Laura E. Reeve's Science Fiction and Fantasy

A Charm for Draius (The Broken Kaskea #1)

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Front Cover, Souls for the Phrenii, Novel #2 of Broken Kaskea Series   Back Cover, Souls for the Phrenii, Novel #2 of Broken Kaskea Series
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eBook: 978-0989135863   Pprbk: 978-0989135870

Small acts of mercy can have epic consequences…

Draius is no trained spy. Despite that, her king and cousin Perinon sends her on a mission into Groyga to secretly retrieve a stolen Kaskea shard. Although successful, she attracts the attention of the power-hungry Lord Endigala, who plans an invasion of Tyrra. Trapped in enemy territory and on the run, she faces imprisonment and torture. Keeping by her code of honor and merciful nature, she makes both enemies and allies as she flees north to Kitarra, hoping for asylum.

In Tyrra, King Perinon battles death magic within his own court. When a 500-year-old spell usurps the shared soul of the Phrenii, the elementals disappear. All written records and adult recollection of them are wiped out. Tyrran children strive to keep their memories of the creatures alive, while souls of the recently departed walk the streets—without the Phrenii, they can never attain the stars.

Tyrra desperately needs Draius and her fellow Kaskea bearers. They may hold the key to remaking the Phrenii, but they’re scattered across the mapped world, fighting their own battles against necromancy.

The Ideas Behind Souls for the Phrenii

The first book (A Charm for Draius) was always a prelude to war, which was going to be covered in the second two books. Creating war between mortal humans is easy, considering our weaknesses and flaws. I knew the Phrenii would be destroyed, either temporarily or permanently, and leave Tyrra defenseless. How they would be destroyed was obvious, but why took a bit more thought.

Clearly, they would be destroyed by the lodestone of souls, featured so prominently in the first book. You didn't think I'd really use it? Hey, it was never going to be just a MacGuffin. As to why, I had to go deeper into what the Phrenii were, the true purposes of the Kaskea, and what Draius triggers by binding to Dahni at the end of A Charm for Draius. First, the Phrenii kill (in self defense) and are tainted by blood. Second, once Draius is bound, the aspects start understanding the concept of individuality; for instance, now Dahni is only in rapport with Draius while Mahri is in rapport with Perinon, making the Phrenii realize that aspects can be different. They each begin to crave individuality, although there are prophecies that predict it will be their downfall. Since they share one mind and soul, the effect would be like one mind suffering multiple personality disorder (also called dissociative identity disorder). The personalities (or identities) can work at cross-purposes, hide things from each other (memory impairment), and even be antagonistic toward each other. Perfect. Since they're prescient, the aspects (Mahri/Spirit, Dahni/Water, Sahvi/Earth, Jhari/Air, and Famri/Fire) can feel their impending doom, but they have different ideas as to how they might survive it. Betrayal will come from one of their own…

 Entire Series

 

The ground became rockier as Draius and Bordas traveled below the top of the lightly forested ridge. Just over that ridge was the Saamarin, wide and deep, with only two ferries along its length by which to leave Groyga. The southern one was west of Chikirmo and went to Tyrra, while the northern one was at the mouth of the Mirror Sea and went to Kitarra. She recognized the cut that cradled the road to the southern ferry and felt the excitement of home build within her chest. They left the horses to creep south on foot. Bordas went low and crawled as they neared the cut. She followed suit, dropping to her belly to get to the edge and look down. Below them was the ferry landing they used to enter Groyga. Guards wearing crimson and black milled about. Without effort, she counted twelve guards with six crossbows, two muskets, one long bow, and a barog cat. The muskets were of modern design with serpentine matchlocks, more accurate than harguebuses.

“House Endigala. I figured they might go straight to the ferry as well as the docks,” Bordas said. “Those are the only two sensible routes out of Chikirmo, using ferry or ship.”

“Maybe we should have stayed in the city and gotten help from the embassy? Perhaps they could smuggle us out on a Tyrran ship.”

“No. We’d just put others in jeopardy. Luckily, there aren’t any Tyrrans down there.” He watched the landing.

There was that pang of guilt again. She turned her attention back to the ferry operators. The Groygan ferry master argued with a slim guard who might be a woman. He gestured to a waiting line of wagons and pack animals. His assistant, an adolescent girl, viewed all the other guards with distrust. Those hoping to take a ferry were mostly Groygan, with a sprinkling of Sareenians. But that didn’t dissuade Endigala’s guards. They made them unload each wagon and open their large packs and crates for examination. It was obvious they looked for concealed persons. Getting across the Saamarin this evening would be difficult for anyone; it seemed impossible for the two Tyrrans watching above.

A coach with House Endigala colors and crest came over the rise in the road and everyone below turned to watch as it stopped. A guard climbed down, set up steps, then opened the door. She sucked in her breath when a familiar small figure with a mop of gray hair appeared. “Is that who I think it is?” Bordas looked at her. “I figured your orders were to terminate him, considering his crimes.”

“The mission was not termination,” she said stiffly. “I got what the king wanted.”

Taalo walked down the line of travelers, looking at each of them in a rather perfunctory manner as they repacked their goods. “He looks like he knows who he’s looking for.”

“Yes, he does. I made a mistake.” Her voice was stoic.

Taalo marched past the arguing operators and guard. Down the dock a couple paces, he stopped next to the ferry and threw something that looked like a small tied sack. Then he turned back to shore. The ferry master hopped back on the ferry to investigate. Draius tensed. Don’t pick it up, don’t touch it. But he did pick it up as Taalo, without looking back, waved his arm in an imperious gesture and said something.

The ferry master burst into fire and, within a breath, the entire ferry had followed. The young woman who assisted the ferry master picked up a long pole and started running, yelling in Groygan. Draius recognized the word “father.” The guard followed and, to his or her credit, grabbed the woman by the waist and took them both into the water as the dock began to blaze.

As the flames from this unnaturally fast conflagration rose into the evening sky twice as high as her position, a wave of nausea took her over. Necromancy. She clenched her teeth and rolled into a ball as Bordas pulled her away from the edge. “We can’t be seen,” he said into her ear. “What’s wrong?”

“J—just give me a mo—ment.” This seemed ten times stronger than any reaction she previously had to necromantic charms. The shakes and nausea was strong enough to make her heave. In a few moments it passed, but she was so tired she continued lying on the ground. “Come look,” Bordas said.

I’d rather not. Nevertheless, she crawled back to her former position. The ferry and its accompanying dock were charred, smoking bones sticking out of water close to the river’s edge. Further out in the river where the strong current swept in waters from the Angim, a string of flotsam had been pulled away from shore and stretched southward. The young assistant crouched on the shore, still crying and mourning the ferry master, whose body was nowhere to be seen. The coach and guards were gone; no indication of Taalo or the House of Endigala remained. Those who had hoped to take a ferry over to Tyrra were slowly heading back to Chikirmo.

“It’ll take days to rebuild that dock and ferry.” Bordas’s voice was flat. “You should have killed him.”

“Is something up for just the Office of Defense?” Lornis called.

“Not defense, ser. Investigation. The captain’s moving you back to us.”

“What about Vice Commander Laakso?” He came out to the parlor and started putting on his boots. Noticing a distinct silence, he looked up.

Ponteva’s eyes focused on the floor before him. “Meran-Viisi Laakso was murdered tonight in Betarr Serasa, as were two other members of the Meran-Viisi lineage. There are more murders in Betarr Serin and that’s where I’m to deliver you.”

Words failed him for a moment. “More murders?”

“Yes, ser, but we don’t know more than that.” From Ponteva’s tone, he didn’t like to speculate.

“Why call me? Why not use Jan or another Commander in charge of a major Office?”

“The messenger said Captain Rhaffus wants you, specifically, because of the experience you gained under Officer Draius.”

“So, three dead down here and I am called to Betarr Serin. Let’s go.” He stood.

Ponteva pushed their mounts all the way up to Betarr Serin, where the King’s Guard had been forewarned. The gates opened and their horses pounded up the main street of Betarr Serin and didn’t stop until they arrived at the Palace of Stars. All the lamps were lit and a few people milled about in front of the stairs. Ponteva dismounted quickly, leaving the wet horses to others.

He followed Ponteva up the stairs of the palace and through the stone archway. Their footsteps echoed on the marble floor, audible over the soft murmurs of people standing in the vestibule. They were mostly King’s Guard in green and silver uniforms, on duty but not at their duty stations. Conversation hushed and everyone turned to stare at them.

Ponteva made straight for the wing that housed the King’s Guard offices, his City Guard uniform looking out of place here. Lornis ignored the stares: he was known to be Phrenic-healed and besides, he was the spitting image of “The Hunter Chieftain” rendered in the mosaic above all their heads. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught some guards glancing up at it. They turned down the hallway into the King’s Guard wing and Lornis felt relief from all the gazes. Those people waited in the vestibule but they didn’t know why. He could feel the uncertainty and suspicion in the air, like tangible puffs of pipe smoke swirling and circling their makers. Ahead, two King’s Guard waited at the end of the hall on either side of the door for the master of arms. He didn’t need to see their tense faces because their shock, rage, and tension hit him like a wave. Death. Murder.

He paused and Ponteva gripped his arm.

“We’ve seen much worse, ser,” the watchman said in his ear, too quiet for the guards to hear. He was referring to the brutal eviscerations they investigated in the early part of the year. “Here, it’s not the what, it’s the who.”

Ponteva nodded at the guards and slipped through the door. Lornis followed, bracing himself. Captain Rhaffus of the City Guard and Captain Kilpi of the King’s Guard turned as Lornis entered the room. They had their arms crossed. Few events required both captains, but this would be one of them. Sprawled on the desk between them lay their murdered commander, Master of Arms Sevoi.

The body with bloody wounds on its neck didn’t sway Lornis as much as what he sensed in the room. Under the death and murder swirled something more insidious, something he had not felt since battling Taalo’s conspiracy. Necromancy always left its taint. He heard ragged breathing from the corner of the room and turning, almost staggered. King Perinon was huddled in the corner, his knees pulled up to his chest and his bloody hands propped on top of them, almost in his face. His eyes were wide and soulless. He knelt in front of the king, noting that he wore no weapons or weapon sheaths and he appeared hastily dressed.

“Why him?” Kilpi asked, doubt in his voice.

“I have my reasons.” Rhaffus’s gruff deep voice resonated in the stone room.

“Sire?” Lornis saw no acknowledgement in Perinon’s eyes. He took one of Perinon’s wrists and tried to move the bloody hand. The king was stiff and resistant, but he forced the hand down, out of sight.

“Counselor Nettona needs to question her now.” Fontla tried to push between them.

“She’s wanted for high crimes against the Crown,” Suel said.

Draius smothered a gasp.

“Have the watchmen arrest her. They’re required to bring all Tyrrans to Nettona anyway.” Fontla’s hands tightened around her sheathed sword.

“My orders come from the king.”

“We have the same source. Counselor Nettona speaks for the king’s interests.”

“So you say.”

“Save your arrogance. Once Nettona hears of this—” Fontla bit off his words and glanced around at the Kitarrans. Even the watchmen had sour expressions. He pushed them aside and walked off the ferry, heading toward the center of Suellestrin. He still held her sheathed saber. Suel released one of her arms and she saw his hand give a signal. One of his men ran after the disgruntled Groygan, catching up and talking with him in urgent tones. They disappeared from her view.

“That was a Tyrran cavalry officer’s weapon,” Suel said quietly. “I doubt that could be found in a Groygan trading post. Would you like to change your tale?”

She shook his head.

“Tie her up.” Suel gestured to her scattered belongings. “Pack those and bring the horse. I’ll take her to Whin.” There were too many guards, so she didn’t resist. Someone roughly pulled back her arms and wound rope around her wrists and up her forearms, making her shoulders stretch and ache. She heard Chisel’s hooves going down the ramp and onto cobblestones. The clopping sounds faded as they led the horse toward the center of the city.

Suel pulled her through the wharfs, busy even at nighttime, where no one took much notice. They came to a long stone building with closed shutters and Suel pushed open a creaky door. They stepped into a dingy room that contained a desk and some benches. Behind the desk was a corpulent man and behind him hung keys on hooks. Being an officer of the City Guard, she knew this place. It was a common jail.

“What are you doing here, Suel? Has the King’s Comhla taken to patrolling the wharves for pickpockets like the common watch?” The man wheezed while he spoke, like a broken flute. He didn’t wear a uniform, but on his desk sat an official seal of some kind.

“I need temporary storage, Whin.” Suel stepped close to the desk.

“Sure, just need to sign—” Whin was reaching for one of his piles of paper when Suel laid his hand on his arm.

“No paperwork.” Suel dropped one of her gold tyrs on the table.

Whin’s hand pocketed the gold coin while his eyes, almost disappearing in his pudgy face, examined her from head to toe. He jerked his thumb. “Alright then. To the right wi’ him.”

“Don’t be daft.” Suel grabbed Draius’s hair, pulling her head back and exposing her neck. “This one’s a woman.”

Whin gaped, then recovered. “Well, I’ll be. She’s tall, ain’t she? To the left, then.”

Suel pushed Draius down a long hall into a room for women criminals. A brightly dressed woman with a sullen expression stood close behind the bars. In front of the bars stood a broad-shouldered matron who had keys hanging from her belt. She immediately untied her arms and ordered her to undress. For a moment, Draius toyed with the idea of escape but unfortunately, Suel had stayed and was leaning against the doorframe. She regretfully handed over her knives, which were given to Suel.

The matron searched all the clothes she took off and Lord Chintegrata’s ring was soon found. “Ooh, pretty.” Suel extended his hand and the matron reluctantly gave it to him. The broad-shouldered guard examined it, and then looked at Draius warily before pocketing the ring.

Soon she was standing in her undergarments, shivering in the chilly room. Having lived and dressed and washed with male cousins, she wasn’t embarrassed by the revealing garments, but Suel’s frown still made her uncomfortable.

“What’s this?” The matron’s hand fumbled at the chain around her neck, the one that held the Kaskea shard. “Take that off.”

“It’s a memento.” She pulled the silver chain over her head and handed it and the shard over.

“What’s so important about a piece of slate?” The chain was heavy silver and the matron continued to finger it.

“Please, it’s from the river where my husband proposed marriage.” She put a whine in her voice and tried to concentrate on the words. It wouldn’t do to have the shard flash green in here. “You can keep the chain, but I need the rock to remind me of the place where—”

“Never mind.” The matron didn’t want to hear the story. She started pulling the shard out of the wire that wrapped it, but Suel stopped her.

“Wait.” He grabbed the chain and held it high, peering at the Kaskea shard. He pulled a wrinkled bandage or kerchief from his pocket and wadded it around the shard and chain. The whole thing went back into the pocket. “I’ll take this for the time being.”

Dismayed, Draius turned so he wouldn’t see her face. He acted as if he knew what he held, even made sure his skin wouldn’t touch it. The matron started handing her clothes back and Suel left.

Peri yawned and covered his mouth with his hand so neither of the women who walked ahead of him would hear. The predawn air was cold. They walked on the Betarr Serin walls and he shivered while Lady Anja and Lady Aracia talked together in low tones.

Suc-cess-or-can-di-date. He stepped to the rhythm, placing his feet in the middle of the stones, keeping to the pattern of the stonework. He heard those words from everybody yesterday, as he met a lot of matriarchs. Lady Anja treated him more like a grown-up than any of the others. Lady Aracia acted like he was real young and Lady Leika—well, he didn’t like her eyes. She could be pretty when she smiled, but her eyes always looked mean, like a bully’s.

Lady Anja said they were training him for an emergency, in case he had to stand in for cousin Perinon. To be prepared, you have to learn the politics, she said. He should start paying attention all the time now, even during this secret meeting with the Meran-Viisi. He didn’t like secrecy before he had any breakfast. This talk was boring and his stomach grumbled.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, stopping the matriarchs’ conversation as they glanced at the storm coming from the east. He stood on a bulwark step, looked out over the wall, and saw Mahri and Dahni running swiftly up the road of the plateau. He wondered if someone was sick. The Phrenii were in front of the gate when lightning flashed and cracked. They began to glow and stretch, entwining and reaching toward the sky, until nothing remained but two streams of sparkling gold and green. The streams twisted, whirled, and rose up into the clouds.

“What happened to the Phrenii?” he cried, pointing to where the creatures had been, almost right below him.

“The what?” Both matriarchs turned toward him, looking puzzled.

“The Phrenii. They’re gone!”

“Whatever are you talking about, child?” Aracia asked.

The dawn of a new day arrived.