Dear readers, tonight we reprint a chat we overheard, between the stoic trainer of a protagonist and spy and rogue from a planetary colony reminiscent of Asian myths and legends. It takes place during a brief interlude when the characters are in the fortress-city of Shenzhen, heading into the climax of the first book.

Corin Mal-kin: settling comfortably in a seat at the Fire Salamander inn and slurping the froth off an ale. So, what did you want to chat about, Kett? All very cloak-and-dagger, dragging me out to a tavern like this. Afraid Alere might overhear?

Kett Peter-kin: with a level look and a quick, professional survey of the room. Something like that. clears throat Look. You know I’ve been Alere’s shifu and weishi-bodyguard at Xintou House for the last ten years.

Corin: No, really? grins and sips from ale Cut the feihua, Kett. You’re worried about her. You’ve noticed she likes me. You think I’m not good enough for her? Do just ask. Much more dignified than me guessing.

Kett: Fine. I’ll lay it out. I don’t entirely trust you. I want to know you’ll take care of her. Where are you from? Who are your people?

Corin: You sound like a protective older brother. pushes aside an unveiled jiaoji-whore attempting to sit in his lap. Fine! We’ll do it your way. I’m from Asadia – nice little place west of Madina. Full of the more unpleasant branch of the Jun First, Zah-Hill family’s relatives. I was quite glad to leave. They annoyed me. After all, the Zah-Hills slaughtered my family and my fiancé. That kind of thing tends to be a tad irritating.

Kett: Scowling. Jiche, Cor, those gouri kin-child laws! I thought I’d heard the worst of it, but… I’m kin-child, too. So are Alere and Mina. And Rohne. We’re all in danger. But I don’t think the Jun First was entirely to blame. Nor any of the Zah-Hills. Hanna Zah-Hill created the laws, and she married into the family. frowns Do you remember much of Asadia?

Corin: swigs the rest of his ale Not a bad place. Lots of farmers. Not a lot of skullduggery. Boring. Until the Zah-Hill weishi started slaughtering the illegal kin-children, of course. Then it all got very interesting. sighs At one point I was considering joining the Artists House as a musician. Before it all went suilie and I came home to a burnt home full of corpses. Then a life on the road felt like a much safer option.

Kett: Is that how you ended up as a spy for the Jun Second, Rafi Koh Lin?

Corin: Pretty much. Went looking for my fiancé in the hopes that she was still somehow alive. grimaces She wasn’t. But I couldn’t settle. Rafi’s a distant relative. Figured I may as well help out what little family I had left. Turns out spying and general nefariousness suits me. laughs and throws his arms wide And look where that got me!

Kett: purses his lips and turns the still-full ale mug on the table Yes. It’s looking pretty grim at the moment. I don’t see how the diyu we’re going to stop Hanna and her son, Ven, from destroying Shenzhen and throwing the whole Jundom into war. Any thoughts?

Corin: Oh, several. But none that get us all out alive, which is a slight drawback, I think. And, unfortunately, most of them involve having a lot more technology that we currently do. Why the Earth colonists thought a planet with no iron and no fossil fuels was a good place to settle, I have no gouri idea. We could use some guns about now.

Kett: Oh, yes. Because violence solves everything.

Corin: sits up, looking surprised. I do believe that was actual sarcasm. I’m proud of you. And irony as well, given you’re a weishi and your entire life is about martial arts. leans forward I’m curious. What did you think when you found out there was an iron deposit that could be used to make weapons?

Kett: At the time I was more worried about getting Alere away from Madina and away from Hanna’s weishi. There’s still a kill-order out on her for the Jun First’s murder. But the iron…jiche, Cor. That will change everything. Kalima has been peaceful for 700 years without it.

Corin: Well, from what I hear, Mistress Li of Xintou House has a hand in keeping things peaceful as well. Maybe some technology won’t hurt us too much – as long as a House full of telepaths aimed at keeping peace have any say in things. It’s pretty hard to start a war if a telepathic diplomat can read your intentions.

Kett: I think you’re overestimating Mistress Li’s omniscience and underestimating how ambitious Hanna Zah Hill is. And how insane her son, Ven, is.

Corin: Is that possible? That guy is like a xiao-bear that’s chewed too much blackweed – scary and unpredictable in a rip-your-throat-out kind of way. And Hanna’s not much better. I mean who outlaws children of unmarried parents? And why did her Xintou adviser allow it? Surely it’s Mistress Li and the other xintous’ job to keep the peace, not to allow wholesale slaughter of innocent children.

Kett: Tell me about it. I wish…no. Nevermind. There’s no point in rehashing 20 year old history. Tell me more about what happened in your trip with Alere from Newmec to Shenzhen. How the diyu did she fall off a roof and get injured?

Corin: Waves at waitress to bring a fresh ale. Grimaces when an oud player twangs a sour note Don’t go blaming me for her injury. I will give you this – you did a good job teaching her swordwork and archery. And her hand-to-hand combat is pretty brutal now she’s spent a couple of weeks training with Gavon Abdul-kin. He’s the best I’ve ever seen, but it won’t take her long to catch up, I think – as long as you can curb her instinct to throw herself headlong off caravan roofs. grins

Kett: Not sure anyone can stop her from doing something she really sets her mind to. sucks a quick breath and lowers his voice. What do you think about Rohne Marin-kin – given he’s a male xintou, I mean. I travelled with him for three weeks and I’m still not sure I understand him.

Corin: Yes. taps his fingers on the table He’s an interesting one. We’ve been told male telepaths are dangerous and to be killed at birth. But, to be honest, apart from being a little over-possessive of Mina and a bit of a prat, he doesn’t look like he’s about to kill anyone. Except maybe you, because Mina’s in love with you.

Kett: ignores that dig and leans back, sipping at the ale. Not bad.

Corin: Not as good as The Ploughman’s brew, but Alere and I did sort of destroy the place yesterday. It was a good fight, though.

Kett: scrubs a hand over his head and sighs We don’t have a lot of time to stop Ven from invading the city. What the diyu are we going to do?

Corin: I have no gouri idea, my friend. I’m sure, between you, me and Alere, we can come up with something suitably dramatic. What I do know is, once this is over, I fully intend to go on a very long, and extremely-alcoholic binge. Possibly, I shall attempt to drink the rebuilt Ploughman’s kegs dry, while singing every lewd alehouse song I can remember. Then, once my epic hangover is over, Rafi will probably send me out into the world again. There’s been some odd rumours about slaves rebelling down in Melcor. Personally, I’d like to see them get up in arms and throw out every one of the four slavemasters, but I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.

Kett: frowning at Corin. I still don’t trust you.

Corin: with a sly grin And very wise you are not to, my friend. C’mon. Do let’s go see if Alere’s recovered enough to discuss options for killing Ven Zah-Hill. If you’re lucky, I may regale you with my full intentions towards Alere. ducks a smack to the head and laughs

Aiki Flinthart lives in Australia and hasn’t yet been killed by any terrifying animals. She has, however, been shortlisted in the Australian Aurealis awards, a top-8 finalist in the USA Writers of the Future competition, and published 12 spec fic novels. When not writing, she’s generally to be found doing fantasy-character-approved activities such as martial arts (20 years or so now), archery, knife-throwing, lute-playing, and belly-dancing. She also gives workshops on Writing Fight Scenes for Female Characters, with a non-fiction book on the subject due out in Sept 2019.

You can find Corin and and Kett on the pages of the Kalima Chronicles.

Join us this Friday to meet former painter turned master swordsman. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.