I have a treat for you! Today I'm featuring a long sample from fellow sci-fi/fantasy novelist Zen DiPietro's upcoming release, Facing Fortune. (Look at that gorgeous cover!) This is the sequel to Seeking Sorrow, and is now available for pre-order from Amazon. Read on!
A new manahi. A new military. A famous bard who suddenly resurfaces after a decade of hiding.
A lot of changes have taken place on Terath, and an ecological crisis has raised tensions to the breaking point. Kassimeigh and Arc must work with Luc and the scientists in the Capital to determine whether the discovery is a threat to the planet. Each discovery unspools more questions, as they question the nature of mana and what it means to Terath.
At the same time, they must try to calm an increasingly nervous population. Will and Izzy offer their help in that regard, but the newly-formed Guard has never been called into action before. Meanwhile, Kassimeigh must deal with a shocking change in her own circumstances, which forces her to rethink her place in the world.
Life, death, mana, and chaos rival one another for supremacy. How can Kassimeigh help protect the world when she has no idea where she belongs in it?
Facing Fortune (Guardians of Terath Book Two) is now available or pre-order from Amazon for $3.99.
An archer and a member of the Guard with a penchant for baking are walking in the forest. Arc shifted his bow, which hung over his right shoulder. His damp clothing clung to his skin, cooling him even as he pushed through another tangle of brush. He loved the wild nature of the hinterlands, and didn’t mind the long periods of hearing nothing but the wind sighing through the trees and the crunch of boots on the ground.
His lips quirked upward as he fell back on his habit of entertaining himself with humor. The archer starts thinking about sandwiches, so he looks at the blade and says—
“Are we there yet? We’ve been walking a long time.” Justin Trane peered up into the tree canopy.
Arc checked their coordinates on his hand comm. His eye caught on the time stamp in the corner of the small display. Only late afternoon. They’d made good time. “We’re close. About a mile and we’ll make it back to the cart.”
“Good. My legs could use a rest. I can’t believe you do this kind of hiking just for fun. You might have something wrong with you.” Justin shook his head, even as his long legs chewed up the distance between them and their destination.
Arc grinned. He had to admit that he wouldn’t mind a chance to rest, either. Their trek and the slightly increased humidity of the hinterlands had left his skin slick and coiled his usually tame waves into a mass of damp ringlets. Maybe Kassimeigh would like his curly look. Not that he’d seen her in person lately. He had to make do with talking to her on the comm screen until she finished her advanced training with Luc.
“Sometimes I hike for enjoyment, but a lot of the time, it’s work related. A hinterlands guide never has to spend money on a gym membership. You’re just too soft and delicate. Like a dainty flower.”
“Dainty flower, my ass. I was training with Will before you asked me to come along on this expedition.” Justin adjusted the strap of his backpack.
Arc knew from experience that although Will was a great guy and a fantastic general, he was an absolutely backbreaking trainer. New recruits who couldn’t take a beating found their way to the other side of the Apex border in short order.
“No worries. I’m sure he’ll get you into shape soon,” Arc joked. “Seriously though, I’m glad he could spare you to come with me. No one else I trust was immediately available, and I didn’t have time to wait.”
He’d agreed with the Council that the images found on satellite, showing strange black spots in the hinterlands, should be investigated immediately. Since the leader of the Council of Magistrates was also his dear aunt, he had multiple reasons not to waste any time.
“The rush seems kind of funny to me, given that we’ve been trudging around out here for three weeks now.”
“We had a lot of ground to cover,” Arc acknowledged. “Those spots in the center of the hinterlands ate up a lot of travel time. But I think we’ve done well. When the scientists come out here, they’ll be prepared.”
“You think the Council will send out a science team?”
“Yeah, what else can they do? What we’ve found only raises more questions.”
A silence fell between them as they considered their unsatisfactory results. Instead of confirming a satellite malfunction, they’d verified that several wide swaths of the wild hinterlands had indeed been stripped of all vegetation. They hadn’t even been able to find evidence of pest activity or a blight.
Arc felt responsible for the lack of results, as if they were a personal failure. He’d wanted to sort this issue out for Aunt Ina, but he had nothing to give her besides dozens of soil and flora samples. He could only hope that the specimens would be helpful to the scientists, and that they would find his work a useful starting point. He hated returning to the Capital with so little to show for three weeks of work.
Justin adjusted his large traveler’s pack again. He hadn’t yet adjusted to carrying its bulk and weight. By contrast, Arc had grown accustomed to wearing one during his years of serving as a hinterlands guide. Since carts couldn’t fit through the dense growth of the lush forest, that left their own backs and muscles to carry their supplies.
Justin spoke again, as if thinking aloud. “I keep wondering, what could cause dead zones like that? A field of dirt, surrounded by perfectly normal-looking forest. It’s kind of creepy.”
Arc suspected he and Justin had arrived at the same unsettling possibility, but neither of them wanted to voice it aloud.
With the previous months’ travails in Apex and Sub-Apex so fresh in his mind, Arc couldn’t help but wonder if someone might have used mana to destroy those areas. He’d faced down an army of inhuman monsters, confronted an insane manahi, and witnessed the near death of the woman he loved. He had no desire to experience anything remotely similar to any of that, ever again.
He scratched distractedly at his thin goatee. “I imagine they’ll have a manahi come out and see what they—hey, watch out!”
The warning came too late as Justin’s foot caught on a vine. All Arc could do was watch as Justin slammed to the ground in a heap of his own limbs.
He rushed over and dropped to his knees. “Are you okay?”
Justin awkwardly slid the pack straps off his arms and rolled to his back. His hands roamed over his chest, gingerly pressing here and there. He started to draw his legs up at the knees, and Arc stood to offer him a hand to help him sit up. Justin froze and his eyes widened with a shock of pain. He squeezed them shut and blew out a ragged exhale.
“I’ll live, but I’m not walking out of here. You’ll have to call for help. Your hand comm still has a signal, doesn’t it?”
“Sure, it should.” Arc lifted the small unit from its holster on his belt. The smooth contours fit comfortably in his palm. With a flick of his thumb, he activated the display screen.
“Yeah, strong signal, plenty of battery. But it’ll be hours before someone can get all the way out here.”
“If you’re in a hurry to get home, go right ahead. But I’m pretty sure this ankle’s broken and I’m not going anywhere.” Justin used his arms to push himself into a sitting position, inhaling a soft hiss as he gingerly rested his injured foot on the ground. “Even if we had crutches, I wouldn’t make it far.”
“Oh, sure, I’ll just head home. I’ll enjoy a long bath and a cozy nap while you sit in the dirt with a broken ankle or whatever.”
“Yep, that sounds like something you’d do.”
Arc grinned. “Moron.”
Arc opened a channel on his hand comm even as he drew a breath to continue insulting his friend. Before he could voice his uncomplimentary observations, a woman’s voice pierced the quiet of the forest.
“Boys are boys, no matter how old they get, aren’t they?”
Justin and Arc looked in the direction of the mellifluous voice. A woman swung backward off a tree branch. As she tipped upside down, she neatly tucked her knees to her chest, then extended her feet toward the ground. She dropped a few inches, landing lightly. She’d obviously completed that maneuver many times before.
Arc failed to come up with a response that wasn’t idiotic, so he simply waited, watching her approach.
“Broken ankle, is it?” she asked, indicating the offending foot with a nod.
“Seems like it.” Justin’s brow furrowed as he looked at her intently.
Arc estimated that the woman stood no more than five feet tall, and her pale skin made her seem as though she’d never ventured into daylight. Her unusual coloring would likely make another person look sickly or strange, but it complemented her long, pale silver hair and gray eyes perfectly.
Justin blinked several times, as though he’d discovered a fairy or some other mythical creature. She knelt down, and it wasn’t until her hands were on the skin of his leg that he seemed to remember how to speak. “Where did you come from?”
“That tree,” she answered dryly as she eased his shoe off.
“Are you a doctor?” Arc asked hopefully. The woman piqued his interest in a way that he couldn’t quite identify. Something about her had him mentally elbowing his brain for an answer. His brain failed to help him out.
“Not even close. But I’m the best you’ve got at the moment.”
Justin frowned at her hands on his busted ankle. Her eyes suddenly shifted to meet his.
“Can you do something to help?” Justin’s wariness warred with his obvious interest in her.
“Yes. So hush.” She closed her eyes and drew in a slow breath. Humming softly, she ran her fingers over Justin’s ankle, found the grip she wanted, and gently held it. Her humming intensified in volume and tempo as she focused intently on the foot.
A year ago, Arc might not have recognized her posture and expression for what they were, but now, he immediately identified them as indicators of mana use. The measured breathing even as she hummed, the set of her shoulders, and the fierce gaze all added up to a process he’d witnessed many times now.
A manahi. That’s interesting, Arc thought.
Justin grunted and gritted his teeth. His spine grew unnaturally straight. He pressed his lips together firmly. After a couple minutes, the tension in his body eased.
Arc had edged closer, both curious and wary of the stranger’s ministrations. The woman raised an eyebrow at him and smirked. Pushing herself up to her feet, she nodded with satisfaction.
“That should get you back to your cart.”
“How do you know where our cart is?” Arc’s question sounded more suspicious than he’d intended.
“I was up in that tree. You two are loud.” She waved a hand in a suspiciously “duh” sort of gesture.
“Why were you in the tree? That’s more than a little strange. Do you live near one of the monorails? Do you know anything about the barren spots out here?”
“Lot of questions. I was in the tree so I could come to your rescue.” She stepped away from them, presumably headed back to wherever she came from. Or maybe she just wanted to get away from them. Arc’s second and third questions went unanswered.
“I guess manahi don’t need to use the buddy system?” he asked in a last-ditch effort.
That at least got her to stop and swivel to face him. “I’m not a manahi.” Her hand went to her hip in a distinctly combative posture.
“Not a doctor, not a manahi, but you clearly used mana to repair his ankle,” Arc pointed out, while Justin gingerly put weight on his foot and stood. Only manahi could harness Terath’s naturally occurring mana and then manipulate the energy. This woman could transmute, at least to some degree. Maybe she could even conjure. Yet she denied being a manahi. Ridiculous.
“It’s not repaired. He needs to see a doctor. I just connected the bone enough for him to walk a couple miles. If I tried to do more than that, I’d probably do more harm than good.”
Justin took a few limping steps, and Arc felt a wave of relief. Regardless of her strangeness and the reason for her presence in the forest, he and Justin had really lucked out of a rotten situation.
She grabbed a pack and an instrument case from the base of the tree and swung the containers onto her back.
“You don’t have to run off!” Justin hefted his pack and slipped his arms through the straps.
“Says who? I don’t know you. You might be perverts or creepers.”
“Well, we’re not. We’re nice guys, actually,” Justin retorted.
“Exactly what a pervert would say,” she called. Arc thought he heard amusement in her voice but couldn’t be sure.
“Sorry you think we’re perverts, but thanks for your help.” Justin fanned his hands around his mouth to help his voice carry across the increasing distance between them.
“You’re welcome. Be more careful!” she shouted back. She waved a hand as she turned and strode away with surprising speed for someone so small.
The two men stared after her until she disappeared into the trees. “Huh,” Arc muttered. “That was strange.” Though a fan of interesting people, he didn’t know what to make of the puzzling encounter.
“It really was,” Justin agreed.
“There’s something about her . . .” Arc rubbed his chin.
Arc shrugged. “Anyway. You’re good to walk?”
“It hurts, but I can make it to the cart.”
“Good. I should be able to find a clinic or something where I can dump you off. Then I can go enjoy that bubble bath.”
Justin snorted. “Now it’s a bubble bath?”
Arc laughed, glad his friend had caught that detail. “Of course. I’m worth the extra effort.”
“If you were any other guy, that kind of joke would not work.”