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"Can't get enough of this author... will be re-reading the whole series again!" Debby (Alwaysbooking) from Goodreads 

"This last novel in T.C. McMullen's speculative fiction series is difficult to review without spoilers, but that's because it is tightly plotted and pulls together the unresolved threads of the six previous books into a surprising and yet somehow inevitable conclusion. The characters continue to grow and change, from first page to last, and there's a nice mix of "old" characters (even one who returns unexpectedly...now, that's an understatement!) with new ones. If you've followed the series at all, you won't want to miss RETRIBUTION. If you haven't read the earlier books, please do read them first. You won't regret it."  --Reviewed by Nina M. Osier, author of 2005 science fiction EPPIE winner "Regs"

Retribution
Disillusionment Book Seven
T.C. McMullen

 ISBN: 978-1-935188-35-3
300 Pages
$17.95 USD Trade Paperback / Ebook Coming Soon

The Finale

 

The determination of a few is all that stands between mankind and the gods. 

When Aiden Devassi with his brother, Blaine, and cousin, Rylan Brye Annis, spot a Pure One’s air ship on the tail of an unknown craft, the three do what they do best, never expecting to start the war for the end of all things on Earth. 

 

They also never expect it when they are told to continue training while other troops go out to the borders, borders, Aiden soon discovers, constantly under vicious attack. It doesn’t take long for Aiden and Blaine along with Rylan and his sister, Taite, to decide they need to act against the wishes of their Greatmothers.

 

Then little sister Shani, realizing the others are gone, attempts to set out on her own to meet them. What she finds is a brave watcher and horsemaster willing to join her and monsters intent on tearing them apart.  

 

The Brye Annis siblings along with their cousins will discover just how important they are in the new war where the Pure Ones are intent only on complete annihilation.

Chapter One

Taite stared at the gaping oblong mouth, slimy gray whiskers sprouting out at all sides. The thing’s dead eyes stared back at her, pale gray unlike the dark gray slime covering the entire body almost as disgusting as the horrible dank smell permeating from the odd creature. She turned the knife handle in her hand, glancing at the clean blade but having no idea where to sink the tip first.

     “Go on,” Soniat said, hovering at Taite’s left elbow. 

     “I can’t imagine living on this,” Taite grumbled. 

     Soniat chuckled. “You have eaten it. We bake the cat quite often. Or fry it.”

     Taite wrinkled her nose. “Oh. Well—then, can’t someone else, you know, remove the head, the tail, and the gray stuff?”

     “Skin, Taite, it’s the skin. You have said your talents are within the kitchen. Valentar has told us your dishes are quite good.”

     “Yes, when I’m handed already cut, select portions of…meat,” Taite said, holding her hands above the dead, whiskered creature, not having any idea how to get usable meat from it.

     “And now you are going to learn how to make those select portions,” Soniat said and sauntered away to her side of the cleaning counter. Most of the evening meal had already been served to the guards and watchers inside the Great Hall of Nikkar, but Taite hadn’t eaten yet. Whatever she prepared would be for herself and the few who weren’t there for the night meal. Like Rylan. 

     Taite slumped her shoulders.

     “You want me to dig my hands into this…fish, and you don’t even have enough pity to talk me through it?”

     “We’ve shown you the process dozens of times. Now it’s time for you to decide you’re going to do it.” Soniat swiped her knife around another creature’s head, stripped the gray slime off in a few well placed yanks, finished cutting the meat and disposed of the head, spine and other inedible parts in one plunk to the bucket. “Get busy, Taite. It still needs to bake.”

Taite glanced down at the bucket not far from her feet. Everything from the creature would be saved and used if at all possible. Her stomach pitched at the thought. She was much happier without knowing all the background details of where lamp oil and the like came from. When she pulled on a blouse, she didn’t need to know some poor animal was shaved naked for her, or what animal had given its life to fill the plate on her table. 

     “Don’t take all night,” Soniat nagged.

     Taite sighed, half closed her eyes, tilting her head back from the horrible task, and poked the knife into the gray matter. She groaned, when the tip hit bone, and quickly scooped up a fork to turn the thing so she wouldn’t have to touch it anymore than absolutely necessary. 

 

~*~

Rylan grunted from the solid punch of drako knuckle to his chest that threw him across the cavern and against the rock wall. The medicine dropper flew from his hand, and he plummeted to his stomach, coughing once to restart his jarred diaphragm. 

     “And he likes you,” Aiden called out. He stood a safe distance away, just outside the entrance of the cave. “It rolled a few reaches to your right.”

     Rylan raised up on his hands and knees, not sure which—his cousin or the drako—he disliked more. 

     “I’ve politely requested you leave me be,” Elek said, shifting his position and turning his snout to Rylan’s face. “Since I have given proper warning, I will defend myself.”

     “You stupid drako,” Rylan grumbled. “I’m trying to help you. The drops are helping to reduce the scarring.”

     “I’ve lived many hundreds of years with my near blindness. No need to change it now.”

     “Except they—I—can help change it now when they couldn’t before. I give up.”

     “Can’t,” Aiden said, his voice sounding hollow from his hiding place beyond the cavern entrance. “Should I try to help distract him?”

     “Don’t even...” Elek raised his huge head and whirled toward Aiden. “I may be half blind, but all my other senses still work a lot better than yours, youngling.” In that instant, the drako vanished into the dark color of the cavern. 

     Rylan sighed. Elek still hadn’t accepted the fact that Rylan, despite his “young” age, could see him even when he camouflaged himself. Rylan forced his legs to carry him toward the fallen stopper and squelched his groan at the aching pains worrying through all his joints. Dealing with the cranky, old drako on a daily basis with little help from anyone was taking its toll on him. With the cold dropper in hand, full of yellow liquid and as long as his forearm, he turned and faced the cantankerous beast again. 

     Elek had curled himself into his usual resting pose, obviously figuring he’d tricked Rylan. Rylan spotted the glint of Elek’s large horns, the tips not fully concealed. Another thing the giant drako wouldn’t acknowledge was that his ailing sight interfered with his ability to camouflage fully. He couldn’t completely melt into a background he couldn’t accurately see, and the daylight was just faded enough to have the bottom half of the cavern a shade lighter than the top. His horns nearly stuck out as clearly as they did when showing their true golden color. 

     Rylan decided to play into the drako’s cockiness. He sighed, grumbled under his breath that he hated when the beast left without a proper goodbye, and moved to walk past Elek’s snout. At the last second, he whirled to the right, wrapping his left arm around the base of Elek’s horn and reached his other arm out to squeeze the dropper just enough to splash the liquid in when Elek flashed his eye open in surprise. With that done, Rylan sprang over the snout, managing to grasp the opposite horn in time to not be thrown free when Elek shook his head. 

     Rylan kicked off from the wall, tightened his right arm and switched the dropper into his left. He spouted a few shouts and curses at the beast, and Elek berated Rylan and cursed him to face every nasty god the drako had ever seen. A few whiplash snaps of the neck and Rylan managed to get a splattered drop into the huge eye. With the deed done, Rylan let go and fell with the force of gravity to the hard stone floor at the entrance. 

     He lay there, staring at the green vines draping down from the hill above, tiny white blossoms twinkling in the sunset. 

     Aiden appeared above him, leaning over a bit, and smiled. “You got it.”

     Rylan glared at him and ignored the offered hand, choosing instead to climb to his feet on aching knees himself. If they didn’t need to help him when he really needed it, to…oh…maybe tie the old beast down so Elek couldn’t move, he didn’t need their help when the torture of caring for Elek was over. 

     Half way down the hill, he decided to make a visit to Shani and hoped she could ease the aches that had been building for more than a month. Possibly for the entire six months he and his sisters had been trying to blend into the culture of the Inaut.   

~*~

 

The soft mountain breeze drifted down from the high peaks, leaving its howling strength on the sharp ridges and only lightly brushing through Shani’s short hair. She finished snipping the thyme at her knee and lifted her face to the breeze, so unbelievably fresh. Even after so many months, it still surprised her. No dust or human stench fouled it, so much more untouched than even the rural areas she knew from back home. In the next second, she was reminded just how far away from her birth home she really was.

     She still tensed at the sight of the Inaut warriors, large sheathed swords strapped at their sides, sheathed knives on opposite hips with the tips secured tight to their thighs by leather bindings. Some carried short swords on their backs, or throwing axes. Some blades had black handles, some obviously made of bone. But even without their weapons, they were an intimidating breed.

     It took great effort to keep from groaning when a handful of them streamed from the training room toward the lower level of the Great Hall, the door just a few reaches in front of the large herb garden now hiding her.

     Before her rescue from certain death, she had spent years learning how to heal injuries caused by accidents and natural illnesses. Here, she had to deal with friend-inflicted injuries. Things that could be avoided by simply not sparring with real weapons or with all out muscle power from people who were lethal weapons even without anything more than their hands. It seemed barbaric. But at the same time, the Inaut were the most respectful and spiritual people she had ever met. 

     They worshipped no gods, though. Instead, they prayed to the spirits and believed that everything had a spirit, water, air, earth, fire, animals, plants, and humans. She had no idea what to believe anymore, only that her faith in the great gods had been shattered when they tried to kill her and her siblings because of their heritage. A heritage that still seemed impossible.

     She bundled the thyme carefully in a clean cloth, gathered the other bundles of herbs she had collected, and headed for the small door not used by anyone but the kitchen workers or, like her, the healers. 

     With intentions only of escaping to the small healer’s room she practically lived in, she kept her head down, but didn’t manage to escape the view of everyone. 

     Rylan called out to her before the kitchen door swung closed. Shani turned, holding the door open with one elbow and scowled at Rylan’s obvious discomfort when he hurried to her.

     “Please tell me you and Aiden weren’t sparring again,” she said. 

     He shook his head and pushed her through the door. “Elek,” he said. “Kira hasn’t been helping me with him this week.”

     Shani stopped still, terrified at the thought of Rylan alone with the huge black beast.

     “Aiden’s been with me, but he doesn’t have the same calming effect Kira does,” Rylan said with a grumble.

     Shani huffed. “I would think not, he probably does just the opposite.”

     Rylan shrugged, then groaned from the act. Shani pressed her hand to his shoulder, but released him when he winced again. He averted his eyes. “It’s been a rough week. Elek really doesn’t like the eye drops.”

     Shani glanced over him, noticing the bruise budding beneath his left eye. She nearly dropped her herbs, so concerned about him.

     “Calm down,” Rylan said, catching two bundles as they tumbled. “I’m just tired of aching, is all, and hoping maybe you can do something for it without anyone else knowing.”

     Shani scowled at the thought of how much he hurt, glanced up and down the hall, and nodded for him to follow her. She had some herbs that would help him sleep and was a skilled enough healer to remove at least his surface bruises. She led him to the small ground floor room just up from the kitchen and eased the door open to darkness. The minty green smells of plants washed over her. Filled with fresh hanging herbs, all at different stages of drying, the room always refreshed her. Rylan coughed as if the strong odors overpowered him. 

     She touched the solar bar at the center of the room and the glassed ring that framed the door and ceiling came to life. She gestured for him to sit on the low table. He frowned at it, somehow still looking handsome despite the furrowed expression and bruises on his face, like only her brother could. No wonder he had all the young women in the city coming to the Great Hall more often than they normally would. Or at least that was what Blaine told her. 

     Rylan made small talk, asking what she was collecting all the weeds for and scrunching his nose up when she promised to make him a pain relieving tea from those weeds. She giggled at him and rubbed her hands together to warm them. She had acclimated a bit to the cold climate, but no one liked cold hands. 

     He jolted back from her palm when she raised it to touch his cheek. She grabbed the collar of his coat and pulled him closer again.

     “Gods, Rylan, are you really that defensive?”

     “What are you going to do to me?”

     “Touch you,” she said.

     He squinted his left eye, studying her cynically, but then let her press her palm to his bruised cheek. When she felt the heat of what Kira told her was her life force bonding with his, she closed her eyes and focused on willing any damage to his flesh and blood vessels to mend. It took more effort than she had hoped, and Rylan tensed as if in pain, but it lasted only a few moments.

     She leaned heavily against his shoulder. After flexing his fingers, he softly leaned his head against hers.

     “Don’t go getting yourself hurt again,” she whispered.

     “Ah, no worries. With Taite to keep me well fed, and you with your magic hands, I’m fine.”

     She sighed. “I wonder…I really wonder if any of us are fine in this strange world.” A place that had first felt free and like a paradise was so very different now with its strange customs, foods, and…everything.

     Rylan patted her hand. “We will be.”