Tonight I am doing a reading at the Red Brick for ChiSeries Guelph, run by the peerless event organizer Angela Keeley and hosted by the Red Brick Cafe.
I am reading from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, mostly because it has some less familiar elements in terms of world building, but a more familiar narrative structure than the first two books.
“I grew up here,” said Auria. Chosen Brightloch’s daughter and Vintia were gazing upon the Spires of Kirif as their ships idled, waiting to Dock at an artificial beech outside of the defensive reefs. Some of the sailors and the Legionnaires were staring at the distant city, but many more were casting looks at the Kirifan dockworkers, especially the women, or the brutish looking Dolphins circling around their ships. “This is my home, not Krass. One of my first memories is a ride on one of the Fologi, the Dolphins you see below us, when I was a young girl. I thought they were wonderful pets then. They are actually equal under the law in Kirif, Spireless, of course…”
“The Spires are amazing,” said Vintia, trying in vain to process Auria’s expository ejaculations while taking in the view of the Spires themselves. They were immense, bigger than the tallhouses of Krass, the fifteen story tenements that were built to house the huge numbers of refugees that took shelter in the city during the Reckoning. Some of the spires were three times that height. Unlike the square, rigidly structured tallhouses, the Spires of Kirif had an organic look to them. No two were alike, and their natural shape was rounded and smooth, sculpted in places where the inhabitants cared to add features to the structures that they could not grow. They certainly rivalled the majesty of all but the largest edifices of Krass.
More than just physically impressive, Vintia could sense life and magic within the Spires. These buildings were a product of The Reckoning; a mutant form of coral with which the strange-eyed Kirifans formed a symbiotic bond. The unfamiliar patterns, still wild after eleven centuries, dazzled her senses but she could still sense that those within were manipulating them.
“The Fologi are carnivorous,” said Auria, leaning in close, almost breathing in Vintia’s ear.
“… Pardon?” said Vintia; the idea of killer Dolphins snapped her attention away from the Spires and back to Chosen Brightloch’s wayward daughter. Auria was smiling playfully, almost like a girl showing off a favoured toy.
“They feed on the flesh of the enemies of Kirif,” said Auria. “They’re cunning too, dangerous beyond belief in the water. They operate in formations and such. Many of the [click] and [pop] Sounds in the Kirifan language are from Fologi communications. They have fifty terms for water, each a different…”
“Stop, stop, Auria,” said Vintia. “Take it slowly; did you say these Dolphins, the Fologi… are like citizens?”
The first glimpse of the spires of Kirif is an obvious starting point.
“FATHER!” Auria’s anguished voice seemed to tear from her throat.
A second explosion rocked the Spire. Vintia sensed tremendous elemental magic at play. Pieces of spire the size of cottages arced through the air, burning, to slam into nearby buildings and then crash into the sides of nearby Spires and onto the hapless people below.
The revels became a chorus of screams and shouts of confusion.
“We have to get out of the city,” said Katarina.
“No, we have to get to my father,” said Auria.
“We won’t do him any good without our weapons, girl,” said Katarina, severely. “The streets are going to run red now. This kind of Chaos is never good for strangers like us.”
“I need to get to him, ancestors curse you!” said Auria, voice tearing with emotion.
“What good can we do for him, girl?” said Katarina. “He’s a fucking Chosen – anything that can take him down will swat us like flies, especially if we aren’t ready. You will just distract him Auria!”
In response, Auria started to run. The Centurion made a grab for her, but the sly scout slipped around her, diving into the water. Vintia and Katarina started to run after her but Auria disappeared beneath the surface, navigating the dark water with the familiarity of a native.
“Bugger me!” snarled Katarina. “The bitch can swim like a fish.”
“I’ll go after her,” said Vintia. “I can protect myself with magic.”
“FUCK!” shouted Katarina. She stood staring at the water for a moment, fists balled, back hunched, eyes wide and glowing in the light of the distant fires. When she turned to Vintia she was calm again. “You’re right. We’ll gather the men. Hephus and I should be safe. Druin’s boys are on patrol, the camp is secure. If you can’t make it out, hide and we will come for you even if I have to take this place apart!”
Vintia pounded her fist against her breast in salute then they split and turned away, running.
Ash began to fall from the sky as Vintia sprinted along the walkways. The nearby Kirifans stood, shocked, as Spire [Click]kith, the proudest of the Spires of the city, smouldered. Closer to the ruin, screaming could be heard and people limped out of the darkness, some bearing frightful wounds. Vintia’s ears picked up the clash of metal on metal: fighting had already broken out.
Vintia could see no sign of Auria, and so she ran toward the remains of Spire [Click]kith.
A little bit of action without giving the main plot away…
Plumes of earth and rock shot up from the palisade as the cannons of Khazak Khrim loosed another volley. The debris filled walls of the fort were made to withstand such impacts, however, and were holding up so far. The Vvath were being forced to concentrate their fire to small areas in order to even have a chance of creating a breach.
Lightly armoured enemy archers fired at the defenders from behind the shields of their comrades or thick wicker screens. The shots they fired kept the defenders wary, sometimes even killing an unlucky Legionnaire. Vintia responded with attacks of her own, killing a dozen Vvath who strayed too close to Fort Nerus with lightning attacks.
The Krassian siege weapons returned fire. The Legion had fewer guns than the Vvath, but better engineers. Hephus and master Gunner Grannoch, cunning and methodical, had already knocked several Vvath cannons out, shattering them with precise cannon fire of their own.
Around the Vvathi engines the land was now a sea of slave soldiers armed with wicked looking weaponry. Once the Vvath judged that the fortress was sufficiently reduced they would unleash their horde in the hopes of simply over-running the fort.
Vintia was warding their engines, screening them with spells against Vvathi cannon fire. Behind her a group of craft-Vassals drew huge slabs of rock and earth from the ground with their magic. Some of this would go to reinforce the walls and palisades, while the rest would be sculpted into ammunition that would be launched from their own siege weapons. Teven said that, after the first day, this battle would be an endurance test, with both sides forced to manage crucial supplies. The Legion was doing everything it could to prepare for an extended battle.
The cannons boomed again, shaking Vintia from her reverie; this time a small section of the wall collapsed, spilling debris down the rise. The Vvath slave warriors cheered, a sound like the roar of a wave smashing against rugged coast. The defenders tensed and shifted, but the break was too small. The rubble fill cascaded into the breach, temporarily plugging the hole. Breach crews rushed to reinforce using magic and a quick-stone mix. The Vvathi began reloading their cannons, aiming for the new weak-point.
“Two volleys,” said the First Shield from beside Vintia. “Anyone?”
“I won’t bet against that,” called Hephus from behind the battery.
“Two for sure,” said Teven.
“I’ll call three, on ten to one odds, First Shield!” shouted Centurion Drusus from down the palisade.
“Fair enough,” said the First Shield, grinning broadly. “If the wall goes on two I make some money, if it lasts for three, I lose a month’s pay to Drusus, but get another ten minutes of rest. I win either way.”
The battery behind them fired. This time one of the Vvathi cannons suffered a direct hit, flipping through the air and shattering the wooden casings around the iron barrels. A cheer went up from the Legionnaires.
And a taste of the final battle!