WIP excerpt: Patriots in Retreat

I finished the 2.0 draft of Patriots in Retreat (Book 6 of Sons of the Starfarers) yesterday, and it’s turning out a lot better than I expected. The next step is to send it off to my editor, and if all goes well, we should have it up for preorder by November. I’m definitely excited to get it out!

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt. Enjoy!


Ayesha wasn’t sure what to expect as she boarded the Starflight II. For that reason, she activated her pocket AI before she stepped into the airlock.

Calculating threat level, the pocket AI whispered silently in the back of her mind. A stream of data appeared on the edge of her vision, giving her a rundown of the ship she was about to board. She touched her right thumb to her middle finger, and the text disappeared, though the targeting display in the center of her vision did not.

Though she was careful not to show it, her mood always soured at these subtle reminders of her lack of humanity. She was a cyborg, a human with enough cybernetic implants to no longer legally qualify as a person. Most of her implants were hidden from sight; her long black hair hid the neural jacks in the back of her neck, and her eye implants were disguised with cosmetic surgery. Still, they were always with her—as well as the memories of her life before she’d received them.

Prepare for high functioning mode, she ordered as her fingers flew over the airlock control panel. Her energy pistol was holstered and uncharged, but the laser-blade in her boot was ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice.

Time slowed as the door hissed open. Hyper-awareness flooded her senses as stepped onto the ship. A short corridor led to a standard cabin: wall compartments, double bunk built into the bulkheads, retractable table with a holoscreen surface, and a small corner alcove with a food synthesizer and kitchenette. A door on one side led to what she presumed was the bathroom, while a narrow doorway led to the starship’s cockpit.

The place had a peculiar musky smell, like faded sweat in an old shirt that has been recently cleaned. It was not unpleasant. The hum of the ship’s ventilation system was soft enough that she probably wouldn’t have noticed it if she weren’t in high-functioning mode. The air was comfortably warm, and surprisingly fresh for a ship of such small size. Though the wall compartments were all closed and the floor was clutter-free, the bed was unmade, revealing velvet bedsheets that were remarkably smooth.

Sweat began to pool in the back of Ayesha’s neck, so she stood down from high functioning mode and returned her metabolism to normal. It was clear enough that she wasn’t in immediate danger.

She found Samson in the cockpit, making preparations to leave. While he was distracted, she slipped into the copilot seat beside him. If her presence on the ship unsettled him, he made no visible sign of it.

“Is this the way you always greet your guests?” she asked, crossing her slender legs.

“I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit pre-occupied,” he said, his eyes never leaving the ship’s holoscreen displays. “Getting out of this sector is a rather high priority at the moment.”

“Why is that?”

“Cats don’t play well with wolves. Hang on.”

The floor shuddered, and a deep metallic clang told her that they had undocked from the Starfall. Moments later, the bulkheads began to hum, and a growing sense of nausea told her that they were about to make a jump. She closed her eyes and used her cybernetic implants to induce a meditative state that dulled the disorientation of jumpspace. The moment they were through, she opened her eyes and assessed the situation.

No sign of Outworld warships, she observed as she looked out the forward cockpit window. He hasn’t betrayed me—yet.

“You can relax,” he said as he powered down the engine. “I don’t know the location of the Confederate fleet, and even if I did, I wouldn’t turn you in.”

Ayesha bristled a little at how easily he had read her. She sat back in her chair and affected nonchalance.

“An interesting choice of metaphor. Some would say that the Outworlders are the true wolves.”

“Wolves are pack animals by nature, and highly territorial. Outworlders are more like cats: untameable, independent, and free.”

“But ultimately leaderless.”

He glanced at her sideways. “Yes, there is that. Too many housecats and not enough lions.”

“Do you consider yourself a lion?”

“Far from it. All the lions have enlisted by now. I’m more of a stray.”

Though his body language was casual, she detected a subtle yearning in his voice. But there was also something he was careful to keep hidden from her. That didn’t surprise her, considering the circumstances. But if Admiral Orion expected her to hold Samson at gunpoint for the duration of her mission, he had no appreciation of her finesse.

She rose to her feet and stood in the doorway, facing the cabin. “I take it you’re rarely alone on these voyages.”

“Did the second bunk give it away?”

“It looks like you only use it for storage.”

“I generally do.”

She smirked. “This isn’t the first time you’ve been in bed with the enemy, I take it.”

“Why should I think you’re my enemy?”

His question made her turn. If he noticed her reaction, though, he made no sign of it.

“I’ve only seen a lion once,” she said, more to cover for herself than anything else. “It was in a zoo on the capital world, Gaia Nova. Magnificent beasts, but they’re horrendously expensive to maintain.”

Samson grunted. “That’s only because their homeworld no longer exists. On Earth, they lived in the wild.”

“You still believe the myth about a place called Earth?”

“Don’t you?”

She shrugged. “I suppose such a world could have existed. More likely, Gaia Nova was our homeworld, but the ancients turned it to a desert and recolonized it during the Earthseeding.”

“Interesting theory. I haven’t heard that one before.”

“Theories bore me,” she said, running her fingers along the back of his chair. “And lions belong in captivity, not the wild.”

“That’s why I’m more of a stray.”

“I assure you, I’m more than capable of keeping a stray like you under control.”

He glanced at her and smirked. “And what makes you think that?”

She parted her hair and showed him her neural jack. He nodded, duly impressed. Then, to her dismay, his smirk turned to a smile.

“You remind me of a girl I gave passage to the Nova Minitak system. She was a cyborg not unlike yourself, and also just as gorgeous.”

Ayesha scowled. “The thorns on this rose are sharp.”

“Of that, I have no doubt. And it’s not my intention to pick you.”

“Then what are your intentions?”

He rose to his feet and stood just close enough to be uncomfortable. She fingered the laser-blade hidden in her smartskirt.

“You’re not one of them.”

“Of who?” she asked, frowning.

“You know. The Imperials. They haven’t tamed you yet.”

Their eyes locked, neither of them yielding. Samson didn’t realize it, but their little game of words had crossed a line. She rolled up her left sleeve, revealing her tattoo of the double-headed eagle of the Gaian Empire. In its talons, it held two planets: one, the old Earth of legend, the other the dome-covered world of Gaia Nova.

“You are wrong. Long live the Emperor!”

He said nothing, but continued to smile. She rolled her sleeve down and folded her arms.

“You will work with us to defeat this Outworld Confederacy. Then, when the New Pleiades are fully pacified, you will be free to do as you please.”

“As free as you? Branded into a life of Imperial service?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied.

He leaned forward ever so slightly, as if expecting either a kiss or a slap. Perhaps both.

“Make yourself comfortable, Ayesha Bint Hasan Al-Hasani. You’re my guest, not my enemy.”

The Sword Keeper — excerpt 8

Master Ivanar looked Tamuna in the eye, putting both hands on her trembling shoulders. “We must go south, to the kingdom of Aramand. You’ll be safer there.”

“But what if Araste gives chase?” someone asked.

Ivanar turned to face the room. “We’ll split up to confuse him. I’ll travel to the coast and alert the Aramandi people so that they’ll be ready to receive us. In the meantime, we must do all we can to keep the sword bearer from being discovered.”

The faces around the room were grim, but several of them nodded in approval. Ivanar searched them until his eyes settled on a tall, blond-haired young man. He nodded, and the young man stepped forward, his expression as hard as flint.

Alex, I’m entrusting the girl to you. Take her west over the mountains, until you reach the stronghold at Akalika. Wait for me there.”

“Yes, Master Ivanar.”

Alex bowed curtly and turned to Tamuna. His arms were strong and muscular, his chest broad. He had a sharp chin and high cheekbones, with deep blue eyes. Even though he was clearly a warrior, he couldn’t have been more than a few years older than her.

You do realize that you may never come back, said Imeris. A war is coming, and this village may not be here when—or if—you return. I wish that you had more time to say goodbye, but that is a luxury neither of us can afford.

Tamuna swallowed, and her knees went weak. She glanced at Sopiko, whose face was red with rage. Part of her longed to hug her, but she hesitated, worried that her aunt would nag her for being so sentimental. In that brief moment of indecision, Aunt Sopiko turned and stormed out of the room before she could say goodbye.

“Here,” said Ivanar, fitting a cloak over her shoulders. “It’s a bit large, but it will have to do until we can get you a proper one.” He reached into his rucksack and pulled out what looked like a belt, but wider and with broad leather straps. As Tamuna adjusted the cloak, he put on the belt and fastened the scabbard to it.

“This may feel a bit cumbersome, but you’ll soon get used to it.”

Alex bent down and pulled the leather straps tight. When he was done, it felt as if she were carrying a bag of rocks on her hip, but the strap across her chest and shoulder offered enough support to make it comfortable.

You’ll grow used to it with time, said Imeris. I won’t always be such a burden.

“No, it’s fine,” she said aloud, blushing as she remembered that only she could hear him. But Alex and Master Ivanar were too busy conferring with each other to hear, and most of the others had already left. She glanced at the door, hoping to catch sight of her aunt, and instead saw Nika. Her eyes widened, and her heart skipped a beat.

“Nika!” she said, hurrying over to him. “Did you hear what happened? There’s so much to tell you, I—”

“Mistress Leladze,” said Master Ivanar, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, but we have to go.”

Nika looked from her to the sword keeper and back again, thoroughly confused. A horrible sinking feeling rose in Tamuna’s stomach, and without thinking she threw her arms around him.

“I have to go, Nika,” she said. “I don’t know when or if I’ll come back, so… goodbye.”

“Goodbye?” he said, giving her a stunned look as she drew back. “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. Away, far away.”

“But when will you—”

“Goodbye!”

She turned her face to hide her tears and followed the sword keeper out into the yard. A rooster crowed as the sun began its descent behind the mountains, while all around her the monks took to their restless horses. She glanced one last time at Aunt Sopiko’s tavern—the only home she’d ever known—before following Alex onto a chestnut mare. He spurred the horse forward, and she held tightly onto him as they galloped southward.

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

The Sword Keeper — excerpt 7

“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?”

Nika stopped at the farmhouse gate and sheepishly turned to face his father. “To the tavern,” he muttered, hoping that was an acceptable response.

“Why, boy? The tavern’s closed.”

Sopiko said she still needs me.” And Tamuna’s been sick all day.

His father jabbed the pitchfork into the ground and swore. “That damn woman had better be paying you for this. Have you had your supper yet?”

“No, sir, I—”

“Good. Eat it there.” He turned to the yard, where Nika’s two older brothers had paused in their work. “Giga! Lasha! What are you doing standing around? Get back to stacking those cornstalks!”

“Yes, sir.”

Remember: Who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat!”

Nika took that as his cue to leave. He slipped out the gate and pulled it shut before dashing across the dusty lane and into the fallow field on the other side. The tall grass brushed against his legs, ticking his skin through the holes in his pants, but he kept running until he was well out of sight. Only then did he slow down enough to catch his breath.

Tamuna was so sick that Sopiko had closed the tavern—which she never, ever did. When he’d arrived in the morning, the door had been locked. Only after knocking for several minutes had Sopiko finally opened it.

“Come back later,” Sopiko had told him when he’d come around back. “Tamuna’s taken ill, and we’ve closed down the tavern until she’s better.”

“She’s ill?” Nika had asked, his stomach falling. “What do you mean? Is she going to be all right? What happened?”

We don’t know. We found her passed out on the floor in the private room, and she hasn’t woken up since. Come back this evening; we may need you then.”

Nika had wanted to ask more, but Sopiko had pressed a few coppers into his hand and sent him on his way home. His father had thrown the meager coin angrily against the wall, and probably would have beaten him, except that his mother had intervened. He was a harsh man, and Nika wasn’t his favorite. Sometimes, Nika wondered if his father cared about him at all.

Thoughts like these always made his heart heavy. But the cool autumn breeze and the splash of gold across the evening sky soon lightened his spirits. A rooster crowed somewhere in the distance, and the sound of cows mooing in the thicket made him smile. Old Giorgi’s cow had just had a calf a few days ago, and he’d been there to witness the birth. It was amazing how the little ones could walk almost from the moment they left the womb.

Sometimes, when he wasn’t busy, he liked to sit in the shade of a tree and watch the mother hens roam the yard with their broods. While the little chicks pecked and played, the mother hen stood watch, chasing away anyone who dared come too close. And in the evening, while the other chickens flew into the trees to roost, the mother hen would stay on the ground and gather all her chicks under her wings, protecting them throughout the night.

Of course, there was always a straggler who didn’t get to the food as fast, or couldn’t keep up with the rest. Whenever he could, Nika would take the straggler aside and hand-feed it to make sure it grew up strong. Sometimes, it was enough to make a difference.

The footpath turned into the wide lane that led from the village to the western mountains. He passed a few cows and a small clutch of geese, who moved to the other side of the dirt road as he walked past.

In a lot of ways, his friend Tamuna was a straggler. Just as the mother hens knew the difference between their chicks and the ones that didn’t truly belong to them, Sopiko clearly knew that Tamuna wasn’t her true daughter. It showed in her stern demeanor and overly-critical eye. Of course, Tamuna never saw it that way. When she needed someone to talk to, though, he always tried to be there for her. He often stayed in the stables late into the night just to talk with her, after all her chores were done.

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

The Sword Keeper — excerpt 6

Tamuna swallowed again, shooting a nervous glance at her aunt. I’m sorry for all this, she wanted desperately to tell her. Please, forgive me.

“Well?”

“Y-yes,” she stammered. “Yes, I did.”

The man’s eyes narrowed, and he withdrew his hand from her shoulder. For a moment, she wondered if he thought she was lying, but then he held the sword out to her, hilt first. Once again, the room fell silent.

“If what you say is true, then prove it by drawing the sword.”

She hesitated, unsure what to do. Her aunt shook her head, but once again she felt as if some unseen hand was pushing her forward, down the path of destiny.

Don’t be afraid, Tamuna, came Imeris’s voice. You made your choice, and you made it wisely. These men are here to help you, I promise.

Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her fingers around the ancient hilt. To her surprise, the sword practically leaped into her hands. She stumbled backward, the blade ringing in the stunned silence, and for a very brief moment she lost her balance. The tip swung down and hit the wooden floor with a thud.

“I’m sorry,” she said, horrified at herself. “I didn’t mean to—”

Before she could finish, the silver-haired traveler went down on one knee and bowed. Words failed her, and it was all she could do to keep from dropping the sword entirely.

All my life, I’ve longed for this moment,” the traveler said reverently. “For almost a thousand years, we have kept the sword Imeris hidden from the eyes of the world, searching for the one who would fulfill the ancient prophecy, and now, our search has finally come to an end.”

He looked up, and his eyes shimmered with tears. Tamuna didn’t know what to say. All around them, the silence gave way to a torrent of hurried and excited words, like the patter of rain from the breaking of a storm.

He’s right, said Imeris. You are the sword bearer.

“I don’t—”

Hold on.

For an instant, she saw a man on a black horse, galloping full strength at the head of an evil storm. In his hand, he held a sword that shimmered like lightning, a red-speckled black stone embedded in the hilt. She shuddered in fright, but the image fled as quickly as it had come to her.

We’re in danger, said Imeris. The others have seen your face and know our location.

“But—”

There isn’t time to explain. We need to go now!

Tamuna’s stomach fell, and her heart began to race. The memory of the darkening shadows came back to her, and she knew, intuitively, that Imeris was right.

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

The Sword Keeper — excerpt 5

“Imeris!”

Tamuna reached out into the darkness and found her arms tangled in something thick and woolly. Her eyes snapped open, but a wave of disorientation and nausea made it difficult to tell which way was up and which was down. Before she could take stock of her surroundings, though, hands held her down and a warm, wet towel was draped over her forehead.

“What… where…” she stammered, then blinked and looked up at the people standing above her. Almost immediately, she recognized Aunt Sopiko, her habitually stern expression softened by deep concern. The sight of a familiar face calmed Tamuna considerably.

“Tamuna!” said Sopiko. “You’re awake now, I see. Are you all right?”

“I think so,” said Tamuna. She tried to sit up, but her arms were weak and she soon collapsed back against the pillow.

“There now—give her something to drink,” came a voice from off to her right. A sheepskin flask was pressed to her lips, and a spurt of deliciously cool water dribbled into her mouth. She swallowed, coughed, and reached up to take hold of the flask herself. As she drank, her strength slowly returned.

Where am I? she wondered. It didn’t take long to recognize that she was back in the tavern, lying on her aunt’s bed in the master bedroom. A crowd of strangers had gathered around her, many of them dressed in the same gold-embroidered tunic that the traveler had been wearing. The sun was already shining through the western window, indicating that it was almost evening.

She coughed and put the flask aside. “How long has it been since—”

Almost a full day,” said her aunt. “And we’ve been so worried, we closed the tavern to tend to you.” She held out a spoonful of porridge and all but forced it down Tamuna’s throat. “No more questions—now you must eat.”

Tamuna almost choked on the first spoonful, but soon forced it down. Her aunt had mixed some raisins in, which meant she was more concerned than angry. Still, Tamuna couldn’t help but chide herself. A full day—that was a lot of lost business. With the sun already setting, there was no chance they’d be up and open again in time for the evening. The bar would be empty tonight, and it was her fault.

But if that was true, who were all these strangers?

She scanned the room between spoonfuls of porridge until her eyes finally fell on the silver-haired traveler. He stood by the door, his arms folded and a look of deep solemnity across his face. Her eyes strayed to the wall behind his back and the dull green emerald that sat just above his left shoulder. With a start, she recognized the corded hilt of the sword Imeris, with the emerald set squarely in the pommel. For a fleeting instance, she saw the face of the young man from the vision.

“Imeris?” she said, reaching out with her hand. Instantly, the room fell silent.

What was that?” her aunt asked. “Never mind. Don’t overexert yourself.”

“Hold on,” said the old traveler, stepping forward. He looked Tamuna straight in the eye as he unstrapped the scabbard and held it up before her.

“Are you speaking of this?”

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!