Recently a reviewer wondered if there would be any more books in the Ialana Series. The answer is yes, most definitely. When can you expect it? My best guess is in April 2017. If you, like many readers, are looking forward to more of the Six, Anwyn, and Irusan, you will not be disappointed. This book promises to be every bit as exciting and adventurous as the first three in the series.
I will give you a heads-up here as to what it may be about. In fact, I will give you a complete chapter. Please bear in mind this is still unedited, but I feel it conveys a sense of what is to come. I always appreciate suggestions and comments. The book is (tentatively) titled, “The Six and the Tree Wizard of Ialana”. It may change, but I do like the title so will probably keep it.
The Tree Wizard of Ialana
His eyes, a silver glow in the light of the moon, scanned the vast swath of star-studded sky above. He’d heard a sound. It was a sound that had not come from the rainbow flute that now rested in his lap. He shrugged. A night owl, perhaps? He shook his head. No. He knew what an owl hoot sounded like. This sound had been different: a discordant shriek. It was not something normally heard in this valley, he thought. Below him, nothing stirred. It was a rare, cloudless night for these usually mist-shrouded hills.
What was it? Did it come from there? He gazed, unblinking now, at the bright ribbon of the river as it wound, silent, through the valley. Nothing. Tall conifer spires reached like fingers towards the starry sky, dwarfed by the magnificent Uakus trees that covered the valley floor between the river and the foothills. All quiet there, too.
His senses on full alert, he scanned the verdant forest that sprawled thickly to the western coast. Shaking his head once more, he lifted his flute again to his lips, and blew a quick succession of musical notes: colorful notes that spiralled out from its tip and separated into rainbow colored fireflies, dancing blues, pure violets, and translucent greens. As their sparkles eddied and scintillated, he smiled, but then he paused, his delicate fingers hovering uncertainly over the flute’s stem. The sparkles slowly faded away.
He waited, pointed ears twitching. He turned his head towards the snow-shrouded peaks of the Cloud Mountains that rose majestically behind him.
But there! He heard it again. His head jerked up. The sound had come from the sky, he thought, and not from the valley. It grew in intensity now, as if a battle waged above him, but still, he could see nothing.
A red shriek, like a spear launched from an invisible weapon, tumbled towards him. He ducked low as the sound-bolt screeched over his head. With a loud crack, it slammed into the rock underneath him, and a white-hot fountain of hate, surged like fast moving lava over its surface towards him.
Echoing and cracking, the once-solid platform beneath him fragmented. Quick as a tree squirrel, he threw himself backwards, his body rolling onto firmer ground. He looked behind him with dismay as, piece by piece, the overhang dropped soundlessly into the void below.
Breathing heavily, but still holding onto his flute, he crawled underneath the cover of the sparse bushes on the hillside. With a shaking hand, he stowed his flute in an inside pocket of his cloak, as cautiously, he peered out from beneath the safety of the bush. He could hear the shrieks more clearly now. They blazed over the valley—fiery splinters, jagged spikes of fury that had been powerful enough to shatter his ledge like a hammer hitting an egg.
He could not determine the origin of the attack, but he squinted his eyes again as he looked towards the valley—yes, there it was, he could see something now—far above the hill and over the river, darker shadows that pursued a light that zigged and zagged, blinking off and on like a firefly. It was a tiny, blue orb.
Open-mouthed, he watched for a while, unsure what to do. The orb faltered and dimmed as a bolt struck it, sparking and crackling over its surface. Then another sound drifted down towards him—one that tore at his heart. It was the cry of a woman, or girl, in pain.
The clamor grew louder now, triumphant cackles and whoops of mud-colored laughter that rolled towards him in waves. The shadows swirled and danced. From their center, the spark dropped, drifting slowly downwards as a thread of smoke curled upwards from it. The shadows coagulated into a single, swirling, red orb as they all disappeared into the blackness below.
A silence descended on the valley. The man’s silver eyes grew large with fear. Heart pounding, he jumped up. Something down there was in trouble. But then, he hesitated. He wasn’t the target of this battle, he thought. He could just go home and pretend he hadn’t seen anything. No one would ever know. He shook his head: I would know.
He spun around, hastening to the track that led down to the forest near the river. He had seen exactly where the spark fell. He hoped he could get there in time, before . . . before what, though? It could be too late already.
His breath came in ragged gasps as he slid and stumbled down the steep, narrow trail. Although he was familiar with this path, and he could see, even in the darkness, where each rock and root lay, he still felt that in his haste he’d end up taking the quicker way down via the steep drop to his left.
And then I’d be no good to anyone.
Time seemed to stand still as he flew down the twisting trail, but at last, he reached the bottom. Stopping to catch his breath, he looked around.
Don’t be careless now, Bean—no idea what to expect, do we?
After he stopped panting, he crept softly, deeper, into the forest, using every sense available to him.
He stopped again, turning his head. A strong odor of burning, like that of hair or cloth, assailed his nostrils from the right. His other senses told him the . . . things . . . were still there. He felt their presence. They were like shards of dark glass. He sensed them standing around a body on the forest floor. He could even hear them as they talked amongst themselves in a growling mutter. He moved closer. There were six or seven of them: he could tell by the red, glowing eyes.
Their words became clearer as one of them launched a kick towards the prone form on the ground.
“Why blame me, Goldark? It wasn’t me who delivered the killing blow,” he heard it say, its voice thin and piercing. “That was— ” His voice cut off as the one that must have been Goldark growled.
“Shut up. You started it. Who do you think you are? I’m in charge of this expedition, and I give the orders, not you.”
“I don’t think she’s dead,” another one said. “Her merkaba remained stable until she was closer to the ground.”
“Well then, we must take her back with us,” said the first one. It ignored an enraged growl from Goldark as it moved towards the figure on the ground. “Mistress says Astrabal wants the girl, alive. Maybe he can still get it out of her.”
The watcher felt a debilitating fear course through his body. It went beyond anything he’d ever known in his whole life. What were these creatures? Who was Astrabal? Fumbling under his robe, he gathered every last scrap of courage he could muster and lifted his flute to his lips with trembling hands. He blew.
The head of the creature closest to him whipped around, red eyes fastening him with a gaze that took his breath away. He felt as if he were pinned down. His arms grew heavy, and it took all his strength just to keep the flute to his lips. His lungs, empty of air, could not draw another breath. He choked, his vision clouded over and the world around him dimmed. Muffled sounds that he could not identify drew closer. He watched as the creature, its arms outstretched, moved in slow motion, as if underwater, towards him.
Don’t look at them! He squeezed his eyes shut and, with one last effort, drew in a tiny breath. He blew it out again, sharply, into the flute as beaded sweat prickled his face. He fell to his knees, gasping.
It was enough. The creature screamed, and covered its head with its arms.
Emboldened, but feeling stronger now too, he blew again, his eyes still closed, and the notes tumbled out. He could see them in his inner vision, clear and brilliant of hue. The shadows hissed and growled as the colors radiated, spiralling vertically now around the flute. His fingers danced, faster and faster as his fear began to dissipate. Discordant screeches from the cringing shadows mingled with the pristine notes from his flute.
A column of light with glowing tendrils formed around his body, and, opening his eyes, he danced towards the creatures. The column moved with him. It grew larger with every breath he piped. A glowing tendril caressed the first shadow figure in its path. The wail that came out of the hole in the creature’s face made his blood run cold, but he continued to pipe.
The shadow shuddered. It gave a small hop, as if to fly away, only to encounter more of the incandescent glow. With a small pop and a flash, it disappeared. The other shadows moaned, shrinking back, uncertain now what it was they faced. One of them lifted a claw and released a fiery bolt towards him, but as soon as it struck the column, it vanished. Groans turned to wails as two more shadows disappeared into the brilliant light. With a collective shriek, the remaining three, like fiery sparks, fled into the night sky.
The man hurried over to the prone figure on the forest floor. He could see now that she was a young woman. With long fingers gently probing her wrist, he felt for a pulse, but there was no sign of life. He tried her neck. Was that her pulse, he wondered, or was it just the flutter of dying muscles? Maybe the shadows were right, maybe she was dead. But he wasn’t going to give up.
He lifted his flute again and blew, the notes softer than before, the air more lilting now. The colors spread out in a gentle, pink wave towards the body. He piped for a while, then stopped and listened, feeling again for a pulse. He changed the notes; this time to a fiery green. The colors flashed, swirling first around the body, disappearing into the visibly bruised and bloodied areas on her head. Sweat glistened on his face, but he did not let up, not even for a moment. Still, the girl did not move.
Feeling for a pulse, he wiped his brow with his robe, then started again, from the beginning. He did not know how long he kept it up, but it was only when he put his flute away and sighed, shaking his head, that he heard another sound. It had sounded like a gasp. He froze, and waited. There it was, again! He felt her neck, and—Yes! A strong pulse now. Removing his cloak he wrapped it around the woman and then lifted her up in his arms. He turned, walking as quick as he dared, deeper into the forest.