Bounty for the Taking – Book 1 is entering second pass editing. It’s been pulled from the site for that reason. When the editing process is complete it will be available for purchase on Smashwords and Kindle. There will be a new post about it then. For now here’s an excerpt:
A shower of rain lasted for a few hours during the night and Staifcairn travelled into the morning to find the streets thick with brown mud. Trudging through the viscous muck, which clung to his boot-soles, wore at his endurance. Staifcairn arrived at the small cartographer’s store, haggled briefly and without real interest, to purchase the best map of the hills north of the Scalest river valley. He was happy with the purchase. It was well scribed on good vellum and the cartographer had sealed it in a metal scroll-case with a screw-on lid and leather gasket. On his course through the town towards the river Staifcairn bought a few meals worth of local preserved food including some strange dried pink fruit that smelled sweetly of honeysuckle and rosewater.
By the time the sun had reached its zenith for the day Staifcairn had crossed the river and was trekking north into the hills. He stopped to consult the map, taking a bearing with the compass that Cavis had given to him many years ago, chewing on some of the strange pink dried fruit that he bought in the markets of Nom Pei.
Ahead of Staifcairn lay the hills. Gently rolling and lightly forested they seemed somehow full of life yet uninviting. A kind of harsh aloofness permeated the area. Staifcairn felt with magic into the soil, the bones of the earth, here and found it to be holding a subtle taint in the mana. Scry-guard was too strong a term for what was held within. It was more like a spider web in the essence: a means for the ‘spider’ at its centre to feel any flies that strayed into its finely spun snare.
Shaking the feelings of this land Staifcairn struggled with his little used knowledge of the earthblood and flung together a rough-shod cloak to lessen his presence. The spell was hastily convened and probably of little potency but it held together in arcane form well enough for Staifcairn to trust his effort and move deeper into the subtle web-like magic.
Another league passed behind Staifcairn as he walked briskly through the low underbrush beneath the thin canopy. Shadows deepened as he pressed through a thicketed vale and crested the shoulder of a hill. Ahead lay a garden rich with many herbs lit by direct sun in places and dappled green shade in others. Staifcairn took a breath of surprise as he realised that some of the small plants should not be growing anywhere but ice-laden tundra or hot volcanic slopes. Magic was at work in sustaining the plants at least and it would not be folly to assume that the source of that magic was also the source of the scrying.
‘Hello there.’ A confident older voice called to Staifcairn.
Silvery hair flicked about as Staifcairn sought the voice’s owner. ‘Hello,’ he called back.
‘Are you lost?’ The voice had moved since he last heard it; moved from somewhere off to Staifcairn’s right to a position closer at his left.
‘I don’t think so,’ Staifcairn answered as his hand closed on his sword’s grip.
‘Ah, then you wish to be here.’ The voice took on a cold tone veiling a heavy menace.
Staicairn’s senses narrowed on the source of the voice, a burl in the trunk of a young til tree. It must be the target of a long voice enchantment; he thought and on impulse triggered his own magic of protection to bend spell attacks. A shrill keening split the air and Staifcairn barely had the presence of mind to force a thread of mana into an angled shield before a dart of iron was deflected from his spine. He leapt behind a tree for cover and the hissing of another dart parted the air where Staifcairn had just stood.
‘I would parley with you, Ulthinger,’ Staifcairn called out, his sword still in its scabbard.
‘I receive only invited guests. You can leave or fight,’ he replied, the voice still coming from the burl via the enchantment.
Staifcairn felt his heartbeat race. His first instinct was to fight this man to a standstill with his knowledge of coldfire-magic but that risked killing him and it also risked that Ulthinger may have many enchantments in place to aid in his defence.
Staifcairn took a deep breath, ‘Then perhaps you could invite me back another day so we may talk of my brother?’
A dart sliced the air near Staifcairn’s ear and buried itself in the bark of the red cypress tree. Anger coursed into his blood and with a practiced reserve of mental prowess he conjured a blade of coldfire as tall as himself. Its blue-white light glared in the dappled shade of the grove and Staifcairn heard the sound of footsteps suddenly changing direction in the undergrowth. With sudden reflex he loosed the blade at the cluster of scraggly bushes. It streaked across the grove, evaporating the stems and leaves that it touched, to careen into a sugar gum sapling; splitting its trunk.
A short squeal of dismay came from in the undergrowth, ‘My young tree!’
Staifcairn quickly began weaving a spell of instant travel, a long door, to displace his spatial location to the far edge of the grove and behind his assailant. Another dart hissed towards him and relying on his quickness alone Staifcairn barely managed to avoid its dark iron point. Concentration on the spell made him clumsy. He staggered about the cypress and another dart hissed and pinned his cowl to the tree. The spell was ready and Staifcairn suddenly displaced across the grove. The lurch of warping spatial reality, as it stretched and sucked him from place to destination, made him dizzy and nauseous but Staifcairn was prepared for that. He immediately began casting an invisibility enchantment and vanished from any sight.
Crouched in the brush on the edge of the clearing Staifcairn saw a lean old man approach the cypress he was using for cover moments before. The old man must be Ulthinger that Rhastavon told him of. Wearing a pair of dirty pants and a leather jerkin of a strange greenish hide Ulthinger was difficult to see at a distance. He clutched a strange crossbow: one of the locally made dokyu repeating crossbows. Staifcairn used the time to prepare another enchantment, this one of coldfire, his favoured magical focus, to bind the man where he stood. The chains leapt from his fingers and coiled about Ulthinger in eight thick bands of energy. The old man instantly tried to struggle and the bonds seared his flesh. He staggered for balance, the bonds threatening him again, and turned hateful eyes to fix on Staifcairn.
‘It seems you have won, archmage,’ Ulthinger spat.
‘It seems I have bound you with the coldfire,’ Staifcairn replied. ‘Yet when I asked to talk to you of my brother you pressed your attack. Tell me, what would you do if our roles were reversed?’
‘My brother is long dead,’ Ulthinger answered.
‘Then imagine harder and tell me!’ Staifcairn was losing his patience.