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Bones of the Gods (update 6, excerpt)

I see that several months have passed since my last update of Bones of the Gods, the fourth novel of my ongoing Sanyel series. These books are action/adventure with a touch of fantasy and include some elements of mystery, paranormal, and sci-fi. This adventure-filled series features an astute, ass-kicking protagonist, the gifted daughter of a tribal shaman who becomes the catalyst for change in a male-dominated world. My writing progress has slowed these past several months, but I hope to pick up the pace soon. Meantime, here’s a sample from Chapter Nineteen, preceded by a setup to the scene. As usual, the writing is still in an early stage, so expect further editing before the final version. Tribal shaman Sanyel, her mate Javen, and her good friend Izzy have agreed to help a former acquaintance, an ex-slave named Kersla, locate his missing, presumed kidnapped wife and daughter. With the help of regional government agents Jankan and Kenter, they have accumulated clues pointing to a culture that for unknown reasons has been sending out small parties to abduct people for thousands of years. These abductors have ancient devices that aid in their kidnapping. One is a pendant that emits a droning sound that causes people to fall asleep, and the other is a multi-purpose device that protects the kidnappers from the noise’s effects. Kenter has fallen into the hands of one of these small bands, and after a brief separation, Jankan has rejoined Sanyel and her friends to pursue. They have been traveling by boat down a swift river gorge, but nightfall has forced them to shore until morning. During the night, a bird’s warning call has awakened them. Sester—the sun god punch gun—an advanced weapon from an ancient, vanished civilization Gamaal—survivor from that ancient civilization, rescued by Sanyel and friends from five thousand years in suspended animation A man’s throaty laugh reached us from upriver. I glanced at our fire. It had nearly burned out, leaving only a few barely visible orange coals. No smoke rose from the charred wood. That was good. Nothing would give our presence away. A distinctive scraping sound returned my attention to the blackness upriver. It appeared someone had beached a boat upon the gravel shore. Another scraping followed. Men’s voices, muffled by distance, alerted us that we had more than one visitor. Did two craft land or was the scraping from a single vessel? Javen had crawled over to me and now whispered, “I’ll sneak over to take a look at our uninvited guests.” I nodded, knowing his practiced stealth as a hunter would allow him to get within viewing distance without detection, even in the dead of night. Izzy and Jankan had also moved up beside me as Javen rose and disappeared silently into the gloom. Kersla seemed content to remain where he was. “Abductors?” suggested Izzy, keeping her voice low. “Could be,” I replied. “Whoever they are, I can’t believe they were on the river. Traveling at night on swiftly moving water seems a bit risky, doesn’t it?” “Not necessarily,” said Jankan. “They do have a bit of moonlight, so if you know the route well enough, you’d probably feel confident running it under that condition.” As he spoke, a flickering light appeared not too distant up shore. “Campfire,” said Izzy. “Looks like they’re staying awhile.” A faint smoke odor from the campfire drifted to us on the light breeze. We talked among ourselves in low whispers, waiting for Javen’s return. He arrived after a short period with disturbing news. “Two boats of abductors,” he told us. “There are five men in all, one of them a prisoner, a young man.” I groaned and then muttered, “I hate complications. Why didn’t they just pass by? Why did they have to stop here?” “The sun god likes to keep our lives interesting,” said Izzy. She grinned and added, “Of course, interesting usually means difficult.” I had to chuckle at that. That wasn’t far from the truth. “I saw something strange with the prisoner,” Javen then said. “He didn’t seem normal. What I mean is that he paid no attention to his surroundings. He did what the kidnappers instructed him to do, but he showed nothing on his face. He didn’t even look at those telling him what to do. He just did what the men ordered.” “Perhaps he was in shock,” said Jankan. Javen frowned, skeptical, and replied, “I don’t know. He seemed almost—how should I say this—like his mind was under control or something. Oh, and he had something around his neck. It looked like a thin, circular object, like a necklace but plain, with nothing hanging from it.” “Slave collar, maybe?” said Jankan. “Was a rope or chain attached to it?” Javen shook his head. “No, I saw nothing like that.” Izzy then offered her opinion for a course of action, saying, “Well, whatever it is, we won’t know unless we can examine it. Perhaps we should try to rescue the captive.” She looked at me and nodded toward the bag holding the punch gun. “You can’t be suggesting we risk confronting them!” said an appalled Jankan. “We’d be lucky to get anywhere near them. They’d put us to sleep and we’d wind up waking to find some of our people missing.” Jankan was understandably reluctant to confront the abductors. Through negligence, his partner was now a prisoner of the kidnappers. He must have felt a burden of shared responsibility for that outcome, and he didn’t want to repeat that mistake. However, he didn’t know we had a weapon that could preempt any attempt by the abductors to use their sleep device—if it worked. The punch gun could render their entire party unconscious and leave us unaffected. At least, I hoped it could. Possibly the smaller device the kidnappers carried might protect them against the effects of the punch gun, neutralizing it like it did their droning pendant. The only way to know was to try the gun and see. However, Jankan knew nothing about the gun and neither did Kersla. Did we dare show them this formidable weapon? I knew that my worry about these ancient tools falling into the wrong hands probably approached paranoia, but this destructive device warranted that caution. Was there some way we could use it without those two becoming aware of it? I didn’t see any possibility of that, so I saw no recourse but to reveal it. “I have not wanted to tell you this,” I said to them, “because it is a sensitive matter, and one our tribe would rather keep secret from others.” Jankan and Kersla were immediately curious. “We have a powerful weapon that can put people to sleep, similar to what the abductors have, but we can narrow this device’s range so that it affects only a single person if we want it to. It's another device invented by the ancients.” Jankan's eyes expanded. “You have something that can do what they do, put people to sleep? Why didn’t you reveal this sooner?” “It's a dangerous weapon,” I replied. “We've come to realize we don’t want it to ever fall into the wrong hands, so we are careful in its use and to whom we allow knowledge of its existence.” “Dangerous in what way?” asked Jankan. “It can kill.” I didn’t elaborate but instead moved to the pack holding the weapon and withdrew it. The gun’s sleek, metallic skin shone in the moonlight. “Stay here,” I said to everyone as I adjusted the gun’s control settings. “I’ll move in closer to our visitors and try to put them to sleep. I won’t be long.” Jankan objected to me going alone, but Javen cut him off. “Let her go. She knows what she’s doing.” As I moved off, I hoped this finicky weapon would decide to work this time. Gamaal had been unable to fix the gun’s inconsistency, declaring that a module charging issue played a major part. We couldn’t alleviate the problem because we had no other module of that type with which to replace it. We never knew when the device had enough of an energy charge to function properly, for it could only reach ten percent of its standard capacity. That was sufficient to fire the weapon, and it didn’t affect the expelled electrical impulse's awesome power, but it left no reserve to shoot a second time. Thus, we had to let the weapon charge after each use, and the time it took to charge always varied, never seeming a predictable length. We hadn’t been able to determine if the gun’s misfires were due to trying to use the weapon while it was still charging or if an additional issue contributed to the failures. We had not used the weapon for a long while, so I was confident the gun currently held its maximum ten percent charge. I had been walking upright in the moonlight but now began silently crawling over warm sand toward the campfire glow, moving between boulders to avoid open exposure for too long, though I doubted the abductors could see anything beyond the dazzling firelight into which they stared. I edged closer and then stopped behind a good-sized boulder, eased my head around it, and took a good look. I counted five figures sitting around a campfire, the number Javen had reported. Now was the perfect time to see if the gun worked—and to find out if the abductors had immunity to it. I realized that if the gun’s sting affected only the captive, then the ensuing commotion from the others might make it difficult for me to get back to my companions, but I was willing to take that risk. I had set the stun setting wide enough to include those sitting and not so wide as to knock unconscious every other living thing in the area, though I knew any animals or birds within the zone of the discharge would unavoidably fall victim. I raised the weapon, pointed it, and pulled the trigger. A soft buzz emanated from the gun, and to my delight, five people crumpled. “Dammit!” I then yelled for an unconscious kidnapper had toppled forward into the fire. I rose quickly, raced toward the camp, and dragged the man from the flames. I hurried to snuff out the small blazes that had caught hold of his clothing, and as I examined the unconscious man for any burn injuries, my companions arrived. “What happened?” asked Javen. “Why did you shout?” “This man keeled over into the fire. Lucky he didn’t fall face first. I don’t see any skin burns.” Jankan stood staring at the sprawled bodies before saying in astonishment, “Your weapon did this?” “Yes,” I responded, “but they only sleep.” I grabbed the gun from the ground beside me and handed it to Izzy, who then placed it in the pack from which I had retrieved it. “I’m impressed,” Jankan then said. “These ancient devices are more remarkable than I ever imagined. And you say this one can kill? I’m sure my government would be very interested in looking at these items. Perhaps our brightest minds can figure out how to manufacture more.” Jankan’s words chilled me. My worst fear regarding these ancient objects' potential abuse was materializing. However, I could do something about that. I stood and faced the government agent. “You will speak to no one about the devices we have shown you. I can’t prevent you from attempting to make use of the abductors’ items, for your agents already know of them. But you will tell no one about my tribe’s machines.” My tone, harsh and delivered with all the authority I could muster, took Jankan aback. He stared at me, probing for the reason behind my sudden anger. Then, he seemed to take issue with my demand. “I’m afraid I can’t accede to your wishes. I am a loyal employee of my government, and duty requires I report to them anything I find of potential value.” A pained look crossed Jankan’s face. “I wouldn’t want to, but I have the authority to take your items from you, for by law all foreign products brought into the country are subject to confiscation if deemed a threat to peace and tranquility. But there’s no need for that. Why don’t we cooperate? We can both benefit from studying these devices.” “You don’t understand,” I said. “The sun god will not allow you to have these items.” That response mystified Jankan. “The sun god?” “Sanyel is the representative of the sun god among humans,” spoke up Kersla. “She's his right hand. That's why I came to her to help find my wife and daughter. Sester will guide her to them.” Kersla wholeheartedly believed that because he grew up in a culture (as did I) in which the magical and mystical, along with an all-powerful creator, were readily accepted. Jankan, on the other hand, seemed to be a worldly, practical man, disinclined to believe that which he could not see and prove as real. He now shook his head and with an almost dismissive tone, said, “You claim to be this ‘right hand’ of Sester?” “I do,” I responded. “The sun god has granted me certain powers, the nature of which I disclose to very few. People say he chose me as his divine representative to bring change to this world. He guides me on occasion, but most often he allows me to use my discretion in dealing with the people and circumstances I encounter.” Though I had credited others with naming me the hand of Sester, I was, in truth, the only one perpetuating that alleged association. However, Kersla then boosted my assertions by telling Jankan he had witnessed my powers firsthand and thus he knew I was, in fact, the chosen right hand of the divine Sester. Jankan opened his mouth to say something but then stopped, momentarily at a loss how to respond. He then said, “I have never been a religious man or one to believe in supernatural things, so please excuse me if I sound skeptical. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m having a hard time believing any of this.” I knew I had to prove my assertion factual somehow, and as I struggled to find a way to do that, a solution appeared, as if right on cue from the sun god. A raffer had stuck its pointed snout from around a small stone, and it had begun scurrying across the sand toward the safety of another. I casually crossed my arms low in front of me, letting my right wrist come to rest in the gentle hold of my left hand. With a quick glance at my bracelet of bones, I found the raffer fragment. While touching it, I spoke before the rodent could reach his sanctuary and escape my sight. “Raffer, come to me, the hand of Sester, and sit before me.” Jankan stared at me with incomprehension until startled by the small creature passing in front of him, heading my way. The raffer stopped before me and tilted its small head upward to gaze at me. I stole a glance at Jankan, and his confused face had altered into open-mouthed astonishment. “Raffer, turn your head to look at Jankan.” The sight was remarkable. The rodent sat in place, still facing me, and rotated its neck until its gaze locked upon the government agent. Added to the astonishment on the man’s face was now disbelief and alarm. “Raffer, you may go about your business, but before you leave, please give us a little dance and a small leap into the air.” The raffer did a pirouette on its hind legs, accomplished the short jump, and then scurried off. I gave the astounded Jankan my best cold stare and stated, “As the hand of the sun god, power over animals is but one power granted me. The rest I won’t reveal, for you are not privy to them. I’ll simply leave the possibilities to your imagination, but I assure you they are formidable.” I had only a couple of others, of course, one being an exaggerated strength in my right arm and the other an uncanny accuracy with weapons over long distances, but I didn’t want him to know that. I find it better to keep people in the dark as much as possible and let their minds conjure up greater terrors than those that actually exist. Jankan continued to display his incredulous expression. He tried to speak. “I . . . I don’t . . . I . . .” “I know this is difficult to understand,” I said when realizing he was trying his best to grasp what he had seen and was failing. “I don’t comprehend it fully myself. Except for this inexplicable link to the sun god, I am in most ways just like everyone else. I don’t wish it to affect how people see me or react toward me. I value those who prove their friendship, but I can be a forbidding enemy to those who cross me and defy the will of Sester. I would like to think we are friends, and I would like to be able to count on your help in solving the mystery of the abductors. Can I?” My words focused his attention, and for the first time since I’d known him, Jankan seemed unsure of himself. Then, he quickly regained his professional demeanor. “You can,” he said, his voice again steady and strong. “I apologize for my doubts. I see I have much yet to learn about what is true and possible in this world. Please forgive my ignorance.” “Nothing to forgive,” I responded, dismissing his concern. “I do not profess any greater insight than the next person. I only have the extra benefit of Sester’s divine guidance, and that's not constant by any means. We are all human and thus imperfect. I claim no exulted position.” “Well, we can all be glad of that,” said a chuckling Izzy in her direct and irreverent manner. “We all know you’d be insufferable if you did.” Jankan showed surprise over Izzy’s bold, stinging comment, but then he heard my laughter in response. Quickly, he understood that no one in my circle saw me as someone they felt obligated to elevate above them and that I didn’t see myself that way either. He seemed relieved.

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