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Shields of Shadows - Sample

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Due to civil war, the three home planets abandoned their outlying colony worlds. Thousands of years later, with the war resolved, the home planets want to reclaim the Fourth World and the people who live upon it. But is it a reclaiming, or an invasion? In the wake of Briar’s miscarriage, Briar and Thorn are ripped apart by grief. Can they mend the distance between them and move forward from their loss? Thorn establishes their outpost, calling in allies and enemies alike, and Briar explores the new knowledge about her power. Can she free her people from their subjugation? And in doing so, can she resolve a civil war on another of the colony worlds?

Romance / Scifi
4.7 3 reviews
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

We were woken before sunrise by the sound of a vehicle passing over the gorge. Thorn kissed my cheek before rolling out of the iso-pod. I could hear him moving around the chamber, dressing, before greeting someone in the hallway beyond our room. I heard Wilder’s voice rise and fall quietly in response.

I left the iso-pod and made my way to the bathroom. I used the odd waste disposal and showered. We had no matter recycler here to produce clean clothing, so everything we wore needed to be washed whilst we showered and hung to dry for the next day. I hung my wet clothing on the line Wilder had strung across the room and retrieved yesterday’s blacks, still slightly damp.

I shivered as I pulled them on.

Light was just spreading across the gorge as I began my descent. Above, I could see the outlines of people unloading the vehicle. New arrivals. At least six of his allies now occupied houses, along with anyone they’d recruited, and even a mate or two.

Fourteen mornings, I realised, watching as the shadows that spilled across the gorge as the sunlight infiltrated. Fourteen mornings I had woken, empty.

I reached the cavern floor and walked towards the water caves. As I reached the entrance, on instinct, I paused and looked up at the rise of carved houses. He stood against the balustrade of the top level of houses, unmistakable to me in his posture and the sheen of sunlight in his hair, although distance stole the details of his face. Watching me. Worrying about me.

I raised my hand in acknowledgement before walking into the cave system. The floor here was worn smooth in the centre by the footfalls of acolytes over hundreds of years, and stalagmites and stalactites speared from ground and ceiling, sometimes forming into one pillar of crystal. The air smelt of wet rock and water - not an unpleasant smell, but one that made me think of secret places and old, old things.

In the largest cave, a narrow ridge of rock walked me out to a centre platform just large enough for two people to sit upon it. It was not meant for me, it was meant for the acolytes who would feed power into the waters and rock below... But it was convenient for me to sit upon, with my trousers rolled to my knees and my feet in the water, whilst I drew upon the reservoir of power to practice my shield.

The practice was habit now, more than necessity. I had achieved a level of mastery around day five that would have sufficed. But whilst I practiced, I did not need to interact with others, and whilst I practiced, I did not have to think of that hollow, echoing death.

I cast the shield out, power drawing together the miniscule matter in the air, and forming it into a solid, impenetrable barrier. Thorn would have names for the elements of the air that I combined to make this shield, or his people would. They would have devices that would enable them to see these tiny particles. To me they were glitters of power, that formed together to make bigger pieces...

I experimented with speed, with size, with shape, with density. I opened holes and closed them again. That would be important, Willow said, to let those in and out that we wanted.

The knowledge of how to do these things was a hum that filled my mind and prevented it from wandering in directions I did not want it to go... It was like the noise of the water dripping around me; present but not invasive. Enough to take the edge off, enough to distract but not annoy.

“Briar!” Lark yelled through the caverns. “Let me in!”

I opened a hole in the shield where she was. I could hear the crunch of her foot falls against the stone floor, tiny rocks crushed to sand. I saw her appear in the entrance to the cavern. She held a canister of water, and a bowl of Wilder’s ration fry up.

“I’m not coming out there,” she called to me, “and I am not leaving until you come and eat.”

I sighed. “I am not hungry.”

“Don’t make me send Thorn,” she threatened me. “He’s busy this morning. He doesn’t need to take time away from important work because you’re too infantile to eat.”

I trailed my toes through the water and thought about diving into the depths in order to escape her, or using the shield to push her back out of the cavern... Both ploys I had used in the past fourteen days, and both of which had resulted in Thorn arriving at the entrance of the caves, looking weary and worried, his eyes dark with grief...

I swore and got to my feet.

“I am glad you’re being sensible today,” she said as I stepped off the ledge. “Sit and eat. Wilder made it especially.”

“Thank him for me,” I told her. I chewed a mouthful or two because he had gone to the effort, but it tasted like sand to me, and swallowing it was next to impossible.

“Briar,” she said, softer now that I was complying with her. “I am sorry, I am. But you need to... to stop this now. Miscarriages happen. They just do. Mother had multiples, before and after us. They are a tragedy, heartbreaking, and very, very sad. It is right to grieve, it absolutely is... But this isn’t grieving. This is... this is scary, what you’re doing.”

I looked away, across the water.

“Thorn is... he’s having a harder time with his grief because you’re so... disconnected and he’s worrying constantly about you and what you’re doing down here. You need to grieve, yes... But constructively,” she pleaded.

“I didn’t realise there was a wrong and a right way to grieve.” Of course, I thought, I would do it wrong. The redhaired woman from the white one’s outpost, I could not remember her name, but I could remember her telling me how her mother had said you could choose the rough or the smooth handle. She would, my heart clenched, have had her baby by now.

“Briar,” Lark murmured, and drew a silver cloth from her pocket. She knelt before me and wiped the tears from my face. “Oh, Briar. I am sorry. Of course, there isn’t a right way or a wrong way... But you need to eat more. You need to spend time with your mate instead of sunrise to sunset in this cave locked behind shields. You need to talk about how you’re feeling... You need to talk to him, to me, to Wilder... to someone.”

I closed my eyes against her. “I don’t know what to say,” I said to her. “I don’t have the words for this. I can’t talk with Thorn about this, I can’t handle his grief on top of my own... and if I tell him how I am feeling, I won’t help him, Lark. I will just make him worry more.”

She sighed. “And this is better?” she asked me. “Hiding away from him. Leaving him to deal with his grief, your behaviour and setting up the outpost alone?”

“I cannot talk to people, other people, Lark,” I told her. “I cannot help him with the outpost. I can’t go and greet these people like everything is fine when I can still feel the ice of it in my bones...”

“Tell me, Briar,” she suggested. “Or Wilder. Once you have said it to someone, you will find it easier to talk with Thorn.”

“I am tired,” I said to her. “Thank Wilder for the food. Thank you for bringing it.”

“But leave now, right?” She sighed and rose. “I’ll leave, Briar, but this isn’t the end of the conversation.”

I returned to the platform and my shields. I wasn’t surprised when Wilder came to the caves next. He did not yell to me but sat by the external entrance and played his flute until I opened a doorway for him to enter. He walked out on the ridge and sat on the platform with me.

“Lark tells me you ate a little this morning,” he commented. “That’s an improvement.”

“I am sorry,” I apologised. “I cannot do your cooking justice. I just... can’t.”

“Think of it as necessity,” he said. “You cannot sustain your body without food, and you cannot wield the power without a healthy body.”

“Is it healthy?” I wondered. “Obviously something is wrong with it...”

“Babies die. It is a truth of life. It is a miracle any of us are born at all. The sophistication of us, the process by which we are made in the womb... Things go wrong, and the body is not sentimental. When something goes wrong, it starts again.”

“That’s... cold,” I was surprised and turned to look at him, frowning.

“It may be,” he was unapologetic, “but it is also the truth.”

“I couldn’t fix it...”

He shook his head. “I think you are starting to believe the propaganda about yourself, Briar,” he observed. “Strongest power on a planet of strong powers, able to do impossible things, no boundaries to your power... No one is omnipotent. This was something simply outside of your control.”

“I - ” I closed my mouth on it.

“Your next baby might die, as well,” he told me, calmly. “And the one after.” I stared at him, jaw slack. “Thorn may fall down the stairs and die on the valley floor. Willow may have a transport accident. Lark might fall from a horse. We cannot live our lives fearful of their ends, fearful of what might happen. We cannot,” he tapped his flute against his palm, “hold too tightly to the past, either. Or we’ll drive ourselves insane.”

He began to play, the notes echoing around the chamber, creating a clever roundhouse of sound.

I sat and thought about what he said. “I felt it die,” I said to him. He didn’t stop his playing. “I felt it die within me. And I couldn’t... I took the power of its death. I consumed it. Like... like a vampire of legends... a vulture. What sort of person does that? It’s like eating your own child.”

He held a note, paused. “What would have happened if you hadn’t taken the power?”

“It would have... faded.”

“So, you were trying to hold on to it.”

“Yes,” I felt something untangle inside of me. “Yes.”

“Thorn will understand,” he said gently. “It was a natural response. When something like that happens... We try to hold on to what we can.”

I was crying again. He resumed playing, not, I sensed, because he was uncomfortable with my tears, but to give me space to have them. I cried until I was empty, and he finished his song, and stood.

“I think it’s time I started cooking dinner,” he said to me, as if we’d been exchanging pleasantries about the weather. “Shall I hold some for you?”

“Yes, I think so, thank you.”

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