Fabulous cover done by my friend Jim Nelson!
Recommended reading ages: 13 and up
*As long as I can keep up with a weekly publishing schedule, DLB is back. I will post any schedule delays if necessary Show Less
The Key to the Ritual
There was almost no traffic in Quento’s streets to speak of. Of the three city patrols that had walked by, only the last one even noticed Chen. The leader nodded her head in silent acknowledgment. She knew better than to draw attention to the Shining Swordsman while he was out on a mission. When the patrol was past the alley, Chen heard the young leader quietly tell her riflemen,
“Just keeping moving. He’ll call if he needs us.”
Just as Chen was contemplating dropping his vigil enough to eat a bit of dried yoma fruit, he heard a muffled explosion from somewhere below him. It wasn’t loud enough to draw the attention of the elderly couple walking with their purchases from the market, but Chen was instantly alert, sweat and hunger forgotten. He raised his enchanted swords and assumed a ready stance.
The earpiece still hadn’t been activated yet. Captain Yanshway evidently hadn’t finished her search through the shophouse next door. Anyone else might have relaxed, but not Chen. Through sheer soldier’s discipline, the Shining Swordsman waited in anticipation. After what seemed like ages, the earpiece buzzed to life. Chen heard the Captain’s voice in his head as she brusquely told him,
“Leaving now, expect pursuit.”
Chen relaxed and exhaled deeply to prepare himself. He took the time to break the talisman that would alert the town guard before emptying all other thought from his mind.
Three long breaths later, there was a soft popping noise from above. Chen checked his swing. That would be the Captain. Teleporting into midair was one of Yani’s standard tactics for confusing pursuers. Before she had time to hit the ground, there were three more popping noises,
“You won’t get … hey!”
Chen exploded into action, slicing into the first sorcerer before he even hit the ground.
Yani was already rolling to her feet while the two other pursuers tumbled clumsily onto the cobblestone alley. Just as Chen dispatched his next two targets in a paired strike, more popping noises filled the air around him. Far more worrisome, a foul smelling wind blew through the sweltering alley with an unnerving swishing noise. The coolness of a stray sea breeze gave Chen small comfort before he had to fend off the effects of magical smoke and fire.
It looked like the head of the house had come out to play.
Most of the new figures popping into the air were falling onto each other and Chen’s previous kills. He ignored them to spin and face the head sorcerer who had not been thrown off by Yani’s trick. A slice of the long black blade of Chen’s main sword easily shattered the purple magic shield. The follow up stab from his short sword only lightly scratched the arm of the startled woman. Although Chen didn’t recognize the sorcerer, her fancy braids and rich red clothing suggested nobility or bureaucracy.
There was a second, louder muffled explosion from below Chen. This one was powerful enough to shake the ground and knock up some dust. From the corner of his eye, Chen saw multiple illusionary copies of himself peel off and threaten the other sorcerers in the alley. Evidently Yani had recovered enough to do wizardry again. Her ruse must have worked, based on the head sorcerer’s annoyance,
“They’re not real you fools, get up!” Chen didn’t recognize the woman’s firm, low voice.
The sorceress pulled a slender green stick from the pockets of her sash as she hastily summoned up a second shield. The stick flashed briefly, filling the alley with sickly yellow light. The wards on Chen’s swords blocked some of the flash’s effect, but glowing spots still filled his vision. His head throbbed, and he had to force down a feeling of nausea. The startled exclamations from behind him hinted that the flash had probably served more to blind the sorceress’s followers.
Chen willed his short sword to hold its place in the air as he grasped his main sword with both hands. He swung the black blade in a downward slice through the new shield. This time, the pieces of the shield held in mid-air, ready to reform. A moment before they could merge, there was a sizzle and snap followed by an ear-shattering bang. The shot from Yani’s handgun blasted through the shield shards and ripped horribly through the sorcerer’s chest, right into her heart.
Any normal person would have been felled instantly. This sorceress stayed on her feet with only a short gasp of pain. Chen had a brief moment of panic as he realized – this woman wasn’t just a normal sorcerer. She was one of the Bound. He needed to take her down while she was weak. The dizziness from the flash and the ringing in his ears from the gunshot made Chen’s slashes go off target.
Just as Chen cleared his mind for another assault, the sorceress fled amidst a foul gust of wind.
With the arrival of the Quento town guard, the half a dozen remaining minor sorcerers were easily subdued. Although Chen would have preferred to keep one for questioning, they all suddenly dropped dead. Chen suspected some nefarious curse tied to their mistress abandoning them.
The commotion had caused a small crowd to gather. Soon the guards were serving more as a deterrent to curious onlookers. Chen turned to the young leader of the patrol he had seen earlier,
“Captain Rayungi and I need to make our report. Can you handle this?”
The patrol officer gave Chen a brisk salute, “Just leave it to us, Lord Pin-Gashek.”
At Chen’s approving smile and nod, the young officer’s face glowed with pride.
When they arrived at the nearest guard station, Chen allowed himself to relax. He and Yani were almost in the clear. A trio of Chen’s other Sorcerer Hunters ran out to greet them.
“Are you sure you weren’t followed?” security was always Gaikun’s foremost concern.
“I don’t think so, but why don’t you and Danshen take some guards and check the perimeter.”
After the two trackers reported no trace of pursuit and Kiralee confirmed the integrity of the station’s wards, Chen finally felt safe enough to ask Yani,
“Did you find proof that Governor Hongzhu’s suspicions are correct?”
“I did,” Yani nodded, “The goblins plan on starting the summoning tomorrow at midday.”
The Captain’s close set eyes were filled with worry, “The sorcerers seemed really happy about it. They said something about a ‘prophecy’ and ‘their time to rule all elves had come’. I couldn’t risk any divinations, but I’m pretty sure there were multiple Bound all at the meeting together.”
“Multiple Bound meeting together?” Kiralee’s small voice broke, “We have to do something!”
Danshen reassuringly draped a strong, bristly arm around Kiralee’s slender shoulders, “Dread Lords can be banished and goblin armies can be beaten. Even the Bound can be killed.”
“Yes, but having them all work together?” Chen shook his head, “If only we still had one of the keys to the goblins’ summoning site.”
Yani smiled as she held up a very solid looking half-moon shaped stone.
Thank you so much for reading! I welcome all comments, suggestions and criticisms. Don't hold back, I won't improve if I don't know what I'm doing wrong :)
New chapters will be posted Mondays, ideally by 9AM CST.
Note: DLB is currently on book 3: Descent. Book 1: Arrival runs from the prologue to chapter 47, and book 2: Ascension is chapters 48 to 92.
*Author's note: I'm really sorry that I'm going off regular publishing so soon after a six week break, but this is just simply not a good time for me to get any writing done. Please remember that I have three jobs, two kids, and I'm currently doing this for experience without pay. I don't want to lose readers by being a jerk about it, but this is a lot harder than it looks. If you want chapters more regularly, leave comments. That's what get me going more than anything.