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Thursday, January 22, 2015

EXCERPT: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Promise Of Blood
Pre-order The Autumn Republic HERE

Brian McClellan is an author who along with Django Wexler seems to have brought a whole new sub genre alive. Flintlock fantasy's newest proponents are making their presences felt with their individual series.  The Autumn Republic brings to a successful conclusion the Powder Mage trilogy and thanks to Orbit Books, we get to share the fourth chapter with all our readers. The first three chapters can be found over HERE, HERE & HERE. Also for those readers interested in pre-ordering this title, Orbit Books is offering a signed bookplate. All you need to do is fill out the form on the Orbit website over here.


Nila waited beside the carriage for Bo and Adamat to return from their meeting with General Hilanska.

Downhill from her a small stream wound its way through the camp, its banks muddied from the tramp of a thousand boots. Nila watched as a laundress filled a bucket with the dirty water and hauled it back to her fire, where the uniforms of half a dozen soldiers sat piled on her bench. The woman filled her washing pot with the water and sat back to wait for it to boil, drawing a soiled hand across her brow.

A different choice sometime in the last few months and Nila knew that might have been her. She glanced down at her hands. For years they had been cracked and worn by the soap, water, and lye she’d used to do laundry. Now they seemed remarkably smooth to the touch and, Bo told her, they would be put to better use.

A Privileged. She still couldn’t believe it, not even after seeing the fire spring from her own fingertips the first time and during all their practice since. Privileged were creatures of great cunning and strength. They commanded the elements and made armies quake. It seemed so crass that a laundress without family or connections could suddenly hold such power.

She couldn’t help but feel cheated as well. Had she known it lay dormant within her, she might have used that power to escape from Vetas or to protect the royalists. Nila clenched her fist and felt a slight warmth on the back of her hand—fire, blue and white, dancing across her knuckles as if they were at the center of a hearth. Glancing around to see if anyone had noticed, she shook her hand to put out the fire and then hid it behind her back.

She thought about her time with the royalists and remembered Rozalia, the Privileged who had fought for them. Had Rozalia sensed the latent power within Nila and simply chosen not to mention it? Or had she been kind to her for some other reason? Would Nila become like her someday—old, wise, and powerful? Would people be nervous around her as she had been nervous around Rozalia?


Nila emerged from deep within her own thoughts, and it took her a moment to remember that was the name she was using as she pretended to be a secretary to Bo—who himself was masquerading as a lawyer. She turned her head to see him hurrying toward her from across the camp. There was an urgency to his step that concerned her.

“Did you find Taniel?”

“No.” Bo took her by the arm and stepped around to the far side of the carriage, where they were less likely to be overheard. “General Hilanska says that Taniel’s dead.”

The dispassionate way Bo spoke the words made her step back. Taniel had been his obsession ever since he had taken her and Jakob under his wing. His only friend, he claimed. He had been searching for Taniel for months now with a passion that Nila had found inspiring. And now this? Bo could be distant at times, even cold, but this…

“There’s something else?” she asked.

“We’re going to find out for sure. Adamat thinks there’s a chance he’s still alive, and Hilanska is only one man.”

Nila realized he wasn’t dispassionate—he was dazed.

“Where do we stand?”

“Hilanska has dismissed us, but I’m not leaving until I can confirm that Taniel is dead. I want a body or a grave or something more than just Hilanska’s word. I’ll even go to the Kez camp if I have to. Adamat is corroborating Hilanska’s story with the soldiers. I’m going to do the same.” He paused and looked her up and down. “This will be dangerous. If Hilanska finds out who I am, I may be killed outright—along with you, Adamat, Oldrich, and his men.”

“Just for impersonating a lawyer?”

A smile tugged at the corner of Bo’s face, but he stifled it quickly. “I’m serious. Hilanska doesn’t like or trust Privileged. He’s a man with something to hide, and the mere fact that we’re snooping around is going to gain his suspicion. He’s like Tamas—he’ll do what’s expedient. Even if it means killing a whole lot of people.”

“That seems like something you would respect.”

“And I can respect it by not letting him know what I really am. Or what you are, for that matter.” He glanced down at her hands and fell into a long silence. He had told her that no Privileged but the gods could touch the Else without runed gloves to keep them from being burned from the inside out by pure sorcery.

Except for her, apparently. And she was far from a god.

She had no doubt that if she said the word, Bo would send her back to Adopest today. This was her opportunity to run. She could fetch Jakob and go into hiding, using the funds that Bo had left for her. She would be able to get out of danger. If she left now, she would never learn how to control her new powers. She would never find a Privileged as patient or thoughtful or just downright human as Bo. And she would never get the chance to repay him for the kindness he’d shown her and Jakob.

“What can I do?” Nila asked.

Nila waited inside the small wood-and-stone building that had, according to one of the soldiers, at one point been a stable.

The building barely had a roof, and the door was nothing more than a scrap of cowhide, but it seemed that the quartermaster of the Twelfth Brigade was making do. The floors were covered in straw and every available space was stacked with wooden crates and powder kegs. Bo had told her to ask around about Taniel Two-shot, stifling her protests that his instructions were rather vague, and left her to her own devices. He wasn’t exactly the image of rousing leadership.

She didn’t know how to go about asking soldiers about the death of their own. It seemed crass. So she thought she’d put what she did know to good use. Despite the horror of being Lord Vetas’s prisoner, she had learned many valuable lessons. One of those was the worth of good record keeping, and how it could be used against the very people who kept those records.

The cowhide was swept aside and a woman of about fifty ambled into the room wearing an Adran-blue army jacket with the quartermaster’s pin on her collar. She was a slim woman, carrying most of her weight around her hips, and her graying hair was tucked into a bun behind her head.

“How can I help you, my dear?” she asked, dropping carelessly onto a powder keg.

“My name is Risara,” Nila said, smoothing the front of her skirt. “I’m the secretary to Counselor Mattias of Adopest and I need access to the brigade records.”

“Well then.” The quartermaster sniffed. “I’ll have to clear that with General Hilanska.”

Nila produced an attaché case from beneath her arm and opened it on her lap, taking great pains to leaf through the official-looking documents within. She withdrew one in particular and handed it to the quartermaster. “This is a warrant granting me access to whatever records I wish to see. Do you think this is something the general wants to deal with during the current turmoil?”

The quartermaster read the warrant over twice. Nila tried not to let her nervousness show. The warrant was perfectly valid, but Bo had warned her that the army operated outside civilian judicial purview—whether legal or not.

“All right,” the quartermaster said, handing the document back to Nila. “What do you want to see?”

Nila tried not to show her surprise at being granted access so easily or to let on that she didn’t actually know what she was looking for. What would help her track down Taniel? His movements before his reported death? “Give me a copy of all requisition reports of the last two months.”

“All of them?” The quartermaster rocked back on her powder keg. “That’s several hundred pages.”

“Get a scribe in here. I’ll wait.”

The quartermaster grumbled under her breath and began sorting through the crates piled in one corner. Nila waited, trying to put on as patient an air as possible. Lord Vetas had forced her to run many of his errands—not all of them strictly legal—and she had quickly learned that if she only acted like she belonged someplace most people would assume she did.

“Is there anything else you need?” the quartermaster said, wrist-deep in sheaves of paper. “I don’t want to have to go through all this again.”

“What records do you have on individual officers?”

The quartermaster lifted a pile of worn yellow paper almost as thick as Nila’s hand was wide. “You’d have to see the general’s adjutant for that.”

“Of course.” Nila took the records from the quartermaster and leafed through them. “Do you need to make copies?”

“They’re all in triplicate. That’s why the column for order signatures is blank. I’ll have another copy made up when someone has time. Anything you’re looking for in particular?”

Nila hesitated a moment. If she mentioned her goal, it might raise suspicion. But the idea of combing through all those reports was incredibly daunting. “Do you know if Captain Taniel Two-shot made any requisition orders?”

“He did.” The quartermaster scratched her head for a minute as if to run through her memory. “There are a few dozen, I think. I can’t tell you the exact days, but any requests made by a powder mage are marked with a ‘pm’ in the order column.”

“You’ve been most helpful. Thank you. Do you mind if I look through the copies here?”

The quartermaster shrugged her bony shoulders. “Fine by me. You’ll have to excuse me for a moment, though. I’ll just be takin’ a piss.”

Nila was left alone with the records. It took her a few minutes to get a feel for how the pages were organized. They were covered in small script and several columns. Names, dates, orders, and whether they were fulfilled. There were notes in half a dozen different handwritings—various quartermasters, she assumed. Once she found the first ‘pm’—a request by Taniel for more powder, which was denied—it wasn’t hard to spot more.

She had just found the fifth powder request when she heard the old quartermaster behind her.

“Right there,” the woman said. Nila glanced up out of politeness, only to see herself trapped in the small building by two big soldiers. The men wore dark-blue Adran uniforms with red trim and tall bearskin hats. Not regular soldiers. Grenadiers.

“Ma’am,” one of them said, “would you come with us, please.”

Nila’s heart was in her throat. “Is something the matter?”

“Please,” he said again. “Come with us.” He glanced behind him, as if nervous. “Try not to make a ruckus, ma’am.”

Nila didn’t see that she had much choice. She could yell and scream, with only a small chance of attracting Bo. But even then, what could Bo do? For the purpose of this mission they were not in a friendly camp. “Of course, just let me gather my things.” Nila scooped up the requisition orders, securing the whole thing with a string, and forced them into her attaché case before following the men out of the building.

“Stay with us, please,” one of the men said in a low voice before moving on ahead. The other, Nila noted, fell back some ten paces. It was almost as if they didn’t want to be seen with her.

She was led past General Hilanska’s headquarters and over a slight rise and into another part of the camp. She examined the various standards, trying to remember the brigades and regiments of the Adran army and failing completely. If not General Hilanska, who were they taking her to see? Or were they taking her straight to the stockade?

The man in front of her suddenly stopped beside a white-walled tent and turned as if taking up the guard. He gestured to the flap. “Go on in.”

The other soldier had disappeared. Nila stared at the tent for a moment, both curious and fearful about what she’d find inside. She clenched her jaw. She was a Privileged now. She was going to have to get used to danger—and taking risks. She ducked inside.

A man sat in the middle of the tent, scribbling furiously in a notebook on his lap. He didn’t look up when Nila entered, only pointed to the chair opposite him and continued to write. Nila looked around carefully. No sign of danger here, though that could all change in a moment in a camp full of soldiers. She took the offered seat.

By the size of the tent, Nila guessed that this man was an officer. He was a big man, well over six feet tall standing, with wide shoulders and thick arms. He had a face that looked like it had been punched one too many times, with a crooked nose and high cheekbones. His chair was wheeled, of the kind used by invalids. She spotted the man’s army jacket hanging in one corner, with two hawks over the Adran Mountains emblazoned on the shoulder. It also held four bars over a chevron—Nila knew enough to recognize he was a colonel. Had she read something in the newspaper recently about a colonel being paralyzed in a heroic action?

He finally stopped writing and pushed himself up straight in his chair. “You’re the girl that came in with the lawyer this afternoon?” he asked.

“I am Counselor Mattias’s secretary.”

“How long have you been with the counselor?” The colonel watched her face intently.

“I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

“It’s a direct question,” the colonel said. “How long have you been with him? Are you in his confidence?”

Nila knew she had to make a decision. Throw everything in behind Bo—be there if he was exposed and killed—or pretend that she was nothing more than a hired secretary.

“Some time. I am in his confidence, sir.” The colonel’s eyes narrowed.

“Indeed? Then what’s the Privileged up to?”

Nila forced herself not to bolt for the tent flap. “I don’t know what—”

“Stop,” the man said. “I’ve known Taniel Two-shot since he was a boy. You think I wouldn’t recognize his best friend?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Nila said. “I don’t know your name.”

“Colonel Etan.”

“Colonel Etan. If you think you know someone, shouldn’t you invite them to your tent directly?”

The shadow of a smile touched Etan’s face. “Is Borbador here looking for Taniel?”

Nila couldn’t avoid a direct question like that. This man claimed to know Taniel. This may be the best way to get information out of him. Or it could all be a trap.

“Yes,” she said.

Etan gave a soft sigh, closing his eyes. “Thank Adom.”

“I’m sorry?”

Etan opened his eyes again. “I’ve spent the last several weeks trying to find out what happened to Taniel. Nobody has seen him since he was raised up like a trophy above the Kez camp. Hilanska has refused to ask any questions. He won’t even request Taniel’s body back from the Kez.”

Nila’s throat felt dry. “So Taniel is dead?”

“I don’t know,” Etan said. “He was alive when he was raised up on that beam. He was alive the last time anyone saw him up there, and then when Kresimir killed Adom, he—”

“Wait, what?” Nila couldn’t help herself. She leaned forward in her chair. “Kresimir killed Adom? What are you talking about?” Was this man mad?

Etan waved his hand. “It’s a very long story. One that hasn’t gotten back to Adopest, it seems. Pit, Hilanska is keeping a tight lid around here. To answer your earlier question, I deemed it unwise to bring Borbador here. I’m hoping that you are being watched less closely than the supposed ‘lawyer’ is.”

“You want me to pass him a message?”

“Yes. Don’t trust Hilanska.”

“I don’t think Bo trusts anyone.”

Etan scowled at his legs. He didn’t seem to hear her. “Hilanska is a superior officer and I do him a disservice, but he’s been acting very strangely lately. As I said before, he won’t look into Taniel’s whereabouts. He adamantly refuses to believe that Tamas might still be alive. What’s more, he’s been putting all of Tamas’s most loyal men into their own companies and promoting his own longest-serving soldiers. And he’s been raving about a Kez pincer movement that could come over the southern mountains—he sent two whole companies into the valleys in the southwest, where they won’t be able to do a damned thing when the Kez do attack.”

Nila couldn’t pretend to understand the inner politics of the army, but she imagined it not unlike anywhere else that people were constantly jockeying for rank or status—even like the noble household where she had been employed before the coup. She did know that Bo wouldn’t care one whit for the army politics. But Etan was clearly distraught, and she didn’t think it would help to tell him that.

“Are you able to help us find Taniel?” she asked gently.

Etan glanced at the attaché case in her hands. “I’ve gone through all of Taniel’s requisition forms. I was there when he made some of them. I don’t think they’ll help you, but I suppose another set of eyes wouldn’t hurt. I’ve done everything within my power to discover his fate—I’ve been watching for anyone who might come asking, as well. Bo might have to go to the Kez to get any more information.”

“That would be suicide,” Nila said. Not that it would stop Bo.

“It might. I’m sorry that I could not be more help. I’m leaving for Adopest in the morning. If there’s anything I can do to aid your search, contact me through one of the grenadiers of the Twelfth.”

“Thank you,” Nila said.

She left the colonel and headed back across the camp toward where they had left their carriage. What else could she do now but wait for Bo and tell him about Etan? Etan’s advice had been unhelpful, but she hoped it would make Bo more optimistic to know they had a friend in the camp and that Taniel had last been seen alive.

Their carriage had been moved off the road and down into a gully and the horses unharnessed. She sat in the carriage to read through the reports, going through every page one by one, carefully examining each line to be sure she didn’t miss any of Taniel’s requisitions. The column that interested her the most was the one where the quartermasters entered their own notes about the requisition. Up to a certain point in time, each of Taniel’s requests for black powder had been denied “by order of the General Staff.”

Until about a month previous. He was given powder, and the note column said, “Special permission, General Hilanska.” Nila set that page aside to show to Bo.

It grew dark, and Nila finally had to set aside her work. It seemed strange to her that neither Bo nor Adamat had returned yet. In fact, she hadn’t seen Sergeant Oldrich or his men either. She leaned her head against the wall of the carriage, wondering if she should go look for them or just rest here until they returned.

Nila thought she heard a soft click from the opposite door of the carriage. She turned, but the carriage door was still closed.

“Hello?” she asked. When there was no response, she put her hand to her door latch and it occurred to her that in a camp of many tens of thousands, there didn’t seem to be anyone close to her carriage.

The opposite door suddenly swung open. Nila glimpsed a dark coat, a covered face, and the dull glint of steel in the moonlight. The carriage rocked as someone dove inside. A hand darted toward her.

Nila threw herself across the carriage, felt a knife catch in her skirts. She twisted away and heard a low curse in a man’s voice as her attacker tried to drag his blade from the cloth. She rolled onto the flat of the blade and kicked out at the man’s shoulder. He pulled back with a grunt, the knife no longer in his hand, only to leap bodily upon her. She caught him under the shoulders. He batted at her arms, pushing them down, one hand snaking around her neck. She felt his fingers close about her throat and remembered Lord Vetas’s hot breath upon her shoulder when he had done the same.

The man hissed suddenly, jumping away from her, his jacket on fire. Nila felt the pressure leave her throat, saw the flame dancing on her fingertips, and she leapt on top of the man, fueled by the coals of her rage. He tried to grapple with her, his attention taken by his burning coat, but Nila forced herself inside his guard. Her hand still aflame, she grasped the man’s face and pushed.

Skin and bone seemed to give way beneath her fingers. The man’s scream died in his throat and his body stopped moving. The cushion and the man’s clothes were still on fire and she beat at the flames with her skirt until they were gone. The body, most of its head melted into a sickening black goop on the carriage bench, lay still beneath her. Nila slowly backed away. Her head hit the roof of the carriage and she ducked down, unable to pull her eyes away from the corpse lying in the smoldering remains of its own clothing.

She looked down at her hand. It was covered in cooked bits of bone and flesh.

“Nila, are you—” Bo jerked open the door she had been resting against just a few moments before and stared down at the body. His face was unreadable in the darkness.

“Come here,” he said gently, taking her by the wrist and pulling her outside. She only noticed the acrid smell of smoke and burned flesh, hair, and wool as Bo led her away. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and gently cleaned her hand, emptying some of his canteen onto her fingers. He went back to the carriage and fetched her attaché case.

“I…” She seemed barely able to take a breath. Her heart thundered and her hands shook.

She’d just killed a man by burning through his entire head. With her hand.

“We’ll leave the luggage. I’d set fire to the carriage, but it would just attract attention all the sooner. They’ve arrested Oldrich and his men. We have to go find Adamat.”

Nila looked at her hand, clean now of the charred gore. The phantom stickiness of the blood clung between her fingers. She forced herself to look up into Bo’s eyes. She had to be strong. “And if he’s captured as well?”

“We’ll save him if we can. If not, he’s on his own.”

“And all of Oldrich’s soldiers?”

Bo looked about them furtively. “Not even I can get fifteen men out of an army encampment. They’ll have to face the firing squad for us. Now, let’s go.” He pulled at her arm.

“No,” Nila said.

“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“You—we—brought them into this. We’ll get them out.”

“Damn it, Nila,” Bo hissed. “We’d have to have help, and we simply don’t have it.”

Nila tilted her head to one side. “Yes we do,” she said.


Unknown said...

Love the reviews, I've recently created my own review site, I'd love to make it to you blog listing or for you to just view my blog. The Film Burrow | Films & Books

Travis Simmons said...

These sound like really awesome books. They are certainly going on my wish list. Thanks for sharing. Stunning covers! <3

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