- Jiri has always been special. Found as an infant in the ashes of her village, she was taken in by neighbors and trained to be a powerful jungle druid. Yet, when Aspis Consortium mercenaries release an ancient evil that burns her adopted home to the ground, Jiri must gather a group of her own in order to get revenge and drive the mercantile foreigners from her land before they cause further damage. For in the heart of the Mwangi Jungle, sometimes the secrets of the past are best left buried.
- From acclaimed newcomer Gary Kloster comes a tale of jungle adventure and lost civilizations, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||16 Years|
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Pathfinder Tales: Firesoul
By Gary Kloster
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Paizo Inc.
All rights reserved.
Beyond the Mango Woman
Jiri crouched motionless beneath the emerald shadows of the undergrowth.
A breeze sighed through the high canopy. Birds sang, fruit bats shrieked, and insects droned, but underneath it all came that scrap of noise again. The scuff of feet against the ground, somewhere close.
Jiri slipped the handful of bloodfern that she had gathered into her pouch. She had left Thirty Trees at dawn hunting these curly green shoots, so useful for clotting blood. Traveling a slowly widening spiral, she hadn't come that far from her village.
It's probably someone out hunting.
Probably. But Jiri's hand went from her pouch to the hilt of her knife. Being close to home, close to all that she cared about, meant she should be more cautious, not less. Hidden in brush, she drew her knife and parted her lips, ready to whisper the words that would bring the spirits and their magic to her.
Then she heard a voice.
"Boro, hold up."
So, her lover had finally rolled out of his hammock to go hunting with his brother. Or Boro tipped him out. Letting her knife go, Jiri shook her head and started to straighten, but stopped when she heard Hadzi continue.
"I need to piss."
Maybe I won't pop up and say good morning, Jiri thought as she made sure Hadzi wasn't too close. Maybe I'll work on my leopard impression instead. She smiled and drew a deep breath, but held it when Boro spoke.
"It won't work."
"Again with this," Hadzi muttered, finishing his business.
"You overestimate your charms, brother," Boro continued. "Jiri may be swinging a hammock with you, but —"
"Trust me, it's more than that for her."
Really? Jiri let her breath go, listening.
"I've got Jiri like a snake with a monkey. When I tell her tonight how Father has found me a girl in Kibwe, when I tell her how much I love her, but oh no, a shaman can't marry and my family needs this alliance ... She'll fall apart, and I'll hold her and cry, too. It will be so tragic, she'll never be able to forget me."
The undergrowth that hid her kept Jiri from seeing her lover's face, but in Hadzi's voice she could hear his smile. That stupid, cocky smile that made him so handsome.
"I promise you, Jiri will be slipping off with me less than a year after my marriage. I'll have two women, and —"
"A lot of trouble?"
"No," Hadzi snapped. "Strength. When Thirty Trees chooses a new wara, I'll be husband to the niece of the biggest fruit merchant in Kibwe, and the lover of the girl that old Oza claims might be greater than him someday. With those two by my side, I will be the new wara."
"Or dead," Boro muttered.
"Right. Better I spend my life worrying like old man Boro, too scared to ..."
Whatever else Hadzi said was lost in the ruckus of a monkey troop swinging overhead. When the animals had passed, the men were gone.
Jiri rose and wove through the undergrowth until she came to the trail the brothers had been traveling. Hand resting on her belt knife, she stared down the narrow path.
"Like a snake. With a monkey." Jiri took one step down the trail, but a rustle of leaves and a flash of motion stopped her. A monkey dropped from the branches arcing above, landing light on the ground before her.
Jiri frowned at the animal. "How much of that did you hear?"
The monkey cocked its head then blurred, stretching up and out until it was a man. He stood taller than Jiri, and his gray braids were shorter, but like her he wore brown mud cloth patterned with black designs and a necklace. Instead of her bright beads, though, Oza wore a menagerie of tiny animal fetishes, each carved from bone.
"Enough to know that you shouldn't be talking to Hadzi right now." Oza touched the carved monkey hanging from his necklace, a gesture of thanks. "You're a bit too hot at the moment."
"Hot?" Jiri said, proud of the levelness of her voice, the easy way she held herself.
Oza didn't say anything. He just looked down at Jiri's hand.
Jiri followed her teacher's gaze and saw the smoke slipping out between her fingers. She let go of her belt knife and stared at the black marks she had branded into the blade's leather grip.
"Well," she said, blowing on her fingertips. "Maybe a little."
The old shaman raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything.
Heaving out a sigh, Jiri brushed back her braids. "I shouldn't have trusted that dog, but I thought I knew just what he wanted from me. And that was fine, because that's what I wanted from him." Hadzi had broad shoulders, a handsome face, lovely hands and lips that ...
Jiri shook her head, shoving those thoughts away. "I was fine with him using me for lust. That's what I was using him for. But for him to think he could use me to get power ... Gods and crocodiles!"
"There are reasons shamans don't marry," Oza said. "And why we usually don't climb into the hammock of anyone from our own village."
"Then why'd you let me climb into Hadzi's?"
"Because." Oza sighed. "You've never truly felt a part of Thirty Trees, Jiri. You've always been uncertain here, and wary."
"That's because everyone in Thirty Trees has always seemed wary of me." Except you.
"I know. I thought you being with Hadzi might help." Oza looked her in the eye. "If you can't learn to trust anyone but me, the village will never trust you. And a shaman must have her people's trust."
"So you keep telling me," Jiri said. "I don't think this helped though." Like a monkey. Hadzi, no one's that handsome. "I wish you would have forbidden it, now."
"And how well would that have gone?"
"Do you think I would have gone against you?" Jiri's voice rose, and she pulled her anger back. This wasn't Oza's fault. This was Hadzi's, and every time she thought of his name her fingers itched with heat.
"You're a good student, Jiri. If I'd told you not to dance in front of his drum at the Orchid Dance, you would have listened to me. You wouldn't have tried to sneak into his hammock behind my back. But I think your frustration might have burned hot enough to turn our home to ash."
"I would never —"
Oza leveled a finger at her charred knife. "You were born in fire, Jiri. That bright spirit will always be too eager to serve you. I pick our battles carefully." The shaman folded his arms. "Besides, that boy might be handsome, but a sloth has quicker wits. I knew that if he did get up to anything like this, you'd figure him out before there was any real trouble."
"Life is nothing but," Oza said. "You'll have to find an answer now, for Hadzi and his schemes."
"Something that doesn't involve my friend fire," Jiri muttered.
"That would be best."
"I knew you'd say that." Jiri tapped her gathering pouch, thoughtful. "I did see some fireweed this morning."
He planned to come to me, weeping? A little of that rubbed into his loincloth, and he'll weep for a week.
"That poor, stupid boy," Oza said. "I think —"
Distracted by her thoughts of petty but satisfying revenge, it took Jiri a moment to notice her teacher's sudden silence. When she did, she found him staring into the jungle, eyes blank, face hard.
The shaman's eyes snapped back into focus. "Jiri. Get my leathers and my spear and bring them to the Mango Woman. Run." Oza touched his necklace and his form twisted, shrinking down into a blur of green-and-scarlet flight.
Spear and leathers.
The words sank in and Jiri started running back to Thirty Trees, trying to move her legs as fast as the bright wings of the parrot her teacher had become.
Gasping, Jiri ran over the hard-packed red dirt that surrounded Thirty Trees' homes, the sun flashing off the blades of the spears she carried. Those blades dimmed when she reached the shadows spreading beneath the mango grove that gave her village its name. Clutching her burdens close, she dodged the children sitting beneath the trees, their slings and stones ready to drive any raiding monkey bands away from the ripening fruit. When she caught sight of the ancient statue that marked the far boundary of the grove, she finally slowed.
"Jiri, what's happening? Why do you have those spears? Why —"
Jiri whirled to glare at the chattering crowd of children that had followed her. "Go back."
"Now, spirits take you!"
The children stared at Jiri for a moment, then ran. Muttering thanks to her ancestors, Jiri stepped out from beneath the last mango tree and set down her burdens, looking around. No parrots, no Oza, no anything but the Mango Woman.
That statue had stood here for countless years, long before the mango trees it was named for had even sprouted. Carved of dark soapstone, the beautiful woman held one hand out, and her eyes were stern. Even before Oza had taught Jiri how to decipher the runes carved into the statue's base, she had understood its purpose.
A command to go no further.
A whirring of wings pulled Jiri's eyes away from that stone face and she spotted a green bird flashing through the trees toward her. Cursing her slowness, she reached down and began to sort through the things she had brought, jerking out the pieces she needed.
She was pulling her leathers on by the time Oza had landed and traded feathers for skin. His eyes met hers, and Jiri could see the grim fear that deepened the wrinkles of his face.
"There's trouble," she said.
"There is." Oza picked up his armor, sliding into it with practiced ease even though Jiri could count on one hand the number of times she had seen him don it. "Someone has opened the door into the Pyre."
The Pyre. Oza had only ever told her one story about the ruin that lay in the jungle beyond the Mango Woman: that the ancestors had built it to guard not a tomb or a treasure but a mistake, a piece of bad-luck magic that was meant to be forgotten.
The Pyre was forbidden, and Oza never allowed anyone to venture more than a stone's throw beyond the Mango Woman, not even Jiri. She had asked Oza, once, when he would take her there and teach her how to guard it. Not yet was all he had said, and for weeks after he had worked her on nothing but meditation and self-discipline.
"Who?" Jiri fumbled with the straps that pulled her leather armor tight across her chest. No one from Thirty Trees. But who else would know of that place? Even the children know not to speak of it.
"The spell I bought was too simple," Oza said, his straps done already. "Just an alarm, to let me know when someone came too close. They were already inside when I got there. I don't know who or what they are." He picked up his spear, the broad metal head of it flashing in a narrow sunbeam. "It doesn't matter. I mean to see that they don't come back out."
Jiri nodded and grabbed her own spear, a simple hunting weapon, not the war blade of her teacher. She began to whisper to the spirits.
She met Oza's eyes and finished the spells. The air around them stirred, suddenly cooler, and the sweat that had already started to pool beneath their armor's thick leather began to dry. "I will fight with you."
"I don't doubt it. You look fiercer than the Mango Woman." The shaman shook his head. "But I don't want to fight these raiders. They opened a door they shouldn't have, and I mean to shut it. With them on the other side, more than likely. You can come with me, Jiri, but not to fight."
Oza's face went hard as stone. "If I fail — if they've left a guard or if I'm already too late and they've released something — I'll need you to run for me, not fight. I need you to protect Thirty Trees if I can't. Can you leave me and run, if I tell you to?"
Run. Jiri stared at the old man. He had found her alone in the ashes of the village she had been born in, an infant wailing beside the charred bones of her parents. She had never known any family but him. Oza stared back, understanding but unyielding.
"Tell me and I will," she whispered.
His eyes searched hers, then he nodded. "There is a man, Tirakici Kalun Kibwe. He owns an inn in Kibwe, the Red Spear. If I tell you, or if I fall, run back here and warn the village. Then go to Kalun and tell him what happened. Tell him to help you and Thirty Trees. Tell him I'm calling in his debt, all of it. You can trust him. Understand?"
Jiri nodded, mute, and Oza reached out and touched her shoulder.
"Come," he said, and they slipped into the undergrowth, leaving the Mango Woman to glare in silence at the empty space beneath the trees.CHAPTER 2
There were no animals.
Jiri could still hear them in the jungle all around, the birds, monkeys, and bats, but their familiar cries were all distant. Even more unsettling, no insects flashed iridescent in the thin sunbeams that filtered down through the canopy, or swirled around her, eager to feast on her blood or sweat.
Ever since she was old enough to walk, Jiri had been warned never to pass the statue of the Mango Woman.
What tainted aura warned the animals to stay away?
Whatever it was, it touched the plants, too. Around her, the undergrowth grew thinner, sparser. The ground beneath the trees finally turned into empty red earth, mottled with patches of gray. Scarred ground, burned ground. The trees that arched over them looked the same: Their bark looked charred, and their leaves curled in, tattered and black. Twisted, injured, dying, they clawed at the empty sky, and the mud steamed between their roots.
"There's something here."
Jiri barely breathed the words, but Oza caught them. The old shaman nodded, but his hand touched his mouth.
Jiri locked her teeth together. They were hunting, and she should be silent, but ... It was in the ground, in the tortured trees, in the air: a smell like smoke, a faint brush of heat. Some spirit touched the world here, something old and terrible, and Jiri burned with its presence.
With a deep, silent breath, Jiri forced the feeling back, locked it down and drifted like a shadow behind her teacher as he stalked forward. Just ahead of them, past the crumbling corpses of a few more trees, the Pyre rose.
It stood in the middle of a small, shallow lake, the black water a still mirror that refused to reflect the clouds and sun overhead. The Pyre stood like a stony splinter in the water's dark eye, a jagged rock cracked and blackened, as if touched by some ancient inferno. Ashes crowned its shattered peak, and the air over them twisted with a shimmer of heat.
Jiri stared at that warped curtain and her concentration disintegrated.
Like flames, like ... In her head she saw fire and flame, dancing all around her. Tall and beautiful, and everything was turning to smoke and ash, burning and rising and whirling and going away, even the screams ...
Oza's fingers pinched hard on her earlobe, and Jiri gasped into the palm of his other hand, the one he pressed against her lips. The shaman's dark eyes were inches from hers, blocking the Pyre, staring at her until she nodded. Then he slowly took his hands away. Angry at herself, Jiri looked past him at stone and ash and —
Jiri jerked her eyes away from the broken mirror of heat that hovered over those ashes. She didn't understand what it was that she had seen there, but she didn't want to see it again.
Instead, she forced her eyes to trace over the fire-blackened cliff that the ashes rested on. Halfway up she found the door, the opening like a wound in the rock. The stone that had once covered it like a scar now lay in the water below, a slab the size of a hippo, and Jiri wondered how the intruders had moved it.
And how do we move it back?
Oza touched Jiri's hand, motioning for her to stay by the blackened trunk of the dead tree they had crept up behind. Then he stepped into the open and began to chant. Rough and low-pitched, the words scraped through the shaman's lips, a call to the bones of the earth.
The ground shifted at the pool's edge, stone tearing through dirt skin. Oza's hands rose, and mud twisted like tendons around the rough rock, snapping it together into a crude parody of a man. An avalanche on thick legs, the elemental towered over them, staring down at the man who had called it into the world with gleaming eyes of gem. When Oza pointed, the earth spirit lurched into the water and splashed toward the Pyre, its rough hands reaching.
Stone ground against stone when the elemental grasped the great slab, and dirty water poured from its body as the rocks that formed it shifted. Slowly the earth spirit began to lift the massive boulder, scraping it against the Pyre's cliff face, until at last it raised it back into place, covering the door's dark opening. Jiri watched the stone man work, so tense with triumph that she almost missed it when the water behind the elemental began to swirl.
The thing broke the surface of the pool with a roar, sunlight flashing off slick green skin and black scales. Smaller than the elemental, but still much larger than Jiri, it looked like some hideous amalgamation of gorilla, crocodile, and toad. Lunging up, it dug great claws deep into the mud and stone flesh of the elemental. It pulled the giant back, and its teeth flashed. The sound of those great fangs scraping against stone tore the air like a shriek.
Excerpted from Pathfinder Tales: Firesoul by Gary Kloster. Copyright © 2015 Paizo Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Beyond the Mango Woman,
Chapter Two: The Pyre,
Chapter Three: The Red Spear,
Chapter Four: Ash,
Chapter Five: Mosa,
Chapter Six: Drums,
Chapter Seven: Fire in the Adayenki,
Chapter Eight: Judgment,
Chapter Nine: Two Burnings,
Chapter Ten: Return to the Pyre,
Chapter Eleven: Kindi,
Chapter Twelve: Little Knowledge, Hard-Won,
Chapter Thirteen: Lost Things,
Chapter Fourteen: Other Coins,
Chapter Fifteen: Behind the Walls,
Chapter Sixteen: Horror Stories,
Chapter Seventeen: New Skins,
Chapter Eighteen: Leaving Kibwe,
Chapter Nineteen: Smoking Eye,
Chapter Twenty: Mud and Light,
Chapter Twenty-One: Scald,
Chapter Twenty-Two: When Ashes Fall,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Below the Mango Woman,
About the Author,