Authors: Lisanne Norman
Sholan Alliance #4
DAW Books, Inc.
Donald A. Wollheim, Founder
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
is proud to present
TURNING POINT (#1)
FORTUNE'S WHEEL (#2)
FIRE MARGINS (#3)
RAZOR'S EDGE (#4)
DARK NADIR (#5)
STRONGHOLD RISING (#6)
Copyright © 1997 by Lisanne Norman.
All Rights Reserved.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1073.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Electronic format made
available by arrangement with
DAW Books, Inc.
Elizabeth R. Wollheim
Sheila E. Gilbert
This book is dedicated to you, Ken, as my tribute to your 50th year in British SF Fandom.
I'd also like to thank all at DAW Books, and Marsha Jones and Ira Stoller, for their support and help. Without it you would not be reading this!
A few Guild personnel need a mention, too. So many thanks to:
Sholan Research and Development
Merlin aka James Charlton
Sholan Medical Guild Research
Brotherhood of Vartra
A further mention of Ken is, I think in order, because Ken Slater and I go back a long time, to the days when first I discovered Science Fiction Fandom and Conventions. His belief in me made me continue to chase my dreams of being a published writer. I'm not the only fan turned writer he's helped and inspired. The list of names is long and would surprise you. This year marks his fiftieth since starting Operation Fantast, a service not only to bring Science Fiction books and magazines to fans, but a fanzine to keep them in touch with each other. Happy fiftieth, Ken.
Exclusive E-book Introduction
This is the fourth book in the Sholan Alliance Series, and those of you who have read the others will realize that in keeping with my theme of a pivotal point, both figuratively and in my character's lives, we come to the largest point yet, an edge. A razor's edge to be precise, where life is lived on the line and every day may be the last.
Writing a series is quite different from writing any other kind of novels because your characters have to deal with the consequences of the book before. Which means I had realized that because I like to start where I left off with the last book, they need time to recover and come to terms with what has gone before. Or, as in Carrie's case, the birth of hers and Kusac's cub, Kashini. This presented a whole host of new problems - how to keep what was obviously a major and very welcome happening in their life in the background without appearing to minimize it. Let's face it, you people want to read about an adventure, not the day to day problems of a new cub.
I did this by doing something I enjoy - namely bringing other characters, either new ones or those with a previously small part to play, into the limelight. It has led to some extraordinary tales-within-tales, surprising even me on occasions. I often say I get keyboard deprivation if I stop writing for too long as I am dying to find out what my characters will do next! In my introduction to the second book, Fortune's Wheel, I explained that back in 1988 I had drafted out a third novel to be called Merchanter's Gamble that involved going to a world called Jalna and posing as merchants to rescue two Sholans trapped there to get information on the ubiquitous Valtegans. As part of that proposed novel, I had written a large amount of Rezac and Zashou's story from the time of the Cataclysm. Originally that book was intended to be two novels in one, both weaving themselves together until the ending when Carrie and Kusac would rescue Rezac and Zashou. Unfortunately, trying to write two very different mini novels at the same time became so confusing, I abandoned the idea. All that now remains of that mini novel, set in the early days of the Valtegans invasion of Shola are the few dream sequences that Rezac has of how he and Zashou met.
In Razor's Edge, as well as telling you more of Rezac's story, I also got the chance to elaborate the world of Jalna as Kris, Jo, Davies, Zashou and Rezac plot to gain their freedom from Lord Killian. I enjoyed writing about a world that was such a contrast to the high tech society of the space faring Sholans and their Alliance.
Kaid has a major part because after finding out all about his past, he now has his own demons to lay to rest as well as coming to terms with his new place in Carrie and Kusac's life. And of course, you discover more pieces of the larger puzzle about the Valtegans who destroyed the two Sholan colonies and all their inhabitants.
I had no sooner begun this novel when, unfortunately, I woke one day and found the normal faint ache in my back had become worse. Suddenly I was unable to walk more than a few feet or stand for more than a minute without intense pain. It took the medical profession four months to tell me it was probably a spinal birth defect they'd discovered in my X-rays seventeen years before. I had been assured then that it would never trouble me, but boy, did they get it wrong. Physiotherapy and the correct analgesics lessen the pain, and I can manage around the house now, but going outside still means using a wheelchair.
All the worry about what was causing the pain and the doctor trying to find suitable analgesics obviously had an effect on my writing. Luckily my work has always been a place for me to find comfort so I was still able to lose myself in writing, to a degree, but with the novel nearly finished, things finally got on top of me.
I don't know if you're aware that writing a book is team work. Because of my writing, I have made friends with people from all walks of life all over the world, people who have skills I lack because my own education was in the Arts. These people have helped me get the details in my novels right in such diverse fields as the sciences, cosmology and trauma medicine. You'll see them mentioned at the beginnings of my books because I believe it is important to say Thank You to them.
When I called in to my editor to explain I was not going to make the deadline, her immediate response was, "What can we do to help you?"
It's no exaggeration to say that without the help of Sheila Gilbert and her sister, my friend Marsha Jones, this book would never have been finished on time. We had something like 3 weeks in which to do the final chapters. It was all plotted out, scene by scene, and had been since before I started it, but time was running out fast.
I remember it well. My son was only 12 at the time and naturally wanting to watch TV. I work in our main lounge because as well as being the warmest room in the house, I have a radiator behind me which helps ease the back pain. But the TV is opposite me. Normally it's off when I'm working, and I didn't work until after he's gone to bed, but nothing at that time was normal. I was working every hour I could be and sending each new section, almost unread, off by e-mail to Sheila once a day for her to edit for me. Normally I edit each chapter at least 3 times before the first draft of a novel is sent to her. With this book, I didn't even get to read it as a book until after it went to press!
As the deadline kept coming closer, I kept redrafting the ending. Four times I had to rethink it and each time I had to drop one of the minor character's plots completely, leaving them to be resolved in the next book. Luckily I had originally crafted the sub-plots in such a way that this was possible. Thankfully, there's a five hour time difference between Norfolk, England, and New York, and we needed that five hours. We worked like crazy, with Sheila and Marsha reading and editing, making sure all the continuity was right, that the Chemerian didn't suddenly sprout extra fingers in a scene that he hadn't had earlier in the novel. Scenes had to be juggled about to fit in with the revised ending and Sheila and Marsha would phone me up to ask for clarification on the feasibility of their new location. Our fax phones were working overtime, believe me!
The last day came and my son was watching some old film about a leprechaun, a young girl and a very, very young Sean Connery. I couldn't get one of the final scenes worked out and my attention kept wandering to the TV. I couldn't believe how young Sean Connery looked, and besides, we'd all been sitting up till 5 am and later working on the novel for the last week. You can understand, I'm sure, why I got so bogged down and distracted.
Finally I dragged my attention back to the scene and grabbing a piece of paper, started drawing small diagrams of who was where. The solution came to me like a bolt of lightning! I had the perfect answer sitting in front of me— or rather Jo had. So when you get to the end, pay attention to one of my favorite characters, young Ashay, and blame my whimsical sense of humor, and a very young Sean Connery, for that scenes ending!
We got Razor's Edge finished with 1 hour left before it went to press. It was an aptly named novel in more ways than one. And now it's your turn to enjoy it, as I did when I finally got to read it.
* * *
Now that Carrie, Kusac and Kaid had broken with the traditions of their world, there was a price to pay, and the military, who had been providing all the protection on their estate, wanted to collect. The price was to go to Jalna and rescue Jo's party as well as Rezac and Zashou. But danger lay hidden on Jalna for all of them, planted there long ago by the Valtegans, turning the inhabitants of that world into a dangerously unstable race and threatening the telepathic powers of both Sholans and Humans.
* * *
Once again, my thanks to both Sheila and Marsha, as well as all the other people at DAW without whom this novel would literally have been impossible.
Rezac lunged past the alien for the floor of the stasis cube base unit, trying to reach a pistol that lay there. The alien reached out and stopped him.
No, don't. He'll have us killed before you reach it. You're weak from being inside that cube. You both nearly died. Wait for now.
Shocked not only by the sending from the stranger, but by his sudden weakness, Rezac let himself be pulled back till he sat on the ground by his Leska.
"Search, then bind them. Bring them up to the Lesser Hall," ordered the one in charge.
* * *
One at a time, Kris and Davies were taken from the small chamber, searched for weapons, then bound. There were cries of delight when a gun was found on the latter. Then Jo's turn came.
"Hey, this one's a woman!" yelled the guard searching her.
Jo struggled in the grasp of her captor as he began to search her again, an ugly leer on his face.
"What's a woman doing with a bunch of thieves? One of them your master, eh?"
"Leave me alone!" said Jo, pulling frantically away from his grasping hands.
Help came from an unexpected quarter— Zashou. With a rumble of anger that quickly rose to a growl, she pushed aside their guard and leaped into the corridor. Her lips pulled back from her teeth revealing large canines as she loomed protectively over the smaller Human female.
Jo felt a stab of pain as her mental shields were ruthlessly penetrated by Rezac and her mind quickly read. Then he was gone, leaving her confused and even more terrified.
"Leave her! Or lose your life!" said Zashou in halting Jalnian. Her claws were extended, the deadly talons curved toward the guard.
Jo was suddenly released as the man stepped back in fear, fumbling for the crossbow slung on his shoulder.
The two holding Kris and Davies instantly came forward, quarrels pointed directly at Zashou and Jo.
"Enough! Turn around with your hands behind your backs," ordered the lead one.
We must comply. They will kill us otherwise,
came the quick mental command from Zashou. The two females did as they were ordered.
Rezac was another matter. Realizing his Leska was being bound was enough for him. With an ear-splitting roar, he emerged from the room at full tilt, looking for someone to attack. What would have been a bloodbath ended abruptly as the lead guard stepped to one side, allowing the enraged Sholan to run past before hitting him soundly on the back of the head with his crossbow stock. Rezac fell like a stone.
* * *
By the time they'd been dragged through the great hall and up the stone steps to the Lord's private hall, Rezac, held securely by two burly guardsmen, was beginning to come round.
"Untie our guests," ordered Lord Killian, lifting his arm to allow his attendant to continue stripping off his padded body armor.
"Excuse the harsh welcome, but I didn't want you leaving before we'd time to get better acquainted."
At the sound of the voice, Rezac raised his head just enough to peer at the speaker through the hair that fell over his face. A growl began to build low in his throat as he tugged at his bonds.
"May I suggest you reassure your large friends they're in no danger. I'd prefer not to have to shoot them to preserve the lives of myself and my men." As the protective jacket was slipped from his chest, he indicated the half-dozen crossbowmen ranged at the top of the stairwell down to the main hall.
"I understand you," growled Rezac, lifting his head fully and shaking it till his mane of hair was cleared from his face. It settled like a dark cloud around his shoulders. "Release me, then we will listen to you."
Killian gestured to the guards, and Rezac's bonds were cut. Pulling his arms forward, he ripped the remaining ropes free and massaged his wrists.
"I'm Lord Killian. Please, be seated," the burly man said, gesturing to the large wooden table that dominated the center of the room.
As Rezac moved toward the far end of the table, he glanced around the room, quickly assessing its windows and exits.
Opposite the opening for the stairs was a fireplace in which burned a generous log fire. There were two large windows, paned with small rectangles of thick glass. The other four, spaced along the outer wall, were mere narrow arrow slits covered by wooden shutters. Two doors flanked by tied-back curtains led off from either side of the fireplace. Against the third wall, the one with the arrow slits, a similar curtain was closed. Even as he looked at it, the lower edge flared outward. Probably a third door, Rezac surmised. One to the outside.
Facing the stairwell, its back to the fire, was a large, ornately carved high-backed chair. Obviously Killian's seat.
As Rezac sat down, he saw the Human female begin to move as well, the others following her. She was their leader, then. Strange that it wasn't one of the males. Quickly he searched through the information he'd taken from her downstairs. There was more than he'd realized at the time— too much to make sense of yet.
Let's focus on now.
Rezac turned to look more closely at their three Human companions. The differences between them and the Jalnians were subtle. He only noticed them because he'd touched the female's mind. They were newly into space, these Humans, and by their own endeavors: far more advanced than the Jalnians. Their skin had a slightly different cast to it, and their bodies moved differently, hinting at a dissimilar musculature and possibly skeleton beneath the flesh.
Movement by Lord Killian drew his attention away from them, and he watched the large male as he circled the table to take his seat. Placing hands almost as big as Rezac's own on the table, Killian looked at them all in turn.
"Time for you to introduce yourselves," he said, his voice deceptively mild. "Perhaps even to tell me why you're here."
Jo tried not to glance at her two male companions before she began to speak. "I'm afraid you've made a mistake, Lord Killian. We're nothing more than thieves...." Her voice trailed off into silence as the guard Killian gestured to approached the table and spilled onto it the bundle of possessions taken from them during the search.
"I think not," said Killian, picking up the energy pistol lying in the midst of the pile. "This doesn't belong to Jalna."
He fiddled with the weapon for a moment or two, then pointed it at Davies who was sitting opposite him.
"Don't point it at me, it's got a hair trigger!" he exclaimed, visibly blanching. "It'll discharge at the slightest pressure!"
Killian turned the gun on its side and studied it again before replacing it on the table. "Indeed. Then let's hope I don't have to use it on any of you. We were discussing your names and why you'd come to my castle."
Jo had let out an angry exclamation at the sight of the pistol. Now that it was no longer threatening him, Davies glanced over at her.
"Sorry, Jo," he muttered. "I know I shouldn't have brought it."
"So you're called Jo, and you're the leader. Now we're getting somewhere," said Killian, sitting back in his chair and clasping his hands across his stomach. "Please continue."
Rezac could sense his satisfaction.
Jo indicated them each in turn. "Davies, Kris, Zashou, and Rezac." She hesitated before continuing and Rezac could feel her uncertainty, then her acceptance that there was nothing to be gained from lying when the truth was obvious. "We aren't from Jalna. We came to find out what was on the crashed scouter."
"Not to rescue these furred ones?"
"Sholans," Jo corrected him. "We didn't know they were in the stasis cube."
?" Killian copied the Human words carefully.
"The cube you brought here. Inside it, time was frozen for our friends. In stasis."
In his mind, Rezac echoed the word. So that was what had happened to them! The last thing he remembered was them running from the Valtegan palace guards.
The lab! We ran into a laboratory!
The cube must have been there!
replied Rezac, refocusing on the audible conversation.
It's difficult enough to follow them without getting sidetracked.
"A person is a stasis cube has no idea of the passing of time," said Kris, looking to Rezac and Zashou for confirmation.
Rezac flicked an ear in assent.
"For them, when they're released, it's as if nothing has happened. Rezac and Zashou have also been moved. They're no longer where they were when they were imprisoned in the cube."
Killian scratched at his beard. "How long were they in this cube?"
Rezac was suddenly aware of Jo's compassion for them and her reluctance to say more. She looked at them before answering. "We think one thousand and five hundred years," she said quietly.
Rezac's ears flattened in shock and briefly the room began to fade around him.
long? He could barely comprehend what she'd said.
"A long time," said Killian, his voice slightly faint at the concept of that many years. "I presume your enemies placed you there. You must be formidable warriors indeed if that was the only way to remove you. Who were you fighting?"
"A species called the Valtegans," Jo replied. "They trade at the Spaceport occasionally."
Zashou's sudden despair swept through Rezac.
It was all for nothing! We failed!
Rezac's mental tone was harsh.
Killian shook his head. "Never heard of them. No matter. What were you hoping to find on this crashed vehicle? Weapons?"
"Information," said Jo. "Information about the Valtegans— where they come from, what they left behind on Jalna, where they were going."
"And did you find this information?"
"Ah." Again Jo looked over at Rezac. "Partly."
"Obviously you found out what they left," said Killian, gesturing toward the two Sholans. "But the rest?"
"No," said Kris. "We found nothing. The craft was too badly damaged."
"There were no bodies. How can such a vehicle move with no one to drive it?"
"Remotes," said Rezac. "From a distance," he added, realizing how inadequate the Jalnian language was to explain technical matters.
Thoughtfully, Killian sat back in his chair and began stroking his beard while his gaze flicked from one to the other of them. "Now, I presume, you wish to return to the Spaceport and leave Jalna for your own worlds."
"That was the general idea," said Davies, speaking for the first time.
"Unfortunately that won't be possible," said Killian, his tone regretful. "Another blizzard is due tonight and the pass will be blocked by morning. I'm afraid you'll have to accept my hospitality until the weather improves."
Kris sent to Jo.
We can't prove it,
The only outward sign of both Kris' and Jo's surprise at Rezac joining the conversation was a slight tensing of their bodies.
thought Rezac to himself.
At least they're skilled in concealment.
Jo's reply, when it came, was slower and fainter.
What do we do, then?
Go along with him for now. We have no other options yet,
Rezac replied while sending a private thought to Kris.
the Human replied.
"In return for my hospitality, perhaps you can help me," said Killian, oblivious to their mental exchange.
"In what way?" asked Kris.
"Bradogan, who rules the Spaceport and its surrounding lands, is hungry for power. Those Lords he can't ally to himself with bribes of off-world goods, he wages war on. It's only a matter of time till his eyes fall on Kaladar. I want an edge, something to keep him away from my lands. Something like this weapon here." He indicated the pistol. "You could help me by making more of them."
"Those weapons are highly sophisticated, Lord Killian," said Kris. "They require manufacturing methods not available on Jalna. We couldn't make them for you, even if we knew how."
Killian raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"We know how to use them, but we don't know how to make them," said Jo.
"You know how they work, you can make them." Killian's voice had grown cold.
"You misunderstand us, Lord," said Kris. He pointed to one of the guardsmen behind them. "They can use their crossbows, but could they make one?"
provide me with off-world weapons," said Killian uncompromisingly. "If not that one, then others that fulfill a similar purpose."
He pushed himself to his feet. "Escort my guests to their chambers," he ordered his guards. "Think about it overnight. I'm sure you'll see the wisdom of mutual cooperation. We'll talk again in the morning."