Welcome to my stop on the tour for The Warrior & the Flower by Camille Picott. This is an adult high fantasy.
To celebrate Chinese New Year the tour is running Jan. 27th-31st with mostly reviews and only a few interviews and spotlight posts. Be sure to check out the tour page with additional info and list of tour stops.
Yi, a retired soldier, has lost everything he loves—his wife, his daughter, and his home. He seeks refuge from his heartache by plunging into a secret mission for the World Emperor. The assignment takes him to the doorstep of a brothel, where he witnesses the madam beating a young girl. Drawn by the child’s striking resemblance to his lost daughter, Yi rushes to her defense and negotiates for her purchase—after all, how hard can it be to care for one little girl? But between the child’s inquisitive nature and the dangerous secret she carries, he gets more than he bargained for.
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Yi resisted the urge to whistle as he rode. Just because he was less than an hour’s ride from home did not give him an excuse to be a fool. Whistling could attract the attention of a menghai, the spiky bovine-like creatures that stalked this area of the mountains.
Sweet little Jian would be terrified if her papa arrived home covered in quills and bleeding from a tumble with a menghai. Sei, on the other hand, would be overjoyed to have the quills for her embroidery work, even if she did have to pull them from her husband’s backside. Of course, she would not be pleased if the beast managed to kill him. Damnable menghai could be harder to kill than cloud shamans. The last time he’d come up against a menghai—
Beneath him, Fire Foot hissed and shied sideways.
Yi snapped out of his reverie and drew his sword, scanning the evergreen forest on either side of the road.
“What is it?” he asked his kylin, pressing one hand to the beast’s scaled flank.
Fire Foot snorted and hissed again, his forked tongue flicking out to taste the air. His ears pricked forward beneath a bushy red-and-gold mane. He flared his nostrils, pausing to paw at the ground with a cloven hoof.
The kylin carried him forward another hundred yards before Yi caught the faint scent of smoke. The forest was tall and thick on this section of the road. He had little visibility beyond the trees on either side and the ribbon of blue sky overhead. He urged Fire Foot toward a rise up ahead. From there, he would be able to see more of the land.
The kylin broke into a canter, red-and-gold scales rippling beneath the afternoon sun. As they crested the rise, a thick column of smoke became visible in the northwest—from a small village comprised of tidy pine cottages.
It was Fen-li. His village. And it was burning.
Smoke obscured most of the houses and shops from sight, but great gouts of orange flame licked at the clear sky.
How could there be a fire? The earth was still wet from the spring snowmelt. Even when the elders did burn fields, they never burned this early in the season.
“Sei,” he whispered. “Jian.” He drove his boot heels into Fire Foot.
The kylin shrieked and bolted forward, galloping down the road and toward the village. Yi wrapped a free hand in the mane and leaned low over his neck.
A shadow flickered above them. It blotted out the light for a fraction of a second. Had he not spent fifteen years of his life as a soldier, he likely wouldn’t have noticed it. But in that split second, he knew exactly how the fire had started. More specifically, he knew who had started it: cloud shamans.
They can’t be this far east. They can’t be.
But they were.
Was this a supply raid, or had they discovered the location of the House of Liquid Steel? Very few knew the secret location of the house, but the emperor’s inner circle was fraught with malice and duplicity these days.
Looking up, he saw a lone cloud shaman bank sharply on his cloud. Dressed in a sleeveless leather vest and the tight-fitting leather pants of the Sky Kingdom, the man rode the cloud with his knees slightly bent. As he spun it around to charge at Yi, there were several heartbeats when his body was parallel with the ground.
Yi jammed his sword into its sheath and pulled out his bow. He snatched an arrow with black fletching from his quiver. It was tipped with a liquid steel arrowhead, the only metal in the Three Kingdoms that could obliterate a shaman’s cloud. The cold metal gleamed with a blue-gray hue.
The cloud shaman raised his hands, honey-jade bracelets winking pale yellow beneath the sun. Honey-jade rings adorned his fingers. The stone jewelry glowed, the honeycomb interior charged with lightning harvested in the Sky Kingdom.
Fire Foot screamed at the sight of the bracelets and rings, his mane fluffing with anticipation. The kylin craved lightning the way Jian craved sweets. Even from this distance, the beast smelled it. He reared and pranced, straining in its direction.
In that instant, the cloud shaman hesitated. If he fired at Yi, he risked hitting Fire Foot instead—and a lightning-charged kylin was dangerous, even more dangerous than Yi. A kylin in a lightning frenzy was deadly.
That hesitation was all Yi needed. In one smooth motion, he drew and fired. The first arrow barely left his bow before he fired a second one. Both shot forward in whistling arcs.
In his youth, he’d been the best archer in Emperor Chen’s army. Even in retirement, his shots flew true. There was the solid thunk of one arrow hitting flesh, and the telltale hiss as the other pierced the cloud and turned it to insubstantial mist.
The shaman cried out. As he plummeted earthward, he raised one bracelet and fired. Yi was blinded as lightning blazed forth from the honey-jade, flashing straight for him.
He threw himself against Fire Foot’s neck for protection. The kylin reared and hissed with excitement, his body guided by instinct. Yi felt Fire Foot take the strike square in the chest. It reverberated through his body like a gong, sending out shockwaves that made the beast quiver.
Lightning crackled across his scales, and he shrilled in ecstasy. The blast quickly disappeared, absorbed by his body. He glowed red-gold. His eyes emitted a white-hot light, and even his dark gold antlers glowed.
“Home,” Yi said. “Run, Fire Foot.”
The kylin took several dancing steps sideways, his neck arched in the direction of the fallen shaman.
“No,” he said, digging in his boot heels.
Fire Foot hissed, glowing eyes glaring at him. It was only at times like this, when he was charged with lightning, that he was difficult to control. Near frenzy, the muscles along his neck tensed as he once again arched it in the direction of the shaman—in the direction of the lightning-infused honey-jade.
“Home!” This time Yi gave him a rough kick in the ribs.
Fire Foot reared up, illuminated hooves scraping at empty air. Then he plunged to the earth and streaked down the road, a glowing red-gold beast that moved at three times the speed of a galloping horse. His stride ate up the distance, carrying them homeward.
Yi never once looked over his shoulder for the cloud shaman. If the man survived his fall, he’d be in no shape to come after them. Besides, no cloud could fly as fast as a lightning-charged kylin could run.
I’m coming, Sei, he thought. I’m coming.
About the Author:
Camille Picott is a fifth-generation Chinese American. She writes science fiction and fantasy books with Asian characters and/or Asian settings. Camille grew up reading speculative fiction stories largely devoid of Asian characters and culture. This, coupled with a passion for her heritage, is the reason she strives to bring some aspect of Eastern myth, legend, culture, and ethnicity to all of her writings. To visit Camille, go to www.camillepicott.com.
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This tour was organized and put together by CBB Book Promotions.