The Bone Master Book Two of The Sands of Achten Tan by Debbie Iancu-Haddad Genre: Epic Fantasy
Kaii Haku has lived his whole life in the shadow of his cruel father's magic.
Rebelling against his father- the Bone Master- by drinking and sleeping around was Kaii's main occupation for years.
But when one of his best friends is kidnapped by pirates, Kaii embarks on a perilous rescue mission with two retired pleasure house workers, a shy teen bookworm, and a feisty girl from the pirate crew.
The journey will take Kaii and his allies far from Achten Tan, to a sea ruled by dangerous conditions and ships that travel on the backs of monsters.
For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference, but if he wields his emerging bone magic to save the girl he loves, he risks losing himself and becoming like his father - a man who tried to kill him.
It’s cold beneath the bones.
I can feel them now, all around me.
When I first got my magic back, this awareness overwhelmed me. Sensing the ancient leviathan bones, the city is carved into, and the bones of its occupants. It took me a while to discern the living, breathing residents from the structures surrounding us. These fleeting specks of existence celebrate life today and are reduced to dust tomorrow. Morbid, Kaii. Really morbid. Gast me. I’m turning into my dad.
I stride through the Undercity, sensing the vertebrae all around me. Up ahead, I detect two (probably live) bodies before I see them, and one more, further away, the target of my visit.
“Who goes there?”
Long wooden staffs bar my way into the Undercity. Which is really gasting rude, all things considered. The tall sharp-faced elf who spoke is obviously one of Aislinn’s people, the Svaalti elves who moved into the Undercity the day after the cavern gnomes left. The two elves, one male, and one female, regard me with haughty expressions. Sporting long pale hair, braided in intricate patterns, their robes a fine silk rarely seen in Achten Tan. I’m relieved they haven’t replaced the bone weapons my father confiscated the day they arrived, seeking refuge after the destruction of Satama.
“Kaii Haku, to visit Opu Haku.” I state. Not that it’s any of their business. The elves nod and move aside, their expressions still just on the wrong side of respectful. Aislinn and her people have taken control of the Undercity like a rot growing into the marrow. They’ll need to be dealt with eventually, but it’s not my responsibility to do so. At least not yet.
Today I’m here to see my father, though I don’t know why I bother. I can already feel him up ahead. My ability to sense bones doesn’t tell me if he’s dead or alive, but something tells me he still lives. As I enter the passageway below the Undercity, an almost palpable wave of animosity floats my way. It must be my imagination.
Opu Haku hasn’t taken well to his imprisonment. The rock cage at the end of the tunnel is lit only by a flickering torch. The hunched figure in the shadows doesn’t stir as I approach, but I sense a subtle testing of my wards, searching for an opening. If he finds it, he could break my bones, hurl me across the tunnel, try to kill me. Again.
“Still can’t throw me down the hall.” I aim for glib, but my tone misses its mark, sliding off his hunched shoulders to land in a splat at his feet. He can’t attack me with bone magic. I’m shielded by the protection runes tattooed into my skin, so instead, he hurls sharp words, seeking to make a mark.
“Why are you here?” he snarls.
“The usual.” I approach the stone bars and slide the package of food through the narrow gap. Drizko engineered a device that provides a trickle of water. It flows through his cell, washing away waste, and enabling him to drink. The smell down here is foul. Body odor and refuse with a side of dirt and despair. Does he even bother to bathe himself anymore? He’s sunk so low, figuratively and literally. From the top of Chief’s Rib to the deepest hole in the Undercity.
“Any plans of getting me out of here?” he asks. His voice is close. I look up to discover he’s right up against the bars. Grey eyes, the same color as my own, stare me down, and for an instant, I see vulnerability in his granite gaze, but I blink and it’s gone.
“No. Nobody misses you, old man.” Ok. That was cruel, but the guy tried to kill me, more than once. All my warm fuzzy feelings for him are long gone.
“Then why bother feeding me?” He hurls the package I just passed through at the bars, the loaves of algae bread and dried meat strips scattering on the dirty cell floor. “Why prolong my suffering?”
“Maybe I won’t come back then.” I turn and leave, his eyes stabbing my back like knives.
I don’t mean it. I won’t let my own father starve to death, even if the bastard deserves it. He blames me for his imprisonment, and for my part in the destruction of his bone staff, even though both result from his own actions. But I’m not the one who decided to leave him down here. That was the town council’s decision. Even his toady, Rapaccio Pallor, couldn’t sway them.
As I exit the Undercity, my feet turn right towards Jezebone’s. That’s where I always end up lately. It’s better than going back to my empty rooms.
I’m nursing my second or third drink when a wide smile and an An’cher uniform block my view of the bar.
“What are you drinking?” Kamal swings his large blond frame down onto the bench opposite me, patting the seat at his side for D’or to join him. D’or hesitates a moment, his green eyes swinging from me to Kamal.
“Do you want company?” D’or asks me, shoving back his mess of dark curls.
I wave my hand at his already seated boyfriend. “Sure.” I love being surrounded by sickeningly in-love couples. Nothing better.
“Should you two even be in here?” I toss back the rest of my Xenthalor Venom and motion to the barmaid to hit me again. Hopefully not literally this time.
Kamal scrunches up his pale eyebrows like a confused dasu pup. “First of all, I’m almost seventeen now and I have An’cher privileges… And D’or…” he turns to his boyfriend, “do you get a Tar-tule rider discount?”
I’m just messing with him, anyway. I seriously doubt Jezebone’s gives a gast about a minimum age for drinking or for use of their other services.
“Where have you two been?” I mumble into my empty cup.
They exchange a look. “Oh, we were out of Achten Tan for a few days… Visiting my parents at the caverns,” Kamal responds.
He’s sweet, trying to spare my feelings, but I force the issue, relishing the prickle of discomfort. “Mila and Geb’s ceremony?”
I’m not bitter. They invited me and I wanted to go. I was just too busy with my ‘drinking myself stupid’ schedule… I’d built up a rhythm and couldn’t take a break for things like forever ceremonies, especially when it’s the girl who was supposed to be my future.
Kamal and D’or exchange another look.
“Can you two still read each other’s minds? Or mine?” I ask.
I really should have had them sign a non-disclosure agreement before I invited six people into my brain. They know too much. I’d make them disappear, but I kinda like the two brats.
“We can’t read your mind,” D’or says, his green eyes glinting with mischief. “Not since Mila’s mind-reading elixir wore off. And we still have enough material to work through from the night of the heist.”
“That was a long list,” Kamal smirks. The two boys nudge each other, practically giggling. It’s disgusting, in a cute, nauseatingly sweet kinda way.
The barmaid slams my drink down in front of me, sloshing some of the green liquid out of the glass to splash on my hand. I miss Kiva. How was I to know the new girl only tends the bar and doesn’t offer those services? I mean, it’s a pleasure house, for Gast’s sake.
I study my wet hand for a moment before lifting my eyes to her furious black ones and licking my fingers off slowly, one at a time. For a moment it looks like she’s going to hit me again, but then she huffs, throwing her dark tresses over her shoulder and stamping off towards the bar again.
“Actually, we wanted to order a drink…” Kamal calls after her.
D’or sighs and slides out of his seat. “I’ll get it. Your usual, babe?”
Kamal nods and unashamedly watches Do’r’s backside as he moves towards the bar. Not that I blame him. I’d watch too if I wasn’t worried about Kamal thumping me for ogling his boyfriend. Not that I care about being hit, but they are friends, sort of, and I don’t do it with friends. I don’t even think about doing it with friends. I made that mistake before and I’ve learned my lesson.
But as my eyes follow D’or towards the bar, I spot a girl who most certainly is not a friend. In fact, I’ve never seen her before. She’s leaning on the wall by the bar, holding a tankard the size of a pumble and wearing a frown that promises to burn this town to the ground. She’s definitely not from around here. Not to brag, but I’ve slept with every unattached, reasonably young, warm body around these parts, who ISN’T a friend. I’d love to add her to my list.
Her clothes are distinctly foreign and I use the term clothes lightly. Apparently, she thinks knives are a fashion accessory. I’ve counted five from this angle alone and I can only see one side of her. She’s not so much wearing a shirt as a type of leather halter with room for more knives, but it affords a very enticing view of her breasts. Before I think too hard about it, I’m out of my seat and crossing the bar in her direction.
I’m not quite into weaving territory yet, which is good, because this girl looks like she’ll require the use of at least part of my brain, not to mention other parts of me. I wonder if her tongue is as sharp as her knives. Still, I manage to walk a pretty straight line over to the bar, my fresh drink only slightly sloshing over my hand.
She watches me, locking her dark eyes with mine, a smirk lifting one side of her full lips. Challenge accepted. I make it across the room to her side, planting one hand on the wall by her head. Mostly for effect, but also a bit for support.
The girl turns towards me, wiping her luscious lips with the back of her hand, and slaps her tankard back onto the bar.
“Can I get you another?” I ask though I don’t know how she finished the first one.
“I’ll pass.” Her voice is deep and raspy. “It tastes like whale piss.” She scrapes a hand through her hair, pushing the short dark strands back behind her ear. One side is shaved short, while the other brushes her bare tattooed shoulder. Mmmmm, tattoos. No, wait. Tattoos are bad. I’m not into tattoos… anymore. Oh, Gast, who am I kidding?
“Well, if you hate the taste, why did you finish the first one?” Am I imagining it, or is she shifting closer?
She shrugs. “I was thirsty.” Yup, she’s definitely moving closer. Running her hand up my arm, she gives my bicep a squeeze, “but now I’m hungry for something else.” Then she licks those pink lips, my eyes following the motion with fascination.
I’ll admit, this has never worked quite so well on a complete stranger before. Maybe she’s heard about me. I lean in, testing the limits of this arrangement. She doesn’t give an inch, which places us chest to chest, and hers is just as pleasing up close as it was from across the room.
“Are you new in town?” I murmur.
Her dark eyes turn up to mine. I’m half a head taller than her, just the way I like it.
“I’m just passing through. Here today, gone tomorrow. So why don’t you show me a good time while I’m here?” She leans in to speak and her breath whispers along my cheek. Her hand is moving again, sliding across my chest and scraping my jaw. She pushes up on her toes, her mouth hovering close to mine.
“What’s the best view in Achten Tan?” she asks. Her scent is tantalizing. A salty, flowery combination I can’t place. I want to inhale her. Better yet, I want to taste her. I swallow, my mouth suddenly dry, and take the last gulp of my drink. She watches my mouth as I lick my lips, her pink tongue darting out to wet her bottom lip.
“Best view in Achten Tan is from the top of Chief’s Rib, where I live.”
She nods in a type of weird satisfaction, like I got the answer right. I look down again; she’s practically plastered to my front, which is good… or bad… because she’s going to feel…
Her smile widens and her hand is on the move again, sliding down, down, down…
I catch her wrist before her hand can reach its destination. I’d like to continue this, but not in the middle of Jezebone’s. They don’t allow that behavior here unless you’re paying for it.
“How about I give you the tour?” I ask.
“Of your rooms?” I thought she wanted to see the view from my father’s chambers, but apparently, she’s as eager as I am.
“Sure. Of my rooms. This way…” I pause, waiting for her name.
“Tara. Tara Phenix.”
Chapter 2- Ruby
I count to twenty after Tara leaves with the mark, then finish my drink, slamming the cup down on the table. It clacks against the grimy surface.
“It’s made of bones,” I gripe at Brax, my shipmate, staring at the cup as though it’s personally offended me. “So is the table, and the chairs. Even the people in this sodden town contain bones. Though… I guess that’s everywhere.”
“You still sulking because the captain wouldn’t let you seduce the mark, Ruby?” Jace asks and laughs, drawing my eyes up to his hooded face. Amber-colored eyes, narrowed under thick lashes and creased dark eyebrows, study me with disapproval. He’d be attractive if he wasn’t such a scracum. Anyway, he’s Tara’s plaything, and she doesn’t like to share her toys. I don’t answer, focusing my attention on the ale pooling on the floor.
We’re lurking in a dark corner of a sleazy brothel, in a town carved out of a pile of bones. If I’d imagined the trip to find my cousin would end like this, I’d have stayed on the ship. I could be sunning myself on Oky’s deck and drinking rum out of a coconut. Instead, I’m skulking in a sleazy dive carved out of some dead creature’s butthole drinking… I don’t even know what this is, just that it burns.
After following Dagen’s trail for months based on semi-reliable information, we’d arrived here, at the world’s literal backend, only for Tara to go off alone and return to tell us her brother is dead.
I don’t know how I feel about it yet. Sad, I guess.
I was really sure we’d found him. That he would stride into the tavern after Tara, with his dark eyes and smiling mouth, and sweep me up in a hug, like he used to when I was ten. I’m heavier than I was back then. Eight years of maturing will do that to a lass, but my cousin was always larger than life and ready for any challenge. He and Tara used to be thick as thieves, no pun intended, and sometimes they let me tag along on their escapades.
I haven’t seen Dagen since he was eighteen. The day he left Janolus cove, eight years ago. On the same day, we lost my uncle, Tara’s dad. Life hasn’t been the same since.
Well, no more escapades with Dagen. No more booming laughter or friendly smiles. He’s gone. Like my father and my older brother. Now, I should get going too.
I stand up and wobble, unsteady on my feet. Seems that I’m drunker than I expected. I only had one cup of the vile liquid that seared its way down my throat, thankfully numbing my grief.
“You good?” Brax reaches out a hand to steady me, his huge hand wrapping easily around my bicep as his deep voice’s soothing timbre reaches into my aching heart.
“Yup,” I lie, and he releases me.
“Maybe I should go?” Jace places both palms on the table, preparing to stand. He’s pushed up his sleeves in the hot room. His tattooed, muscled forearms are on full display, broadcasting his rank and family crest for all to see. Fool. He’s lucky nobody in this washed-up town can read them or know their meaning. We’re a long way from the sea.
“Getting sloppy.” I tap his arm and he scowls at me.
“Watch your mouth, Ruby. You might be the captain’s cousin, but I’m still the first mate.”
“Yes sir. Sorry sir,” I drawl. His scowl deepens.
“Better hurry, or you’ll lose them,” Brax intervenes before Jace tries to pull rank on me again.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
I do my best to walk in a straight line towards the door Tara disappeared out of and creep into the alley. The cool night air is a blessing after the hot, rank room. Closing the door quietly, I crouch and fill my lungs, drawing in deep refreshing breaths, clearing my inebriated head.
As expected, Tara hasn’t gone far without backup. The mark is leaning against the wall at the entrance to the alley and Tara is attacking his mouth as if she’s searching for buried treasure. Poor guy. He’s taller than her, and she’s woven her hands into his long sandy locks to pull his face down. She says something too low for me to hear and he chuckles, then groans in a deep, husky voice that goes straight to my nether regions.
I duck down behind an overflowing pail of refuse. Wonderful. I love my life. Tara gets to suck face with the town’s most eligible bachelor while I crawl around on my hands and knees in the muck.
I need to alert Tara to my presence and let her know she can proceed. I focus, finding the pitter-pattering heartbeat of a small creature nearby. Perfect.
A large rodent peeks out of the garbage pail beside me. Nose twitching and black eyes reflecting the yellow moon above us, it looks down at me curiously.
“Hello, friend. Go to Tara,” I instruct it. Giving it a little nudge with my power.
The rodent squeaks and scurries towards the overly amorous couple. Tara pays it no mind until it climbs onto her leg. Oh well. That should do the trick. Three… two… one…
There’s a scream and a squeak. My furry messenger scurries away, and Tara’s voice drifts back to me. “Can we maybe go somewhere less… overridden?”
Her companion chuckles and grabs her hand. “Of course. We can go back to my rooms in Chief’s Rib. Best view in all of Achten Tan.”
That’s what we were hoping for.
“Perfect.” Tara laughs, a deep throaty sound I know is fake. They set out along the alley and I follow, marking the route for Brax and Jace.
The streets are quiet at this time of night. Most of the townspeople have retired to the towering ribs that loom above us, glinting white in the moonlight. The night air must sober our mark as well. His voice sounds clearer, less slurred.
“What shall I call you?” Tara asks teasingly.
“My name is Kaii, but if you like, you can call me The Bone Master. Everyone does.”
“Is that a reference to your appendage?” Tara snickers.
“Among other things,” he replies, sounding pleased with himself.
I peek around the corner, staying in the shadows. Tara sways towards him, her teeth shining white in the moonlight.
“You know that’s not a bone, right?”
“Might as well be,” he smirks, eyes full of dirty promises.
I roll my eyes so hard I glimpse my brain. Maybe I’m not missing anything after all. He slings an arm around Tara’s waist. He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t cut himself on one of the many knives stuffed into her leather vest.
I wonder if Tara is enjoying herself. Nobody on the ship would dare grope her like that, not even Jace. But as far as Kaii knows, she’s just a girl in dark leather. I’d love to see his face when he finds out she’s the captain of a pirate ship.
Kaii leads Tara through the streets. He’s still slightly unsteady, but sobering up slowly in the cool night air. “So, Tara,” he asks, “what brings you to Achten Tan?”
“My long-lost brother.” I can’t believe she told him, and even worse, her tone is neutral. She doesn’t even sound upset.
“Anyone I’d know?” Kaii inquires.
Tara shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter. I didn’t find what I was looking for.”
Kaii frowns and mutters to himself. “Yeah. I know the feeling.” Well, this conversation turned depressing quickly.
Tara must realize she’s killing the mood because she squeezes his hand and waits for him to glance her way before leveling him with a dazzling smile. “But now the night is looking up.”
His eyes search hers for a moment before he returns the smile. “Yeah. I think so too.”
It only takes a few minutes to get across town to Chief’s Rib. They’re almost at the bottom of the stairs when a door at the base of the rib opens and a teenage girl steps out. I duck into the deep shadows of a doorway across the main path. Close enough to hear and see.
“Hey, Kaii,” she says, looking up at him with big adoring eyes. Aww, how cute. It looks like someone’s got a crush. “How’s it going?”
“Hi, Valla,” he greets her with a smile while pulling Tara to his side. “I’m doing just fine now.”
Her expression falters, but only briefly. Kaii probably has no idea he’s breaking this kid’s heart. I feel bad for her. Valla is young, maybe sixteen or seventeen, with long black braids and dirt smudges on her face. She’s holding some kind of tool. Her clothing is functional and full of bulging pockets. I know her type, smart and mousy. Kaii would chew this girl up and spit her out without knowing he’d done it. She’s better off without him.
Valla’s gaze travels over to Tara with a frown. She takes in Tara’s hair, clothes, and especially her knives, her eyes growing wider by the minute before turning back to Kaii with the fakest smile I’ve ever seen. “Oh… That’s great.” Wow! This girl needs some acting lessons.
Kaii leans closer and shout-whispers in Tara’s ear, as he gestures to Valla, “Valla’s an inventor. She’s brilliant.”
“Kaii,” Valla warns, but he isn’t listening.
“See those chairs over there? Mila called them the Chairs of Death.” I follow his finger as he indicates a pair of seats surrounded by a mesh of twigs and fastened to a long rope leading up. It looks like a death trap. “Valla invented them. They’ll take you from the ground, all the way to the top of the Chief’s Rib. She even made us fly once.”
“KAII!” Valla glares at Kaii and he finally gets the point. She doesn’t trust Tara, and she doesn’t think he should either. Kaii’s right. Valla is a very smart girl.
Tara flashes her a smile, but narrows her eyes in warning, like a sand viper preparing to strike. The girl recoils from the obvious threat. Ha! She wouldn’t last five minutes on the ship. Tara turns to Kaii, draping herself over him and running her lips across his neck. “That’s really interesting, but I recall you having a promise to keep.”
“You’re right. We should go.” His sexy laugh is low before turning to kiss Tara. Valla’s pain flashes across her features before she hurries to conceal it. Throwing his arms over Tara’s shoulder, Kaii leads her toward the stairs. “Good night, Valla,” he calls without looking back, and only a blind boy like him can’t see the hurt in her eyes. Valla retreats into her room as Kaii and Tara climb the questionable-looking stairs carved into the side of the rib towards the dark night sky. After two turns, they stop at a room less than halfway up the ribs.
“I thought you lived at the top,” Tara says.
Kaii scoffs and looks further up the rib with a scowl. “No. My father lived up there… before… Anyway, the only thing up there now is his hoard of treasure.”
“Treasure?!” Tara laughs as if she doesn’t believe him. Only I know she does. It’s why we’re here and Kaii takes the bait.
“My father was a collector, and he didn’t like to share. Anytime he found something valuable, he added it to his hoard.” Kaii’s eyes cloud over. His father is obviously a sore subject. I suspect the mix of alcohol and having someone listen has loosened his lips. Thankfully, those lips gave Tara all the information she needed.
“You know what, I forgot something at Jezebone’s.” Tara’s voice is dismissive. Kaii sways towards her, but she pats him on the chest, shoving him back against the door.
“Should I walk you back?” Kaii is a gentleman, even drunk.
“No. Tell you what. You go in and get out of these pesky clothes, and leave the door unlocked. I’ll be right back.” Tara grabs his cheeks and kisses him deeply. “One for the road,” she murmurs, pushing him towards his door. “It’s been fun, Kaii.”
Without even waiting for a reply, she practically runs down the stairs. With any luck, he’ll pass out and forget about her by morning. He doesn’t know how close he came to losing more than a tumble in the hammock.
As Tara reaches the ground, I step out of the shadows. She barely startles.
“How do you feel about heights, cousin?” Tara asks. Pointing above me.
I follow her finger, tilting back my head till I can see the curved top of the rib, hundreds of lengths above us. Oh no.
Tara smiles. “Let’s get Jace and Brax. I know where the treasure is.”
Speechless in Achten Tan Book 1 In The Sands of Achten Tan
Mila hasn't spoken in the five years since she became an Onra, a first-level Everfall witch. After failing the test to reclaim her voice and control her magic, her mentor sends eighteen-year-old Mila to Achten Tan–City of Dust–a dangerous desert town, built in the massive ribcage of an extinct leviathan.
To reclaim her power, Mila must steal a magical staff capable of releasing it, from Bone Master Opu Haku's sky-high lair.
Her only resources are the magical luminous elixirs of the cursed caverns where she grew up, and a band of unlikely allies; a quirky inventor, a giant-ant rider, a healer, a librarian's assistant, a Tar-tule rider, and the chief's playboy son.
But in the City of Bones, enemies & friends are not who they seem, and trusting the wrong person can be deadly.
If Mila fails, she will never speak again and her bones will be added to the desert.
This book includes a kick-ass tattooed witch who can't speak, giant ants, first-person present-tense narration, magic, banter, lots of innuendoes, and cute boys kissing.
Debbie Iancu-Haddad is a Jewish Israeli author living in Meitar in the Negev Desert. Author of Speechless in Achten Tan a YA fantasy novel. And The Bone Master, forthcoming.
She spends her time taking part in Anthologies (seven to date with three more on the way), writing VSS on Twitter, and buying way too much stuff online. Her goal is to promote body positive characters and include characters dealing with physical challenges. #ownvoices
For her day job, she gives lectures on humor, laughter yoga workshops, and chocolate workshops, and sees how often she can make her two teenagers roll their eyes.