Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quest for the Swords

Full disclosure, I haven't read this book yet, but I've heard about it and I'm pretty excited about the characters. So, here's an excerpt from Six Celestial Swords by TA Miles. Read, enjoy, have fun.

Fu Ran hefted his huge two-handed sword again and swung wide. More guards flew, most of them landing harmlessly in the open space provided by the cautiously distant crowd. The blade wasn't actually hitting any of them, else they'd all be dead by now. An enchantment he'd grown pleasantly accustomed to provided his weapon with a bit of extra reach, an unseen force that broke the air like the wake of a ship on the water and very efficiently spread an unwelcome crowd.
It was amusing when persistent men like Ti Lao's guards kept coming back. It made Fu Ran laugh out loud and probably had a lot to do with the stubbornness of his opponents. However, he was having too much fun to care. "To the infernal regions with all of you! You're a pathetic lot! Do you think I'd allow myself to be defeated by such as you! Are there no men among you?"
The guards were finally getting weary. It probably wouldn't be long before someone decided to draw a bow.
A giant among men, Fu Ran made for an easy target. He'd grown naturally taller and stronger than most and trained to be stronger still. His sleeveless jerkin boasted the thickness of his arms. The size of his body along with the size of his sword, his wild grin, and bold laughter put fear into enemy and ally alike. He'd shaven his head and tattooed dragons down the length of each arm to worsen his appearance. In some places he was known as the Laughing Devil. He would hate to have his reputation besmirched by a well-aimed arrow and so decided to put an end to the afternoon's play. "I'll take one more before taking my leave! Who dares?"
He expected a handful of guards again, in which case he would toss them a bit farther this time and be on his way. He was shocked when someone said softly, "I will dare it...if you will."
Fu Ran was prepared to laugh at the effete creature standing before him, until he took a second look, and recalled that only fools judged Xu Liang by his appearance. He smiled anyway and readied his sword. "This is going to hurt," he warned.
Xu Liang inclined his head almost imperceptibly. "One of us, perhaps."
Fu Ran laughed, and charged. Xu Liang stood idle, his hands pressed lightly together, as if prayer would save him. It might have, but Fu Ran carried no ordinary sword. The mystic closed his eyes and waited for the strike. Fu Ran lifted his weapon high and delivered it, somehow not surprised when Xu Liang quickly parted his hands and clapped them together again, trapping the blade between them. Fu Ran leaned all of his weight into his attack, but to no avail. Neither the sword nor the sorcerer holding it at bay would budge. "You've gotten better," Fu Ran said through his teeth. "I might actually work up a sweat!"
"It is not my wish to fight you, Fu Ran," Xu Liang answered quietly. "I require but a moment of your time."
Fu Ran was still pushing. "About another second is all you're going to get!"
"Then I shall be quick. Do you still sail aboard the Cloud Runner?"
The question took Fu Ran off guard. "What?"
Xu Liang spread his hands apart so that they still touched at the heels. Fu Ran and his sword were pushed backward. Several steps came between the warrior and the mystic, but Fu Ran managed to keep his balance and his weapon, though it pulled awkwardly at his arm as the spell and the blade's own immense weight tried to carry it further back. He got it under control and frowned this time after he laughed. "Are you telling me that you can't find a ship?"
"Are you saying that you have one?" the delicate man asked calmly.
Fu Ran answered with his blade, this time swinging wide rather than cutting down. Xu Liang held his right hand out and drove the blade into the wood under foot. Fu Ran followed through with the swing anyway and spun out of it, facing his imperturbable opponent with a wicked grin. "Sorcerous tricks! Would you dare to face me without your magic?"
Xu Liang stared a moment, revealing nothing with his tranquil expression. Then he took a disappointing step back. So the years had changed him. The student-official Fu Ran had known never backed away from a challenge, even if it seemed too great for one of his fragile nature to overcome. He may not have charged at anything headlong, but he never fled. Imperial office must have finally been getting to him. He didn't look any older, but maybe he was beginning to feel the weight of his position at last. Youth couldn't be easy to hold onto surrounded by scrolls and otherwise pinned beneath the heel of an over privileged, overbearing ruler. One had to flex his sword arm in order to keep it strong and Fu Ran doubted that Sheng Fan's Imperial Tactician did much of that these days.
Fu Ran sighed and almost turned to leave. Almost, except that Xu Liang never took his eyes off of him and when he reached his hand back to one of his evident bodyguards, a sword was placed in it.
The mystic held the weapon as if it were as light as a paper fan. He said, "Would you dare to face me without your magic?"
Fu Ran's grin returned. He untied the red tassel from his sword's hilt and tucked it into his belt. "Scholars taking up arms in public brawls? What is the Empire coming to, I wonder?"
"Yes. I'm sure you do," Xu Liang sighed.
Fu Ran took his sword in both hands and stalked his prey. "Maybe there is some of Xu Hong in you after all."
"Xu Hong would have killed you already. I am still hoping to negotiate."

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