Read below for the first chapter of Resistance: Spirit Seeker Book Two, coming July 3, 2016. Also RSVP and check in during the Virtual Book Release Party on Facebook – there will be games, exclusive excerpts, and giveaways!
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Chapter 1: Shem
“Someone’s headed our way,” Shem announced, breaking what must have been half a night’s exhausted silence.
Adala pulled Leyenne, their mare, to a halt and turned in the saddle to face Tobin in the
moonlight. “Shem says we have another search party edging close,” she called softly.
“Where are they?” Tobin inquired, trotting to catch up astride Dusty, the stubby-legged donkey.
“There is a single rider on horseback, and they’re over there,” said Shem, pointing east. “They’re moving fast, headed northwest. We will cross paths in maybe ten minutes, if he keeps riding this fast.”
“Is he within earshot?” Adala asked in a low voice.
“No,” said Shem. “I can almost see him over there though.”
“We go west now,” said Tobin, turning Dusty left and digging his heels into the donkey’s sides.
Shem had to lean forward as Adala cued the mare over and over to bring her into a run. They settled into a brisk canter following Tobin, who led them swiftly westward. The blue hues of the moon cast shadows against the sparse desert landscape, revealing patches of scraggly shrubs, dried grass, and boulders against the gentle hills. Shem felt good riding toward Gerstadt, sensing the warm glow of his home city and the ever-strong pull of his mother’s spirit.
Shem didn’t know how long they had been away from Gerstadt, but it felt like an eternity. After weeks and weeks of captivity, culminating in the surreal spirit feast ritual, Shem had finally escaped with the assistance of Tobin, Adala, and most of all Ollie.
A pang of regret struck Shem as he remembered Ollie. Just hours after Shem, Tobin, and Adala fled the army of desert dwellers and Gerstadt outcasts, Ollie’s life had vanished from Shem’s awareness. His light snuffed out and left with only darkness. That had been two days before, the night of the Spirit Feast. The trio of travelers barely had a moment to mourn Ollie that night, dodging search party after search party with Shem’s help. Were it not for his keen ability to sense approaching groups, they would have been discovered before dawn. But Shem knew he could guide his sister and Tobin safely out of the desert without running into anyone else.
They fled the approaching rider by moonlight until Shem and Adala’s mare was soaked in sweat again. The rest of the night passed by in a series of sprints and walking periods, followed by Shem directing them north, then west again to avoid another search party.
When at last the sky behind them grew light blue with the approach of dawn, the searching groups of Wanderlings and Roharian people were nowhere to be seen. Shem surveyed the landscape in the pre-dawn light. They reached a region of slightly rolling hills. Not the steeper inclines that had surrounded the Wanderling village, where Burano’s outcasts had kept Shem and Adala captive, but gentle slopes in the terrain. Just enough of a curve in the earth that he couldn’t see horizon-to-horizon anymore.
“We can hardly see anything,” Adala commented, pulling the mare to a stop.
“That means no one can see us,” said Tobin matter-of-factly. “I have pulled us a bit north when I could because I knew the terrain wasn’t quite as flat up here. This way we can travel by day and no one is likely to see us.”
“Makes sense, but we also cannot see them,” she challenged.
“I know where everyone is,” assured Shem. “This is all part of the plan, Adala.”
His sister glowered at him, causing Shem to sigh and turn back to face forward in the saddle to avoid her glare.
“I still can’t believe I wasn’t let in on this plan of yours,” she proclaimed.
Tobin’s shoulders sagged. “Ollie and I got together the morning of the ritual and laid everything out. He told Shem about it when he took guard shift in the afternoon, but neither of us could get to you.”
“I understand that I was under guard,” she said heavily. “But don’t think I will forget that up until we left you were spying on me for Burano.”
Shem had grown weary of Adala’s resentment in two days of travel. “You have to let it go, Adala. We are here now. Free. Everything worked out for our escape during the spirit feast.”
“And you,” Adala said to Shem, her voice cracking with emotion. “I was worried sick about that ritual. How did you know what would happen?” Her voice trailed off, and she chewed on her lip.
Tobin cleared his throat, casting a scowl towards Shem. “The original plan was for Ollie to come during the ritual preparation, and for him to cause a diversion while I took Shem away under the premise of protecting him from a hostile attack of the clans. But you changed the plan, didn’t you Shem?”
Shem shrugged. “I told Ollie to wait. He trusted me. I knew the ritual wouldn’t hurt me. The desert priests meant me no harm; I felt it.” He had been scared before the ritual—and he sensed fear in Tobin and Adala and even Burano in the hours leading up to the ceremony. But something inside him was too curious about the ritual to leave beforehand. Something drew him to the desert people, and he wanted to see them together during the spirit feast. What he had discovered was more terrifying and thrilling than anything he ever imagined. The beasts that rose from the fire had revealed many things to him, past, present, and future. Shem still struggled to process the reality of what had transpired.
“What was that conversation with the fire spirit anyway?” Adala asked. “When did you learn to speak like that?”
“I don’t know,” Shem said. He shuddered, remembering the unearthly words of the fire spirit and what it foretold.
“What was that exactly?” Tobin asked. “What did he say?”
Shem shook his head, eager to discuss any other topic. “I just told him I needed his help,” he said, “and he told me he would bring a cloud over the camp so I could escape.”
“You talked for a bit longer than that,” Adala said, sounding suspicious.
“That’s all he said,” Shem snapped, his face growing hot. The words of the spirit echoed in his mind, and he sought to push them away. It pained him to shut Adala and Tobin out, but he wasn’t ready to pass on the rest of what the spirit had told him. “I’m done talking about it.”
“Fine, have it your way,” she declared. “I still can’t believe no one saw fit to inform me of any of these versions of this escape plan in the first place. You could have let me know!”
Tobin shrugged. “We were all busy, and you weren’t all that eager to trust me. It doesn’t matter now, Adala. We got away.”
“Yes we did, but not without a casualty,” countered Adala. “Ollie is dead. And I stabbed Willie in my fight to get to Shem—he’s probably going to die soon as well.”
“He’s gone,” said Shem, looking back towards the camp. He had felt the death faintly during their escape. He didn’t share a strong connection with Willie, but the death still stung in his chest. “He died within the hour of our escape,” he added softly.
“Willie wasn’t a bad man,” said Tobin, looking back up at Adala. “I’m sorry we didn’t warn you about the plan. It could have saved his life.”
Adala took a shaky breath, and Shem could practically smell the sorrow and guilt growing inside her. Her hands clenched into fists around the reins as she said bitterly, “I wish I had stabbed Jarod instead.”
Her statement was punctuated by a welcome silence among the three travelers, and they continued riding, taking advantage of the last gusts of evening wind before what was sure to be a scorching hot day, as always.
Shem let his mind roam, focusing on the scattered group of search parties. Beyond them, deeper in the desert, loomed the mass of desert dwellers, now joined up with Burano’s outcast Wanderlings. The group itself was beginning to move westward. They had started earlier the day before. The desert clans and Wanderlings moving as one did not bode well for the future, given Burano’s plot to turn them against Gerstadt. Shem still could not understand why Burano would want to seize Gerstadt. He always spoke to Shem about wanting peace with the desert people, and Shem felt his sincerity. As an outcast man, perhaps Burano just really wanted to go home? Shem couldn’t guess how a man could be driven to such measures, but he hoped the desert dwellers wouldn’t help him in his plan.
“We should dismount and rest,” called Tobin, pulling Shem out of his thoughts. “I think there’s water here.”
Shem followed his gaze, looking out over a small dip in the terrain. It looked the same as the surrounding desertlands. Cactuses and shrubs scattered along a low spot in the earth, punctuated by a couple of massive boulders in a pile. He saw no indication of a water source.
Tobin climbed out of the saddle and said, “Let’s spread out. Check underneath and behind all the shrubs. They usually cover them up with branches.”
“Are we looking for a well?” asked Adala, confusion emanating from her, “or some type of water hole?”
“A hand-dug well, most likely. Careful you don’t walk into it.” Tobin stood on a rock to survey the terrain.
Adala slid stiffly from the saddle and straightened to help Shem down. He leaped from the saddle easily and joined the hunt, eager to learn more about Tobin’s knack for finding water sources.
Shem kicked aside some dried shrubs and began the search, surveying his surroundings.
“I’ll stay with Dusty and Leyenne,” called Adala from behind him. “They’re acting antsy. It’s amazing they have the energy to be restless after riding all night!”
Shem followed Tobin down the incline to the lowest spot in the dipped terrain and meandered toward the base of a sandy-colored boulder twice his height. In its shadow lay a pile of dried branches, all in a tangle. Beneath the foliage Shem could see glimpses of something dark.
“I’ve found something,” he called to Tobin. “There’s a pile of dead branches. I think it’s covering up a hole.”
Tobin trotted up next to him and heaved the branches away. Shem came in close to see a shallow hole in the dirt, maybe three or four feet deep. At the bottom lay a pool of water.
“That’s it!” cheered Shem, clapping his hands together. He turned to shout up toward Adala. “We have water!”
Suddenly, Shem felt a prick at the back of his neck.
Next to him, Tobin made an urgent hushing noise under his breath and seized Shem’s arm.
Following Tobin’s gaze upward to the top of the boulder before them, Shem’s body stiffened with fear. Atop the boulder, only feet above them, stood a wiry mountain lion with paws that must have been the size of Shem’s hands.
The wildcat tensed, staring down at them with yellow, beady eyes. Her ears pinned back as she hissed, revealing sharp teeth.
Tobin whispered in a hushed, calming tone. “Step slowly and get behind me. Now.”