Black Dawn, Book 1 of The Eurynome Code

Fall is a great time for space opera, isn’t it?

As I’ve put an (at least temporary) end to The Mieshka Files, I’ve since devoted my time into launching a whole new series. It’s been my secret project since January, when I wrote the first book, but I’ve been keeping it for a while in part due to funding and also since Palace of Glass decided it needed another 40,000 words before its story was properly finished. As it currently sits, I have two books on the road to release in The Eurynome Code and a third being drafted right now.

Take a look:

Humanity is under attack and she is the only one who can stop it.

For Karin Makos, the chance to pilot a small-time scrounging vessel to remote corners of space is the dream. After years on the run with her sister and enduring the constant paranoia of living planet-side, going off-radar gives her exactly what she wants: freedom.

After what seems like a routine mission, that dream is shattered.

A system-wide attack decimates humanity and leaves the survivors scraping for clues. And Karin might know where to look.

But digging into her past comes with a whole new set of secrets and consequences, none of which she wants to face. Plagued by strange dreams of her sister and a sense of growing danger, Karin and the crew of the Nemina must race desperately across space to find their loved ones—and answers.

Coming September 1st. Get it on Amazon for only 99 cents.


Chapter 1

Only twenty minutes into the scrounge, and Karin Makos was already cursing whichever crazy, inbred subset of people had been responsible for building a settlement in the dark, twisting, and forever narrowing depths of the Amosi cave complex. Despite the reinforced support system in her suit, made more for over-land voyages rather than… what was the word for this? Spelunking?—each step downward wrenched at her knees and ankles before the suit compensated for the awkward slope. A slow burn rose in her thighs, matching up with a growing stiffness that cut across her core abdominal muscles.

Sol, I should have worked out more on the ship.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t had enough time, given how long it had taken to reach this dungheap of a planet. No, she’d just been lazy, losing herself in the feeds and the dull intricacies of the Nemina’s navigation system.

When one wasn’t active, the need for fitness didn’t seem quite so strong.

Another rust-covered relic rose under the mercurial tint of her flashlight.

Just who in the ten hells had decided this was the best place to settle?

One of the second-gen off-worlders, probably. That rust looked at least fifty years old, which would correspond with some of the cult departures she’d read about. If one added some time for the people actually living here.

Down the slope, her two comrades echoed her thoughts.

What the gods did you do, Marc? Piss in Cookie’s inbox?” The internal comms of the suits made Soo-jin’s voice tinny and warped, but her disgust rang obvious. “I bet this place’s picked clean.”

Marc, the captain of their ship and the farthest into the cavern, let out a heavy grunt. “Possibly.”

The gauges and holodisplay in the suit underlit the smooth, dark, shaven skin of his head as he frowned down the slope. He’d been a soldier before, part of Fallon’s forces from after they’d left the Alliance, and the history was evident in the way he moved. He balanced well, kept a casual-but-regular exercise regimen in the Nemina’s spare room, and had an above-average interest in the many dated and valuable firearms they came across.

Karin grimaced upon hearing Marc’s last word. Possibly didn’t sound good for her. Her bank account hovered over its final thousand credits, and the last two scrounging sites had been busts. If they were going to keep this business afloat, they needed to find something—anything—soon. If they didn’t…

Her jaw tensed. They had to.

Static-y sounds of close, heavy breathing came over the comms. The slope wasn’t particularly steep, but the roughness of the ground made it difficult to navigate. Marc and Soo-jin clambered ahead about a hundred meters away, the beams from their flashlights roaming over chunks of dusty rock and smooth slides of scree. The walls molded together in layers, the occasional, long-since-dried stains marking dark splotches into their mottled brown and black. High above, it all came together in a lopsided archway. There’d obviously been a landslide since the settlement’s abandonment—several of them, by the looks of the rock and the scree—but the main part lay over a klick underground, resting in some dug-out part of the territory’s natural cave system. Hopefully, the depth had protected it from complete burial. It had certainly prevented their ship from doing a better scan.

Marc’s voice crackled again on the comms. “Karin, how you doing?”

Fine. I—” She yelped as her foot slipped. Her whole body tensed as she slid several inches down, arms flailing out for balance. Loose rock and soil fell with her, catching in the beam of her flashlight. The tote in her right hand clunked with a loud, reverberating bang against the metal that covered her leg as she recovered. “I’ll catch up.”

Having operated the crane lift for the other two before maneuvering down the rope herself, she’d been the last one in, so well behind them. Even Soo-jin, who’d been second, had already covered quite some ground ahead. As the team’s most experienced scrounger, she was a lot more used to the exoplanet suits and rough terrain than Karin. In fact, she and Marc both were. Karin was really only here for her flight knowledge. And for the handy-dandy navigation license that let them veer off the pre-approved government routes and come to places like the Amosi caves. Though both Marc and Soo-jin were capable of piloting the small craft, they didn’t have her credentials.

It made her indispensable. Sort of.

As she caught her stunned breath and righted herself from the fall, then picked up the scrounge-kit from where she had dropped it, she found herself doubting her usefulness. Soo-jin was the one with real scrounging experience. And Marc owned the ship.

No worries,” he said. “Let us know if you need help.”

Karin gritted her teeth. Had they all heard her little fall? She’d done her best to be quiet.

Thanks,” she forced herself to say. “I should be fine.”

Yeah, Cap,” Soo-jin cut in. “She’s actually a secret badass.”

She narrowed her eyes at the comment, and her lip curled back at the tone. A flash of anger, long repressed, bit into the front of her mind like used coals. They’d been rubbing shoulders since the last failed scrounge, and she’d just about had enough of the other woman’s needles. “Fuck off, Soo-jin.”

Soo-jin made a noise into her mic that might have been a snort, but otherwise said nothing.

Marc’s next sigh came dosed with long-suffering exasperation. “Can we focus, please?”

“Sure,” Soo-jin said. “There’s plenty to focus on here, what with all the rocks and dirt and pieces of rusted, broken, unsalvageable shit.”

A noise clunked up ahead, as if Soo-jin had kicked something.

“Less talk, more walk,” Marc said. “I want to actually sleep tonight.”

“Oh, you’ll sleep, Cap,” Soo-jin quipped. “We can turn around the second we lay eyes on whatever crockery Cookie sent us down here to investigate, agree to roast his gunai on a lav-log next time we see him, and hike our broke asses back out.”

“If it comes to that, I get first shot. He’s blood, after all.”

“Just so long as I get a lav-log roast when you’re finished. I have some personal feelings to work out, not to mention all the compensation I won’t be getting.”

“You’d exchange Cookie’s gunai for compensation? You should have said something earlier. I can agree to that.”

“Fantastic,” Soo-jin exclaimed. “Hurry up, Karin. I’ve got some gunai to roast.”

This time, the woman’s tone sounded surprisingly free of sarcasm.

“No problem.” Karin relaxed as they all focused on the descent again.

It took them another twenty minutes to reach the settlement, their speed helped by an uneven, twisting staircase they found once the debris from the cave-in petered out. The cavern narrowed as they went down, and the ceiling dipped close enough for their flashlight beams to catch. Thin, sharp-looking stalactites made jagged slashes of shadow on the weathered stone.

Her eyes narrowed on a large one that hung next to the railing. It was bone-dry.

Weren’t they formed by water? She glanced up, searching. Maybe the settlement had used it all up? Would that affect the integrity of the ceiling?

Light flashed over metal like dulled quicksilver as Soo-jin skimmed her beam across a low archway embedded around a re-tooled hole in the cave wall. Her lip curled as the beam found a rough, metal-worked sign beside the threshold, depicting what Karin guessed to be the settlement’s coat of arms—two snakes entwined over a crossed sword and gun motif.

“Blow-torch work.” She turned her dry gaze to Marc, who stood beside her. “My pessimism rises. Can we leave yet?”

Marc squared his shoulders. “No. There’s supposed to be First-gen Earth stuff down here, maybe even a weapons’ cache. We search.”

He flicked on his light and started forward, leading the way into the rough tunnel. After a second, Soo-jin, grumbling under her breath about paranoid, inbred settlers, followed.

Darkness encroached on her back as their light moved on ahead. Karin turned the brightness up on her own light and followed. Dust rose from under her boots where the soles crunched the surface to then hang in the dead air around her. She tried to ignore her own rise of pessimism as she passed the crude sign and walked under the archway.

The path grew more and more defined as they went on. Wide enough to drive a vehicle down, it had been manually flattened and reworked. Drill holes and concrete pour lines marked the edges, and metal support struts held up the ceiling every few meters, embedded with the remnants of a lighting system whose plastic cases and mirrored backings caught the beams of their lights and threw back the occasional fractal. Other light systems appeared on both sides of the floor, their plastic cases and housings largely intact though their circuits had long corroded past the point of carrying a current. Once, in an area where the path veered to the left to avoid a patch of stalagmites growing up from what must have once been a pool, a series of metal-worked flowers glittered under their lights, their petals flashing like colored blades.

“Sure is dry down here,” Marc commented. “Cave must have shifted.”

“Maybe that’s why they left,” Soo-jin said. “No more water.”

Perhaps, but it was easy enough to make water nowadays—and the settlement didn’t look that old. Water-forms had been on the popular market for over five hundred years now.

The first pre-fab house appeared out of the gloom like a ghost. Marc’s beam snapped to its door.

“Check it.”

Soo-jin went forward without a word. The motors in her suit whirred as she leveraged the door open, prying it around its rusted hinges. She ducked inside, and her light flicked around through the dust-coated window on the building’s side. The comms line crackled with her breaths and a couple of muttered words that sounded like calculations.

She came out in a second, a small object in her metal gloves.

“Beer can,” she said, setting it down on the path outside the door. “Pre-Fallon.”

“Well, that’s a round of coffee for the three of us,” Marc said brightly. “Let’s see what else we can find.”

The rest of the settlement appeared soon enough, more pre-fab houses slipping out of the dark like pale, bulbous ticks. A pang pulled through Karin’s chest at the sight, a reminder of her time at university on Belenus, but she tamped it down with a thought. This wasn’t the first time she’d seen these kinds of structures—the original designs had been made public domain some four hundred years ago and, although the centuries had seen some changes to their interiors and commodities, they had remained a popular, modifiable set of village-style cabins and outbuildings ever since.

Even nowadays on Belenus, advertisers were cashing in on that ‘vintage’ look.

The cavern ceiling rose up into the darkness, barely visible even when they flashed their lights up, though they caught sight of the old, thick reinforcements that had been blocking the Nemina’s scans before. As they walked past the first few outbuildings, perched at complementary angles to the path and fashioned from the same, bulbous pre-fab designs as the rest, they started to get an idea of the settlement’s layout.

It had an unimaginative set-up: one main road, smoothed and reinforced like the entrance path had been, cut straight ahead in front of them with smaller lanes and low, single-level houses on either side, only curving when the cavern itself bent to the right. Farther in, an enormous pocket of space dissipated into the dusty gloom.

Clean and organized. That would make for an easy scrounge run.

Well, easy in a relative sense. They still had to do the labor.

Marc dropped his pack onto the floor and began to pull out a collapsible hoverboard. “Right. Karin, you and I are on basics. Pull out anything promising you might find, pack up anything you know is marketable, you know the drill. Soo-jin, you—”

“Sneak around and look for rare, pretty things. Yes, I know.” She was already marching away into the gloom, her light bouncing around the houses with every step.

“Meet up here when you’re through,” Marc called to her retreating back. “Three hours.”

“Yes, sir,” came the reply over the comms, sounding a little overenthusiastic on the ‘sir.’

Marc rolled his eyes. After a second, he turned to her. Static cut over his mic as he switched to a private channel.

“This is going to be a long day, isn’t it?” he asked.

“They usually are, aren’t they? When we’re actually working, and not traveling?”

He nodded, the action making his suit dip up and down slightly. “Yep.”

By the way his brows furrowed as he stared down at his pack, it looked like he wanted to say something more. She waited, but he gave his head a slight shake, pulled out the rest of the hoverboard, and then jerked his chin to the settlement.

“I take right, you take left?” he suggested.

“Sure. See you in a bit.”

And, before he could say anything else, she made her way to the nearest pre-fab cabin and started her search.


Chapter 2

Twelve hours later, the salvage had been hauled up, packed in crates, and strapped tight into the cargo holds. Not enough to fill them, but enough to make a maze of ceiling-high, hard-packed pathways—better than a complete fill, in a way, since they could retrieve artifacts, clean them, and have their auction listings and photographs ready by the time they hit a network.

In all, a good day. Apart from a surplus of beer cans that should, if they timed the auction market right, keep them fueled for coffee for the next three months, they’d pulled a number of standard salvage which they could scrap for a tidy sum. Soo-jin had several items socked away in the interior storage for easy access. Over the next week, she’d clean, fix, and take showcase pictures in the Mess.

Marc had also managed to find the settlement’s weapons’ cache, and the amount of preserved, vintage firearms had kept a quiet smile on his face all throughout the loading process.

Gun enthusiasts hadn’t died on Old Earth. They were alive and well on this side of the gate—and bidding lots of money at the Chariday auctions.

He was still smiling now. Karin could feel it as he stood behind her, watching her finalize the route calculations on the holoscreen in front of her. His stare made the space between her shoulder blades itch as she leaned forward, sitting on the edge of the pilot’s chair. The bitter smell of alcohol tinted the air like cold water as he sipped on one of the specialized brews he’d saved in the weeks of transit.

She ignored him. Not the first time he’d watched her, and it wouldn’t be the last. Before she’d joined the crew, he and Soo-jin had been the ones piloting the ship. Only natural that he’d be curious about her. He’d certainly asked her enough questions about navigation over their trip. She was the one with the degree, after all—a degree that, in the very long run, would save him money. Especially if they continued to operate in Alliance-owned space.

It was their steep regulations that made her a necessity.

She plugged in the last coordinate, having modified it from ones she’d plotted earlier to compensate for the extra spin and orbit of the planet, and the computer gave a small bloop as it locked in the course. Marc leaned forward as she flipped her card out of her wallet, slid it into the reader, and pressed her thumb against the screenpad for authorization.

A second bloop sounded, and they were good to go.

“Care to flip the ignition?” she asked, glancing back in his direction.

He grunted, reaching overhead to flick the switch that, for some reason—she assumed sexist ship design—lay just out of reach when she sat in the chair. A small, gurgling sound carried through the halls, then the engine began dragging through its start-up cycle with a series of rattles, hums, and the occasional clunk.

After a few seconds, it warmed up enough to catch.

The floor vibrated beneath them. Electronic whirs and whines sounded around them as the space-mode electronics activated. Buttons lit up on the manual control panel to her right, signifying its progress.

She sat back in the chair and closed her eyes, thinking of her bunk. Even with the suit, the hike up and down into the cave hadn’t been easy—and they’d done it six times. Sharp, aching stiffness pinched in her joints and made her muscles feel like lead. As soon as the ship warmed up and she steered them out of atmo, she would deal with her sore body. Maybe they had some kind of balm in Med bay, or ten of those hot-cold patches she’d seen advertised.

Or maybe she’d just go lie down and not move for the next few cycles.

A slosh of liquid by the door told her that Marc had taken a swig. The scent of alcohol came to her, and its undertone of wheat and berries brought a memory of the brand back to her mind. She’d tasted it in school a few times, back on the rare occasions when her sister had visited.

Liquid sloshed again. This time, though, it didn’t sound like he’d taken a drink.

“You know, I’m not actually sure why you’re with us,” he said.

She squinted her eyes open, swiveled the chair around so that he was in her view, and regarded him.

“Would you rather I were somewhere else?”

His hands came up, defensive. With some amusement, she saw that he’d crooked the bottle between his thumb and the front knuckle of his forefinger for the gesture.

“No, no—don’t get me wrong. I’m glad you’re here. I just can’t figure it.”

Ah. She settled in. They’d had different variants of this conversation over the past few weeks, and she’d deemed his curiosity benign. Her position here was a little strange, given her skillset. If she’d wanted, her degree could have gotten her a more secure, and much more high-paying, job in any of the three governments’ transit sectors.

That she’d hired onto some back-alley scrounging startup?

Yeah, it was weird.

“I told you,” she said. “I don’t like Big Brother that much.”

“You must really not like him, coming down here with us.” His eyebrows scrunched together, and he took another swig of his beer, swirling the remaining liquid around in the bottle when he was finished with it. “How long’s it been since we hit a relay feed?”

“Five days.” Anticipating his next question, she took a quick glance at the holoscreen. “We’re due to hit the next one in three.”

“Soo-jin will be happy. I’ve never seen a girl so attached to feeds.”

You clearly haven’t been to the inner planets, then.” She rocked her chair back a bit, checking the engine’s progression on the read-out.

“Enlil doesn’t count?”

She snorted. “Compared to the inner planets, Enlil is practically bucolic.”

“Maybe I should consider a trip, then. See the sights. You think the Alliance will let us peddle there?” He leaned forward to squint at the map, as if its projection of the closest planets, and their planned route, might provide an answer.

“I don’t see why not. Unless they take umbrage with your history.” She indicated the Fallon military tattoo on his arm. “You could always wear long-sleeves if you’re worried.”

She’d always meant to get more of its story out of him, but it always felt like a touchy subject to her, especially given her reluctance to share her past. The Fallon government had once been part of the Alliance, but had broken away. From what she’d heard, lots of bad blood existed between it and the other three, as well as plenty of border conflicts carried out on moons and asteroids and, once, famously, in a patch of empty space—but that had been years ago. Things had quieted down.

He shrugged.

“They’d see my history the second they looked at the ship’s registration.” The bottle shifted in his hand, and he glanced down at its base, checking its level. “I was stationed on Penati. Not exactly a concern for the Alliance.”

He swirled the bottle once more, then tipped it up in a salute. “I think I’d better hit the sack. Day’s catching up. You all right out here?”

“Fine,” she said with a small wave. “Have a good sleep.”

“Thanks. You’ll have to tell me about the inner worlds more, sometime.” He tipped up the bottle at her again as he turned. But, before he left completely, he paused at the door, a finger in the air as if he’d forgotten something. “Oh, one more thing. Karin?”

She swung the chair back around, catching his gaze as he half-turned back. “Yes?”

“Don’t mind Soo-jin. She mouths off sometimes, but she doesn’t mean anything by it.”

She gave him a small smile. “Don’t worry. I’m not as fragile as I look.”

He snorted. “You can say that again. Good night.”

“‘Night.”

The walkway outside groaned as he stepped out, and she heard the tell-tale brush of his hand as he trailed it along the corridor’s chipping paint, a habit of his she’d noticed after the first few days on board. When the door to his cabin hissed shut, she checked the engine readout on the holoscreen again, then let her head fall back onto the chair’s back cushion, rolling the toe of her shoe against the floor to make the chair rock.

Seven minutes and they could lift off. Add another eight to break atmo, then two to guide them onto their programmed track, and she could finally leave the bridge.

Her bed couldn’t come soon enough.


Chapter 3

The ruins told her it was a dream. She’d left them behind long ago, over seven years now, when they’d escaped through the gate. They were a frequent appearance when she slept—at first alarmingly so, but, as time wore down her fears, the terror their sight evoked had ebbed.

Tonight, they seemed little more than an echo.

There were five of them, standing still under a blue, late summer sky, their weathered stone sides immune to the wind that threw the rest of the overgrown field into ripples and sways. Faint lines carved down their surfaces, making them seem like somehow more than simple hunks of old, straight-cut stone, but time had worn them down so much that their design could only be guessed at.

Karin knew. She’d spent many years trying.

She took a step and flexed her hand, the same wind that swept the field brushing over her skin, and then she frowned as the smell of sun-baked grass and late-season wildflowers came to her, too—as did the feel of rough, hard-packed dirt beneath her feet.

The dreams had never been this lucid before.

Can you feel it?” a voice asked.

She jumped. Time never moved right in dreams. In the few moments she’d been noticing her hand, the early afternoon had turned to evening. Her sister could have been there for a few hours, or only seconds.

Miki?”

She shivered, the wind suddenly cold. Sunset bathed the stones in orange and shadow.

Nomiki stood beside her, lit by the same light, her attention on the stars now peeking through the edges of twilight.

Something’s coming.” Nomiki took a step forward. Her dress fluttered in the wind, black trim on white. She had a strong, smooth face, tanned skin. Her dark eyes flashed with the horizon’s dimming tints of orange and ochre as they narrowed. “Can’t you feel it?”

She lifted her arm. As she pointed, part of her sleeve slipped down.

A shot of adrenaline rushed through Karin as she recognized the tattoo they’d both had lasered off back on her sister’s wrist, its black ink grossly dark against the paler skin.

She stumbled backwards. The dream had moved. The sun and its light had gone. Everywhere was dark now. Stars littered the sky above them, cold and distant. Dull pain smacked into her ankle—like she’d hit it against part of her bed, back on the ship.

The dream tripped, lost its grip. She felt herself slipping down, falling between—

Suddenly, Nomiki came in front of her. Her face filled Karin’s vision. Warm breath fell across her cheeks.

You’re gonna have to stop hiding if you’re to survive.” She grabbed Karin’s arm hard, fingers like steel around her wrist. “You’re gonna have to use this.”

She sliced a small knife across Karin’s forearm. Light bled out, as cold and distant as the stars above.

Karin snatched her arm back. “What the hell?”

But the dream was already moving again. Like the shift of a camera lens in a movie, Nomiki was already half a field away. Karin’s white blood glowed on the knife she held, lighting part of her face as she stood beyond the stones.

Karin started after her, stumbling on the hard, rough-packed earth. Wind buffeted her face, her arms. Long strands of grass smacked into her legs.

What do you mean?” she yelled. “What’s coming?”

In answer, all her sister did was look up.

*

Karin awoke with a jerk.

Darkness smothered her sight. For the first few, confused moments, remnants of the dream fought with her recent memories—the smell of summer grass, the hard-packed earth against her feet, the familiarity of the bed, the red, analog-styled numbers of the cycle-clock on the side table next to her bunk. Clammy sweat cooled on her skin, making the bedding stick like a trap. As she struggled with it, she noticed that her arm hurt, too. In the exact same place that dream-Nomiki had cut her.

Must have hit it in my sleep, she thought. Then my brain tried to explain it logically in my dream. That’s why Nomiki attacked.

She slumped back on the bed as the logical part of her mind activated, the memories of the dream washing over her.

Not like she hadn’t had nightmares before. Gods knew there’d been plenty of those. Bad dreams were her brain’s rather inadequate way of dealing with all the trauma she’d been through. Today’s work must have hit some trigger-point or the like—maybe something she’d seen down below, or the disruption of her normal schedule.

The brain was a random-thought-generator, creativity its domain.

Nomiki wasn’t usually involved, though.

She shifted, rubbing the ache on her arm, then froze as her fingers touched something warm and wet.

“The hell?”

Karin jerked her head down, frowning into her quilt. As she detangled the sweat-coated sheets, her eyes widened at the light that suddenly appeared, splattered across her arm like liquid starshine.

At the same time, a form on the other side of the room moved.

She sucked in a breath.

It was a man—or, at the very least, a very life-like, man-shaped shadow. Tall, with edges that blended into the room’s already significant darkness, he stood against the wall with no definition to him, only darkness. She couldn’t see any features, not eyes or the rumples where clothes might be, or—heck, were those arms?

She stared, heart racing. It must be a trick of her mind—a piece of clothing hung against the wall in an unfortunate way, personified by the part of her brain that looked for reasons to be afraid of the dark.

For several long seconds, she watched him, wondering exactly that.

Then he moved again.

Karin yelled out, jerking from her bed. The bedding lumped around her calves and she kicked it loose, throwing the top part of it at him when he lunged. Light flooded the room from her arm as she pulled herself out of bed. She half-crawled, half-flung herself over the side table and searched for a weapon, or anything, to hit him with.

Her fingers bumped against the hard edge of her suit’s helmet. She reared back and swung it blindly behind her. It connected with something solid.

Then it jerked out of her hand… to land in the corner and roll against the wall.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the sheets she’d thrown earlier fall to the floor. The man straightened, dwarfing the room as he came to his full height. As she got her first good look at him in the mercurial glow that still shone from her arm, her heart stopped.

He was black, head to toe—and not just dark-skinned like Marc, either—but black. As if someone had taken a piece of the darkest parts of space, put it into a man-shape, and left it in her room. He had no clothes, no features, not even a defined edge. A three-dimensional rendering of shadow.

But—maybe it was a trick of her eyes, or a twinge from her subconscious—she definitely got the sense of maleness from him.

He seemed to regard her for a moment, turning his head her way and pausing. She took a step back, bumping her heel into the corner of her storage crate. Blood roared in her ears as she groped her hand along the wall, looking for something else to fight with.

But this time, when the Shadow man lunged, she had nothing. Not even the sheets.

She stumbled backwards, knees buckling as she smacked into the crate again. A strangled yell left her throat as she fell back, and she clawed at the air as the Shadow loomed above and overtook her. She slammed hard against the metal top. The air jumped from her lungs in a solid whumph.

Her yell turned into a whimper.

The Shadow loomed above her. Its hands pricked her body, an uneasy sensation neither cold nor hot. It felt like they were going inside her throat, the same way radiation or anesthesia might, trespassing her skin, pushing through her tendons and muscles, touching her blood. Blackness smothered her sight.

She struggled, tried to kick out, but an amorphous weight pinned her down.

A sob crumpled through her lungs. She gritted her teeth and kicked again and again. Tears pricked her eyes as the thing’s hand moved up through her jaw, its long fingers pushing toward her brain. Its head hovered directly above hers, the place where its eyes should be boring a hole into her awareness. Fingers smothered her mouth and nose.

Then, in her struggle, something shifted.

Light pricked through the blackness. The white droplets on her arm still shone, dimmer than before, but persistent.

She brought her hand up. Muscles shaking, she pushed energy into the light. It shivered at her touch like water under a full moon, waxing, growing. The thing’s hand moved into her eyes. A fingertip brushed through her skull like the touch of a feather. She cringed, pulled away. Then she pushed back.

Light exploded from her skin.

The black thing shrieked.

Suddenly, it was gone, off of her. Her sight returned.

She could breathe again.

She coughed, scrambled to her feet, squinting as her eyes adjusted. It seemed like she’d lit a tiny sun in the room. Light flooded every surface and corner, pure white and blinding. Most of it came from her arm—the cut on her wrist that dream-Nomiki had inflicted—but some of it had spread. Drops of it splattered across the walls. Others hung in the air like motes of glowing dust.

The Shadow stood against the far wall, its humanoid form horribly delineated between light and dark, the edges of it still inexplicably blurred. As the glow ebbed, fading back toward the mercurial dimness it had when she’d awoken, the thing seemed to regard her again, its attention more serious this time.

Then the door hissed open. In shock, she watched as it slipped out and fled down the corridor. It made no sound, but it cast a shadow that shifted across the floor and up the walls.

The door stayed open for a few seconds, then shut again.

She was alone.

Coming September 1st. Get it on Amazon for only 99 cents.


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