Authors: Guy Antibes
the Warstone Quartet
By Guy Antibes
Each of the four Warstone books hasa distinct storyline and flavor. I
Sunstone | Dishonor’s Bane
we go to the group of islands that make up Roppon. Taking their culture from feudal Japan, I’ve cobbled together some actual Japanese names and some that I made up. If I came up with naughty or inappropriate Japanese words for my names, please forgive me.
Like Japan and China, the Ropponi culture in the book is hidebound in tradition and ruled by a bureaucracy. The main character’s journey is, to some extent, an act of rebellion against that structure.
You will notice that scenes at the end of the book begin to interleave with parts of th
Moonstone | Magic That Bind
. That is intentional. This story takes place at roughly the same time as th
. The dialogue is much the same as in other volumes of the quartet, but the point of view is that of Shiro, the main character. In the next volume
Bloodstone | Power of Yout
, there are more of these scenes as the separate stories begin to blend together into the same epic war against the dark lord, Daryaku of Dakkor. The first chapter is included in this edition.
I hope you enjoy all four of the books.
he dawn barely lightened the black sky,
as Shiro slapped his arms around his body trying to stay warm in the pre-morning chill. He guided his cart by holding the harness on little Hoku, his donkey, along the dirt track leading to the village of Koriaki. The elders held market day twice a week now that the harvests began to roll in. Shiro’s hard work on his farm would bring a handsome return like it always did.
Today would be exceptional, but not in a good way, for he had just passed an encampment of sorcerers nestled in among a copse of trees. Only a few of their guards had risen and he could smell the sweet odors of sapwood smoke as a few gray tendrils had begun to reach across to the road. He had used sapwood to start his own fires, just for the dusky fragrance.
Everyone had heard about the testing, but Shiro had never seen the ceremony in all of his twenty-six years and if he didn’t see the testing for another fifty years or more, he’d be thrilled. The Emperors long ago had decreed that all men should be tested, but sorcerers took decades to get around to all of Roppon, especially to the North Isle where Shiro lived. Most men in the North had less capacity for magic compared to their more southerly brethren, but these men encamped out of the village still sought to find those with exceptional Affinity.
Shiro didn’t quite know how these men, with their colored silk robes and towering hats defined the word Affinity. He knew of the stories of lines of power running underground that sorcerers tapped to exercise their magical capabilities. The thought of turning around and heading back home tempted him. He would avoid all of the nonsense, but he looked back at all of his produce and didn’t want his efforts to go to waste.
The sun barely peeked over the low hills as Shiro guided his cart into the village. He breathed in the smells, some good, and some bad. Shiro didn’t know if he liked living among others so closely, as a benefit or a punishment, as he guided his donkey and cart along the roughly cobbled road, looking at the familiar structures. The colorful banners and awnings hadn’t yet been put out, making the village look a bit dull. That would all change in an hour when the market opened.
He took his long black hair and tied it into a topknot, as best he could. The elders demanded tidy hair on market day. Shiro struggled with his topknot’s final touches, while he began to walk over the uneven cobbles.
He reached his destination and removed Hoku’s harness. As soon as he arrived at the wall of an inn that faced the square, a stableboy ran out of the inn and led Hoku away. The village permitted no dray animals in the square once the market day had started. Shiro didn’t mind as he pushed and pulled the wagon, positioning it just right at his favorite spot, relieved that no one had claimed it before him.
He arranged his produce and fruit after he dropped one side of his wagon and sat down on the pillow his late wife had made just for market day. Shiro wished she still came with him and their two children. Dari would have been old enough to help sit with him by now. He sighed. At least the fever had spared Shiro while it took his family two years ago this month. Sometimes he wished he had left this world with them.
The sun began its march across the square, beginning at the far end. Shiro’s cart sat against the shaded three-story wall of the inn. His first customer, as always, was the innkeeper. The man generally beat the other innkeepers and food shops to his spot and bought the best of his produce. Wood-soled sandals began to clatter across the cobbles of the square as more vendors set up their wares, drawing the customers out from the houses in the village and the shops that lined the square.
Everyone paused as the tinkling of sorcerers’ tambourines and the harsh braying of flat horns announced the procession of sorcerers reaching Koriaki. Soldiers of the Emperor Fukunu, Eleventh Emperor of the Mottoku Dynasty rode into the square, ordering some of the vendors out to clear a space for the testing. The procession consisted of ten sorcerers and as many soldier-guards. They were followed by a larger line of children playing at being soldiers, sorcerers and danced along playing imaginary instruments.
Curious villagers began to gather as the sorcerers began to set up a testing line.
The horns and tambourines, nearly flat plates with metal tassels trailing from the disks, mounted so they would only touch when the pole that held them hit against the ground, brought a smile to Shiro’s lips. Did these men realize how stupid they looked? The village band played with melodious flutes, kotos and drums. The sorcerers only made harsh, raucous sounds. It fit them, somehow.
“You there. Up,” a soldier said as he gathered men from the village. He made Shiro stand. “Let me see your wrist.”
Shiro showed him the unadorned wrist of his left hand. His wrist didn’t have the little indigo dot tattoo that indicated a man tested and found wanting. Maybe he should have put one there to rid himself of the bother.
“Get in line. All males over fifteen years must be tested.”
Dari would have been excited, but even now the boy would only have been six years old. Sorrow tinged Shiro’s sigh, as he rearranged his produce, not too surprised that he had just about sold it all. He’d count it a good day if he could beat the sun to his spot before his cart had emptied. He sold the best produce in the village and made the most money. His success brought him few friends in Koriaki, and he didn’t care while his family lived, but now when he came into the village for a meal and some rice wine, few called him over to join them at their table and old friendships changed, now that he lived all alone.
The guard left to find other blank wrists and life returned to the market as the priest prepared for the testing. Shiro ignored them all until he finished selling all he had. Despite the hubbub associated with the sorcerers, he still beat the sun to his sold-out cart. Whistling an aimless tune, he took his place at the back of a long line. He patiently shuffled along with a few hundred other unfortunate souls.
Few were older than Shiro, but he did spot a gray head quite a ways further up in line. Most of those in line, teenage boys, jumped and fidgeted, excited about the big day. Shiro just folded his arms and waited. By the time he made it up to the testing tables, he looked at the sun. He’d be halfway back to his farm or enjoying a nice lunch at the inn that lent him its wall if the sorcerers hadn’t come to spoil his day.
“You!” a skinny young sorcerer with a squeaky voice and a bad complexion said, breaking Shiro from his reverie. “Name!” The rude boy must be right from Boriako, the capital. Bureaucrats all over Roppon, felt they were better than everyone else, but those from the Emperor’s city had a highly developed talent for irritating commoners like him.
“Shiro of Koriaki Farm #22.” All farms were named for the village or town and numbered. “At your service!” he stood up at attention, hoping his antics would get him kicked out of line, but the scrawny boy’s eyes lit up.
“I wish there were more with your kind of respect.”
Shiro heard a few of the men behind him chuckle, but he kept a smile off of his own face.
“Next table.” The sorcerer scrawled Shiro’s name and residence on two flattened scraps of bamboo used to slide into woven frames that would make up a scroll of bamboo slats tied together. The scraps were called scroll sticks. The young man took one and slid it into a long scroll with the sticks of those previously tested. Shiro wondered what possible use such a scroll would have. A guard took the second stick and handed to the next sorcerer. The mysteries of the bureaucracy only held his attention for a moment.
Shiro shuffled over to the next table. This one looked bored while he repeated what the first sorcerer said, reading from the identity stick.
“Grab the orb.” How many times in this man’s life had he said those very words? Hundreds of thousands? Shiro couldn’t imagine anyone saying it with less enthusiasm.
He picked up the ball of pale blue glass the size of an orange. The test. Now the man would give him words to say. If it glowed brightly enough, then he would be drafted into the Sorcerer’s guild. Shiro snorted. He’d soon be riding behind Hoku, back to his farm. Shiro had no shortage of things to do, since he had to farm alone. Chances were the sorcerers wouldn’t find a single candidate. He understood that such talent was rare this far north.
“Say ‘Piki, Paki, Poki’ and try to throw power into the ball.”
Shiro hadn’t heard of this aspect of the test. Throw power into the ball? How would he do that? He held the ball for a moment. He wondered if it would be like the nurturing thoughts he always projected at his crops?
Shrugging he said the magic words, “Piki, Paki, Poki.” He closed his eyes and thought of the ball as a fruit hanging from one of his trees. He couldn’t help but smile at the stupidity of it all.
“Look!” the sorcerer said.
Shiro heard similar exclamations and opened his eyes. He had to squint at the brilliant orange light that emanated from the globe he held in his hand. Shiro had to concentrate not to drop it. To him it looked like gazing into the sun and then the ball began to shimmer like a fire and flames began to lick up the side. Shiro couldn’t feel any heat, so he gently put the ball down and frowned as the illusion dissipated. He found he couldn’t breathe as he realized he could power the ball. Power. Coming to Koriaki today had been a major mistake.
The bored sorcerer no longer looked bored at all. In fact, the man looked excited. “Never seen that before. Pick it up again and let’s see the flames!”
Shiro repeated the spell and thought of oranges and then flames again, just as he had before. This time he kept his eyes open and found that he could extinguish the image of flames just by thinking about it. He easily returned the globe to its normal appearance before setting it down. The villagers drew back away from him.
He just shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry.” His stomach felt like an empty pit.
The sorcerer looked at Shiro’s scroll stick. “Shiro of Koriaki #22, you have two months to arrange your affairs and show up at the doorstep of the guild in Boriako. Failure to arrive on time is a capital offense. All sorcerers must dispose of their families. That means divorce. Find a good husband for your wife.”
“Family is dead.” Shiro said, not wanting to, but he didn’t want to hear the rest. “I’ll sell the farm. Plenty of farmers want it.”
His head spun with the command. How could this be? No farm? No Koriaki? His life had just ended. He never suspected that he had any kind of Affinity. If power made the ball glow, then Shiro seemed to have plenty of it and that wasn’t a good thing.
Before they let him go, he had to endure a long lecture what his new life entailed. Training as an apprentice in Boriako. His life was no longer his own. The emperor had called him into service. He listened, but with a sick feeling in his stomach. A soldier tattooed two dots on his wrist, dark blue and red. A black wavy line went underneath them both. He glanced at a sorcerer’s tattoo. Two blue dots and a straight line underneath. “What does this wavy line mean?”
“All you need to know is that you are the property of the Sorcerer’s Guild now,” the guard said. Shiro’s newly discovered power hadn’t any effect on the soldier’s derisive tone.
He walked in a daze towards his cart and began to fold up his tarps to get ready for the trip home. He relied on the constant routine of doing the same thing a hundred times as his mind still spun. Shiro looked down at the angry red welts and the tattoos that made them.
“Not good news, is it?” The innkeeper said walking up to him. “Come into the inn.”
Shiro finished up and walked into the entry court of the inn and removed his wooden sandals and stepped up onto the floor. The innkeeper escorted him to a table. The innkeeper and his wife sat down to treat Shiro to lunch. “We will miss you,” the innkeeper’s wife said. He could hear the sorrow in her voice. It didn’t match the grief in his heart.
Shiro laughed, but he didn’t feel very jovial. “You’ll miss the best of my produce. I know the reason you let me use your wall on market day is so you don’t have to walk so far to pick my best stuff.”
The wife tittered and covered her mouth with a hand. “You have me there, Shiro.”
“Intrigue. Bureaucracy. Greed. Selfishness,” Shiro said, waving at the bitterness that threatened to consume him. “It all makes the Ropponi life so rich.” They both laughed. Complaints about the relentless Ropponi bureaucracy and their petty dealings had livened many of their conversations, but never had they hit so close to Shiro.