Hey all… we’re just 10 days (and counting) away from my first major release in twenty months. I’m thrilled to bring The Dragon Eater (Tharassas Cycle Book 1) to you, thanks to Steven Radecki and Water Dragon Publishing.
Each week I’ll share something special about the book and/or the series.
In the first excerpt, you met Raven the thief (and titular Dragon Eater). In the second excerpt, I introduced Aik, Raven’s loyal friend (and inconveniently for a thief, part of the Gullton city Guard). In the third one, it was their friend Silya, an aspiring Hencha Queen who has a long history with our other two protagonists. For the fourth, I brought you Spin, the snarky AI that accounts for much of the science part of this sci-fantasy. And for the fifth excerpt, I shared a deleted scene with you, a flashback to when Aik saved Raven’s… hand.
Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from the novella that started it all, The Last Run,” which delves into the origin of the Hencha Queens, and which you can get free (as part of the prequel collection Tales From Tharassas” if you order The Dragon Eater and send me proof of purchase at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpt – The Last Run
Sera’s back arched as she gulped a lungful of air, her eyes bulging out of their sockets. She collapsed back on the memory foam of her sleep pod, sucking oxygen into her lungs gratefully.
It was a bit stale, but not immediately fatal—a good sign given how they escaped near-certain destruction by the skin of their teeth, as Earth and her local colonies fell into chaos and self-imposed destruction.
Sera’s throat was raw, dry—the antiseptic spray either hadn’t worked or hadn’t been administered by the Spin Diver’s wake-up protocols. “Waaaater.”
A slim white feeder line slipped down from above to mouth level. She took the sipper between her lips and sucked in the gloriously wet liquid.
Like the air, it tasted a bit off. She sighed. Time enough to figure that out later.
She drank her fill and sat up, swinging her feet off the edge of the couch to look around the sleep room.
The other three pods were dark.
“Tavi!” Sera slipped off the couch and winced. Every one of her muscles ached.
She hobbled her way to the closest pod. Please—no.
It felt like just minutes before—when their fingers had been intertwined, Tavi giving her a quick kiss as the ship shuddered all around them, the air filling with noxious smoke. Staring at each other as the hardened plas lids slid closed over them.
Sera fumbled with the manual release controls on Tavi’s pod, frantic. They were unresponsive, as dark as the pod itself.
Sera stumbled to the wall and retrieved the axe that was strapped there for emergencies. She managed to lift it up, her shoulder muscles on fire from the weight. She brought it down blade-first on the plas cover of the dark sleep pod. The reinforced plas cracked but didn’t break.
She lifted the axe again and brought it down hard on the slick surface.
The axe blade skittered across the smooth shell, and the handle slipped out of her grasp. The axe fell on the metallic floor on the far side of the pod with a loud clatter in the deceleration-created gravity.
Sera squeezed past the pod to retrieve it, sparing a quick glance for the two unoccupied pods.
Jace and Herrol hadn’t even made it to the ship. They were long dead by now.
Sera lifted the axe once more and brought it down on the cover with all her weakened strength.
The plas shattered at last, revealing the pod’s contents.
The musky smell of decay slammed into Sera, driving her back toward the exit hatch. She couldn’t believe that it was true—that Tavi was long dead, her corpse a shrunken mess of bones and dried flesh.
“Oh God.” Sera stumbled backward and slammed her hand on the hatch release. She practically fell through it, slamming her hand on the door control outside.
It spiraled closed, shutting off the horrible sight, but leaving the sickly-sweet smell lingering in the air.
Sera fell to her knees and retched.
After almost twenty-five years in suspension, there was nothing left in her to come out, but still her stomach heaved. It was a primal reaction, far beyond her ability to control. She’s gone.
Then she just lay there, wrecked and broken. “Tavi.” How did this happen?
Time slowed and dilated.
Her mind refused to process what she had just seen. It was too visceral, too real.
She closed her eyes and sobbed.
* * *
Jas’Aya stood up and straightened, rubbing her back where the muscles knotted and ached from the hard work in the field.
Around her, the purple rows of hencha plants stretched out into the distance, their red stalks moving of their own accord even when there was no breeze.
Her shoulder sack was full of hencha berries teased from the semi-sentient plant—red, orange and blue spheres that emitted the most delicious scent.
If she closed her eyes, she could almost hear the murmuring of the plants. They spoke to one another, whispers that drifted tantalizingly out of reach. She wished she could understand what they were saying. Sometimes she felt like she got a word or two, but then it slipped away on the wind that blew steadily up the valley from the Harkness Sea.
She had stopped telling people about her little fantasies. The last time she had mentioned them, she’d gotten in trouble with her shift supervisor and had been put on probation for a week. To the rest of the crew, the hencha were just plants.
Jas dusted off her light blue skirt, the kind all the field workers wore. She needed a break, even if it was just a short one. She pulled her unusually dark hair back behind her ears and set off toward the collector.
The sun was bright green overhead, matched to a sky which was a deeper shade of the same color. It was already past noon—soon they’d be called in for lunch under the welcoming shade of one of the big-leaved flop trees that dotted the plantation.
She was thirsty. It was warm out today and she’d been chewing on a piece of bacca root all morning long to keep her mouth wet. She spat it out—it was reduced to a black, well-gummed wad.
Jas dropped her load of berries into the collector, which hummed happily as it processed them by type.
She waved at Meriam two rows over and took a sip of water from the collector’s spigot. It was warm but welcome as it washed away the dust of the farm.
She was ahead of quota—she had a way with the hencha, which responded to her more readily than to most of the other harvesters. If she kept at it, she might earn a bonus day she could spend with her mother at home. Lyn’Aya was sick. Jas didn’t know what was wrong with her but it seemed serious—the skin on her arms had strange bumps, and her fingernails were covered with red lines. Her joints ached too—she hardly ever managed a full night’s sleep anymore—and her nose bled whenever she sneezed.
Some of the other older women had the same symptoms, but no one seemed to know why.
If she could have, Jas would have stayed at home to care for Lyn’Aya, to keep her as comfortable as possible.
Her mother was a formidable person, stocky and forceful. She had clawed her way up from serfdom to contractor after Jas had been born and she’d shared all she had learned about their world with her daughter.
Jas returned to the next plant in the row. She knelt, ripping out a heyfa weed that had wrapped itself around the base of the plant. The little yellow thing screamed and twisted in her hand before fading to a pale white and going limp.
She threw it down on the ground and stomped on it until it was flat.
She knelt before the plant and her fingers worked quickly, slipping through the red leaves of the hencha to find the bundle of nerves underneath. Her fingers massaged them gently, and she felt it shiver under her touch.
Silanya. The word slipped into her mind, the name of this particular hencha plant, as closely as she could translate it into the human tongue. They often spoke to her when she harvested their berries, though she didn’t always understand them.
Thank you. It wasn’t in human words so much as a feeling, a warmth that spread through her mind like the opening of a flower.
Jas felt a shiver of pleasure in the hencha’s nerves, both a physical and mental sensation. Then the plant’s skin split and a few berries were deposited in her open hand.
She didn’t know if the hencha spoke to anyone else. It felt private, something special she shared with the strange alien life form. She was afraid to speak of it to anyone else, lest she be penalized again for her “strange ideas.”
She pulled her hand out gently and deposited the berries in her bag. “Thank you.”
The hencha rustled as if in reply.
“They’re coming!” Cyr’s voice carried down the rows of hencha as she ran toward them, the woman’s long blond hair flying behind her, her arms waving wildly in the air. “They’re coming!”
The women gathered around her as she arrived. Cyr was sweating and out of breath, hands on her knees.
“Who’s coming?” Jas had never seen the woman get so worked up.
“Runners from Earth.” She grinned, “There’s gonna be a Market Day in Gullytown!”