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Circles and Stones (update 2, excerpt)

After a detour to work on a website, I have returned to writing Circles and Stones, the third novel in my ongoing Sanyel series. I am twelve chapters in and decided it was time to show another excerpt. It is still in draft form, but the finished product should look similar, only more polished. I hope you enjoy it. Here’s the setup: Sanyel, Izzy, the priest Borsar, and rebel leader Trayvan have been making their way to the city of Grell in order to find and rescue Borsar’s son from the clutches of Danara, the madwoman who has abducted him. Deserted homes at the outskirts of Grell alarm the travelers until they learn that the starving residents have gone to the inner city to claim free food promised by Danara. A frightened elderly man tells Sanyel of a ruthless gang that has appeared on the surrounding streets, taking advantage of the missing inhabitants to rob homes. The man has witnessed a brutal murder of an elderly woman by the gang, and now the murderous group has found Sanyel and her companions. Izzy tapped my arm. “We have company.” A man had appeared in the street and was standing about twenty paces from us. Another then showed to his left, walking from between two houses to the center of the street to stand beside the first. A third came from the opposite side of the lane and joined the other two. They stood there eyeing us in a relaxed and confident manner. Two of the three men displayed malevolent grins. I glanced down the street in the other direction. A fourth man had placed himself in the middle of the avenue about the same distance from us as the other three. It’s them!” the old man informed us. “The rovers!” “I see only four,” said Izzy. “You said there were six or seven.” “They will kill us all!” the man said in reply, not bothering to address Izzy’s concern over the numbers. “I see another,” said Trayvan. “He is on a high balcony directly across from us.” I glanced over and spotted the man. He made no effort to conceal his presence. Another man had joined the one standing alone in the street. That made six. I didn’t see a seventh. You there,” the first man hailed us. “We’d like to talk to you.” One of the two standing next to the man chuckled and the other's malicious grin widened. I knew their type. Conversation didn’t interest them. They wanted self-amusement. They would use talk as a means to induce fear, as a preamble to a delightful game of torture and slaughter. The speaker appeared to be about thirty, sported a dark tan, and was a bit flabby around the middle. His tangled, filthy blond hair reached down to touch uneven shoulders, one of which had a pronounced slope, as if it had mended improperly from past injury. He wore a two-piece outfit, with the lower half consisting of a pair of puffy-legged, dirty blue pants that extended from his ample waist down to his ankles. The upper half was a loose, unadorned, long-sleeved, and once-white shirt tucked in at the waist and open at the neck. The man wore nothing on his feet. The rest of the men were younger, most of them not much past the age of twenty, and the style and condition of their clothing matched that of their leader. Despite their youth, these men gave off no whiff of innocence, no odor of virtue. These were hardened criminals. Their demeanor revealed that truth, and the cruelty the old man had witnessed against the elderly woman had confirmed their vicious natures. All of them owned wicked-looking knives that dangled from sashes around their waists. “So talk,” said Trayvan. “But first, we’d appreciate it if you’d come closer. We can’t carry on a decent conversation at this distance.” I loved Trayvan’s approach. That is how I would have spoken to them. Show no fear and make them second-guess the capabilities and defensive readiness of their targeted victims. The blond man eyed Trayvan’s sheathed sword and then he swept his sharp gaze over the rest of us. I caught a slight smile when he noticed that neither the priest nor the old man carried weapons. He appeared startled that Izzy and I bore arms but then seemed to dismiss any concern over that. What had he to fear from two young females, one of whom had a missing arm? I glanced up at the man on the balcony and a new sight confronted me, one that drew my anger. The man had strung a rope across several of the balcony posts. Human heads hung from hooks attached to the rope. I counted six. One was that of an elderly woman. One was the head of a child. The man squeezed his mouth into a taunting smirk as our eyes met. “If your group will kindly drop your weapons, I don’t see why we can’t have a friendly conversation,” the blond man was saying, his tone affable. I turned my sight from the balcony lowlife to the speaker. “We will drop nothing,” I informed him. I paused and then said, “No, that is not completely true. Very soon, I plan to drop that smirking fool off the balcony to the street. Then, I will cut off his head, attach it to a hook, and hang it from his own rope.” My bold threat, so calmly stated, surprised the rover leader. Encountering a confident young female voicing a challenge to his pack of male predators was probably the last thing he expected. He stood for a moment with mouth agape. Then he laughed. “You are quite amusing,” he said. “I don’t know how you plan to drop Bransor from the balcony, but the fact that you said you would has already had a devastating effect on my friend. Look how sad you have made him.” I glanced up and saw no change in Bransor’s demeanor, as his smirk remained. “I’m thinking Bransor has plans for you,” the rover leader continued with good humor. “I’m thinking he will find a prominent place for your pretty head among his collection. Of course, when he has your head, it will not look as pretty as it does now. Still, one’s looks don’t last forever, do they?” I’ve learned to be wary of those who threaten with calm, cheerful voices. They tend to have greater intelligence and deviousness than your blustering, angry types. I’m sure he would have continued speaking, but I tired of his talk. I had promised to drop the head collector from the balcony to the street. It was time to honor that vow. I unslung my bow from my shoulder. The rover leader eyed my move with cautious interest. “What have you there?” he asked. “I am not familiar with that device.” I wasn’t sure if the man suspected the “device” was a weapon. It was, of course, and he’d find that out soon enough. This man’s culture, as old as it was, had not developed the bow and arrow. Mine hadn’t either, but I was lucky to have come across this remarkable weapon during my last adventure. That was to my advantage now, as I had an element of surprise. I ignored the man’s question and instead spoke to his gang as a whole. “I give you no options,” I said as I fitted an arrow to the bowstring. “I will not allow any of you to surrender or flee. You will pay for your murderous crimes right here and right now.” The head rover no longer found my defiance amusing. “Stupid girl! It seems you don’t realize the peril of your situation. Your empty threats are useless. What does your toy weapon do, throw pointed sticks? Do you think that can stop us? Who are you, some brainless, spoiled brat who always expects to get her way? You are in my world now, girl, and you’ll not get your way with me.” I was about to respond when Borsar held up his hand to stay my reply. “She is not what you assume, and you really should not talk to her that way,” he told the blond rover. “Murdering that old woman and displaying those heads was a foolish thing to do. This remarkable young girl sometimes grants the wicked second chances. She did so with me when I was less than deserving. I feel, however, that she is in no mood to give second chances today. Accept that you are all dead men. It is your misfortune that on this day you have met the Disrupter. She will show you no mercy … and yes, she always gets her way.” I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. More will follow in future update posts.

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