For those of you who normally read my blog this is an unusual entry, it's a prologue to a (hypothetical) second book in my Ten Nations world. It's an entry (short fiction) into my friends March Writer's Challenge that can be found here:ericswett.wordpress.com look at the March 1st entry. So, without further procrastination, here is the prologue to Balhook Chaos:
“You bungling, maligned, interfering, drunken bastard of a mageling!” Shacree banged into the room already at full volume and flung the handbill at the table. “I thought we had an agreement about this!” The servants wisely scattered but Matthew, Head Mage of the Mage Council, narrowed his eyes and glared back at the furious intruder. His guest simply leaned back and smiled at her.
“Shacree, long time no see.” The elaborately dressed gentleman smirked at her. She stopped her advance on Matthew to turn a murderous glare at his guest.
“You, I told you I’d kill you if I saw you again.”
“Yes, but I assumed it was just one of those threats you’re so well known for.” He returned her glare with an unperturbed smirk. Shacree snarled and changed directions.
“Shacree, stop.” Matthew commanded. Per usual she ignored his command, but it did distract her attention and she once again turned her steps to Matthew.
“This?” She pulled out a second handbill and crumpled it before throwing it ineffectively at Matthew. “We agreed you would stop putting out wanted posters for me.” She growled.
“That was back when you were still being reasonable.” Matthew told her.
“You’ve made me unemployable.” The words came out between gritted teeth and the temperature in the room went up several degrees.
“I told you I needed you at the Palace.” Matthew picked up the second handbill from some eggs and dropped it onto the floor.
“About that.” She pointed one gloved finger at Matthew’s guest. “You force me back to the Mage Palace while Talgis Bloodeyes is here? I’m not your bloody assassin Matthew.”
“That was a long time ago Shacree, and you’ve yet to carry out your threat, besides a little bird told me you were showing more restraint these days.”
“More like a meddlesome winged man.” Despite the tone of the words Shacree’s temper seemed to go down a few notches at the reference to her old traveling companion. “Is he here?” Her voice softened marginally.
“No, I see him every few years, but mostly he’s busy. Af’Raiell comes by more often, but he left a few months back. Are you ready to talk now?” Matthew motioned to a seat. Shacree glared sullenly, took a few steps, and leaned against the wall.
“I’m not sitting at the same table as that.”
“I’m wounded.” Talgis murmured.
“Not nearly as much as you’re going to be if one of you doesn’t start explaining what was so bloody damn important it required setting every bounty hunter in the area on me.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.” Matthew rolled his eyes. “What bounty hunter is going to come after you?”
“What do you want Matthew?” Shacree’s voice dropped into the longsuffering tone Matthew knew meant she was ready to listen.
“Talgis came across something disturbing in his travels.”
“He’s a pirate Matthew, everything he comes across is disturbing, if not before than shortly thereafter.”
“Haven’t you heard? I’m retired now.” Talgis input with a smile.
“Then why are you still wearing that ridiculous hat?” Shacree glowered at him. Talgis swept the broad brimmed red hat with its gaudy plumage off his head in a mocking solute to the temperamental woman. Then, ignoring the usual proprieties of the breakfast table, he set it back on his head at a rakish angle. Shacree’s glower deepened.
“I’m Prince Bloodeyes now, with my own island and everything, and Admiral of a fine fleet. I leave the pirating to my captains. The hat is an affectation.”
“Good to see your manners haven’t improved.”
“Matthew, if you have a point, make it.” Shacree resolutely turned her eyes from the aging pirate.
“The government of Balhook Island has radically changed in the last few years; they went from something of an awkward republic to a dictatorship.”
“Mageling, I am not an ambassador, I don’t care what one small island chain is doing with their government.” She said without much patience and as much scorn as she could muster. Matthew ignored the jibe.
“No, but you are a mercenary, and you have experience with chaotic magics. Talgis’s report makes me suspect there is something in your area of expertise manipulating things.” He told her. Shacree snarled and started pacing, fast, quick steps like a caged animal.
“I’ve had quite enough of that to last the rest of my life. We killed most of the Centiums along with their Master not ten years past, how much of a chaotic problem could you possibly be having?”
“You didn’t kill all of them, and the Mage Council has had nothing but trouble the last ten years. As much as we tried to keep it quiet what happened has become common knowledge to the Mage community. Not all of it.” He added quickly as Shacree’s eyes narrowed on him dangerously. “The knowledge that a living, if questionably successful, mix between a person and Centium was discovered had fueled a whole new round of chaotic mages with aspirations of greatness.”
“yes, I’m sure your battle mages are very busy; still lacking anything that had to do with me.” Shacree took a deep breath, stilled her anxious pacing, and leaned once more against the wall. “Matthew, none of this merited dragging me away from a successful job with wanted posters. Az’ might be right about my patience, but it’s still short, and being in the same room as him isn’t helping.”
“I’ve noticed it’s getting a bit warm in here.”
“Deal with it.” Shacree said shortly. In truth the temperature had risen to uncomfortable levels but Talgis made no move to doff his elaborately brocaded silk jacket, nor Matthew his mage robes. Talgis did dab at his brown with a handerchief, which he then tucked back into his sleeve.
“I need you to go with Talgis to Balhook and see what’s going on. You can take care of it if there is something untoward there.”
“Matthew, I’m not sticking my head back in a hornet’s nest. I have absolutely no reason to go gallivanting off to see if some dictator is employing chaos, chaotic beings, or mixes to oppress his citizens. I’m no more a philanthropist than I am an ambassador.”
“No, but again, mercenary.”
“I don’t work for mages.” Shacree growled out. “Get Bladesworn to do it, that sword of his gives him just as much ability as I do to find chaotic magics.”
“Hardly, it only detects chaotic creatures, and they have to be fairly close, which you know.”
“Regardless, his mission is to kill them, mine is to avoid them. Or get Az’Raiell, he can’t be so busy begetting that he wouldn’t welcome a good fight with chaos.”
“Crass Shacree. He’s only taken the one wife, despite attempts to persuade him otherwise, but he is too busy re-founding the government to be dragged away, as is his brother, and Wynter is helping them. And none of them owe any allegiance to me. Even Bladesworn is unlikely to go just because I tell him there might be chaos there.”
“How ironic, since I’m not going to go just because you tell me to either.” Shacree pushed herself off the wall with a thrust of her shoulders.
“But I’m not a mage.” Talgis rejoined the conversation. “I can hire you.”
“I don’t work for those I’m planning on killing either.”
“Stop with the posturing.” He smirked again. “You’re not going to kill me. I’m a pirate. I did what pirates do; you lost. You were young. I was young, and you’ve had well over three hundred years to track me down and kill me if you actually wanted to.”
“About that, you were saying you’re not a mage?”
“Okay, so I’m mageborn, but I’m not now nor have I ever been a practicing mage, not even a Hedge Mage. I’ve never apprenticed, and I’m not vested with the Council. I’m a magic user, but I’m no more Mage than you are.”
“Important technicalities I think.” Matthew told her.
“Besides, how you would like to be able to enter a port again?” Talgis smiled and popped a bit of sausage into his mouth.
“Given that it’s your fault I’m blacklisted you mean?”
“I didn’t burn down that ship, you did that. But yes, I have a certain amount of persuasion in the area. I’ll let it be known that my ships will accept you. I think you’ll find the other captains will stop being so unreasonable shortly thereafter.”
“I don’t have much use for ships.”
“Everyone has use for ships on occasion, if not for themselves than for merchandise. Matthew tells me you still own that stud farm. There are places you could sell a good horse for ten times what you’ll get in the Ten Nations if you’ve got a ship to transport it.” He pointed out.
“Not mentioning anything I care about yet, at least, not more than I care about avoiding Centiums.”
“It’s unlikely there are actually Centiums on the island, unless they’ve been summoned there by a chaos mage. More likely it’s a chaos mage manipulating the local Night Faeries.”
“I. Don’t. Care.” Shacree stressed each word separately.
“I’ve got something you want.” Talgis stood and strapped on his buckler and sword with exaggerated care. “I’ll give you satisfaction, provided of course that Matthew has a healer standing by.”
“Talgis, she’ll kill you.” Matthew exclaimed.
“No, I don’t think she will.” The retired pirate gave Shacree a knowing look, watching her size him up.
“No, I suppose I won’t.” She breathed.
The temperature in the room suddenly dropped to near freezing, and Shacree’s flame red hair took on a corona of real fire. At the same moment as Matthew shouted ‘not here!’ Shacree swept out her hand and table, dishes, and most of the other furniture in the room exploded as she superheated then tore them apart with her fire.
Matthew warded himself against the flying debris and scrambled backwards to the far corner of the room. Talgis raised his arms across his chest and his natural magic flared in a flash, deflecting the debris as well as Matthew’s wards.
Talgis drew his wide cutlass to meet Shacree’s bastard sword. Her one handed swing drove him back several paces, but he held her sword with his. They clashed swords for a few quick blows. Tlagis was good, but he had no chance of beating Shacree, nor even standing against her for more than a few moments. He gave ground willingly, and she pursued him with a psychotic grin on her face.
The sharp ring of steel on steel faded as they fought, replaced by a blunted clang. Shacree’s blade radiated heat in waves and left tacky gouges in his blade. The heat coming off her made Talgis’s face hot and tight, an odd counterpoint to the still-freezing room.
She slipped around his guard to draw first blood; her burning sword searing the wound shut even as it cut a neat slice from inner elbow to outer shoulder. Talgis let out a startled shout, more in surprise at the burn than in pain.
The flinch was all the opening she needed. In three quick strikes she laid him open from left shoulder to the bottom of his right ribcage, across to his left hip, and then sliced deeply into his thigh almost to his knee. The room filled with the scent of burned flesh as he stumbled away with a cry and ended up on the floor as his leg gave out. None of the wounds were life threatening, especially given the lack of blood from the burns, but the spill was a deadly mistake. For a moment, with Shacree’s fire-filled eyes glaring down on him and her sword decending, Talgis was afraid he’d misjudged her and she was going to deliver the killing blow. Shacree’s face twisted as she felt the sudden rush of fear through him and the gibbering in her mind, more muted than it once was but forever there, leapt to the forefront.
Kill! Kill! Spill the blood; crack the marrow! Lap the blood; suck the marrow! Kill!
Shacree snarled and jerked her sword around before she killed him through unintentional rage. Instead she swung the sword in an ark and drove the point through his hand as he tried to scramble away. Talgis aborted a guttural scream and grabbed at his wrist above his skewered hand. He panted, nostrils flaring, and grimaced in pain as she put a booted foot to his chest and pushed him flat.
They stared there, for a long few seconds as they eyed each other. Shacree drug herself back into control, pushing the insanity to the back of her mind. She let a bit of it trickle through into a twisted upturning of her mouth that approached a smile only in the most technical of senses. The pirate paled at the grin and stilled, waiting for her next move.
Shacree winked at him, and his overly gaudy hat burst into brilliant flame. A startled, strangled cry slipped out as Talgis desperately batted the flaming hat off his head with his free hand. It landed in a pitiful pile of ashes nearby and he looked up at her in shock.
“My hat? You have me at your will and you burn my hat?” His voice sounded wounded.
“You have a mage healer waiting outside the door by now, or will in the next minute, in the long run the loss of that ridiculous hat will be more painful.”
“You’re psychotic, you know that, right?”
Shacree grinned again, jerking her sword out of his hand with enough twist to snap bones and aligned it with his neck.
“Tell me why. Why is this so important that you’ll risk life and limb to get me to go?” She said quietly. Talgis drew his hand to his chest and glared at her for a moment, before forcing out a deep breath.
“My son is my ambassador to the island nation; he negotiates trade arrangements for my ships. Eight months ago, after a very disturbing letter, I lost all contact with him. I want my son back.” He told her. Brief emotions flickered over her face, and then the temperature in the room rose as the heat waves from her sword faded. She sheathed it.
“Fine, but you’ll be paying me more than shipping rights.” Shacree stormed out of the room nearly as violently as she entered, nearly running into the healing mage Matthew had called to attend to Talgis. “Be ready in the morning!” She shouted over her shoulder, ignoring Matthew’s call to return.