Thanks so much for having me visit on the release of my newest novel, Obsidian Moons. This is book number two of the Obsidian series. The trilogy has a unique mix of magic, character development and world building. But this novel has a new environment and I thought you might enjoy knowing more about its creation.
In Obsidian Moons the escaping band of Kuri find themselves in a remote area of the Talac territory they refer to as the barrens. When I was doing the work for book two of the Obsidian series I knew I wanted somewhere unique and unusual for that portion of the story. I almost immediately thought of the badlands of South Dakota, which I’ve visited a few times. A little more online exploration to refresh my memory and I was convinced the alien setting of the badlands was the perfect beginning point.
The spires and buttes of the badlands were the perfect setting for the barrens; an inhospitable land no one wanted to cross. In researching more I discovered they were one of the few undisturbed mixed grasslands remaining in the United States. The mix of geographic oddity and virgin prairie was a combination I found impossible to resist when I was building the unique features for Obsidian Moons.
The last item, noted several times during the story, is the red and white layering of the areas geological oddities. It is an interesting location that made a fantastic starting point for the barrens of the Talac lands.
After achieving the impossible and releasing their people from the Varas slavers, Anan and Terja, a spellweaver and spellspinner, start the arduous journey back to their homeland. A winter trek across the grasslands is dangerous enough, but the traitor, Xain, is tasked with recapturing the slaves, and failure will mean his death. As added insurance, the Varas High Regent hires a Triad of legendary Ubica assassins and assigns a full regiment of his personal guards, along with their captain, to the task. Their mission is clear: recapture the escaped Talac slaves destined for the Varas pleasure houses—and the bed of the High Regent—at any cost.
The newly freed Talac travel toward their homelands with the full knowledge they are likely being pursued. The flight westward is fraught with new and unexpected dangers as Anan and Terja struggle to save their tribe. The battle for shelter, food, and a way to defend themselves becomes an all-consuming task, but they are reminded by the avatars of their gods that all is not as it appears.
Jon Keys’ earliest memories revolve around books; with the first ones he can recall reading himself being “The Warlord of Mars” and anything with Tarzan. (The local library wasn’t particularly up to date.) But as puberty set in he started sneaking his mother’s romance magazines and added the world of romance and erotica to his mix of science fiction, fantasy, Native American, westerns and comic books.
A voracious reader for almost half a century, Jon has only recently begun creating his own flights of fiction for the entertainment of others. Born in the Southwest and now living in the Midwest, Jon has worked as a ranch hand, teacher, computer tech, roughneck, designer, retail clerk, welder, artist, and, yes, pool boy; with interests ranging from kayaking and hunting to painting and cooking, he draws from a wide range of life experiences to create written works that draw the reader in and wrap them in a good story.
The final strands of Llyca’s unraveling drifted past the tops of the massive featherleaf trees the Talac sheltered beneath. They’d had far too many last rites so far as Terja was concerned. Every day they moved closer to their homeland and farther from the Varas who had held them captive, but for the ones who were dying, it was not enough. Llyca joined the Great Weaving shortly after they had stopped for the night at one of the islands of trees scattered across the eastern hills. The sun touching the western horizon served as a reminder of their goal: the unending sea of grass, and the massive earth lodges that made up their winter village. The region’s blazing hot summers and brutally cold winters made it an inhospitable land, but it was home to the Kuri clan of the Talac people. His home. But Terja worried none of the Kuri they’d rescued would survive the trip.
Known for their fine weavings, the clan and their herds were so intertwined that they shared a name. For as long as any of the Talac Elders could recall, the weavings of kuri fiber were the hallmark of the Kuri clan. A clan almost wiped from the savannas by the Varas and Xain, the traitorous Talac who aided them. The band of slavers attacked the Talac because of their value as pleasure slaves. The velvet covering the spellweavers was a sexual addiction to many of the Varas, including the High Regent. The people who survived and were trekking to the Kuri winter village had suffered many days of abuse and neglect after their capture, and subsequent rescue, by Terja and Anan, with some guidance from the gods. Now they had lost another, and he knew Anan took each death as a personal failure. As Llyca’s last fiber disappeared from sight, Terja felt the same sense of defeat he did each time they sent someone to the Great Weaving.
“She shouldn’t have died. What am I doing wrong?” Anan asked.
Terja studied his twining for a moment before shaking his head. “Anan, she was free. She died a free woman. You gave her that.”
He shook his head. “No. I’m past the guilt of trying to save everyone. But we shouldn’t have so many injuries that aren’t improving. We certainly shouldn’t still be losing people to wound fever. Our kilt panels were filled with the matama you spun from us. And even though some colors have been used and the thread faded to dust, my healing weavings should be working.”
Terja thought for a moment. “What about the trap Xain set inside Joven? The twisted healing warped him until he tried to kill you. That bit of treachery almost cost your life, and Xain was the one who crippled many of the captives.”
Anan’s lips narrowed to a thin line. “That isn’t something I’d forget. I checked for traps in the wounds, but found none. I don’t think he had the time. But the cuts Xain made on the Talac who were captive won’t heal.”
Terja slowed his pace for a moment then stopped. “They possessed Ubica locks….”
Anan spun on his mate. “The assassin people? You think Xain had one of their spiritknives?”
“The former captives are slowly dying. Their wounds will not heal. The Elders said the Ubica smiths could embed their blades with forces, something similar to matama.”
Anan let out a dismissive snort. “That’s just a story for Iceweaver’s season.”
Terja shook his head and considered his twining for several moments. “The Varas believe we spellspinners are the healers. They pursue us in the hope of finding a skilled healer while in truth we velvetless spellspinners could do little more than the Varas could do themselves. I have a few skills given to me from the First Twining.”
Anan considered him for several moments before speaking. “It can’t hurt to weave a healing targeting a spiritknife. All I’ve been looking for is twisted matama. I know little of the assassins’ weapons and how they function.”
A heartbeat later, Terja shrugged. “I don’t remember much either. The spellspinner Elders were strangely silent on the assassin people. It is said they always work in threes, and each member has a specific role as dictated by their gods. One of the Elders called them Ironweavers. Their talent in the smithy is as extensive as ours at the looms. But they are not hired for their talent to create, but their ability to destroy. They are masters of their weapons.” He struggled to remember more, but then looked to Anan with a frown. “That’s all. They didn’t tell me anything else. Perhaps to be certain I was not the object of a Ubica contract.”
“I’m sure the two of us can stop three Ubica, regardless of their reputation. We wiped out a Varas slaver company and rescued the Talac they had taken.”
The conversation concerned Terja. “Hopefully we’ll never find out. Come, let’s see if Xain wielded a spiritknife.”
Terja and Anan made their way to the main camp and found Joven and Soneri waiting for them. Terja considered the two men for a moment while Anan explained their new idea. Both of them would be willing to do anything to keep from being recaptured. Between the value of Soneri’s sunbird-colored velvet and the living trap they had made of Joven, they would rather die than be returned. Terja stepped closer so he could hear their ideas.
Joven motioned to the people spread around the camp. “You’re doing all you can. They just aren’t healing. Soneri and I have tried too. Even Morea cast a weaving.”
Anan studied him for a moment. “Is her weaving progressing?”
Soneri held up his hands in a helpless gesture. “I can sense the vision inside her. Her weavings are perfect. But they have little strength. She’s becoming discouraged.”
Anan nodded and Terja could tell this was one more burden he placed on himself. Terja sent him a wash of comfort through their twining connection. Anan flashed him a smile that Terja savored for a moment before refocusing on the others.
“We’ve been talking about it too. The Varas had locks made by the—”
Soneri immediately saw the connection. “You think Xain had a spiritknife?”
“Maybe,” Terja said.
Soneri looked pensive for a heartbeat before turning to Terja and Anan. “You might be right. He had other surprises no one would expect from a Varas slave.”
Terja swept the people surrounding them with his gaze. “Who is in the greatest need?”
Joven used his chin to point. “That one. The Talac from the Pero clan. He’s getting worse in spite of all we do.”
They walked toward the man. The object of their attention had been lying as if he were asleep until it became obvious he was the focus of the small group. Matama poured from the weakening member of the feather-weaving clan, with fear dominating all other emotions. To Terja’s senses he reeked of stale sweat and sickness.
His face became drawn and the fear seemed to grow. By the time Anan was close enough to touch him, the young man shook. Anan paused and smiled at him. “Try to relax, Reni. There is nothing to be afraid of. We think we know why you aren’t healing, but I need to examine you. I promise there will be no pain.”
The fear receded from the man’s face, at least to a degree. “Since I’m the closest to death… I would be the one to welcome any new healing.”
This time Anan touched the man and Terja could feel the wave of comfort flowing from his twining. A few heartbeats later, Reni relaxed enough for Anan to work. Terja knew the healing would be tedious. Terja sat close, ready to help. He could sense the movement of the matama between them as parts of the spell panels from their kilts faded away, but could only sit quietly and will Anan success. Terja dropped out of his drowsy state when Anan opened his eyes. He glanced around for a moment as Terja watched him through the growing night.
“I think I found the problem, but it’s nothing Xain created. This is different. Not a weaving, but like it in some ways.”
“You can explain the details later. Can you cure it?” Terja asked.
Anan considered for a moment and nodded. “I think so. Thank the Twined Ones it isn’t the spell Xain set in Joven. We would not have been able to spare him.”
Joven paled slightly and then nodded at the patient. “But for him?”
“I don’t have to remove every tendril of the magic. His body can heal; it just needs some help.”
“You think you can cure me?” Reni asked.
Terja glanced at the patient who resembled an injured child more than a battle-hardened man. He could see tears trailing across the patterns in the velvet covering Reni’s face. He reached down and touched his cheek lightly. “It looks hopeful. Do you want us to continue?”
“All right, but I will lay a sleeping weaving over you. This shouldn’t be painful, but when you work with unfamiliar forces….” Anan looked apologetic.
“Do it. Otherwise you’ll be doing my unraveling, and I’m not ready to join the Great Weaving.”
Anan began without any further discussion, and Terja felt the pull for extra matama along their connection. He slipped into spellsight as Anan began his weaving. The matama he pulled from their kilts formed familiar patterns, and Reni slumped into unconsciousness. His pain had been more than Anan realized. His entire body fought the agony until he fell under Anan’s sleep weaving.
From there, Anan’s work was largely invisible to Terja. The effort was obvious though, as the sweat began to show on the velvet covering his body. Terja couldn’t help but feel the attraction when Anan’s musky aroma washed over him. He fought desperately to keep his arousal from traveling to Anan. Deepest night wrapped around them by the time Anan tucked the last thread of his healing weaving into place. He rocked onto his heels and studied the young man for a moment.
“I got a lot of it. Not everything, but most. He should begin to heal. His body was trying to fight off the invaders, but it was outmatched.”
“You are sure it was not Xain?”
Anan shook his head. “No. What I see wasn’t woven by a Talac, certainly no one of Kuri training. It was bits of darkness slowly spreading everywhere.”
“Could it have been a spiritknife?”
Anan gave a tired shrug. “I’m not sure. I’ve never seen the damage it leaves. But if it is, I’ve beaten it back.”
Terja tensed slightly. “Won’t it spread again?”
“No, not now.”
“Because I trained his own weavings to fight back.” Anan’s face broke into a smile. “Maybe I should’ve armed them with slings like you use.”
Terja couldn’t help but grin at the idea. “Quite a fierce little army he’d have.”
“You’ve killed longtooth with yours. I’m sure his could fight off the darkness he has.”
“Regardless of how it happens. He will not lose this battle.” He studied the sleeping man for a moment and then glanced at Anan. “He looks more comfortable.”
“He should. The weave I used was one of my more potent, and most difficult. If what I fought resulted from a spiritknife, I hope one is never used on me.”
The youngster snorted and rolled to his side. Terja smiled, grabbed Anan by the sleeve, and pulled him away from the obviously sleeping figure. A young Kuri woman hovered close by, and he felt certain Reni would be well cared for. Terja searched for a moment before finding her in the shadows. He motioned her closer. “He should heal now, but he needs rest and food. Wake us if something happens.”
He pulled Anan toward their tent. “Come. Let him sleep. The nights are getting colder and I don’t have your thick covering of velvet. Besides, I am exhausted so I’m certain you need sleep.”
A few steps beyond the low fire where final bits of the evening meal were being eaten, Anan stopped and pulled Terja against his chest. With his arms wrapped tight, Anan planted tender kisses along Terja’s smooth jaw as Terja traced through the complex patterns in Anan’s velvet. His heart raced when Anan pressed his lips close and whispered. “Your bare skin excites me like few other things.”
Terja moaned softly and ran his spread hands over Anan’s thick chest as he nibbled at Anan’s neck, rewarded by a throaty growl.
“I can see why the Varas become addicted to spellweavers. I could spend a lifetime enjoying your velvet,” Terja said.
He gasped, focusing on his twining as he bit down on the inside of Anan’s neck. His thoughts fogged over with lust as he ground against Anan.
“Hey! Anan! Come here. We need to show you something.” Joven’s voice sliced through the pleasurable haze Terja had created. Hesitantly, he separated from Anan, his fingertips lingering, and turned to discover what was so critical it demanded their immediate attention.
They moved to the cluster of people at one side of the fire who stared at an animal someone had brought down during a hunting trip. At first Terja couldn’t see the fascination with what seemed to be an ordinary springtail, but then he started to note the differences. Its coat was easily double the length of the springtail Terja had hunted since he was a kit. Its ears were so small they almost disappeared in the fur. But the most notable things were the fangs.
Springtail didn’t have fangs. They were plant eaters. But this one had fangs easily as long as the first joint of Terja’s finger. A small green drop oozed from the tip of one. Terja reached to touch it, and Anan grabbed his wrist.
“Don’t. I’m not even sure we should eat it. The meat might be tainted.”
“Let Soneri check it. He could always tell when the food the Varas fed us was bad,” Joven said.
Terja turned to the big Talac. “Soneri? Is this true?”
“Yes. My family is, was, very skilled at that weave. It’s part of how we managed to survive outside of a clan.”
Terja nodded toward the still animal. “And this?”
Soneri squatted beside the carcass and wove a spell. While they waited, the firelight reflected off Soneri’s golden velvet. Terja couldn’t keep from recalling the ravenous hunger the Varas had for him simply because of the color of his velvet. Terja was startled into the present when Soneri began to speak.
“It’s safe to eat. But discard the head. The poison sacs are along the jaws.” He turned to Anan. “I’d burn the head to ash. That would be the only way to not taint the lands.”
“What is it? Any idea?” Terja asked.
Soneri shrugged. “No. But we are on the border of the Meke clan. Our Elders said the Meke could make changes in an animal. Perhaps our northern cousins have done something to their springtail.”
“I don’t know why you would change a simple springtail into a poisonous animal. But until I get a better answer, I will follow your instructions.” Terja glanced at the others who had gathered close. “We’re going to stay here for a few more days. Anan found a way to help the injured, and we can use the time to hunt.”