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The Call of the Rift: Crest
Excerpt

 

In the distance, a speck floated on the water, growing larger. It shifted on the left, right, left. Someone was paddling a canoe upriver toward us, but the motion was weirdly off pace.

“Let’s go back,” Onarem said. “I didn’t sign up for getting caught.”

“Nei, wait,” I said. “Are they in trouble?”

Kaid,” Rokiud swore. “They will be if they lose to the current. There’s rapids further down.”

Something yanked in my gut. This felt like a test from our ancestral spirits. A brave person would help, but a responsible person would obey the rules and turn back. Maybe I hadn’t attuned yet because I didn’t know which I was. I thought of the gouge in Rokiud’s canoe, imagining the stranger’s craft hitting a boulder.

“Fuck the rules,” I said. “We’re going to rescue them.”

Onarem dropped his protests when Nili told him to shut up. We paddled hard and soon neared the stray boat. Its prow was uncarved and tall enough to handle ocean swells. A man was slumped inside, clutching a paddle that dragged uselessly through foaming water. I grabbed at his canoe and missed. The current yanked it out of reach.

We’d nearly caught up again when the canoe disappeared around a bend. We rounded it, too, and hit rapids coursing through a ravine. Echoes roared off the rock walls. The stray canoe spun this way and that. Whitecapped waves struck its hull, rocking the man’s limp form.

“I’m going for it,” Rokiud yelled over the thunder of water. “Gonna need your help, Kateiko.” He yanked off his boots, dove into the river, and swam toward the stray canoe.

I kept paddling as I dropped my mind into the current, struggling to restrain it. Nili tossed Rokiud a rope. He looped it around the stray canoe’s prow. She hauled it in while Onarem kept them afloat, but rapids kept pulling the crafts in opposite directions. I called on as much water as I could, sweat running into my eyes, and guided all three canoes forward until the ravine widened to reedy banks.

Nili and Onarem tumbled ashore and pulled in the stray canoe. With a last surge of strength, I ran Rokiud’s canoe aground. The boys lifted the stranger and eased him onto the mud. He sagged, breathing shallowly, gripping his paddle like it was fused to his hands. One leg of his breeches was rolled up, exposing a sticky poultice over a crusted wound. I choked at the stench of infection.

Rokiud drew his fish knife and sliced open the man’s sleeve. Underneath was a kinaru tattoo. The man was Rin like us, yet I’d never seen his face. Neither had my friends, judging by their confused looks. I reached for his sleeve to tear it further and check his family crest.

“Stand back,” a voice commanded.

I whirled. Fendul stood on the riverbank. Birds landed around him and shifted to their human forms — an owl and falcon to Rin warriors, a black-billed swan to my dark-haired, tattooed mother. Rokiud and I backed up, hands raised.

My mother drew forward as if she was in a dream. She dropped to her knees and stroked the man’s hair. My eyes widened. No one in our confederacy would do that to a stranger. Touching someone’s hair, one of the sacred parts of the body along with the heart and blood, was an intimate act saved for relatives and loved ones.

“Yotolein?” she breathed.

Before I could find words, Nili bent over the man’s canoe, pulled back a tarp, and yelped. Huddled in a pool of river water were two shaking children.

 

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What's in it for Me?
Excerpt

Chapter 9 -Nick (Thailand)

"Bringing home strays again, hey Mum?" The girl who greeted us at the compound had a booming voice. "Who's this bloke, then?" She was hosing down a young elephant. The saggy, grey skin around his face and shoulders was splattered with faint patches of red, blue, green, and yellow, and he had his trunk wrapped loosely around her waist.

 

"That's my daughter, Camila," Anna said to me, then raised her voice to answer her daughter. "This is Nick, from Canada. He'll be staying with us for a few days before I take him with me to Chiang Mai."

Compared to her mother's milk-white skin, Camila's skin was brown and she had shoulder-length dark hair, razor-sharp cheekbones, and big, dark brown eyes. I guessed her father might be Latino. When she sauntered toward us, the elephant made a noise like a trumpet in protest of her leaving. Her gaze was direct and serious, as if daring you to try and cross her--it made me feel uncomfortable and want to look away.

 

"Canada, eh?" Camila eyed me up and down as if she were taking measurements. "It's been a while since we've had a Canuck here."

 

"Oh, you like hockey?" I said, referring to a Canadian hockey team--the Vancouver Canucks.

I guess she wasn't a hockey fan because she curled her top lip into a sour face, like I'd just said something really stupid.

"Watch your back!" Camila suddenly pushed me to swing around.

Behind me a very large elephant lumbered past with a Thai man astride it like a horse--except there was no saddle, and the man straddled its neck, not its back. On its two long tusks were speared several large bales of hay.

"Never turn your back to an elephant," Camila said, "especially not to the males."

"What's wrong with the males?"

"Nothing's wrong with the males." The tone of her voice was beginning to bug me.

"Many of them have been mistreated and learned to be quite aggressive and unpredictable." She pointed to the elephant that had just passed. "That one killed his abusive owner. If it wasn't for us, he would have been shot by the authorities."

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The Boi of Feather and Steel
Excerpt

TAV

Tav was dreaming.

The river was frozen over with thick black ice. When they knelt down, they could see blue-and-white flames trapped under the surface. They placed a palm over the ice, feeling the cold burn like fire. The flames flickered wildly, trying to reach their hand.

A hairline crack snaked its way between their feet. Tav stepped back, uneasy. As they watched in horror, the river tore itself in two, ice and water and earth splitting apart. Tav stumbled and fell, narrowly avoiding the spears of ice stabbing the air like a fractured bone puncturing skin.

A great chasm stretched across the frozen river. Tav found themselves on one side of the fierce water, which gushed through a cracked mirror of black ice.

A boy climbed out of the depths of a world splintered by frost and starlight.

Cam. Eyes like stone, hard and cold. Blue veins glistening on exposed skin.

Cradled in his arms lay the crumpled body of a girl, a sprig of hawthorn growing from her chest.

She was dying.

“I brought your heart,” he said, stepping onto Tav’s side of the river. The curve of his smile was a fishhook. He stopped an arms’ length from where Tav crouched, their fingernails etching lines into the crystalline landscape. He waited.

Tav rose slowly, unsteady on their feet. Sweat dripped down their neck. They could smell rot.

Pain surged through their shoulder blades. They cried out as great feathered wings burst from their back. The wings were black as ink, with an oily lustre of gold and purple and green. As the pain began to subside like a waning crescent moon, Tav found Cam’s eyes and forced the breath from their lungs into the shape of a single command.

“Give her to me.”

“You’ve left me no choice,” he said. His fingers curled around hawthorn, twisting brutally. The girl whimpered.

“Let her go!” Tav beat their wings and white flames burned through the ice at their feet. The ice floe was unstable, and one wrong move could lead to hypothermia and drowning. The stars glittered overhead, their lights reflected in the dark mirror. The universe was burning.

The branch snapped, and the girl screamed, a body made of bone and glass crying out in agony.

Tav lunged, nails like talons curving around Cam’s throat.

When it was over, Tav was on all fours, frost licking their knees. Blood everywhere. Body parts were scattered across the ice. Tav wetted their lips and looked down, catching a glimpse of their reflection —

the face of a witch

Tav woke suddenly and found themselves back in their apartment, the sheets soaked through with sweat. In the dim room lit only by distant streetlights, the shadows looked like blood. Tav fumbled for the bedside lamp. When the yellow pool of light showed no evidence of a crime scene, the anxiety curling its claws around their wrists and ankles released its hold. It was just a dream; already it was fading. Tav listened to the sound of their pounding heart, waiting for the rhythm to slow. Proof that they were human.

Tav closed their eyes against the pain of sudden brightness, but it was too late. Already a headache was spreading through their temples and pushing into the corded muscles of their neck.

They switched off the light and lay back down, opening their eyes to the dark. In the distance sirens sang out, the clear, sharp pitch breaking through the dull roar of engines that never ceased. Threaded through the darkness was the magic of the Heart, which wound its way through walls and doors and flesh and bone. Tav fought the urge to reach out and grab it, to make themselves strong, to heal their pain, to take that power all for themselves and use it.

Use her.

Eli was sleeping on the couch with only a wall between them. The thought sent another shiver of excitement through Tav’s body, but of a different kind. They kicked off the lounge pants they’d fallen asleep in and lay back in their boxers. Eli’s hair would be messy, her body tangled in the blanket. Tav remembered her body; they had followed the path of her collarbone with their mouth, traced the curve of her waist with their hand …

Tav rolled their face into the pillow to stifle a moan. They lost themselves to fantasy before sleep finally returned for them.

In the morning they had forgotten about the dream.

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