Excerpt: THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC by Brian McClellan (Orbit)

McClellanB-PM3-AutumnRepublicIf you’ve been reading Civilian Reader for the past couple of years, you’ll have noticed that I’m a big fan of Brian McClellan‘s Powder Mage series – the novels and novellas have all been great. The third and (possibly?) final novel – The Autumn Republic – will be published by Orbit Books on February 10th, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the story ends. Orbit US have provided me with the second chapter to share with you all. You can read the first chapter over on Orbit’s blog, here.

Before we get to the excerpt, however, here’s the synopsis:

The capital has fallen…

Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.

An army divided…

With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son.

All hope rests with one…

And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed…

If you’d like to read more, here’s what else is on CR: Interview with Brian McClellan, Guest posts on Favourite Novel and Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy; Reviews of Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign

Now, on to the excerpt…!

*

THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC

CHAPTER 2

The Holy Warriors of Labor, the biggest workers’ union in all the Nine, kept their headquarters inside an old warehouse in the Factory District of Adopest not far from where the Ad River spilled out into the Adsea.

Tamas watched the building with some trepidation. There were hundreds of people coming and going. It would be almost impossible to get in to speak with Ricard without being seen—and probably recognized—by someone. The coming conversation could very well become bloody, and Tamas didn’t want to have it where Ricard’s guards were within screaming distance.

If not for the urgent pressure of his heart pounding in his chest, Tamas would have waited until nightfall and followed Ricard home.

“We could make an appointment, sir,” Olem suggested, leaning casually against the stoop. Across the street, one of the union guards was watching them with a frown. Olem waved to the man and held up a spare cigarette. The union guard cocked an eyebrow and then turned away, his interest gone.

“I’m not making an appointment,” Tamas said flatly. “I don’t want him to know we’re coming.”

“I think he’s going to know one way or another. He’s got more than twenty armed men on this street alone.”

“I only counted eighteen.”

Olem watched the foot traffic pass them with a feigned air of indifference. “Marksmen in the window above the shop thirty paces to your left, sir.”

“Ah.” Tamas saw them now out of the corner of his eye. “Something has Ricard spooked. The old headquarters had no more than four guards at any time.”

“Could be he’s worried about the Brudanians?”

“Or that I’ll return. There’s Vlora. Let’s go.”

They worked their way down the street, doing their best to avoid the attention of the union guards, and joined Vlora in the doorway of a small bakery. Tamas looked over the loaves stacked on the counter and wondered where Mihali had ended up. Was he still down south, with the main army?

Of course he was. If Mihali wasn’t holding Kresimir at bay, then Adopest would have been leveled by now. Tamas felt himself wishing for a bowl of the chef’s squash soup just about now.

Vlora led them through the bakery and out the back into a narrow alley filled with refuse and mud. “Down here,” she said over her shoulder as they picked their way down the alley. Tamas’s boots squelched as he walked and he tried to ignore the smell. The Factory District was by far the dirtiest part of the city—and the alleys were always the worst.

They navigated three more alleys, then climbed an iron ladder over a two-story building before they found the back entrance to the union headquarters.

A pair of union guards sat with their backs to the wall beside the door, their heads bowed beneath their hats as if they were asleep. A brief glance at the mud told Tamas that a quick scuffle had taken place, but Vlora had taken the two men without trouble.

“Are they dead?” Olem asked, flicking his cigarette into the mud before drawing his pistol.

“Unconscious.”

“Good,” Tamas said. “Try not to kill anyone on the way in. We don’t know for sure whether Ricard has betrayed us.” And if he has, I’ll do the killing. Tamas set his hand to the door only to have Olem stop him.

“Pardon sir, but we’ll go first.”

“I can…”

“It’s my job, sir. You haven’t been letting me do it lately.”

Tamas bit his tongue. This was a terrible time for insubordination from his own bodyguard, but Olem had a point. “Go on.”

He didn’t have to wait for more than about three minutes before Olem returned for him. “Sir. We have him.”

They passed through the back hallways and two servants’ rooms before slipping in the side entrance to Ricard’s office. Ricard himself sat behind his desk, his jacket stained and his beard wild, his eyes narrowed in anger. Behind him, Vlora stood with the barrel of a pistol against the back of his head.

When he saw Olem, Ricard slammed both hands on his desk. “What is the meaning of this? What do you think…” His jaw dropped and he made to stand. Vlora put a hand on his shoulder to keep him in his seat. “Tamas? You’re alive?”

“You don’t sound too surprised,” Tamas said. He holstered his own pistol and nodded to Vlora to let go of Ricard’s shoulder. Olem took up a position beside the main office door.

Ricard swallowed hard, looking between Tamas and Olem. Tamas tried to decide if it was the nervousness of a man caught in betrayal or just the shock of his sudden presence. “I had heard you were still alive, but none of my sources were reliable. I—”

“What happened to my powder mage school? And where’s my boy?”

“Taniel?”

“Do I have another?”

“Do you?”

“No.”

“I… well, I don’t know where Taniel is.”

“You better explain quickly.” Tamas drummed his fingers on the ivory handle of one of his dueling pistols.

“Of course, of course! Can I offer you some wine?”

Tamas tilted his head slightly. Ricard seemed unaware that he was two wrong words away from a bullet cleaning out his skull. “Talk.”

“It’s a very long story.”

“Sum up.”

“Taniel woke up. Not long after you went south, the savage girl brought him back. The two of them went to the front line and Taniel helped to hold against the Kez but then was court-martialed on charges of insubordination. He was kicked out of the army and was hired by the Wings of Adom, but then killed five of General Ket’s soldiers in self-defense. He then disappeared.”

Tamas rocked back on his heels, head spinning. “That’s all happened in the last three months?”

Ricard nodded, glancing over his shoulder at Vlora.

“And you don’t know where he is now?”

“No.”

“And what happened to the school?”

Ricard frowned. “I haven’t heard from them for a few weeks. I assumed everything was fine.”

Tamas tried to read Ricard’s face. This was a man who had made his fortune by being likable—smoothing things over and getting people to work together. Despite this, he was a terrible liar. The fact that he didn’t seem to be lying now only deepened Tamas’s concern.

Olem’s startled shout was Tamas’s only warning. He whirled to see a woman kick Olem in the side of the knee, sending him to the ground with a curse. The woman leapt upon Tamas, a stiletto in one hand, moving with impossible speed. Tamas caught her by the wrist and swung her past him—or at least he tried. She stepped back suddenly, flicked the stiletto into the air, and caught it with her other hand, stabbing it at Tamas’s throat.

The knife missed by mere inches as Vlora slammed into the woman from one side, and they both hit Ricard’s bookshelf with enough force to bring the whole thing down on them. Olem, back on his feet, waded into the mess to grab the woman by her collar, only to receive a punch to his groin. He doubled over and fell back against the wall.

Tamas stepped up behind the woman, ready to shoot her to keep her down.

“Fell, stop!” Ricard bellowed.

The woman immediately stopped struggling.

Still with a pistol trained on the woman, Tamas pulled Vlora and then Olem to their feet. The woman lifted herself to a sitting position in the middle of the collapsed bookshelf and stared sullenly at the pistol in Tamas’s hand.

“Damn it, Fell,” Ricard said. “What the pit was that?”

“You were in danger, sir,” Fell said.

“Were you trying to kill the field marshal?”

Fell’s cheeks grew slightly red. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t recognize him from behind. And no, I was only trying to incapacitate them.”

“You swung a knife at my face!” Tamas said.

“It wouldn’t have gone deep. I am very precise.”

Tamas glanced between Vlora and Olem. Vlora had a darkening bruise on one cheek from the bookshelf and Olem cursed softly as he clutched at his groin. This woman had faced three armed strangers without fear, and she had only meant to incapacitate them? She had dropped Olem in a split second and nearly gotten the better of Tamas himself, even though he was burning a low powder trance.

“You’ve been hiring better people, I see,” Tamas said to Ricard.

Ricard returned to his desk chair and put his head in his hands. “You could have made an appointment, you know.”

“No, sir. He couldn’t,” Fell said from her spot on the floor. “He’s been out of contact for months. The city is in foreign hands. He wouldn’t know what to think.”

Ricard scowled at her for a moment, only for the scowl to slide away, a look of realization replacing it. “Oh. You think I sold the city out to the Brudanians, don’t you?”

“I know,” Tamas said, “that a foreign army holds my city and that I left you, the Proprietor, and Ondraus with the keys to the city gates.”

“It’s bloody Lord Claremonte.”

It was Tamas’s turn to scowl. “Lord Vetas’s master? Adamat didn’t root out that mongrel?”

“Adamat did an admirable job,” Ricard said. “Lord Vetas is dead and his men dead or scattered. We broke him only for his master to arrive with two brigades of Brudanian soldiers and half the Brudanian Royal Cabal.”

“No one defended the city?”

Ricard’s nostrils flared. “We tried. But… Claremonte didn’t come to conquer. Or so he says. He claims his army is only here to help defend us from the Kez. He’s running for the office of First Minister of Adro.”

“Like pit he is.” Tamas began to pace. This army in control of Adopest posed too many questions. If Tamas was going to find out answers, he’d have to do it backed by an army of his own. The Seventh and the Ninth, along with his Deliv allies, were still weeks away.

“Get me a meeting with Claremonte,” Tamas said.

“That might not be the best idea.”

“Why not?”

“He has half the Brudanian Royal Cabal behind him!” Ricard said. “Can you think of any group that hates you more than the royal cabals of the Nine? They’ll kill you outright and dump your body in the Ad.”

Tamas continued to pace. He didn’t have the time for this. So many enemies. So many facets to consider. He needed allies badly. “What news from the front?”

“They’re still holding, but…”

“But what?”

“I haven’t had any good information from the front for almost a month.”

“You haven’t heard from the General Staff for that long? Pit, the Kez could be at the city gates by tomorrow! Damn it, I…”

“Sir,” Fell said to Ricard. “Have you told him about Taniel?”

Tamas whirled on Ricard, snatching him by the front of the jacket. “What? What about him?”

“There have been… I mean, I’ve heard rumors, but—”

“What kind of rumors?”

“Nothing substantial.”

“Tell me.”

Ricard studied his hands before saying quietly, “That Taniel was captured by Kresimir and hung in the Kez camp. But,” he said more loudly, “they’re just rumors.”

Tamas could hear his heart thundering in his ears. The Kez had taken his boy? They had hung him like a piece of meat, some macabre trophy? Fear coursed through him, followed by the fire of white-hot fury. He found himself sprinting from Ricard’s office, shoving his way through the crowd out into the building’s main hall.

Olem and Vlora caught up with him in the street.

“Where are we going, sir?” Vlora asked.

Tamas gripped the butt of his pistol. “I’m going to find my boy, and if he’s not alive and well, I’m going to pull Kresimir’s guts out through his ass.”

***

The Powder Mage series includes the novels Promise of BloodThe Crimson Campaign and The Autumn Campaign; and also the novellas The Girl of Hrusch AvenueHope’s End, The Face in the Window, ForeswornMurder at the Kinnen Hotel, and Return to Honor

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