The Angel Stakes audiobook has passed the ACX/Audible technical checking process and is now in ‘production’. Sooooon.
I will be contacting the beta readers next week with parts 1-3 (of 5) for Bian’s Tale. Was aiming to do it this week, but the last couple of chapters need work.
Here the second part of the scene where Tullah first meets Kaothos (if follows straight on from last week). As explained with part 1, this didn’t fit into the books, so I thought you might like to see it here. It’s not a mini-story really, just a scene.
Following a request last week about any such orphaned scenes, I will start a folder of them and eventually provide them as an ebook.
Not along the track! Straight up the hill.
The track was a lazy path, winding back on itself. Whatever was coming was taking the shortest route and making a heap of noise about it.
Tullah’s mind seemed to fragment; parts skittered and rippled out and down from where she stood.
What the hell? Totally weird.
She felt the ground. Felt the weight of trees, the grip of roots, the cold, deep strength of rock below, the chill of water, the tiny pulses of life. And, from lower down the hill, the heavy tread coming toward her.
“Bear! Don’t worry,” Dale yelled “I got this.” He threw his hands up above his head. Twin streaks of pale light arced up into the night sky and then fell, soft as feathers, at the edge of the clearing nearest to where the noises were coming from.
Two blossoms of flame leaped up where the light touched the ground.
It was a half-way good idea. Fire would scare an animal away. There were only two things wrong with it.
Adept fire came in many forms, from the gentle light that burned in the hand without harm, to the other extreme, fintyne, the white fire. Dale had just tossed magical napalm down the hill.
That was bad enough, but Tullah knew, because the ground knew, that it was no ordinary bear coming up the hill. She could feel fifty-foot limber pines pushed aside, their roots straining in the earth. She could feel the weight of the paws. The were-bear would not like the fire, but neither would he be scared by it.
There was a sound, like the hiss of water on a red-hot plate.
Her dragon was laughing.
Fire is my element sighed the trees.
The fintyne seemed to hesitate. It diminished and was sucked down into the earth, finally flickering out. The dirt beneath it swallowed it and steamed. The dying fire came to her, and Tullah felt a warmth spreading through her boots, her feet, up her legs. Her skin tingled.
“Huh?” Dale said, walking backwards in a hurry and looking at his hands as if the answer was there in his palms.
A heavy silence. Then the pine sapling at the edge of the clearing shook and swayed and bent.
Old Earl, rumpled and dressed in the same farm coverall as yesterday, pushed his way past, letting the pine spring back after.
He stomped up to the patches of scorched earth where the fintyne had landed, sniffed and scowled.
“A good thing that didn’t catch,” he growled. “Fire burns up hills and down wind, or don’t they teach that these days?”
“Earl. Good…errr…morning,” Tullah said. The stark blackness of the night was just hinting at a change in the east.
“What…” Dale said. “What’s happened? What’s going on?”
Earl came and stood in front of them.
He was standing two foot lower on the hill, and they still had to look up at him.
His head tilted as if he was inspecting them. Tullah’s stomach fluttered, and she felt Kaothos sinking down, out of sight.
“Wind’s changed,” Earl said. “Be too cold for the little uns.”
Truth, Tullah thought, but not the whole truth.
“We’re lucky they didn’t wake up when you shouted,” she said to Dale, partly to get Earl’s attention off her.
Dale blustered and Earl grunted.
“Why don’t I build up the fire,” she said. “I guess the kids should eat a good breakfast before we walk back down?”
“Yeah. Made the call. Their parents will be at the trailhead at noon to pick ’em up.”
They had lots of time, as long as everything went to plan.
Tullah retreated to the fire and fed in the logs she’d gathered.
Dale seemed relieved to have something to do as well, and he fetched the food and pans, ready to cook when the kids started to wake.
Earl muttered and tramped up and down, disappearing for minutes at a time and sniffing at everything. At least he ignored them while he did.
Tullah knew he’d sensed something, and that was what had him storming up the hill in the darkness. For the change in the weather, he’d have come up at breakfast.
Was a dragon dangerous? Of course she could be. Any spirit animal with such control over fire that she could extinguish fintyne like that could also start fires. But any sort of competent Adept and spirit guide could do that. Even barely competent. Dale for example.
But the trees did not sigh and her dragon did not talk to her.
And spirit above, but it was turning colder by the minute.
Dawn broke even colder and a chorus of sleepiness and irritability came with it.
Here, Earl made himself useful.
He plucked entire tents up in one, and had them wrapped and rolled and tied up in minutes. He shook sleeping bags out, like a bear might hunt for grubs in the bark of a fallen tree.
It worked. As Dale and Tullah were ready to dish out the breakfast, there were shivering, yawning lines of children ready to receive it.
She was too busy to worry about a missing spirit guide then.
Too busy on the walk back down, with just her and Dale to shepherd twenty-seven troublemakers along the path. Earl followed at a distance, growling from time to time.
Busy, busy, busy and the responsible adult, so the last person that would be collected.
Earl had left them at the trailhead.
The last children and Dale had gone.
Ma would be here soon.
Tullah left her backpack on the ground and walked back into the trees, climbing up a way until she found a fallen log to sit on.
Did I dream it all?
She held her hand up in front of her.
A witch light bloomed in her palm. Warm. Tiny. Familiar.
All a dream then. A strange, strange dream.
Tears rolled down her cheeks. It was no use telling herself she didn’t care whether she had a spirit guide or not, that there was no point being an Adept, because she could remember what it’d felt like when she’d had that wonderful dream. Like she could fly. Like she could reach up and touch the stars. Like she was complete.
A spirit guide like no other. The missing part of her soul.
It felt like something had been torn out of her heart and she would never be whole.
The heat of the witch light was making the freezing air swirl and waver around her hand.
Roiling; that was the old word for it.
Her hands tingled and she held both up in front of her.
The air shimmered and boiled around them. Leaves on the aspen trees above her began to thrash. Branches creaked as they bent. She was surrounded by a wind that spun and spun and lifted two brilliant streamers of harmless witch flames, up from the palms of her hands, up to shake and sway the trees.
And nothing. No flames, no wind.
A yellow leaf spiraled lazily down in front of her face. Another.
“Tullah?” From the parking at the trailhead.
“Come on, come on,” her mother called out as she walked up to meet her. “They’re going to have a party for all the kids to make up for missing the trip. I promised you’d help out.”
Mary Autplumes-Leung looked her daughter up and down. “Y’know, you always hear the comment that the best children are the ones you can give back at the end of the day,” she said, with a smile in her voice. “It’s not so, really.”
Tullah grinned and started down to join her.
“Old Earl was all stoked up for nothing by the sound of it,” Mary said. “Nothing happened did it?”
Tullah shrugged non-committally.
Mary sighed and turned back toward the car. “You didn’t feel anything, did you?”
Tullah knew exactly what she meant. Her mouth opened and she stopped herself. Shouldn’t I say something?
“Not that it matters, of course,” Mary said.
“Being an Adept isn’t everything in this world. Some people just aren’t quite a match for a spirit guide. It’s not a matter of fault at all.”
“And you know, it doesn’t make any difference to your father and me.”
Tullah lifted her arms up, felt the tingle all down to her hands; the pressure of flames beneath her skin, ready to leap out.
“Yes?” Mary turned and looked at her.
Shhhhhhhhhh said the wind in the aspen.
“I love you, Ma. Gimme a hug.”
Mary laughed and they hugged each other.
“I love you, too,” Mary said. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yeah. Let’s go play with the rugrats.”
“Don’t you call them that in front of their parents.”
“Course not, Ma.”