Excerpt & Covers: TOMOE GOZEN Series by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (Open Road Media)

SalmonsonJA-TG1-DisfavoredHeroOpen Road Media will be publishing Jessica Amanda Salmonson‘s Tomoe Gozen series in eBook for the first time this year. The three novels — The Disfavored Hero, The Golden Naginata and Thousand Shrine Warrior — will be available from April 7th, 2015. Here’s the synopsis for the first novel:

Forced to betray her lord, a disgraced samurai fights to regain her honor

In the fabled land of Naipon, there is no warrior more feared, no samurai more respected than the legendary Tomoe Gozen, whose twin blades can change the course of any battle. After years of service to Lord Shigeno, she is about to renew her oath of loyalty when the sky darkens and a cry of rebellion comes from the hills. Possessed by an evil wizard, the peasants are marching against their master. Tomoe holds off the wave of pitchfork-wielding farmers for as long as she can. Finally, the battle overwhelms her, and the greatest samurai in Naipon falls dead.

She awakes in hell, on a slope lined with bloody corpses. After an eternity of fighting, she reaches the summit and finds herself in the chamber of a wizard who restores her to life. She is alive — but now she must do his bidding. Her honor has been shattered, but Tomoe Gozen will do whatever it takes to win it back.

Read on for an excerpt from The Disfavored Hero.

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THE DISFAVORED HERO

by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Storm clouds churned in the sky. Thunder rolled over the battlefield, commingling with the clang of metal, clatter of pole, and cries of the fallen and the mad. At intervals, strobes of lightning cast a platinum glow across the scene of carnage; then all was dark once more.

The peasants had swarmed into the valley estate of the warlord Shojiro Shigeno, their overlord. It was senseless.

They had been met by Shigeno’s foot soldiers, who were skillful, but for the moment overwhelmed by the multitude. This was no simple peasant uprising, Tomoe was certain, for Shigeno was a good protector. The eyes of the farmers were black like those of dogs. When a foot soldier recognized one peasant and called his name, no reply was forthcoming. The peasants were not in control of their minds.

Into this bloody mass rode Tomoe on her white steed Raski. From her hand stretched a steel whip—chain links of double-edged razored knives—drawing a circle all about her and Raski. It was another weapon she had borrowed from the Celestial Kingdoms; and she had learned to use it well.

The spinning whip whirred angrily, slashing at arms and faces, clearing the way for a samurai approach. Behind her came three men: Madoka Kawayama, Goro Maki and Ushii Yakushiji, all on foot, their swords gleaming in the preternatural darkness. Shigeno’s army was heartened by the arrival of the aristocratic warriors, and fought the more valiantly. The samurai would insure victory for the Lord.

A thousand foe surrounded the three swordsmen, for they had plowed into the melee on the path made by the horsewoman. Unlike the other soldiers, these samurai could not be overwhelmed: none could breach the woman’s chain or the men’s swift swords. Only a dozen heimin could approach the three men at any given time.

Forming a triangle with their backs, Madoka, Goro and Ushii slowly enlarged their formation, leaving no route for peasants to enter. The peasants, armed with sticks, hoes, and heirloom weaponry whose use they little understood, could not oppress these fighting elite, not even by the weight of numbers.

Sacrificing himself, a peasant ran into the path of Tomoe’s chain of knives. It wrapped itself around his body, slicing him a hundred mortal scores. He fell, losing fingers by gripping the heinous steel whip to insure the samurai’s inability to restore the weapon’s intention. A horde of snarling, black-eyed peasants closed around her. The steed leapt upward, all four legs kicking at once, crushing peasant bones. He tore at their throats and heads with powerful jaws.

Tomoe clung to the saddle with strong legs. With butterflylongswords in her hands, she drew deadly arcs of fine, mirror-polished steel—opening windpipes and removing heads on each side of Raski. Blood mixed with rain in the torrential darkness.

Had they been in control of their own bodies, the peasants would never have continued to advance on this butcher’s field—but they came on and on, maniacal in manner. Night might already have fallen beyond the clouds; Tomoe could not tell. She was uncertain how long the fight endured. The shiny eyes of heimin were like stars around her. Their howling challenged the gales. A suicidal attempt was made by a mad-eyed old woman wishing to sever Raski’s tendons. The horse trampled her, as well as a ferocious young peasant who was hardly more than a child.

Tomoe’s mind seemed to disengage from the battle, her body’s skill acting alone. Her thoughts rose above the slaughter to look down through the beating torrent, and she spoke to herself: These people are innocent! These people are innocent! But she was sworn to protect her Lord’s lands; and even if the peasants were the innocent tools of the sorcerer of Ho, yet they would die. Four top samurai, even without the warlord’s army, could have defeated these untrained thousand. The martial skills of the samurai were ancient, and well-honed. A thousand farmers could no more slay samurai than could a thousand samurai raise fine rice. There was no valor in it, but she was sworn by her honor to Shojiro Shigeno. For the sake of her Lord, these would die.

In the midst of the thunder that followed every blinding flash, the pound of rain, the clash of weaponry and hoe, the curses of the struggling soldiers and the demonic wails of a possessed foe, there came a new and more terrible sound:

War drums.

SalmonsonJA-TG2-GoldenNaginataAtop the hill, a better army was appearing and descending into the valley. These were the soldiers of Lord Huan, the treatied exile and sorcerer of the Celestial Kingdoms. The mercenary captains were also of that terrible land, where Tomoe had once fought. Many of the soldiers themselves were foreigners, though many others were from the lower echelons of the samurai class.

They marched with swordsmen to the rear, archers in the middle, and for the front rank: dragonmasters! The dragonmasters were fire-breathing warriors from the Celestial Kingdoms, brown-faced and head-shaven, frightening as the dragon whose fighting style they mimicked. The sight of them made Tomoe prickle with hatred.

But the dragonmasters were not joining the present carnage. They circumvented the battleground, leading the new army on another errand.

Tomoe took one glance and no more. Her eyes must watch her own field. Ushii, Madoka and Goro were impenetrable if they stayed together as a unit, so she must not allow them to divide simply because she might need aid. It would weaken their offensive, and the battle would go on longer.

Raski reeled, turning a full circle in air, legs kicking. His flat, yellow teeth tore off the face of a peasant. Tomoe’s swords dashed around and around, but no longer did she feel only confidence with her sorrow. The peasants would die, certainly, but the ones descending from the hill were another matter. They were true fighters, worthy adversaries. But the sorcerer Huan had sent a thousand innocents to busy the samurai, while the enemy’s true soldiers marched on the palatial mansion where only a small private retinue would be found standing between death and the Lord Shigeno’s family.

Tomoe began the arduous task of carving through the sea of flesh into which the steel whip and Raski had brought her. She must escape this horde and go after the real enemy. A fourth of the peasants had already been hewn down, and her three comrades could destroy the rest with the help of the small army. Tomoe alone was mounted, and so she alone had any hope of stalling the enemy army and the dragonmasters who approached Shojiro Shigeno’s mansion. Her own thought caused her chill: “stalling” the approach. Could even a samurai, alone, hope to halt the progress of an army aided by dragonmasters?

The enemy soldiers marched by the carnage unmolested. Tomoe could have reached them with a stone, yet her horse could not pull through the hemming peasants. Moreover, Raski’s legs were beginning to bog down in the mud. The storm had worsened, though that hardly seemed possible a moment before. Tomoe watched the soldiers pass and vanish into darkness and thick sheets of rain, headed toward the mansion. She cried out in anger and frustration.

Raski reared and screamed an animal’s war-lust. Tomoe raised both swords into the evil sky.

And lightning struck her!

A forked bolt hurtled itself at her two blades, attracted to the high-held metal. She felt it in her body, a murderous force that bowed to none. She felt Raski collapse and die beneath her, and she lamented the loss of the steed more greatly than the loss of her own life.

Yet, somehow she was alive. She was more than alive. By some heightened sense, she could tell in advance which peasants would have to fall long before she carved them down with rapid, exquisite grace. She carved a path toward the edge of the maddened horde. In her was a supernatural strength, as though all the power in Raski’s limbs and muscles had transferred to the rider in the moment of the horse’s death.

Her swords shone with the magic and power of the electrical force. She could not blink. She could not close her mouth. Her face was paralyzed in a hideous devil-mask. Teeth showed white in the darkness of her face and seemed, somehow, sharpened and long. She was transformed. No longer Tomoe, she had become a demon-woman, born of the mating of sky and ground. In the lightning crack of orgasm, a monstrous warrior was born of the elements.

She slew. Before she could recount herself, she was beyond the ring of battle. Incredible speed brought her to the back of the soldiers. They turned their entire formation at her coming, as though sensing in advance that it would take them all to defeat her.

The dragonmasters came first. Even in the torrent, their torches burned furiously. They took great mouthfuls of some highly flammable substance and spat it with archers’ skill through the flame of their torches. A wall of fire leapt up before Tomoe, but she would not halt.

The flames licked her lacquered, wooden armor; and she might have been set aflame herself but that she moved too fast and was too covered with mud, rain, and the life’s blood of the peasants.

The dragonmasters were unarmed but for their fire. They turned and ran away when they saw the devil-woman leap through the defense they believed impenetrable. Like a monster out of hell she came at them from hell-fires of their own making, and only her hair was set ablaze. The dragonmasters fled, scattered, and the archers behind them were given long pause. Tomoe cut them down to either side, her magically glowing swords moving faster than could be followed—like lightning itself, her swords moved—or like strange, swift, luminous moths, set to dancing unceasingly, dealing a visually attractive death.

The enemy soldiers, even in their shock, regrouped around their dead and falling. A barrage of arrows flew to one spot—but even arrows could not penetrate the shield of her twirling swords!

She did not turn to see who came at her from behind. The mysterious sight was still upon her, and she knew every move before it happened. Her swords’ arcs reached behind, as murderous at her back as to her sides and front.

Senses magnified, she heard every muddy step and knew the position of every soldier, even those beyond her vision. She heard their every breath and moan, and would know them forever by their voices—could they have lived forever to use them.

Soon she was walled in by flesh dead and dying, and leapt this wall incredibly, to stand again, firmly, as the soldiers of the treatied exile surrounded her. They attacked uselessly, and died one upon the other. She attempted to cry a samurai oath, but the paralysis of her face allowed only a horrid, monstrous sound to emit from her throat, more Raski’s than her own, eerie and amplified—and it seemed to the soldiers that she had demanded god-like: “Yield!”

They could not resist the half-imagined command. They dropped their swords and other weapons, and fell upon their knees weeping for mercy and a better life in the next, as Tomoe walked among them, beheading them two by two.

The storm was dying with the enemy. A natural sky reappeared, bright with stars, as clouds dissolved. A sharp moon frowned in the valley. Tomoe returned to her comrades, trudging slowly, no longer able to lift her arms, her face grown lax and ashen. The glow was going out of her swords, and warmth out of her body.

SalmonsonJA-TG3-ThousandShrineWarriorMadoka had carved the last peasant in half, from the center of skull to crotch. The two halves fell away as he turned to see what Goro and Ushii had already seen: the spent Tomoe standing before them like neither a demon nor a samurai, but like a corpse. She was pale, her eyes all white, her flesh drawn taut beneath the mud and splattered gore. She was burnt in places, though she had not believed it in her earlier frenzy—burnt badly: her hands from bearing the lightning-licked swords, her body from the dragonmasters’ breaths of flame.

She said, “My friends. I am dead,” and she toppled forward without a bend in her body. Ushii was at her side in an instant, turning her over lest she drown in the mud. But she seemed not to be breathing. She was cold as ice, her body stiff all over; and anyone would suspect she had been dead a long while. Madoka Kawayama fell to his knees and wailed amidst the thousand slain. The surviving foot soldiers moved away into the night, too respectful to overhear this sad moment. Goro Maki stood with his face turned to the moon and hid his tears completely. Ushii Yakushiji lifted the seeming corpse and began to walk toward the further hill, away from Shojiro Shigeno’s mansion.

“Where do you go with her, Ushii?” Goro demanded.

Ushii turned around to look at his two friends. With Tomoe in his arms he said, “I am a free agent now, Goro. As you have seen, the attack came before I was indentured anew. With the high moon, I am free to seek new employment.”

“Our master is good!” cried Madoka, not wanting to lose two friends at once. “We have always been together, Ushii!”

“Our comrade is ill,” said Ushii.

Goro Maki took one step forward and corrected Ushii, his tone not hinting at his own sense of loss. “She is dead.”

“Have you seen the dead go rigid so soon? Or cold? No, Goro, she is not dead. But soon she may be, without magic to restore her.”

Madoka lowered his head, knowing Ushii’s plan. But Goro would not believe it. He said angrily, “There is no magic in this valley, but from the lair of Shojiro Shigeno’s wickedest foe!”

“That is true,” said Ushii as he began to walk away.

“Ushii!” cried Madoka on his knees.

Ushii walked on.

“Ushii!” Madoka pounded fists into the soft, bloody mire. He shouted in desperation, “Do not go there, Ushii! Tomoe would rather die than be restored by black arts!”

Ushii’s voice trailed back to them, saying, “We will be beside one another soon. Too soon, I fear. On the field of honor.”

Madoka buried his face in his arms. Goro Maki put a supportive hand on his friend’s quivering shoulders.

“Goodbye, my friends!” Ushii said, and was swallowed by the darkness.

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