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Nathaniel Hardman

Copyright © 2021 by Nathaniel Hardman

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission, except as allowed by fair use provisions.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination; any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Any references to real locales are used fictitiously.

ISBN: 979-8576-7967-55 (paperback)

ASIN: B08SVMGJYD (e-book)

ASIN: B08WJ6P6F2 (audiobook)

Cover art by Angel Martin

Published by Kindle Direct Publishing


Tuynomosh, king of the Suyxo, stopped walking and cocked his head. Sounds of the night forest murmured around him – the whisper of a breeze through pine-fern needles, a bird’s cry, the scurry of a stinging lizard. He listened.

Shaking his head, the king pushed through the underbrush into the moonlit clearing ahead. A cloud of neon butterflies rose up from the forest floor and scattered around him like shards of shattered rainbow.

He felt a pang at what he was about to do, but he would do it. As long as the Chushr continued to dominate the skies, the Suyxo would never get out from under their thumb. They would never be free.

Tuynomosh nodded to himself and raised his wand. He would do more than burn a few trees to gain the tool he needed to beat the Chushr.

“Keshu,” he said, “Keshu, keshu, keshu, keshu...Oqur!” A flame burst from the tip of his wand into the dead branches scattered under the trees. “Keshu, keshu, keshu...” he continued to chant, a string of fire streaming from his wand.

The fire caught on and began to grow. Flames spread through the grass, climbing up the nearest tree trunk. Smoke from the still-green grass and tree billowed up into the sky.

Across the clearing to his right, another tree flickered, then sprang to life. A dozen boughs stretched toward the fire, shaking out a downpour of water like a dog just out of a pool. The fire hissed and shrank.

Tuynomosh smiled. The tree man had come.

Turning his wand on the leafy giant, Tuynomosh shouted, “Choshoythmu!”

A ribbon of rippling air burst from his wand to connect with the trunk of the tree man, who had begun clawing at the ground with finger-like branches, tearing up chunks of dirt to throw on the fire. He rumbled in surprise as the spell hit him and swayed backward, his root-like tentacles straining and groaning to hold him upright.

The spell would have paralyzed a normal man, but the tree man only turned, and for one lingering second, he made eye contact with Tuynomosh – sad, apple-sized green irises locking onto the king’s own black ones.

“Choshoythmu!” Tuynomosh shouted again, but the spell hit only a tree, standing dumbly where the tree man had just been.

A whistling in the air gave him a split second’s warning, and Tuynomosh dove away as a branch-arm lashed out from behind him. The tree man was there, swinging at the king with a dozen arms like clubs.

“Keshu,” The king hissed as he rolled back, then rolled again. “Keshu, keshu, keshu, keshu… Oqur!” An instant before the fireball hit the tree man, he flickered, and the fire hit only a tree, standing innocent in a suddenly quiet forest.

Tuynomosh cursed, then charged forward. “Keshu, keshu, keshu, keshu!” he shouted, sending flames up into the branches of the defenseless tree. If the tree man wanted to hide behind his flock, Tuynomosh would turn the whole forest to ashes.

A rock the size of a man’s torso came hurtling out of the darkness to his left. He had no time to duck or dodge; it slammed into the shield of magic an inch from his head with bone-shaking force. A half dozen of his protective beads exploded to dust, and he went flying through the air.

Tuynomosh lay on his back, blinking up into the starry sky, trying to clear his spinning head. The stars and moon swirled and danced. Branches above him swayed in the wind.

There was no wind.

“Choshoythmu!” he shouted. The tree man recoiled as the spell hit him in the face. “Choshoythmu!” Tuynomosh shouted again. The tree man drunkenly pushed his branch-arms down toward the king, trying to block the spells even as he swayed.

Twiggy finger-claws raked across Tuynomosh, digging blindly for the wand or for blood or both. “Choshoythmu!” the king yelled, again and again.

The tree man flickered, replaced by a leaning, misshapen tree. Tuynomosh panted, wiped blood from his eyes, and pushed himself to his feet. He would not stop. Not while the tree man had the key to breaking the Chushr. He raised his wand to the crooked tree.

“Keshu-” he began.




“Maybe you should just transfer back to seventh-grade math.” Jeff’s friend Nacho suggested over the rumble of the bus’s engine. “With me.”

“No,” Jeff grimaced, “I did all that testing, got all those signatures… Plus,” a grin spread across his face, “Seventh-grade math is too easy.” Then his face fell again, and he groaned, leaning his head against the seat in front of them. “I just wish everyone didn’t hate me so much for skipping ahead.”

The bus jerked to a stop, and a dozen or so kids shuffled to their feet and into the aisle, dragging backpacks, saying goodbyes to friends.

“It’ll blow over,” Nacho said as Jeff scooted past him. Up ahead, at the front of the bus, Jeff could see his sister Suzy with her friends – the pretty, popular girls, each wearing half a dozen campaign buttons, ribbons, or bracelets with slogans like “Suzy for President” and “Jenny for Historian.”

Suzy was waving goodbyes all around, calling out to Karen to “Call me later!” even as she walked down the steps and onto the sidewalk.

No one was calling goodbyes to Jeff.

“And I wish Suzy

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