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.
The Warrior & the Flower by Camille Picott
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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At an easy walk, Fire Foot could have reached the village in an hour. A regular gallop would have taken him half an hour. With a lightning charge, he reached the outskirts of Fen-li in less than ten minutes.
Rushing waves of heat gusted over the hard-packed dirt of the village. Smoke was everywhere, roiling through the air like a mass of angry spirits. Nearly all the buildings burned, including the community hall and the worship house.
Where there were cloud shamans, there was always fire.
Even though he’d officially retired from the military four years ago, Yi had never lost the habits acquired during his fifteen years in the field. He grabbed the kerchief he wore around his neck and pulled it up over his nose. The raw burning left his throat.
From his belt hung a pair of glass-and-leather goggles, a gift from the emperor many years ago. He slipped them on. His eyes stopped stinging and his vision cleared. He nocked an arrow and scanned the chaos around him. Dead bodies—mostly men, but some women and children—were everywhere.
The cloud shaman attack was centered on the village proper. Those villagers yet living formed a bucket brigade to the nearest well. Even small children, tear-streaked and confused, joined the effort. They concentrated on the community barn. The shamans had strategically set several fires around its base.
He counted five shamans altogether. Three hovered above the barn roof, each on his own cloud. Two other clouds floated near a hole that had been blasted in the roof. The owners of those clouds were inside the hole, only their heads visible. They tossed bags of rice from the barn’s loft to their waiting comrades. The sacks were distributed evenly among the clouds.
The fires they’d ignited protected them from the villagers. None of the shamans had noticed Yi. Smoke boiled around Fire Foot, but even the smoke could not conceal his glowing scales. Likely they did not expect to encounter a soldier and kylin in the middle of nowhere.
There was no sign of Sei and Jian. Yi squelched his desire to race past the village and straight to his estate—and the liquid steel vault—outside of town. There were shamans in Fen-li. He could not abandon the villagers. He could not risk having the shamans follow him back to the house.
Yi took aim with his bow, training the liquid steel arrowhead on the nearest cloud. Despite the rage and fear bubbling in the recesses of his mind, a familiar calm possessed him.
Hunting shamans is what he did.
He fired. The first arrow had scarcely left his bow before he fired another, then another and another and another. In the span of a breath, five arrows flew through the gritty smoke. They sliced through the clouds, obliterating them. Shamans tumbled to the rooftop, one yelling as he slid over the edge.
Yi drew his sword and urged Fire Foot into a charge straight at the burning barn. The kylin leaped, soaring at the plummeting shaman.
Yi rose up in the stirrups and shoved the blade upward—hard. He impaled the falling shaman in the gut, barely noticing the hot blood that ran down his arms and soaked his tunic.
Fire Foot, seasoned from years of battle, was undisturbed by the collision. He cleared the three-story building and landed on the roof, hooves barely making a sound on the wooden boards. Yi dumped the dead shaman onto the rooftop without a second glance.
The smoke was thick, the air hot against his skin. He ignored all physical sensation, his attention on the shamans.
Through his goggles, he saw them. Pillaged rice sacks lay everywhere, most of them split open and bleeding white grain across the rooftop.
The four remaining shamans were on the roof now. They formed a line in front of him, honey-jade bracelets raised. Faint light emanated from the jewelry. Fire Foot’s nostrils flared as he scented the lightning inside. Yi grinned behind his bandana. Let them try to strike him. Let them try.
He yelled a wordless challenge, standing in his stirrups and lifting his sword. Fire Foot charged.
The shamans fired at the roof beneath them. It was a good move. If Fire Foot hadn’t been charged with lightning, the shamans may have succeeded in sending them crashing down into the burning barn.
But Fire Foot was fast. His body blurred as he moved. Yi felt the frenzy rise within the beast and made no move to quell it. Wood exploded behind them, splinters and bits of timber bouncing harmlessly off Yi’s back. Fire Foot stampeded straight toward the shamans.
Yi swept his sword in an arc, beheading two of them. Fire Foot crushed the third shaman, plunging his hooves into the man and going for his bracelet. Yi dropped to the ground and buried his sword in the fourth shaman.
He aimed carefully, sliding his sword into the man’s lower abdomen to avoid the lungs and heart. He needed him alive long enough to answer questions. The emperor would want to know of this attack.
“Did you come through the Monkey Province or Ram Province?” Yi asked. The shamans could not have traveled through either province without being detected, and there was no other route to Fen-li—which meant someone had turned a blind eye to their passage. Who? And why?
“Answer me!” Yi put one booted foot on the man’s shoulder and pushed him off the end of his blade.
The shaman moaned. Yi’s stomach clenched. The voice was too light and melodic to belong to a man.
Even after fighting shamans for fifteen years, he never got used to killing the women. He would never understand why the Sky Emperor sent women into battle, or why he made them crop their hair short and wear men’s clothing.
“Why here?” Yi loomed over her. “Why a supply raid here, of all places?”
“A . . . supply . . . raid?” the woman rasped, an amused smile briefly shattering the pain that lined her features. “Check your precious . . . vault.”
Despite the growing heat, her words made gooseflesh rise along his arms. He seized her by the leather collar of her shirt.
“What did you say?”
Blood ran from her stomach and dribbled from her mouth. “You’re too . . . late.” Her eyes rolled back in her head. She died, her body still dangling from his grasp.
Too late. Yi’s mental wall shattered. Panic and fear poured in. Too late.
“Sei.” He dropped the body, turning toward Fire Foot. “Jian.”
The kylin was in full frenzy. He glowed twice as bright, which meant he’d already devoured at least one honey-jade bracelet and the lightning within. The kylin clamped his jaw around the wrist of another dead shaman. The bracelet cracked beneath the pressure of his teeth. He yanked it free and swallowed it in one gulp. The glow emanating from his body intensified, so bright Yi had to squint. Fire Foot looked up at him and belched.
He barely registered the kylin’s contentment or the rising fire around them. All he saw was his beautiful wife and sweet daughter, alone and unprotected in the house.
“Home!” he cried, vaulting into the saddle.
Maybe it was the urgency in his voice. Maybe Fire Foot had gorged himself past the point of frenzy. For whatever reason, the kylin didn’t fight him.
He galloped to the edge of the roof and jumped. He sailed through smoke and over flame. He sailed right over the village bucket brigade. As soon as his hooves touched the earth, he shot out of the village and up the small road toward home.
Men, women, and children cheered and called blessings after them. Yi heard their gratitude and thought of Sei as he had last seen her, waving at him from the porch with one hand as she balanced Jian on her hip with the other. She’d been wearing a blue dress with a matching blue ribbon in her braided hair. The morning light had been in her dark eyes, and he’d been certain he’d never seen anything so beautiful in all his life.
Fear riding on his shoulders like a great demon, he gripped Fire Foot’s mane and leaned over his neck. The kylin ran, his hooves barely touching the ground as he raced for the House of Liquid Steel.
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.