Thursday, October 26, 2006

Excerpt Lords of Ch'i by by Ciar Cullen

Here's a bit of my fantasy Lords of Ch'i, which has a hefty dose of the paranormal, in the form of an Eleven warlord who can control energy and read minds....

Belanor was in lockdown, the barren town speaking more to a recent defeat at his clan’s hands than the cold of winter. Supplies were scarce in Metal territory, the clan afraid now to venture beyond its borders. So why did this Metal warrior venture out to the grey cobbled streets, to the grey air? Only an assassin on official Metal clan business would be allowed to roam at this hour.
His pursuer emerged from behind the cover of a large stone column.
Don’t they understand my power? How many more will they send?
Jet picked up a mental glimmer of bronze wire wrapped around long female fingers. The fool intends to cut your throat! Why would she imagine herself strong enough to subdue him? He turned suddenly to face his would-be killer, who stopped cold several yards away.
Jet masked the shock of the sight of her, the instant tremor she sent through him, even at this distance. Metal clan, as he suspected, but so lovely. White-blonde hair sheered into a short cap, pale blue-gray eyes that reflected the glistening snow, tall and slender. She stood erect, her hands tucked inside her cloak sleeves.
Confusion, fear, and something else he didn’t recognize—perhaps regret, all flashed across her lovely face.
“Sympathy for one’s victims weakens you, betrays your intention. Your Master has been remiss in your training.” Jet spoke in the ancient Metal tongue, noting with satisfaction her surprise and quick intake of breath.
“Sympathy, Lord? Hardly.” Her strong, steady voice surprised him.
“You’re Metal clan.”
Her cool energy hinted that she might be full-blooded Metal, without a drop of the Elven blood, or the blood of the night-black shifting Were, or the lithe water clan. So few Trueborns survived into the post-unification era. Was she of the ruling family?
“Yes, Lord, I’m Metal clan.”
“Surely you realize I won’t let you harm me?”
“Aye.” She shrugged, and he watched her breathe become mist in the air. The snow fell more earnestly now, and Jet glanced up at the rare sight.
“At least the snow will whiten this ever-present grey of your clan. Your town deadens my soul, Metal. Doesn’t it deaden your spirit? Must everything be grey and stark? Your hideous buildings block the stars. How can you tolerate it?”
Why are you chatting with her as if this were a chance meeting with a friend? Are you that lonely, Jet? That hungry for the sound of another intelligent voice?
“Your disdain for our culture is well known, Lord. I have no answers for you. I understand Traier is more bonded to nature, that you are more bonded to nature. That is as foreign to me as Belanor is to you. We yearn for pre-Destruction comforts.”
Jet laughed lightly. “Yearn away. There’s not enough ore on Isla to arm all your clan members with long swords, is there? Enough chatter. It seems you aren’t very concerned about your imminent death?”
She shrugged again. “You started the chatter. I care about my death, but I’m helpless to change it.”
“I see. They will kill you for failing to kill me? So you’d rather die at my hand, imagining me to be a gentler executioner?”
“You’ve earned that reputation, Lord. I pray I’ve not been misled.” The woman laughed wryly, and Jet wondered again at her amazing composure.
Take care, Jet. Do not underestimate this one. The danger is in her charms, her face. A face that could bring any warrior to his knees.
Except for a Wood Elf sworn to purity.
“Your name?”
“Silver.” She smirked. “I changed my name in adolescence in hopes I would become a Metal warrior, follow in my brother’s footsteps, and perhaps become a trifle less of a burden to my family.”
Burden? How could this beautiful woman burden anyone? The strong energy she emanated filled the air between them, danced with his in the snowflakes.
“Ah, well, could have been worse, then, Warrior Silver. You might have picked Bronze. Or Iron. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Not such a bad choice for a child to make. What name did your parents give you?”
“Atra.” Her grey-blue eyes glimmered briefly in amusement and Jet found himself smiling despite the gravity of their situation.
“The pre-Destruction ruler? So you didn’t fancy being named after a ruthless despot?” She smiled back, bringing a quick finger of warmth to the energy between them, a brief flicker of lightness to a bleak night. A bleak month. A bleaker year. Jet pushed down the ache and longing that threatened to intrude on his control whenever Fate dangled something tempting but unavailable before him.
“I may have been a trial to my mother inside her womb. I asked many times why I should carry such an accursed name, but the woman would only mumble unintelligibly. My suspicion is that I didn’t quite listen carefully enough as a fetus. She desired a different child.”
“A male? An Elf perhaps? Or did she crave the Were-child? She might have mated differently if she wanted a different child.”
Silver’s laugh matched her energy, light and sparkling and drifting gently on the cool breeze that swirled the snow along the sidewalk.
“Was there a time before the Melting when men and women chatted on the streets at night as if there were nothing more urgent pressing for their attention? What do you think, Warrior Atra? Would we have become friends had we been born in another age? Should we pretend to live in that time, or would you like to go back to trying to kill me?”
“I apologize for wasting the great Lord’s time with my dull, unimportant tale.”
“Ah, but you want to talk to me. And you care how I view you, I see it in your eyes, feel the plea pouring from you. Isn’t that water under the dam, as your clan says?”
“Over the dam, under the bridge, Lord.” She winced at correcting him and he saw a flush sweep to her cheeks. Lovely. And pale. Jet imagined the creamy whiteness of her flesh hidden under her heavy cloak.
He walked slowly towards her. Silver looked for a moment as if she would try to flee, and Jet shook his head subtly.
He watched resignation take hold. Averting her gaze, Silver studied the ground and kicked at a pebble with her black boot as a child would. The gesture charmed him. Don’t underestimate her. She knows of your oath. She knows she’s beautiful.
Finally standing toe to toe with Silver, Jet lifted her chin with a gloved finger. A flash of heat spiraled to his chest when he looked into her eyes from such a close distance, and his blood stirred at the images he saw dancing there. Her projections were unsubtle yet stirring—her tongue licking his body, her mouth caressing him into ecstasy, seducing him to submit to her insatiable appetites, binding him with ropes of promises and chains of pleasure beyond his experience. Frenzied couplings, skin burning with excitement, mouths locked in desperate kisses, whispers of forbidden acts, teaching him the passion denied him for so long. And Mikalis with them! How could she know about his cousin?
A flare of anger mixed with compelling lust. Jet pulled a sharp short blade from his cloak. “That’s not impressive, Metal. A very obvious ploy. You think a silent promise to suck my cock will save your life? They’ve tried this before. While the last whore-assassin wasn’t as lovely, you overestimate the value of your allure.”
He waved his blade an inch from her face.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I object to the label of whore. Assassin will do.” She bit her lip nervously, her chest rising and falling quickly with her shallow breathing. He smelled a hint of dark, spicy perfume waft on the freezing air, and it brought up an ache for the loss of Master Guo.
“I won’t waste more time with you.”
A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away quickly. “There’s nothing for it, then, Lord Jetre?”
He shook his head slowly and pressed the blade against her throat as he pulled her head back by her short blonde hair. The smallest trickle of blood traced a dark sluggish path down her neck, nearly freezing on her skin. She clutched at his coat to steady herself.
“If I vow to tell you everything I know, all the plans of my clan?” Silver clenched her jaw so tightly that her face trembled. “If I offer myself to you to in total servitude?”
“If you’d betray your own, you’d betray me more easily. Do you think I’m an imbecile?”
“The Lord Cirin sent me, knowing you’d defeat me easily. He didn’t want my blood on his hands, the death of another of the Metal ruling family. The clan members grow restless, call for changes, an end to the corruption and assassinations. Cirin’s disbanded the Metal Council. This is his way of killing me without casting suspicion upon himself. Let the great Lord Jetre take the blame. I didn’t come to follow orders. I would have fled the territory. I came to find you.”
Jet arched a brow and stared more deeply into Silver’s eyes. “You’re lying. Why would you risk certain death? One falsehood and it’s over.”
The sight of her pupils dilating in fear quickened his heart, and he realized her terror excited him, that the smell and taste of her dread stirred his heart, stirred his groin. What ails you, Jet? He’d killed women, but never wanted one to fear him like this. One flick of his wrist, and her life would flow onto the sidewalk. It’s because she’s the enemy, nothing more. The lie crept into his gut. What’s this pull she has on you? It’s because the end of the oath draws near. You think constantly of sex.
Jet moved in a step and brushed his finger along the line of her jaw. Silver’s lips quivered and she panted out her words. “I want revenge for my brother, Kilé.” She gasped as Jet pressed the edge of the icy blade against her cheek. “I sought you…” She slowly pushed the blade away from her face with a trembling hand. “I sought you to help me prove Cirin’s guilt and restore my family to the chair of Wu Xing Metal, if any besides me survives. I followed you in peace, despite appearances. Teach me to defeat the man, and I’ll do us both a favor. I’ll ensure an alliance, and you’ll have one less territory to defeat.”
“Who would you see in the chair? Yourself? How long did you train?” Jetre snorted. In fact, he thought that a woman would fare well on the Metal throne, but this woman was already too old to begin the aggressive preparation needed to control the Ch’i of a clan.
“Yes, I’m too old, your elder by two years.”
“Then who? Your sniveling little brother, Desmen?”
Jet saw Silver’s fury at the mention of the coward who abandoned his element in the face of battle. He knew that her family, even her entire clan, never spoke his name.
That was a low blow, Jet. She brings out pettiness in you.
“Since you continue to mock me and have no interest in my plan, I’ll keep it to myself. Get it over with, Lord.”
“Plan! Some plan. Sneak up on a clan Lord who can pick thoughts from the air, feel a threat looming from miles away? You’re not impressive, Silver.”
“How does a Metal warrior get the attention of the Lord of the Wood? Was I to invite you to tea? Tap on the gate of Traier?” She cocked her chin up in a haughty fashion, but Jet caught the tremble still in her voice.
“You have my attention for a moment. Tell me why I should listen to you.” Give me some reason to let you live a while longer, to look at you a bit more. The urge to touch her cheek where a small beauty mark broke the serenity of her porcelain skin pulled at him and he fought to keep his arm still, fought everything she evoked in him.
“I’ll tell you all I know if you show mercy and let me walk away tonight in good faith. Allow me to join you at Traier. I’m a sitting duck here. If they learn of my betrayal…” Silver winced in dismay.
“You aren’t in much of a bargaining position.” Jet allowed himself to wipe the blood from her throat with his gloved thumb, then sliding his hand from her hair to the nape of her neck. He stepped in so close that her breath warmed the skin left bare at his throat. Her eyes grew wide and she parted her lips slightly.
An invitation? How could she think of anything but death? A kiss. What would it hurt? She’d be dead in minutes, couldn’t tell anyone.

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