Authors: Connie Suttle
OTHER WORLDLY WAYS
An anthology by
The Author's information may be found at the end of this book.
For Walter, Albert, Sarah S., Lee D. and Dianne J. Thank you.
And for Joe, because he wouldn't leave me alone about it.
* * * * *
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents portrayed within its pages are purely fictitious and a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons (or vampires, werewolves, High Demons, Greater Demons, Lesser Demons, Larentii, shapeshifters, Ra'Ak, wizards, warlocks, witches, Saa Thalarr or gods) living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Other Worldly Ways, copyright © 2013 by Connie Suttle
All rights reserved
This book, whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied or reproduced by mechanical means (including photocopying or the implementation of any type of storage or retrieval system), without the express written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
The author wishes to thank you for purchasing this e-book. Purchasing this book through legitimate channels supports the author and makes it possible for her to keep writing. If you did not purchase this book through legitimate channels, or have downloaded it from a website that pirates authors' works, the author kindly asks that you purchase a copy for yourself, as sales of her books and related materials are her only source of income.
Other books by Connie Suttle
Blood Destiny Series
Legend of the Ir'Indicti Series
High Demon Series
The God Wars Series
Other Worldly Ways
* * * * * * *
I've been writing these short stories throughout the past six years. Some of them were meant for magazines or contests. Others were considered for novels, and turned into short stories instead. A few were originally published on my blog. They have been removed, updated, revised and edited. Others, such as
Solstice Trials, Linked
Saving Pheran Tiger
have never appeared anywhere except in this book.
Late December had arrived in England, but on Falchan, the Summer Solstice was swiftly approaching. In fact, it was less than a week before New Year's Eve, where I was.
I had no desire to go to Falchan, as the rains had been sparse that year, leaving the Falchani army deep in dry grass and heat as they pursued the enemy on Falchan's northern border. Nevertheless, the Solstice Trials would be held, just as they were every year. Crane, in his infinite wisdom, decided that I would attend the Trials and test my skills.
"I don't want to go." I stated my case baldly, ignoring Crane's deep frown at my declaration.
"It's the best way to learn where your weaknesses are," Crane muttered as he laced up my leather vest. I'd almost refused to dress in the white leathers he purchased for me. He'd trained me for the past year, with a bit of help from Veykan and an occasional appearance by Dragon. No—I hadn't sparred with Dragon. For some reason, he'd refused to take me on, choosing to watch from the sidelines as I, uncomfortable under his gaze, generally allowed Crane to hand me a solid butt-trouncing.
I'd gotten to the point where I could hold my own against Crane, but he'd taught the art of the blade for thousands of years, so getting away from my daily lessons with only a single whack from his wooden blade felt like a victory to me.
He'd made his move, too, only recently, after declaring my training complete. He'd invited me to dinner. I thought it was to celebrate the completion of my training. Not so, I learned, as he proceeded to tell me (quickly and succinctly) that our M'Fiyah had been muted by Belen.
I was speechless with astonishment as Belen showed up, wearing as much of a grin as I'd ever seen a minor god wear. I blinked at Crane after the M'Fiyah was reinstated, Crane leaned in to kiss me and the rest of the night was spent in a blur.
"Would you stop whining and straighten up?" Crane huffed as he pulled the laces through the last set of holes on my vest. "If you lose in the first round, it'll only embarrass your Sursee. That's me, in case you've forgotten."
"Then why aren't you coming with me, to sign me in?" I asked, trying to keep the temper from my voice. "That's the Sursee's job, you know. To sign their poor, hapless trainees in, then watch them get beaten into the ground by more seasoned warriors."
"Veykan has worked as my assistant for years. He knows how to write and can sign you in just as well as I can." Crane pulled the laces so tight before tying them I was surprised I had any breath left in my body. "If anyone asks, he's the one who trained you. It's customary to name the one who signs you in—he takes the credit or receives the blame."
"So, do you and your brother have other things to do, then?" I grumped.
"Of course. Our world does not revolve around one trainee, no matter how attractive." Crane leaned down to kiss me, taking the sting from his words.
"You know, I don't even care what you and your brother are up to. I'll just come back to Karzac, spend a week with him and let him heal up my bumps and bruises."
"Are you threatening to withhold sex?" A dark eyebrow lifted in speculation.
"Yup. You force me into the Solstice Trials, you get no sex. Sounds like a fair trade to me."
"We'll discuss this when you return." His face had gone dark—he didn't like the idea of getting shut out of my bedroom. He'd claimed priority for the past four weeks—ever since the M'Fiyah had been reinstated. He'd explained (while kissing me) that a Sursee never had a relationship with a student; it was Falchani tradition. After the Sursee's training was over, well, look out. Crane had come after me like a freight train bearing down on a woman tied to the tracks the moment my training was finished.
"This is yours," Veykan handed a pack to me after I passed Crane's inspection. "There is a white gah and an extra set of leathers inside. You also have soap and a comb."
"That's it?" I stared open-mouthed at Veykan.
"It's what any Falchani warrior carries with him. Or her. Underwear is only extra baggage and requires laundering. We don't wear it."
"You go commando all the time?"
"Yes. It is only other races that feel the need to dress in unnecessary clothing."
"I don't believe this. Please tell me I don't have to go," I turned to Crane, imploring him to change his mind.
"This is your final test, and the testing of my training skills." Crane, his thickly-muscled arms crossed over his chest, wasn't budging an inch on this. His dark eyes, too, were hard and unsympathetic.
"Fine. I'll be staying with Karzac when I get back," I snapped. Veykan folded us to Falchan, leaving an angry former Falchani General behind.
* * *
"You don't have any tattoos and that, coupled with the white you wear, will tell the others that you've never participated in the Trials," Veykan informed me quietly as we stood in line to register. "Remember, too, that females fight alongside the males in the Warlord's army. They are not squeamish about nudity, as you are. The bathing tents are communal, so be prepared to see both sexes wandering about nude before and after they bathe. Keep in mind, too, that anyone who asks to unbraid your hair is asking for sex."
"What?" I had to clap a hand over my mouth; the word had come out too loud and too forcefully. Why hadn't anyone told me that before? I'd only unbraided Crane's hair once, and as I recalled, I'd gotten sex immediately after. No, I hadn't thought to connect the two. "Thanks for mentioning that," I muttered sarcastically. "
"No problem," Veykan grinned maliciously. He was enjoying this. I wanted to knee him in the groin. It was a legitimate move—he'd taught it to me. Falchani used any weapon to win a battle, no matter how low or undignified. Except at the Solstice Trials, where bladework only was judged. On the battlefield, it was another story.
"Name?" The captain sounded bored as we arrived at his table. The sun bore down on all of us and fleetingly, I figured I was probably cooler, dressed in white leathers. Many of the others were dressed in black and that had to be sweat-inducing.
"Devin of the Mountain Hawk Tribe," Veykan supplied my name and affiliation.
"You her instructor?" The captain eyed Veykan speculatively while his assistant recorded my information.
"Yes. Veykan, of the Wildcat Tribe," Veykan replied. Hiding a smile, I watched a bead of sweat slide down Veykan's jaw.
"Here's your tournament and tent number," the captain handed me a thong with a marked leather disk. I was number six-hundred-seventy-two, in the Falchani language. That meant there were probably six-hundred-seventy-one warriors better than I.
"First bouts are arranged by a random draw of numbers," the captain explained in a bored voice. "If you make it past the first round," at this, he looked me up and down with a skeptical eye, "Well, you'll get your next assignment after the first bout."
He wasn't giving me any chance at all in the first bout, likely because I was shorter than most Falchani. Veykan drew me away so the next warrior could step up to the captain's table and register.
My tent matched the number I'd been given—at least the left side of it. The tent's right side had a different number etched on it, and it was already occupied. My roommate was young, tall, rangy and refused to look at me past his initial, raking gaze. He wasn't giving me a chance, either. I'll admit, that pissed me off.
Veykan eyed my tentmate with no emotion before dismissing him. Dropping off my pack beside the rolled-up mattress on my side, I followed Veykan from the tent, his stride long, his lengthy black braid swinging behind his back. He intended to show me the cooking and bathing tents.
"Not a lot of vegetarians," Veykan explained as we walked past the cooking tents. "There are some, so you'll have to make your dietary restrictions known."
The bathing tents were a quarter mile from the cooking tents, and I could hear laughter and splashing going on inside. Mentally I sighed—it was communal bathing, with absolutely no privacy.
"Remember, the Warlord will not tolerate anyone attempting to force themselves on you or anyone else. Ribald comments are common, however, and expected."
"Great," I muttered. "Sounds like fun."
"That's the spirit," Veykan teased, his dark eyes filled with humor as he slapped me on the back. I made a promise to myself to shut Crane out of the bedroom longer than previously anticipated. A lot longer.
Veykan sat with me for a few ticks after I returned to my tent, to pass on a few, last-minute instructions. My tentmate snored on his side of the tent and didn't appear to be easily wakened.
"The first bouts happen two clicks after sunrise," Veykan said as we sat cross-legged on my straw-filled mattress. "Make sure you have your tea and breakfast before then, and allow for a long line at the cooking tents. If you make it past the first round, another bout will be assigned roughly two hours later. You'll have a break for lunch after that. Two more bouts will be scheduled tomorrow afternoon, by a draw of the numbers still in the tournament. The second day, if you've made it past those first four bouts, you'll draw specific opponents from the Trial Masters."
Veykan rose after patting my knee.
, he said in mindspeech,
you can always contact me this way if you have questions
. I knew Veykan folded away from Falchan shortly after he exited the tent. I was now alone on a foreign world, and knew precisely nobody.
"Don't you know anything?" my tentmate turned over and stared at me. "I've been coming to the Trials for years with my father. Everybody should know how these things go." He snorted in disgust before turning away from me and going back to sleep quickly.
"Nice to meet you, too," I huffed, grabbing my pack to unload necessities.
* * *
Rising just as the sun made its presence known the following morning, I found a crowd waiting in line at the cooking tents after a hurried dressing and a quick teeth cleaning. The tents rumbled with mingled conversations as I inched slowly toward the cook's helpers, who were busy serving breakfast.
When I made it to the serving tables, I received a rough version of oatmeal, a bit of fruit and Falchani black tea. I was jostled by a mountainous Falchani who sat next to me, ate at least a pound of bacon and a pile of eggs, then washed it down with three cups of tea. He'd be wired for his first bout, without question.
Women warriors were scattered throughout the mostly male crowd, and one settled on my other side as I watched the Falchani behemoth drink his last cup of tea.
"Camala," the woman introduced herself.
"Devin." I nodded politely to her.
"First time?" Camala asked.
"My Sursee insisted," I said. "And I thought the white leathers would give me away." I smiled and took her offered hand.
We chatted while she ate—I'd almost finished by the time she sat down. The mountain had left, rising with a rude and lengthy burp earlier. I said nothing—he wore a full set of tattoos, after all.
"I hope I see you here at breakfast tomorrow morning," Camala grinned as she lifted her tray.
"Me, too," I nodded. She laughed.
* * *
After washing my face and cleaning my teeth a second time, I pulled my blades from my pack. My tentmate, who still hadn't properly introduced himself, wandered off to breakfast shortly after I'd returned.
The night before, his brain-rattling snores had been punctuated with rather loud, smelly farts. At least I could shield myself from the stench if it happened again. Forcing those thoughts from my mind and buckling on my blades, I made my way toward the Trial grounds.
A Trial official checked my blades and the number on the thong around my neck when I found my fighting square, and told me I'd have a little time to warm up. My opponent hadn't arrived, yet, and I was glad of that as I went through the exercises Crane taught me.
My opponent showed up two ticks before the bout was scheduled to begin and started cursing immediately. I had no idea what his difficulty was, but noticed he only bore one sword to combat the two I wore at my back.
"Up," the attending officer was there, commanding me to rise from my kneeling position. I rose in one fluid move, as I'd been taught. "Simmas," the officer chided, "If you didn't want to face someone with two blades, you shouldn't have come."
That brought on another spate of cursing but this time, Simmas growled profanity under his breath as he eyed me. Flexing my fingers, I waited for the signal—we weren't allowed to draw blades until it was given. There were no allowances for false starts in the Solstice Trials; drawing your blades early ended in disqualification.
"Never wait for your opponent. Strike swiftly and strike first," Crane always said. I'd learned from him to pull my blades quickly and start fighting the moment they were in my hands. Who knows what Simmas was thinking? Perhaps he figured I was slow as well as shorter than he. I had a blade at his throat before his cleared the sheath.