” Nela snapped, dropping back into her seat and looking away.

“The time, Nela,” Kesa pressed, “tell me what time you first met Baki on that night?” At the same time, Kesa allowed her mental vision to probe the surface of Nela’s mind, the colors flashing red and purple, in nearly equal proportions, before turning completely red.

“I don’t know!” Nela growled, her teeth clenched.

“It must have been before sunset,” Kesa said, “for he had time to travel from here to your father’s office before his meeting in the eleventh hour.” She focused again on the surface and saw a spike of yellow–fear–as she spoke; Kesa smiled to herself. “I can see in your face that I am right; why don’t you tell me the truth, Nela?” she asked, noticing that the red was now laced with yellow.

“I have–I don’t remember!” Nela denied.

“What time did he visit the second time that night?” Kesa asked. “It had to have been after sunset, for he says he wandered to the south market before coming to see you again.” The purple reasserted itself in Nela’s mind, laced with yellow and red.

“I don’t know,” Nela replied.

“Why are you lying to me, Nela?” Kesa asked. “I can save him from a terrible fate if you will help me,” she implored, and she saw the yellow overwhelm all other colors, but then a moment later, the red reasserted itself.

“Get out!” Nela hissed, standing and stabbing her finger toward the door. “I have nothing more to say to you.” She stood like a statue, her arm pointing toward the door and her face turned away.

“Nela, have you truly lost all feeling for Baki?” Kesa asked in a soft voice, standing to face her. “I can save him if you will help me,” she added.

“He killed my father!” Nela sobbed and fled from the room, and Kesa saw the purple flare anew across the surface of Nela’s mind. Kesa knew that, in spite of her denials, Nela was still in love with Baki; Kesa sighed, shaking her head.

The servant stepped into the room. “I am to see you out, mistress,” the wetha noted.

Kesa nodded to her escort, and the two of them left the house, returning to the kortexi citadel. She wondered as she followed her escort how she could prove Baki innocent, if none were willing to speak for him.


Next time, we begin a new chapter and return to Telor, in the sewers beneath the nefali capital, cornered by a creature beyond his comprehension. Until then, we remind all our readers that our ebooks are on sale for half-price at Smashwords! Get them here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 10, Part 5

Posted by gwermon on July 20, 2018 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

20 July 2018

Welcome all! We remind our readers that the Smashwords Summer Sale is on through July 31st, and all our ebooks are half-price! Get them here and share them with your friends! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, we follow Kesa to Master Maki’s house, where she enters and speaks with Nela, hoping to find a sympathetic witness. . . .

Chapter 10, Part 5

`Her reflections were interrupted as Baki stopped; she looked up and saw what was surely the finest house on this hill, surrounded by a ring of armed mercenaries, all of them fingering weapons and glaring through the wrought iron bars of the gate to this house and grounds.

“Master Maki’s house?” Kesa asked, still keeping her voice low.

Baki nodded without turning, his eyes raised and fixed on a window high on the east side of the house.

Kesa realized something important. She had been keeping track of the time it took to follow Baki’s route from Master Maki’s office. Witnesses had fixed the time of Maki’s departure from his office, and if her reckoning was correct, he would have left his office about the same time that Baki arrived at his house to visit Nela, and it was her testimony they needed, along with a witness putting Baki back in the market square after leaving Nela’s house for the second time. The two together would be enough to exonerate Baki of Maki’s murder, but the one had not materialized.

“I need to speak to Nela,” Kesa spoke out loud.

Baki turned to look at her and sighed. “So do I, but she refuses to come see me,” he said, “or answer my messages.” He shook his head, his body turning, his eyes rising to the same window, which must have been Nela’s.

“Do you remember where you went after visiting Nela the second time?” Kesa asked.

Baki shrugged, drawing his eyes reluctantly away from the house. “I climbed down, climbed the fence, there,” he pointed to the east corner of the fence, and she could see the foliage disturbed, “and I think I went back to the market, but I’m not sure.” He dropped his arm, his eyes going again to the house and window.

Master, she thought, I don’t think there is anything to gain by further wandering around; I want to talk to Nela, and it might be better if I go alone.

I don’t think you will be able to enter without one of our escort, Thal replied in thought, and even that is problematic, but I will escort him back to the citadel and wait for you there.

Kesa touched the arm of the leader of their guards. “I would like to speak with Nela,” she told him. “Can you send the others back to the citadel, and arrange for me to speak with her?”

“If you wish,” the kortexi replied, issuing the orders, and then turning to approach the gate and guards surrounding the thuro’s house.

“Keep your hope up, Baki,” Kesa told him. “We will find out who actually committed these terrible acts.”

Baki shrugged once, cast one final glance up at the window, and then allowed the guards to escort him away.

“I will ask the mistress,” the guard behind the gate was saying when Kesa moved to stand next to her escort.

Kesa waited, rolling over again and again the facts she had uncovered, and what they might mean. Her mind kept returning to the scratch marks, and the fact that these marks were absent from Master Koro’s body. She again went over the accident, realizing that the murderer had not attacked this master directly, but had acted indirectly. This meant that he could have been among those initiates who were working in the stables that day; any one of them had access to Master Koro’s saddle, right up until the point this master mounted his horse. She realized that this leap was not necessarily true, for someone could have entered the stable before the tournament and tampered with his saddle, but again, it would have to have been someone who knew Master Koro, and the saddle he used. She needed to speak to all the initiates that were working in the stables that day, and someone who could tell her, frankly, who had access to the stables, and when; she knew she could not trust the remaining master, Belmo, who had already decided Baki’s guilt. She filed all these thoughts for later; right now, she had to focus on what she would say to Maki’s daughter.

The door to the front of the house opened and the guard returned, unlocking the gate and motioning her inside.

“The mistress will see you now,” he said, turning from the gate and holding the door inside open.

Kesa stepped into the main hallway, where a servant curtsied to her and led her, and her escort, to a sitting room off the main hallway. They went in and Kesa sat while her escort stood like a sentinel by the door. A few moments later, the door burst open and Nela stormed in, her face red with fury, her eyes puffy, and her hair unkempt, looking like a dark storm cloud surrounding her face.

“What do you want?” she growled, throwing the door closed behind her, causing several of the paintings to dance.

Kesa deliberately remained seated, trying to smooth her face. “I am Mistress Kesa, a maghi from Melar . . . ,” she began, but Nela interrupted her.

“I know who you are,” Nela interrupted, “and where you’re from. I repeat, what do you want?” she asked rudely.

“I was invited by the kortexem,” Kesa went on as if she had not been interrupted, “to investigate the murders of the kortexi masters and your father. . . .”

“You already know who’s responsible,” Nela interrupted again. “What do you want from me?”

Next time, the conversation between Kesa and Nela continues, without learning anything helpful. Until then, we remind all our readers that our ebooks are on sale for half-price at Smashwords! Get them here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 10, Part 4

Posted by gwermon on July 18, 2018 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

17 July 2018


Welcome all! We remind our readers that the Smashwords Summer Sale is on through July 31st, and all our ebooks are half-price! Get them here and share them with your friends! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, we follow Kesa and company around the market, still looking for a friendly witness. . . .

Chapter 10, Part 4


“Master Skeri,” Baki greeted him, “perhaps you can help me.”

Master Skeri placed the large pair of fabric shears down on the table, whispering something to the apprentice cutting pieces out of a blue silk. “Initiate Baki,” he said, nodding to him, “how can I help?”

Baki hesitated, looking back at Kesa for support; she nodded and smiled, trying to encourage him without speaking. “Master Skeri,” Baki began, “I’m sure you heard what happened to Master Maki?” he continued, then paused; Skeri nodded once, curtly, his face remaining blank. “I . . . , er, we were wondering if you happened to see me in this market on that night,” he finished, looking expectantly at the tailor, and Kesa could see a hint of hope in his eyes, a hope that went out when Skeri began shaking his head.

“No, Baki,” Skeri said, “I was gone from the shop all afternoon, measuring Mistress Gala for a dozen new dresses; I didn’t return until nightfall.” He turned to look back at his apprentices. “Five nights ago, while I was out, did anyone see Initiate Baki pass through the square?”

The five apprentices looked at each other. One spoke, older than the rest, a pretty young wetha with brown hair tied back, showing her clear eyes and small mouth. “We were all busy, master; we were only interrupted by Master Seni coming in to pick up his clothes.”

“At what time, Mela?” Skeri asked.

Mela thought for a moment. “It must have been just after sunset,” she answered, “for we had already lit the lamps, and I stepped outside to light those lamps.”

“Did you see Initiate Baki in the square?” Skeri asked.

Mela paused for a moment before shaking her head. “I saw old Ana beginning to close her stall, but no one else.”

Skeri turned back to face them. “I’m sorry, Baki,” he said, “but I’m afraid we cannot help you.”

Kesa saw Baki’s shoulders slump. “Thank you, Master Skeri,” he said, turning to leave.

“Have you tried asking those shopkeepers in the square?” Skeri asked.

Baki barked a laugh. “They saw me coming and closed their stalls,” he said, “and the others wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Truly, I’m sorry, Baki,” Master Skeri said. “I don’t believe you could have killed the thuro, in spite of what the others are saying.”

“We might call on you, Master Skeri,” Kesa said, “as a character witness.”

“I would be happy to help,” Skeri replied.

“If you hear anything else that might help,” Thalamar put in, “please contact us, Mistress Kesa, or myself, at the citadel.”

Skeri nodded once and turned back to his work; led by their guards, they trooped out of the shop and into the square.

“If you were going to Nela’s house,” Kesa asked, “which way would you go?”

Baki pointed, and started moving in that direction. Kesa glanced around the market square and saw many eyes looking at them, all of them unfriendly.

“Master,” she began in a low voice, “I don’t think this action is helping us,” she added, shivering and pulling her cloak more tightly around her. “Either winter is worse than we believed, or these people really hate Baki, which makes no sense.”

“Doesn’t it?” Master Thalamar said. “Can you not see a reason for their animosity?”

Kesa considered all that had happened. “I can see several, but I don’t like any of them,” she said, glancing around again as they made their way across the square toward its western side. “I could believe they loved Master Maki, but no good leader is universally accepted, and this animosity feels universal.”

“Not universal,” Master Thalamar said. “There is at least one here who doesn’t believe the rumors going around.

Kesa looked at Thalamar, surprised by his statement, looking a question at him.

“Have you not been scanning?” he asked, one eyebrow rising.

“Of course, master,” she replied. “That’s why I said what I did.”

“Hmm,” Thal replied, and paused. “Other reasons for their feelings?” he prodded.

“If it is not respect for a good leader,” she began slowly, “then I’d say they have been carefully prepared, but who would do such a thing? I cannot imagine any kortexi thinking that far in advance.”

Thal chuckled. “Not likely,” he agreed, “so what does it mean?”

“That there is more than one traitor here,” she replied, “but that raises even more questions.” She shook her head, glancing back at the market square as they left it, moving first to the west, and then turning north to follow a winding way that climbed a bluff upon which the wealthy of Karle had built their large homes.

“Indeed,” Thal agreed, “and that is why I and my brothers are uneasy, and why we have left our sanctuary, to find out who is behind these occurrences, and why.”

He fell silent then, and Kesa’s thoughts turned inward, wondering what to do. She believed Baki was innocent of the murders he was accused of committing, but she could not see how to prove it. Their adversary, whoever he was, had prepared well, and if her master were correct, then they were up against at least a small group of traitors. An image flashed into her mind, an image of those strange scratches on the neck of Master Maki, and the other, similar scratches on two of the other three victims. What did they mean? And why weren’t they found on the fourth? What was she missing?

Next time, Kesa moves to Master Maki’s home, hoping that Nela will help. Until then, we remind all our readers that our ebooks are on sale for half-price at Smashwords! Get them here and share them with your friends! Good reading!

Arena of the Ice Queen, Chapter 10, Part 3

Posted by gwermon on July 13, 2018 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

13 July 2018


Welcome all! We remind our readers that the Smashwords Summer Sale is on through July 31st, and all our ebooks are half-price! Get them here and share them with your friends! In this week’s installment from the forthcoming Arena of the Ice Queen: Book 1 of The Restoration, we follow Kesa, Baki, and their escort to the market, trying to retrace his steps and find someone who saw him on the night in question. . . .

Chapter 10, Part 3

I think we should set this idea aside for now, Thal’s thought came to her, focusing in on one murder at a time; trying to do too much at once will only confuse our kortexi.

True, master, she replied in thought, he has already revealed details that he forgot, she went on, and sent him a series of images explaining that she had learned that he did return to the thuro’s house following his expulsion from Master Maki’s office.

Kesa heard the door open behind her and saw Master Thalamar enter.

“I have obtained permission,” he said, “although not without our escort.”

“No surprise there,” Kesa replied, and turned back to Baki. “We will go into Karle later today, around the same time as before, that way the same people will be on the streets and in the market, increasing our chances for finding someone who saw you that night.”

Baki’s face fell. “And if we don’t?” he asked, and his question surprised her, but it gave her insight into his current thoughts and feelings.

“We will find someone, Baki,” she said, “you must keep faith.”

Baki’s eyes shot around the small cell, resting on the barred door behind Kesa. “It’s hard to have hope in this place,” he said, dejectedly.

Kesa did not know what to say, and Master Thalamar came to her rescue, his declaration making her blush.

“Have hope, Baki,” Thal said, “for she is the brightest of your generation, and if anyone can exonerate you, she can.”

Baki smiled weakly and nodded. Kesa stood just behind Baki’s left shoulder, her master behind is right. They were surrounded by a half-dozen fully-armed kortexem, which drew the eyes of every person they passed, and interfered with her ability to speak to anyone. She was not surprised by the number of extra guards posted outside and around the thuro’s office, nor was she surprised by the fact that none allowed them to approach the office. Her master had turned Baki away, gently pushing him back toward the main street through Karle. They reached the intersection, turning south toward the market and gate, following Baki as he walked indecisively toward the market.

“I don’t remember any of this,” he protested without turning to look back at her.

“Just keep going to the market,” Thal told him, “where we will check with the merchants you have mentioned.”

Baki shrugged his shoulders and went on, his eyes down, and Kesa knew he was feeling every eye that stared at him, and the anger of the people directed toward him. Someone must have shared Master Belmo’s belief that Baki was guilty of the thuro’s murder, and that sentiment had infected every corner of Karle. Kesa bit her lower lip, something she had not done in years, realizing that this action would be more difficult then she had imagined, that none here would be willing to say anything that would cast doubt on the suspicion that Baki murdered Master Maki. Her fears began to be confirmed as they approached the market and the first shop which Baki frequented, the leather shop. Before any of them reached the door, someone inside came out.

“Be off!” a small, thin person shouted, his hands and arms stained brown. “We don’t serve murderers!”

“I haven’t killed anyone!” Baki protested, and Kesa saw his hand move to his hip, where his sword should have been; failing to grasp anything, the hand and arm fell limp at his side. “I didn’t!” he added, his voice less sure.

Master Thalamar stepped forward. “We will comply,” he told the small figure. “We are not here for trouble, only to find those who might have seen this initiate, here in the market on the night Master Maki was killed.”

“We saw nothing,” the leather worker said, “now, be off!” He gestured with one of his stained arms, reentered his shop and slammed the door.

Baki shook his head and sighed, turning toward another shop, the bakery, and Kesa saw a pair of workers, in white aprons, carrying the outside display rack hastily inside, loaves and rolls tumbling from the display to be left on the paving stones. Before they neared the shop, the door slammed shut, the shutters closed, and someone flipped the open sign to the closed side. Baki staggered to a stop, his hands clenching and unclenching reflexively.

“Maybe the tailor’s shop?” Kesa suggested, trying to divert him away from the bakery.

He nodded once, turning to cross the open center of the market square, where the stalls were being hastily closed for the night, all of these

merchants refusing even to look at the party of armed kortexem passing through them. Only a single stall remained open, but of this stall’s

merchant, nothing could be seen; Kesa assumed he or she was hiding rather than facing them. She exchanged a look with her master and saw his

brow wrinkled, but neither said anything.

The tailor’s shop, unlike the others surrounding the square, was still open, and so the guard, followed by Baki, Kesa, and Thalamar, trooped through the door, making the inside of this shop feel crowded, lined with racks filled with bolts of cloth, the open space behind a small counter filled with tables over which were slung bolts of cloth in every stage of the process of making clothing, from initial marking, to cutting, to piecing and stitching them together. This master had several apprentices, all of them at work around the tables; the master, a wethi thin and tall with short-cropped gray hair and a prominent nose, looked up from where he oversaw the work of an apprentice, frowning as he saw the multitude entering his shop.

Next time, we will continue to follow Kesa around the market, still looking for someone who can, and will, help. Until then, we remind all our readers that our ebooks are on sale for half-price at Smashwords! Get them here and share them with your friends! Good reading!