Thirst for Vampire (Blood and Ash Book Two sneak preview)

Thirst for Vampire (Blood and Ash Book Two sneak preview)

I’m in final edits for this book, which I’ve been working on for nearly two years… read the first chapter and if you want more, please go preorder the book!

We raced through the dark woods until we were breathless, and even then we didn’t stop. The dry branches sheltered us from the burning embers that fell from the sky, but the blanket of gray ash left clear tracks that would be easy for King Richard’s guards to follow.

Jazmine began to lag behind, so I gave up my seat on the slagpaw. I frowned at Camina’s pale, sweaty skin, and the bloody wounds from the slagpaw’s razor-sharp claws.

She was losing too much blood, but we couldn’t afford to stop. I knew the king’s guards would be right behind us.

I helped Jazmine onto the shaggy beast and kept going on foot. I felt like I could run a hundred miles – my blood was still buzzing with elixir, and the angry red digits on my diamond wedding bracelet practically screamed a warning: 12%.

Already much higher than normal, but I knew it would drop quickly if we kept up this pace. I shuddered, remembering Jessica’s crazed, bloodshot eyes as she tried to take a bite out of my neck and slurp elixir straight from the source. First we were chosen, then trained to compete in the trials. But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

One of the rebels—a woman with tight braids—saw me looking at my wrist and scowled.

“We need to get rid of that thing,” she said. “They’ll be tracking us.” A few dozen rebels had fled from the citadel after the attack, but they must have split up into the woods. Only the woman and two men were still with us, dressed in rough leathers and merchant clothes. I realized with dread that I had no idea who they were, or where we were going.

“This way!” the older man shouted. He had a dark beard and light blue eyes. His long hair was tied back with beads and leather straps. We cut sharply through the trees, emerging between a group of massive boulders next to a rushing waterfall. Ancient pipes and channels cut through the rock, along with the crumbled remains of a stone bridge, torn apart by ivy.

“Take off your bracelets,” he said, gesturing towards me. I turned my hands over in the light, my eyes widening at the dark, jagged markings on my palms and wrists. I’d always had the birthmarks, but the shapes seemed to have changed and morphed. When I realized it was because of the dried blood covering my skin, I stumbled down the rocks to the creek and began scrubbing my hands raw. The dark blood formed clouds under the water, staining the waterfall red for a few moments.

Jazmine took off her bracelet, then unfastened Camina’s as well. Camina’s eyes fluttered open and she whispered something, but she was too weak to resist. Jazmine handed both bracelets to the man, and nodded at me. I bit my lip, and unclipped the diamond wedding band from my wrist. I knew I shouldn’t be sentimental, but the practical value of it alone made me reluctant to part with it.

“Isn’t it valuable?” I asked. “Couldn’t we trade it for supplies?”

“Only if we live past today,” the woman smirked.

I glanced up at the thick gray ash, falling between the dark trees. My experience of the wild had been short hunting trips barely outside the walls of Algrave, and traveling to and from the citadel. I had no idea how to survive for real, and the open space around me seemed suddenly paralyzing. I took a deep breath to steady my nerves—but then choked as I tasted ash on my tongue.

My eyes widened as I realized I was out in the open, breathing the poisonous air without a scarf or mask. We were still wearing the gossamer pink skirts and white leather jackets the king had picked out for the trials, though now torn and stained with blood. I ripped off the sleeve of my shirt and tied it around my head as a makeshift filter. The leather jacket covered my neck and arms well enough, though my legs were bare.

The rebels were more prepared, in dark layers of heavy clothing, their hoods pulled up and fabric masks that attached behind their ears.

The bearded man took three large sticks and strapped the bracelets to them, then chucked them downriver off the edge of the cliff. I watched them bob in the water before disappearing around the bend. It made me feel lost and adrift.

“That should buy us a few hours,” the man said. “But we’ve got to keep moving.”

“What a shitshow,” said the younger man. His eyes were a dull green, and he was wearing dark jeans, studded leather bracelets and bands running up his forearms.

It was the first time I’d heard him speak, and his voice grated on my nerves. “Some rescue. Where’s Father Marcus? Where’s Trevor? All we got was three chosen – their elite are sure to come after them. This wasn’t the plan. We should leave them here, or let them go back.”

“Go back,” Camina rasped.

“You think you saved us?” I asked, crossing my arms. “You might have gotten us out of the maze, but you’d have been stuck at the gates if we hadn’t opened the the doors for you.” So would I, for that matter, if Damien hadn’t helped. It had all happened so fast. I could feel my brain trying to puzzle out what exactly took place in the citadel, but there wasn’t time. We had to keep moving.

“Go back,” Camina repeated.

“She’s burning up,” Jazmine said, with a hand against Camina’s forehead. She pulled back her thin blonde hair. Her silver eyes looked feverish against her pale skin. “I don’t suppose anybody has more elixir? I mean, you guys did steal some, right?”

The woman took out a small knife, and Jazmine’s eyes flashed. In less than a second her blade was drawn as well—the long, scrap of metal she’d torn from a mechanical spider during the trials.

“Hold up, I just want to check her wounds,” the woman said, palms raised. Jazmine stepped aside, eyes wary, and the woman cut open Camina’s dress. A deep, ragged gash cut across her abdomen, and three more sliced through her arm, nearly to the bone. The blood was bright red against her pale skin and the white costumes we’d been forced to wear. My stomach twisted painfully.

She would already be dead, if not for the elixir in her system, but she’d probably burned through it all trying to keep her together.

“We should just leave her,” the young man repeated again. He was a few years older than me, in a green hooded rain jacket. Brown hair poked out around his ears, and stubble darkened his chin. His bushy eyebrows and an unfortunately crooked nose gave him a grumpy expression.

“She’ll just slow us down. She’s not going to make it, anyway.”

I grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him up over the edge of the cliff, letting his feet kick over the drop towards the churning rocks below. His eyes widened in panic.

I could feel the elixir burning inside me, giving me superhuman strength. I knew it made me reckless, irrational – but right now I didn’t care. My loose hair whipped in the wind. I probably looked as crazed as I felt.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” I growled. “I’m grateful for the little stunt you pulled in the arena, but I don’t know you, I don’t trust you, and I’m having a really, really bad day. So either you save my friend, or we can part ways right now.”

The man lifted a pistol and pointed it at my head. I turned and smirked at him. I was pretty sure I could disarm him before he pulled the trigger.

“Easy now,” the woman said. She pulled out a small glass vial from her bra and held it up. It was mostly empty, but there were at least a few more sparkly drops clinging to the bottom of the vial. She gently removed the cork and tilted the vial to Camina’s pale lips. I watched as the bright blue drops of glittering elixir rolled down past her teeth. I counted three – three times the weekly dosage humans were allotted during the renewal ceremony, but only a drop more than the daily allowance we’d received since becoming chosen. I prayed it would be enough.

The woman shook the vial, then held it up again to show me the empty container.

Only then did I release my grip on the man and set his feet back on the ground. He scowled at me like a frustrated teenager, even though he was probably in his early-twenties.

My arm was burning from lifting him so long, but I stuffed them in my pockets so he wouldn’t see me shaking.

“We’ve got to go,” the man said. “We’re too exposed here.”

“Go where?” Jazmine asked, looking around uneasily.

“I left a package of supplies nearby, for emergencies. We pick those up first, then head for higher ground. I know a place we can stay the night, even hole up for a few days if we have to.”

The slagpaw whined and licked its chops, then sat down awkwardly. I realized for the first time the beast had several arrows buried deep in its hindquarters.

I looked at him, trying not to be unnerved by the creature’s glowing red eyes and jagged rows of teeth. Even sitting, it was as tall as me. I’d never been this close to one before, or had the opportunity to really study the creature. Slagpaw were the shadow demons of children’s fairy tales. Few people saw them and lived to talk about it. But I knew this one meant me no harm. It was like a dog, but with the shoulders, muscles and arms of a large man, with long claws that practically dragged on the ground.

“This is going to hurt,” I whispered in his large furry ear.

The creature nodded, then I grabbed the first arrow and yanked it out. The beast yelped and shuddered, but didn’t bite my arm off at least. I removed two more arrows, then led him to the creek and washed the wounds, up to my ankles in shallow water.

“How are you even controlling that thing?” the younger man asked.

“I’m not,” I said.

“Then why hasn’t it eaten us yet?”

I didn’t know how to explain. I wasn’t sure I was ready. Jazmine looked curious as well, but if I thought about what I’d done, I’d come apart, and we didn’t have time for that.

“Let’s get somewhere safe,” I said. “Then I’ll tell you everything. By the way, I’m Emily. This is Camina and Jazmine.”

Camina stirred at her name, and I looked to see her wounds were already starting to close themselves up as the elixir worked its magic. It truly was a miracle.

“Frank,” the older man said. “That’s Luke and Beatrice.”

As we went deeper and deeper into the wild, further out than I’d ever been before, my pulse began to race and I jumped at every sound. I was no stranger to the wilds, but I was usually better equipped, with my father’s bow at least, and much more quiet.

Up above, cawing drew my eyes to a handful of large, dark birds that followed our progress. Probably waiting for us to submit to the ash or exhaustion. Most of the wild animals outside the compounds wouldn’t turn down fresh meat if they could get it. I knew that some plants struggled in the shade and grey skies, but even if they survived long enough to bear fruit, it wouldn’t be fit for consumption. That’s why we had the compounds, and the purification engines. The only place where humans could survive.

We climbed higher up the side of a mountain, trying to stay on the wide granite stretches between the sparse pine trees. We were more exposed, but the wind-swept ground didn’t leave tracks behind us.

Finally, Frank pointed out a rectangular entrance cut into the side of the hill, framed by large chunks of rotting timber and sealed with a metal door and pile of boulders. Up above us, the exposed metal ribs of a large construction jutted out from the rock, with hanging, rusted metal stairs and doors that led to nowhere.

“We’re going in there?” Jazmine asked, frowning. I knew what she was thinking; I grew up warned against the structures of the Before. They were unsound and full of danger. If they didn’t collapse on you, the poisonous ash or slagpaw would get you.

But I knew now, not everything I’d been told when I was younger was the truth, and we needed to get out of sight. Frank shoved the door aside with his shoulder, and it screeched against the rocky ground.

“Do you mind leaving your friend outside?” Luke asked. “He gives me the creeps, and it’s small enough in there anyway.”

“Stay,” I said, pointing at the covered area beneath a ledge. The slagpaw whined at first, but then licked my cheeks, turning around twice before settling into a furry ball.

Slowly we followed the others inside the dark mouth of the cave. Beatrice lit a small gas lantern, and held it up, leading the way. Frank and Jazmine supported Camina, who was walking unsteadily between them, with Luke and I bringing up the rear. It was so dark, I had to watch my steps, even though I could barely see my feet. I gasped as we crossed a thin wooden plank. It wobbled, sending a cluster of pebbles richoteting off the deep walls of a cavern. I heard them plunk into water far below.

Frank led us through the twisted tunnels of stone and metal, then through a narrow crevice into a small cavern, that looked semi-furnished. In the middle was a campfire, some pots and pans, and bundles of old clothes and fabric, stuffed together with leaves and straw for a makeshift mattress. Broken glass and tin cans sparkled in the darkness like a treasure hoard.

It smelled of rot and nature, but wasn’t foul – I realized the stench that had followed us since the citadel had been Trevor’s thick fur and the unnatural stink of a mutid.

Luke started working on a fire, and Beatrice strung up a line of cans near the door.

“So we’ll know they’re coming,” she said sheepishly, seeming to recognize that if the elite found us here, we’d be dead before the early warning hit our ears. Then she pulled out some folding chairs and set them up around the fire.

I sank into mine, crossing my arms. The sensation was uncomfortable, to say the least. In the stillness and darkness of the cave, the events of the last few days came rushing back, and I felt my eyes water. I’d been running on survival mode so long I didn’t know how to sit still. I literally didn’t know who I was anymore. Emily Sharrow wasn’t even my real name; my mother had confessed as much before she died. Damien told me I was a half-breed. An impossible, and possibly the only, elite offspring.

A genetic experiment, he suggested, just before I’d been arrested on charges of conspiracy to murder the crown prince. The look of betrayal in Damien’s eyes when they discovered the pistol in my pocket scorched my heart and filled me with shame. But he’d helped me escape, even after all that. I didn’t know where that left us.

Frank passed out a bowl of soup, some kind of tough meat and wild carrots, then the others looked at me expectantly, their eyes bright in the reflection of the fire.

“Curate Marcus is dead,” I began, creasing my hands in my lap. “I think… I think I killed him.”

Beatrice sucked in a breath, and Luke flinched. I saw his hand move towards his weapon, but Frank held up a hand for me to continue.

“I didn’t realize, I didn’t figure it out until… the slagpaw,” I said quickly. “They’re human. I think it’s what happens if you consume too much ash. King Richard, he wanted me to kill them, he wanted me to kill the rebel leaders. When they attacked us in the arena, we were just defending ourselves. I think the first one, it must have been Marcus.”

“And the second is Trevor,” Beatrice murmured, her eyes flicking towards the entrance. “That’s why he didn’t attack you?”

“Hold up,” Jazmine said. “Forgive a girl for asking questions, but what the hell is even going on? All I know is, trials. Then Camina was hurt, then people were shooting at us. I came with you to protect her, not to join some rebel alliance.”

“Trevor’s my friend, from Algrave,” I said. “I didn’t know he was a rebel, not until after I was chosen. Curate Marcus contacted me, they wanted me to join them. I wasn’t going to at first. But then… the way Richard  treats us, you have to see it’s not right. He made Tobias kill Penelope, his own chosen.”

“She was a rebel,” Jazmine said, with a shrug.

“So?” I snapped. “She didn’t deserve to die. Not like that. When we went back to Algrave, it was to save my mother. Damien gave me elixir to save her, but then his guards came and started arresting people.” I flinched, remembering the truth. “The woman who raised me, the one I was trying to save, she was killed. They arrested me. The trials, it was supposed to bring me to heel. To prove King Richard could control me, by making me kill Trevor. But… I resisted him. When he realized he couldn’t compulse me, he would have killed me.”

“How is that even possible?” Luke said. I frowned, glancing around the circle, their faces red in the glow of the fire. I trusted Trevor, but I didn’t know anyone else here. Damien had sworn me to secrecy, but what did it matter now that the king knew I was renitent? He would hunt me down, which meant these people were in danger. They should know what they were getting into.

“Just before she died, my mother told me I was adopted; that my real mother was executed, and that my real father was an elite.”

“But that’s impossible,” Beatrice said, leaning forward.

“Apparently not,” I said. “Curate Marcus, he said it was because of my grandfather, John Patten. He stole something from the king – an antidote to the elixir. They think he did experiments on his own daughter, my mother, and that’s why she was able to get pregnant; and that’s why the king can’t compulse me.”

The silence lengthened, and I could tell the others were wary. I’d just confessed to a band of rebels that I was part elite. I was the enemy.

The moment was broken when Camina stirred, sitting up, her pale hair sticking to her warm face. Her fingers grasped for a weapon, before finding the large holes in her shredded shirt and checking her wounds carefully.

“What happened, where are we?”

“Don’t worry, we’re safe,” Jasmine said. “Outside the citadel.”

“What have you done?” Her eyes widened, taking in the rocky sanctuary. She rose to her knees, her legs shaking. “We’re escaped rebels now. We were raised to serve the elite. Loyalty, honor, courage. If I hadn’t been chosen, I would have applied to become a soldier or one of the king’s guard. This, this life, I don’t know how to do this.”

“But we can be free,” I said. “We can choose.”

“Are you serious?” She spat, glancing around at the cracked cement and creeping vines. “And what, live underground like rats? Hiding from elite and slagpaw forever?”

“You’re free now. You can choose your own path,” Beatrice said. “Like the rest of us.” Creases formed around her eyes as she smiled, handing Camina a bowl of soup.

“I didn’t choose this,” Camina muttered, turning away and facing into the shadows, away from the fire.

Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep. The stillness of the cave was broken by slow dripping water and a leathery rustling above that I suspected were bat wings. At any moment the king’s troops could slip into the darkness and slit our throats. And yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about Damien. Even after he thought I’d betrayed him, he still helped us escape. Did he think by letting me go, he’d be killing his own father? Probably not. At the trials, I almost tried, but I couldn’t risk hitting Jamie or Loralie. Damien couldn’t read my mind. I never had time to explain myself after getting arrested in Algrave. And now I’d run off with rebels. He probably thought I’d manipulated him from the start somehow.

My wide eyes searched the darkness. By the glowing embers of the fire I could make out faded graffitti on the cracked walls.

Vampires suck, wrote one in faded green paint, so old I could barely read it. I didn’t know if it was a joke or a warning.

The strongest shall survive, read another. It was the opposite of what I’d been raised to believe; that the two races could only exist together, symbiotic species that depended on each other for survival.

Death to Elites, read another, in scratchy writing that took up most of the wall. This was probably a rebel holdout, used since the race wars a century ago. When humans and elite had nearly destroyed each other, until King Richard saved them from the brink of extinction. This was the history I knew, at least. The history I’d been told. The very idea of killing elites sent a shiver down my spine; it was more than a sacrilege, it was a death sentence. Undermine the kingdom and the royal order, and we’d devolve back into decades of war, starvation, sickness and pain. Everyone knew this, and yet the rebels risked everything, trying to change the system.

I hoped Damien would be okay, that King Richard wouldn’t hurt his own son, but I wasn’t sure of anything anymore. In a few decades, he’d probably forget about me, like he had my grandfather.

In the meantime, I was all alone. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t know what came next. I wished Trevor was here, that I could talk with him. I sat up suddenly. Trevor was right outside. Would he stay a slagpaw forever? I remembered the scratchiness when I’d breathed too much poisonous ash; and coughing up dark phlegm. Without the elixir, I’d have died – or, perhaps, have changed, like Trevor. The elixir countered the effects of toxic poisoning. My heart pounded in my throat and I sat up suddenly. Was it possible Trevor was still in there, that the process could be reversed?

I glanced at my wrist, and glared at the bare skin where the bracelet used to be. I had no idea how much elixir was still in my system, but there had to be some. I wasn’t badly injured in the trials, which meant the unused elixir would stay in my blood longer, until I burned it up with activity.

I tiptoed back out of the cave, careful not to disturb any of Beatrice’s traps, until I opened the door to the mine and stepped outside into the cool night air. The flakes were light tonight, and I could see the patch of light behind the clouds that I knew to be the moon. I’d only seen it once, in a blood memory.

It reminded me of something else; something I’d seen when I kissed Damien at the gates and tasted his blood. A buried trunk, an unmarked grave. My eyes widened as I realized it wasn’t an accident. Damien had pushed that memory towards me; he must have bitten his own lip so he could pass me the information. It was a clue, a place to start looking.

But first, I needed Trevor. He wasn’t at the entrance where I’d left him. I felt exposed, looking out over the horizon. I could see the glowing towers of the capital, like jagged crystals against the dark mountains behind it. The citadel of lights. Coming from Algrave, it had always seemed like magic, but I knew now it was science and electricity.

I heard a deep Rumble that seemed to pierce through me. behind me and whirled around. My pulse spiked as I saw the slagpaw above me, a dark silhouette against the sky, on a boulder above the mines. His lip curled up in a snarl, displaying his gleaming white teeth.

“Trevor?” I asked cautiously. The beast jumped through the air and I ducked. It landed behind me and padded forward, its hair bristling.

He sniffed the air and his red eyes burned in the darkness, like twin coals. His claws clicked on the ground as he stalked forward, with a guttural growl I felt in my bones.

“Don’t eat me,” I said. “I think, I think I can still help you. If you drink enough elixir. I hope. Nod if you understand.”

What if it was too late, what if the Trevor I knew was already gone?

Tears welled up in my eyes at the thought, but I had to try anyway. I took the jagged shard of broken glass I’d grabbed in the tunnels and pierced my wrist, feeling the warm blood spill down my fingertips. Then I held them up away from my body.

The beast’s eyes grew round with surprise, and he whimpered.

“Do it,” I said, leaning forward. A gust of wind brushed past my dress, freeing my dark hair. It rippled in the moonlight. My white leather jacket, now shredded and torn, and chiffon pink dress, stood out like a rose against the barren landscape. I shivered, suddenly cold, as I cupped my palms into a bowl to pool the blood.

The dark shadow of the slagpaw hovered over me, hesitated a moment, then flicked out its rough tongue, licking my palms and wrists clean.

KEEP READING – click below to preorder now!

Infernal Betrayal: an Aztec Urban Fantasy

Infernal Betrayal: an Aztec Urban Fantasy

New release! I’m doing final edits on book three of the immortal assassin series – the magical system is based on Aztec mythology but only in book three do we (literally) dive deep into Mexican death cults. Book 3 continues all the action and romance of the first two books but leads to an epic reckoning… here’s a sneak peak of the first chapter!

Chapter One

Heat hazed the world around me, sending shivers of rippling color dancing across my vision. Perhaps that was why I was seeing a ghost. Because he had to be a ghost, didn’t he? I’d killed Ewan Saunders weeks ago. I’d heard his last, labored breath as he’d tried to suck in air through his ruined lung.

Ewan’s smile broadened, exposing a golden molar and twin sets of tapered fangs. I’d never asked him for the story behind his many scars. Now I was wishing I had. So Valerius had been right. He had sensed his psychotic twin sister on this island, being hosted by this crazy-ass redneck. My former colleague, and friend. The man I’d killed, trying to save my sister. Sparks flew as he tread closer towards me through the ash and scorched earth.

“What have you done?” I whispered out loud, not really expecting an answer. My mind raced, tracing through the progression of events that had lead me to this exact moment. My failed mission to the Barbegazi stronghold in the Alps. Being hired by vampires to take out Elle Dawson, under false pretenses, and then bound to an infernal demon in an unholy ritual that made me virtually immortal. Being stranded on Wolf Isle as a ticking time bomb. Against all odds, escaping the island, rescuing Elle and the cure, and defeating Algerone Lamonia…

Somehow it had made all this destruction possible; maybe even inevitable. Cat was alive, Lamonia was dead, but so were the thousands of wolves I’d left behind. Ewan sidled closer and I ducked into a crouch, automatically going for my weapon, though I knew it would do me no good in this situation. If Ewan truly had a demon within him, he wasn’t going to stay dead.

“You really wanna know the answer to that question?” he asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets casually, as if he hadn’t just blown the island all to hell. His innocent smile and Southern charm was incongruous with the destruction behind him. It grated against my frazzled nerves like fingers running along a chalkboard. I knew instinctively that I wouldn’t like his answer. But I had to know.

“But you’re a Trust agent. Why would you help the vampires?”

Ewan shrugged. “Why not?”

“They kill people, Ewan. They kill them and eat them.” Vampires were everything the Trust was against at a core level. Even if not exactly xenophobes, we understood that creatures which fed on human blood couldn’t ever be allowed complete control of civilization or they’d turn it into their personal feeding banks.

Ewan’s eyes narrowed. “It ain’t so different from what we do, eh, Nat? At least they got a reason. They need to feed, to survive. You and me, we just do it for fun.”

Bile crept up my throat and I turned my head, just in case I threw up. It sickened me, but he was right. Although the Trust was predicated on the ideal of equality for all supernaturals, most mages had a visceral disdain for bloodshed in general and vampires particularly. Officially, the elite team of hunters I worked with were only meant to enforce justice and police those who got out of control and hurt humans, but I’d taken matters into my own hands on more than a few occassions.

Even before Valerius, I’d used my skills to enforce vigilante justice. The vampires’ aura was a dull throb, like a tension headache, their very existence made me nauseous. Taking out a vampire offered a slight moment of ease and took some of the pressure off. It made me feel like, just maybe, I was doing something right, something good.

But I’d never confessed the sick pleasure I’d taken to anyone else on my team, and had assumed Dom’s flat condemnation of my actions was universal. I’d been kicked out and scorned, refused magic, and carefully watched by the Trust’s lackey to make sure I halted my murderous moonlighting. Yes, I’d turned to Landon and his crew of assassins when the Trust atrocities had grown too horrible for me to bear. But I’d never enjoyed my work. I’d never gone into a fight thirsting for the kill, or had I? A sinking doubt grew in the pit of my stomach that Ewan and I weren’t that different, and I raged against it, biting my lip until I drew blood.

This disgust, this feeling of wretchedness and betrayal, was this how it had felt for Dom when he’d discovered that I was moonlighting as an assassin? Because if so, I wanted to throw my arms around him and apologize for all the times I’d bitched at him. I’d considered Ewan a friend, and felt a constant sense of guilt about killing him when he was just doing his duty. But now I was horrified by the man that stood before me. I itched to sink my fangs into his throat.

Ewan studied my expression with a smirk. “See? I can read it in your eyes. You want to kill me.”

“You committed genocide, Ewan!” I yelled. “Hell yes, I want to put you in the ground. Tell me why you did it and maybe I won’t rip your arms off and beat you with them.”

Ewan took another step, trying to circle around me. He carried himself with all the lazy assurance of a panther at rest. Everything about him seemed to have changed. The loveable wizard with his whimsical smile and good-ol-boy charm was still there, but it hung loosely like a second skin, and for the first time I could see the monster beneath. Had he always been like that, and I’d just never noticed? Or was Bryne eating him from the inside out?

“My, my. Looks like I’ve struck a nerve. Did I offend your delicate, ladylike sensibilities, Nat?”

“But…how?” I asked. I’d been told that the demon could only be hosted by a specific bloodline. My bloodline, which had been the reason they’d targeted my sister and then me. We were descended from a line of ancient Aztec mages who’d been hand-selected to host Valerius or Bryne when the time came.

My eyes swept over Ewan once more, taking in his plain, middle-American appearance. He was as Caucasian as they came and, so far as I knew, had no native ancestry. I wished I’d had time to finish reading the book of ritual magic, the Aztec guide I was having translated. It was to be my reward for killing Elle, a way to save my sister and get my life back. I really still had no idea what I was up against, but everything about this screamed wrong.

Ewan picked idly at a hangnail, still scrutinizing my expression.

“You didn’t think you were the last, did you? Lamonia wasn’t innovative enough the first time he tried the summoning. The ritual requires the blood of a mage in your lineage. I had the magic I needed, just not the blood. I tried taking your sister’s blood at first, but Valerius nearly strangled me to death. And there was no chance of stealing any from you after you were exiled and the Five were disbanded. So I had to get inventive.”

Ewan began circling me again and I adjusted my aim, bringing the gun to bear. If I had to kill him, so be it. I could drag his sorry carcass back to the ship and let the wolves dispense their justice. Maybe if we threw him into an incinerator for a day he’d stay dead.

“Did Dom ever tell you what I was up to? Or did Algerone have you chasing your tail so long that you never thought to ask?”

“He said you fancied yourself Indiana Jones and were raiding old tombs for ritual artifacts.”

Ewan snapped his fingers jovially. “So close but no cigar. I was actually looking for a lost Amazonian tribe. Some of your relatives, in fact. It took some doing because they really covered their tracks, but I eventually discovered their little hamlet in the jungle. It took a whole group of village elders to do the trick. I transfused myself with their blood one-by-one, just before the Dawson mission, until the demon found my body a worthy and compatible vessel. I’d been warned you were coming and had the ritual done in secret. And just in time, too. You killed me and left me for dead.

“But you came back,” I whispered.

“As did you, and here we are,” Ewan spread his hands and finished with a light laugh. “Two supreme beings standing in the ruined wreck of a once pristine beach. Beautiful, ain’t it?”

My eyes swept the beach, taking in the debris that remained from the destruction of Wolf Isle. The force of the blast had scattered battered bodies, wrecked cars, and assorted furniture haphazardly. Half a couch smoldered nearby, surrounded by scattered glass and palm branches. I wasn’t sure what encompassed Ewan’s definition of beauty, but it clearly didn’t match mine.

Dread and horror filled me as my brain caught up with his words. I’d never been close to my heritage, my lineage. I hadn’t known much about it, or taken much of an interest until after Cat’s accident. And now they were gone. Ewan had tracked them down, sucked out their blood and experimented on them. He was a plague. A monster.

“But, why this? Why the wolves?”

Ewan shrugged.

“It was always Lamonia’s plan,” he said. “A hundred years ago, he’d voyaged around the world searching for a powerful ancient weapon. He found what he was looking for trapped under an Aztec temple in the south of Mexico: two young, extremely powerful demons. He brought them back, but they could only be awakened with a descendent or pure blood host. First he tried with your sister, then you, but your pure blood was too well suited to host the demons, which made you stubbornly immune to his influence. He was never a fan of my own solution, but I decided to risk it. When it worked, Lamonia fed me pints of his own blood to make sure I was properly bound to him. He wanted power – more than immortality. He wanted to yield it. He was frustrated at needing a human intermediary, but the blooding was an adequate safeguard. He sent me down here as a failsafe. I felt it the second he died. The shackles were off, as it were. I couldn’t have controlled Bryne if I’d wanted to… all that rage, centuries of simmering anger. It all flooded out of me, and, well, you see the results. Don’t you get it Natalia, you did this.”

I shivered, despite the heat. Lamonia had warned me this would happen, but I killed him anyway to satisfy a personal vendetta. And now, thousands of wolves were dead. All those infected by the lupine cure, and those shipped off to Wolf Isle simple due to their race. Thanks to Elle’s cure, they could have all been saved. I’d doomed them. Now Bryne was free and unrestrained. An immortal demon in the body of a psychopathic mage, and there was no way to stop him.

“You’re sick,” I hissed. “You need help, Ewan.” I couldn’t believe that the man I’d shared freezing cold tents and blazing hot bunkers with for years could be this much of a monster.

“Aww, how sweet,” Ewan crooned. “Little Iron Heart wants to save me.”

He sobered, the smile fading from his face with such suddenness I could have sworn it had never been. “But I don’t want saving, Nat. I was promised a front-row ticket to the apocalypse. I’m not letting you or anyone else get in the way of seein’ it. I don’t know how you managed to gag Valerius, but I ain’t letting your bleeding heart get in the way of my fun.”

“Fun?” My voice shot through two octaves on the way out. I slipped my finger into the trigger guard and sank into a crouch, ready to launch myself at him. “You think this is fun? What do you think comes after the end of the world, you nihilistic asshole?”

Ewan drew a hand through the air as though scooping something water from a bowl. A ball of superheated air congealed in his palm. I’d seen him use this trick before and knew just how devastating the results could be. He tended to aim for the middle, the heat of the air burning holes into the target’s guts while the force of the compressed air carried it through the torso, eating away at the innards as it went. He’d lob ball after ball until he tired of the assault and switched to a new element. It was like a game of dodgeball from hell.

“Simple,” he said, twirling the mini cyclone on the tip of his finger. “We’ll usher in new age of humanity, with me ruling them all…as a god.”

My eyes bugged with disbelief. I couldn’t decide if he was completely batshit, or if he really thought it would work. Bryne only clung to his body because he’d drained some poor bastards dry and transfused himself with the proper blood type. What, did he plan to save a camp full of humans from the end of days only to suck them down like juice boxes when they’d outlived their usefulness?

“You’re insane,” I said. “She’ll erase you, you won’t remember anything.”

 

“Who told you that?” he smirked. “Your dead vampire? He was trying to limit us, he was afraid of what we’d become. He’s old, but he doesn’t remember what it was like in the beginning… emerging out of primordial fire. Don’t you remember, when it was just you and me? We were alone. They killed our mother. They locked us up, put us to sleep, buried us away. For awhile, our worship powered dynasties of divine kings. Then we were placated by blood while they built stone tombs around our mortal coils. We woke up to eternal separation and darkness.

I shuddered despite myself. Had Valerius and his sister been buried alive in human hosts? Immortal, but contained by a mountain of stone. No wonder they were angry.

It was not pleasant, Valerius agreed. But maybe it was necessary.

He’s scared, I realized. Something in him had changed. He’d been bound to Cat for years, maybe it softened him. He was more human than Bryne. Did that make him stronger, or weaker?

If we start all over, Valerius continued, wipe the slate clean of humans… the gods will fight again, humans will be reborn, who knows what worse faits await? Why risk worse calamaties when I’m already free?

“Sorry,” I spat, the words dripping like acid from my tongue. “Valerius and I are going to pass on the end of the world shenanigans. It’s just not our scene.”

Ewan’s eyes narrowed to slits and he bounced the ball once in his hand. “Then you’ll die.”

Winding up like a major league ballplayer, he let the sphere fly. It hurtled through the air with enough speed to create its own sonic boom. I barely had enough time to flatten myself to the ground, realizing too late that doing so wasn’t safe either. The patch of sand beneath me shifted, tugging me down with the inexorable force of quicksand. I kicked, moving my body horizontally. It took the stuff a little while to stick and the best way to escape quicksand was not to become trapped in the first place.

I’d barely shuffled out of the deadly mix when Ewan’s knee came flying toward my face. The impact rattled my teeth and sent pain shooting up into my skull. It would have been less agonizing if he’d just shoved a hot poker up one nostril. My nose broke, spewing blood all over the denim pant leg before me.

I landed on my back with a cry and rolled away from the stomp that came down toward my head. With his newfound strength, the blow was sure to crush my skull like a duck egg and pulp my brains all over the sandy beach. Even knowing he couldn’t keep me dead for good didn’t lessen my horror at the prospect. This man wasn’t the person I’d known. There was no telling what he’d do with my body.

I had to stop him, somehow. Ewan seemed to have no compunctions torturing or killing me. And I needed more answers before I could do the same to him. His powers had increased in their potency since the transition into a monster. The key was to disable Bryne, so we’d be on somewhat equal footing. If I let Valerius off the leash to play, the conflict would only escalate until the whole world was consumed.

There was only one method I’d found that could pacify Valerius for a time. I had Barabbas Grieves to thank for the knowledge that violent blood sacrifice was necessary to pacify the ancient Aztec demons. But if Ewan suspected my motives, he wasn’t going to waste time trapping me in quicksand or blowing a hole through my middle. He’d set me on fire and hold me in the flames while I baked like a rotisserie chicken.

Rolling onto my back, I lined up a shot and pulled the trigger. I missed my intended target, his eye, and instead blew a divot the size of a quarter in one cheek. Blood streamed through the superheated air, floating like glittering rubies for a few moments before evaporating completely.

I regained my feet, launching into a right hook that snapped his head almost ninety degrees to the side. I heard something crack, at any rate. Ewan spat a tooth onto the sand and muttered a curse.

“Guess you don’t hit like a girl anymore, Valdez.”

“I never hit like a girl,” I snarled. Ewan lifted a hand to click his jaw back into place, and I noticed a glimmering tattoo on his neck. I wondered how many times he’d died, and how many tattoos and demonic powers were at his disposal. I glared at the Aztec symbol, wishing I could read what it meant.

My mind raced over my powers, but there was nothing useful on this barren island, nothing but death. My eyes widened and I touched the tattoos on my collarbone. Fire, darkness, blood and death. Could it be that simple? I flexed my fingers, reaching out with my aura, sweeping across the landscape. It took a moment to see them. Hundreds of wolf corpses, mangled and half burnt, some little more than bones, letting off a dark energy. They felt a little like vampires: an absence of life like a pocket or hole. I felt my aura tether with them, binding them to my will, and when I beckoned, they came. Shaking themselves off from ash and debris, smoldering bones and charred tendons reattaching. I smiled as the first launched itself at Ewan, chomping down on his leg with feral determination. He screamed in rage as another attached itself to his arm, bringing him down.

I raised my wrist up to my mouth, biting swiftly into the thick, fleshy pad of my palm, digging hard to reach one of the many veins in my hand. I pressed it to his mouth, getting a grip on his bicep before he could twist away from me. Pinning his legs in place with mine, I hauled us both to the ground and grappled with the cursing redneck until I was satisfied he’d gotten at least a half a pint from my injured palm.

Ewan stood, eyes flying open wide as he sensed the disconnect.

“What the hell did you do, you bitch?” he hissed.

“Leveling the playing field,” I said, retrieving the gun from its position mere feet away. I leveled it at his head, smirking. “Now that you’re mortal again, let’s talk.”

Make sure you get the first two books so you’ll be caught up when this one launches!

Space Force: A sci-fantasy space opera

Space Force: A sci-fantasy space opera

When I started writing fiction, I was mostly drawn to YA scifi and fantasy – particularly dystopian plots with lots of politics, magic and romance. But recently I’ve been broadening my horizons, and sketching out some stories that push genre boundaries.

I’ve already got some alien-invasion “5th-wave meets Roswell” stuff in the works (and I can’t wait for the new Roswell episodes in the works), but at a party in Oregon last year a couple of conversations led to the development of a sci-fantasy space opera epic series I’ll be calling “Space Force.”

It’s basically Star Wars meets Guardians of the Galaxy, with off-beat humor, epic fight scenes, some steamy romance, but with a female protagonist (who’s possibly gay or bisexual, I haven’t planned it out that far yet).

Here’s some of the art I have or want to use for the Space Force series. 

 

 

Please help choose a voice!

I’m trying something new; the style and voice is really different from how I normally write. It’s fun and active – and PROBABLY great for space opera/urban fantasy stuff, which tends to be over-the-top anyway (as opposed to my slow, brooding paranormal romances).

But before I go ahead with this, I wanted to get some feedback from you and make sure you like it. Down below are two samples – Option A and Option B. Hit the tab to read both of them; they are the same basic story but with two different writing styles. Please comment on this Facebook post.

Commandante Gungnir Odinson, thirteenth member of the Olympiad Council, towered over me by two or three feet, easy. There was an off-green undertone to his skin that made him look sallow and pale, like he had spent years in space and never touched down long enough to see any natural light. His eyepatch was inlaid with a ruby, cut like an eye, and he grinned as he drew nearer my cell, his massive smile white and oh-so sharp.

“We finally have you in our grasp, Quinn Lehar,” he said, voice rumbling, one hand stroking his beard.

“You have no idea how happy you’ve made me.”

“Eat me,” I said, and spat at him.

A single gob of saliva landed on his cheek, and he considered this for a moment as he wiped himself clean.

“I doubt I’d get anything but indigestion from you,” he said.

“No, we’re well aware of your various tricks, Miss Lehar. You’re free to roam about back there in the prisoner chambers, but any attempts at escaping this vessel will result in the bomb collar around your neck exploding. You’ll also be assigned a personal ROVR to watch over you. I would not attempt to test its military capabilities. The last prisoner aboard this vessel to make that escape is still partially matted into the grout. We’ll have to get it detailed when we reach the Institute.”

Said ROVR yapped in the corner, a visor for eyes. Its body and head were made of white space-grade plasticine, hovering in the air. Ugh, I hated ROVRs. Relentless as terriers, with none of the kindness.

“Where are you taking me?” I demanded.

“The Huginn Institute,” he said.

“For… research purposes.” I didn’t like the sound of that. The Huginn Institute was spoken of in hushed whispers all over The Stretch. One part research and development, one part crazy scientist’s lab, or so I heard. I was on a one way ride to get an Administration-sanctioned lobotomy, I supposed.

“And why me?” “The real question you should be asking yourself is why aren’t you being executed. Tampering with Administration military property is grounds for treason.” Treason? I could feel my heart sink to my stomach. So knocking over a few abandoned watch stations and stealing their weapons caches, that was supposed to be treason?

“Look, I’ll admit I shouldn’t have taken stuff that wasn’t mine,” I said. “But you have got to be kidding me. This is petty larceny. Or grand theft, at most. Treason?”

“Billy Braigher told us all we needed to know,” Odinson boomed. “Your partner-in-crime. Or should I say ex-partner, if the look in your eye means anything.”

“What did he tell you?” I asked, breathing hard.

“Everything,” Odinson said.

“When I get out of here, I’m going to kill him,” I snarled, through the bars. I grabbed two of them in each hand and shook them as I spoke for emphasis.

“I wouldn’t try it,” Odinson said.

“Not if you want to stay a-head of the game.” He chuckled to himself with his stupid, corny pun. I rattled the bars one more time.

“One of these days, you and I are going to cross blades,” I said.

“And you won’t have any of these tricks to keep me from cutting you open.” He drew closer to the bars, extending a hand. I felt a hard push shove me to the back of the cabin, plastered against the wall. His hand was still raised, and I felt myself rising into the air. When I hit the ceiling, he clenched his hand and broke the Resonance. I fell, hard, right on my tail-bone. I felt like a rag doll that had been tossed. Well, that was one thing at least. I knew for sure that there were no Resonance dampeners in place. Even if it hurt…

“Our mercy is exceedingly kind, considering your circumstances. You, my dear, are a space pirate with a record a Mafia Boss would blush at. And so young? A seventeen-year old girl, barely a whelp, and already a criminal mastermind. You continue to threaten me, and I’ll Resonance grab you and smash you through the exterior hull. Perhaps we’ll see if Space Pirates can really breathe in space…”

With a flourish of his cape, he turned and strode from the room, out of sight and into a different part of the ship. I could hear the door hydraulics hiss as he left, and cursed to myself.

“Language, Miss Lehar,” the ROVR buzzed. I sneered at it and sat back on my bunk. Isn’t this great? I thought to myself. Trapped, betrayed, imprisoned, and currently en route to getting my brains dissected at the Huginn Institute. Someone, somewhere, must be really pissed with me right now… An hour or so later, a hidden door behind me opened onto a viewport corridor. I could see all of Sector Seven-Delta before me: a vast purple supernova pulsing against a backdrop of stars, and its seven moons and asteroid belt circling gently. A man froze, face confused, hand over a keypad outside my door. “This is not the Emergency Escape room,” the strange man said, and made to shut it again.

“Wait,” I said. I looked back at the ROVR. No warning klaxons. Hmmm…

“What do you want?” The man pushed his glasses up on his face. “I’m just not sure if I can leave this room,” I said. “Not my problem,” the man said, and started pressing buttons again.

“Wait a minute,” I said. He had the same collar on as me. “Are you a prisoner?”

“Yes,” he said. “But not for long. If you’ll excuse me—”

I stuck my foot in the door. It started closing, then re-opened within inches of my in-step. I let out the gasp I had been holding. I slid an ankle out into the corridor gently, testing the waters. Looked back at the ROVR. Still nothing. Well, Odinson did say I was free to roam around the prisoner chambers… I popped my head through the door frame and half-expected my brain to burst. When it didn’t, I turned around and nearly jumped backwards through the viewport glass. The ROVR had moved, silently, its visor eyes thisclose to me.

“Can I go out here?” I asked.

“These are prisoner-assigned quarters,” it buzzed. “You have free entry.” The man from before was turning a corner, looking frazzled. I walked, stepping quite fast, up to him again and tapped him on the shoulder.

He jumped. “Jeez!” he said. “What did you go and do that for?” “I was trying not to scare you,” I said. “Well, you failed. Miserably. If you’ll excuse me, I really must be going.” I darted around in front of him and held my hand out.

“Wait a second,” I said. “Didn’t you say something about escaping earlier?” My ROVR floated silently behind me. The man pivoted his waist, leaning around me and looked at my Watch-dog, then leaned back and stared into my face.

“I said no such thing. I’m merely looking for the canteen. If you’ll excuse me…” He pushed his way past me, walked around the ROVR, and gestured with his hands when I turned around. In his left hand he held his glasses outstretched, which he dropped. They clattered under the ROVR. “My mistake,” he said, crouching down.

“Let’s see…” His hand slapped around the undercarriage, making various symbols. The red lights on its visor changed to blue, and then before I knew it the ROVR buzzed and puttered back off to my cell.

“Can you teach me how to do that?” I asked. “Come quickly,” he muttered. “We don’t have much time.”

“What are we doing?” I hissed. “Escaping,” he said. “Shut up and follow me.” We huddled together against walls. The ship lights switched over; from a bright fluorescent to a muted red. The whole ship rocked. A thought occurred to me.

“Can’t they see us on the cameras?” I asked. “I disabled them already,” he muttered. “Do you think they brought our personal effects on-board?” He paused and thought about this. “What, your makeup kit? Ow!” he said, rubbing his shoulder. He tossed a reproachful look my way. “I want my Resonator,” I said. “It’s important to me.”

“If it was gonna be anywhere it’d be in the Munitions room on the other side of the corridor. That way.” He gestured behind himself. “Will you come with me?” I asked. He snorted, and shook his head. “Absolutely not,” he said. “There’s a very short window before the security system resets itself. I don’t have time for all this.” “It’s really important that I get it,” I said. “I’ve had it since I was a little girl.”

“Well, good for you, you can alert every ROVR on this thing breaking in. See ya around!” And he headed away, further down the corridor. I cursed him in my mind, then turned and treaded back down the other way. Munitions room… munitions room… Ha! I found it. It was the very nondescript door with an ‘Emergency Only’ sign on it. I peered through the round little window inside it. A few ROVRs paced backed and forth, wagging their tails and occasionally scanning for threats. A keypad stared at me from the side. If I were a member of the Olympiad, what would my password be? I tried something—and with a click and a whoosh, the door opened, much to my surprise.

“Huh,” I said. The ROVRs turned to look at me. I had a few brief milliseconds to consider my options here. Odds were, they would scan my biotic data and alert the emergency system within thirty seconds. The whole ship would be up in arms. Then again, if there were only a way to disable them… I really didn’t want to rely on my party trick here of all places, right under the observation of a Huginn Institute prison transport. But hadn’t the glasses guy said something about the cameras being off? I made my decision.

“Octales,” I cried out. “Be my steel!” I could feel the Resonance field around me activate, and a small, quiet voice muttered in my head. “Thought you’d never ask, Boss!” I heard back. He manifested, Resonance energy coalescing into an obsidian blade in my right hand. The local warning klaxons went off from the ROVRs. I tossed Octales right through the visor of the first one, impaling it against the far wall, and ran and slid under the second one. Octales phased back into my hand and I held it out and up, slicing the second ROVR in half. It buzzed and sparked as its parts fell. I got to my feet again, looking at the overhead alarm system. Nobody had made a sound. No overhead klaxons. A little part of gut twisted up. This all seemed a bit too easy… I dug around in the munitions room. Weapons, ammunition, old repair parts here and there. I pulled box after box out, snatching through everything.

“Come on, come on,” I muttered. “Octales, I could really use your help.” The blade shimmered where I had stood it on its end in the corner, and Octales himself spun into existence. A baby imp-thing, wearing a diaper for some sense of decency. (I had insisted on this part myself.) His little wings flapped, and his pitbull-looking face frowned at me. “I was ready to leap into action when that huge guy started tossing you,” he pouted. I pulled another box down, and slid it behind me. “I need my Resonator,” I said. “Help me find it.” “Of all the people who actually need one, you don’t,” Octales said. “Why are you so insistent on finding it?”

“We’ve been over this a hundred times, just help me look!” I snarled. Muttering to himself, he floated up and up, to a high shelf. “This bucket up here has your name on it, Boss,” he called out. “That might be it, toss it down.” He groaned and pulled with all his might, and with a mighty crash of ammo and circuitry scattering over my head, my Resonator bounced at my feet. “This is it,” I called out.

“Great,” Octales said, looking behind me, and phased out. “Because we have company.” The warning klaxons started sounding overhead just as my sword reappeared in my hand. I cursed and spun around. Gungnir Odinson stood there, surrounded by Administration officers on every side. He, too, had his blade drawn. “Clever,” he said. “I won’t ask how you found your way here, or how you got inside. I will tell you to drop your weapon. You have three seconds. I’d sure hate to cut down someone of your skill before we can have you properly analyzed.”

“Try it,” I said, and stood in position. He inhaled, and then with a push and a slice, a Resonance wave came barreling straight at me. I rolled to the right, barely avoiding it, and used my Resonator to send some phaser beams from my hip. Two officers that had been drawing nearer were down, circuitry malfunctioning, suits shaking. Then I aimed at Odinson, squeezing off a few shots as I got to my feet. These he reflected easily, knocking them around; his own blade was something similar to mine, though I could tell he himself was using a Resonator to manifest it. One of the beams hit a dangling waistbelt of sonic grenades, nearly head-height…

“Miss Lehar, I’ll say this again. You would do far better if you cooperated with us. The Administration only has the best interests of mankind at stake.” “Oh, I’m sure,” I said, and squeezed off another shot. It hit the grenades, and with a concussive blast, Odinson and the rest of the officers were knocked backwards and into side-tables. I had raised my own Resonance field into a sort of shield to protect myself. As they were stirring, I lowered my shields and ran, foot stepping right on Odinson’s face as I catapaulted over the pile of guards in the entryway.

“Why are you running?” Octales asked. “Because we’re outgunned,” I panted, turning a corner. The nebula outside was pulsating. Something clicked in my head, then—something about pin-jumps and timing. I ran past the viewport. Two officers stood in front of me, but I sliced as I ran, not breaking my stride, and turned another corner. A big ‘emergency exit’ sign was over one doorway, and I stabbed Octales right into the console. It buzzed and opened, and the man with glasses and I stared at each other. He was in the single escape pod, and there was steam and vapor hissing. I banged on the viewport. “Let me in!” I cried.

“There’s no room!” he said.

“Where are you going?”

“Timing a pin-jump,” he said.

“Will it mess up your calculations if I wear a suit and grab on?” “Are you insane?” he called.

Not insane, so much as desperate. I grabbed a suit and watched the countdown timer hurriedly. The air lock was screaming. Zipping up, feeling the auto-seal technology burp its own air, carbon-recycle filters engaging. Helmet on. Careful! Can’t get your hair caught in the seams… The countdown was at fifteen seconds. I grabbed some electrical cord hanging from the wall which was sparking and ripped, tying it to one end of the escape pod’s handle and the other around my waist.

“This is not a survivable situation,” he yelled.

“Untie yourself!” “Just find somewhere safe to land nearby!” I said. He opened his mouth to say something, but the launch sequence had engaged. I pulled my Resonance field up and around me, solidifying it as tightly as possible, and soon felt the sucking pull of oxygen behind me escaping into the void of space. We floated for what felt like minutes before the boosters engaged. I prayed and prayed and prayed as we took off, feeling like an ant that had grabbed onto the tail feathers of an eagle… An icy cold penetrated my suit. “This is it,” I said to myself. “No more following strange men around, Quinn.” The nebula winked as we floated onwards into the galaxy…

A loud bang and a rumble roused me from unconscious and I felt the ship veer dangerously to the left. I tugged at the iron restraints, but they held firm. Typical empire steel. I used to be able to pick the simple handcuffs they used planet-side, but these were reinforced, with a complex mechanism. I’d already chaffed my wrists red trying to pull out of them.

The ship righted itself but I could see smoke out the windows.

One of the guards looked nervous. He was standing at the end of the hall with a lazer cannon, trying to stand still as the ship leaned one way, then the other. Whatever was happening,  it wasn’t part of the plan. It was way too early to land on Xenon, where I’d get an unsympathetic trial and a swift execution.

“Maybe you should go check on that?” I asked. Just as a large explosion rocketed the ship. This time the guard fell, before running down the hall towards the cockpit. Great. We were going to crash in some random nebula. Might be preferable to the empire’s so called justice, and a firing squad, but still not a pretty way to die. The cabins would be ripped open, my limbs frozen, my eyes would crack like glass then explode. In a few months I’d be space dust and join the rings of some backwater planet. Poetic, but not ideal.

Movement caught my eye and the cell door down the hall creaked open slowly. I didn’t even know anybody else was being caged in this cell block, but I guess it was vanity to assume they’d make this trip just for me.

Out stepped another prisoner – I could tell by the handcuffs he snapped off his wrists and tossed to the floor with a clank. How had he gotten them off? How did he get the door open?

Our eyes connected, but then he frowned and turned away.

“Wait!” I said. “Let me out – I can help!”

“Doubtful,” he said, rubbing his wrists. He took a few steps closer and I eyed him over. Shaggy blonde hair, glasses, and he was wearing unmistakably earthling clothes, like he’d just stepped out of a JC Penny’s – khakis and a light blue button down. They stood out against the dark steel of the ship’s interior. Totally impractical for space travel.

“You’re obviously new at this,” I said. “Looks like you got captured on your first run. Probably don’t even know why or what you did wrong.” His expression flickered, letting me know I wasn’t far off.

He looked over my chart and his eyes widened.

“Space pirate? Espionage, terrorism, theft? If I let you out you’d just kill me.”

“Most of that stuff is made up.”

“You can’t be that good or you wouldn’t have gotten caught.”

“My last partner was a douchebag,” I glared. “Forgot to pay off the right people. You know how it is.”

“Sorry,” he said, turning away. I shouted at him to come back but he already ducked down a side hall. Another explosion rocked the ship and I’m sure I saw one of the engines fly past the viewpoint. I could smell smoke, and red alarm bells and sirens started blaring.

Just when I was sure I was going to die here, the doors popped open. I scrambled to my feet, racing to the cockpit, but the door was sealed. Through the glass I could make out a few charred bodies and a broken window – the whole bridge was sealed off. This ship was going down. I headed past the crew’s quarters to the emergency pods. My heart sank when I saw the empty docking areas, but then flared when I saw one pod left. I raced to it just in time to see the door shut and the earthling  step behind glass.

That bastard was going to leave me here to die.

I pounded on red button to open the door but the countdown had already started. 90 seconds until the last pod left. Out the window I could see the looming surface of an alien planet – purple, pretty but way too close for comfort. Maybe I wouldn’t end up frozen in space afterall. Maybe I’d die in a blazing fireball when the ship entered the atmosphere, or smashed into the rocky peaks I could make out below.

I only had one other move, and it was a bad one.

I opened the hatch containing the space suits and strapped one on quickly. I found a wrench and cracked open the access panel to the side of the pod, crawling through it on my hands and knees. I was lucky the empire had the new models – a sleek, tight-fitting one piece and helmet – or I would have gotten stuck. I made it to the loading dock with thirty seconds left and opened the hatch, holding on tightly against the sudden vacuum pulling me out into space. I crawled along the exterior of the ship, my fingers straining against the tiny handholds. The whole ship was vibrating and bumping now.The escape pod lit up, preparing for launch, the blue flame of its thrusters shining brightly against the orange landscape of the nearest sun. I wasn’t going to make it. I made a few mental calculations, angled myself towards the pod and took a deep breath, then launched myself into space. For a second I thought I was too early, but then the escape pod hissed and delocked from the ship, inching out in front of my path. I managed to grab the exterior handle with one hand, just barely reaching it with my fingertips and hauling myself up to the side before the boosters kicked in.

I pressed myself flat against the steel – which was cold at first but soon warmed as we entered the planet’s atmosphere. The suit protected me against the worst of the temperature but I still felt like a roasted chicken. My vision blurred and I felt nauseous as we plumed across the sky leaving a trail of white smoke behind us. We were falling, too fast, I was sure something had gone wrong with the landing mechanisms. The ground rushed up at a dizzying speed. Then I heard a pop, and looked up to see a red parachute with the empire’s seal on it, fill the sky above. Blood rushed to my ears as the pod slowed it’s descent, and my fingers went limp as I lost consciousness.

 

What do you think?

Please comment with what you like/dislike about each sample – there are lots of ways to tell this story. I’m fine if the writing doesn’t sound like “my” voice – as long as you like it!

Pin It on Pinterest