When I started this story, I was in the Aleutian Islands, working on my Master’s Thesis in volcanology. But in the evenings after fieldwork was done, my Muse refused to be quiet any longer (I’d ignored her all through college). So this story was born. But it evolved in 2022 and surprised even me.
Here’s the blurb:
Rushing to her home world to save a friend brought only heartache. Can Iliana now save Brandon?
A desperate return to her world has left Iliana shaken, but a gut feeling that something’s wrong in Brandon’s world sends her riding hard for the Ivory School.
When she arrives in Los Arboles, the campus is a smoking ruin and bodies litter the grounds. She finds a few survivors and learns Brandon—and others from the school—have been kidnapped…by an enemy everyone thought was dead.
The only way to rescue Brandon is to use the skills she honed at his school. But she has no way of knowing if he survived the attack or if he even wants her rescue, and it’s not like she can text or track him with GPS. With the help of the only uninjured student, she heads back to the Karobis Desert, hoping she’s not too late to save everything that matters to her in this—or any—world.
The Karobis Calls is the fourth story and dramatic conclusion to the four-part serial recounting Iliana’s journey along the Ivory Road.
EXCERPT OF THE KAROBIS CALLS
The world was still. Sunshine of early evening burnished the sunflowers in the fields around her and crickets sang in the grasses. Warmth as real as the freezing cold of Australia enveloped her and she took a deep breath of relief.
“Do you ever get used to the sharp changes in weather and temperature?” She shook herself to release all the tension in her body from the harrowing ride.
“Iliana…” Aristotle’s voice held caution as he trotted ahead.
She swung her gaze ahead and all the comfort and heat left her body in a rush.
Black smoke billowed in thick oily plumes from the smoldering trees around the main house of the Ivory School of Tactics and Warfare. The breeze painted the sky with streaks of black as fear ran with little cold feet up her spine.
“Sweet glory, what the fuck? Run, Aristotle!”
The horse launched into a pounding gallop up the road to the school and Iliana tried to come to grips with what she saw. The unfolding ruin made her stomach tighten and she hauled back on the reins as they made it to the smoking yard.
Both the house and the stables had been set ablaze and now stood in blackened ruins, studs and beams sticking up like the ribs of huge animals. The fountain in the center was smashed to nothing but fragments, the water dribbling sluggishly from bent pipes.
“Oh, my glory.” Iliana dismounted but couldn’t move a step away from Aristotle as her gaze took in everything.
The doors to the house were burned away to nothing but the hinges. Inside, blackened rubble was all that remained of the tile floors and the furnishings. The dorms and outbuildings still smoldered sullenly as she turned slowly to look at the estate. Her gaze caught on something lying on the threshold of the burned-out house. Something vaguely familiar.
“Aristotle, is that…is that a body?”
His head reared back and his nostrils flared in surprise. “Yes.”
“Oh sweet glory…”
She swallowed hard and took a few steps closer, cataloging every detail like the props manager on a movie set. The body lay belly-down with one hand extended into the house as if the owner had been running inside before being stopped, violently. As she drew closer, she recognized Master Vasily’s Slavic features turned to the side, his eyes still open despite the charred skin.
What little she’d eaten that morning came up in a rush and she turned to the side to keep from vomiting on the body.
No, no, no. This can’t be happening. If Vasily is dead, then…
Her body heaved again, emptying her stomach before she wiped her mouth on her arm, tears running down her face.
“We have to check for more bodies, Iliana.” Aristotle’s voice sounded as shaken as she felt.
“Survivors. We have to check for survivors.” She gritted her teeth. “There have to be survivors because I can’t accept that I wasn’t here to help Brandon when he needed me.”
“The world doesn’t work that way.”
“Yes, it damn well does. At least in my world, right now.”
She raised her chin and stepped over Vasily’s body, ignoring the dull pain from her knee with each stride. She wiped her eyes on her black silks and focused on finding the residents of the school; anyone who could tell her what had happened.
Broken tile and charred wood met each step as she searched the remains of the house. The second floor was completely gone, the smoke filling the air above the ground floor. She picked her way around burned and discarded furniture to discover Brandon’s library was nothing but ash. Her eyes filled with more tears, but she wasn’t sure if it was grief or smoke affecting them.
The dining hall had suffered the most damage, both in furniture and in bodies. Iliana blinked back tears as she wrapped her silks around her face. She didn’t recognize every body, but Señora Cruz lay bristling with crossbow bolts surrounded by students missing limbs.
“Oh dear sweet glory.” She turned away and heaved again, but nothing came up.
Grief roared inside her as she moved through the rest of the house, searching for any survivors. She found Temujin inside a ring of bodies in black robes like hers.
The Knalish? What the hell are they doing here?
Temujin had held his own, taking three adult men with him before he succumbed to his wounds. She knelt beside the boy, scanning his body for any signs of life, but he lay still as the dead invaders around him.
“Oh, Temujin, I’m so sorry.” She bowed her head. “I should’ve been here to help.”
A sound made her glance around and she realized he’d been defending an iron door to a stone room in the center of the house. The door flew open and a small body launched at her, screaming a war cry.
“Die, Knalish dog!”