In case you missed it, my ancient world fantasy novel, Rheia, comes out later in 2018. I had announced the release date as 29 September, but — as it happens — an anthology in which I have a story is having its launch party that exact same day. That being the case, I’ve decided to push Rheia’s release date back two weeks, to Saturday 13 October. Apologies to anyone that is disappointed about this, but I wasn’t really keen on trying to wrangle two book birthdays at once!
Now, onto the excerpt. 🙂 The world in which the kingdom of Oreareus exists is inspired by Ancient Greece, and a lot of the terms I use throughout the story come from that time in history. Hopefully the meaning of the various terms in the excerpt I’ve included here are clear from the context. However, just in case, I’ve included the relevant definitions from the glossary (I wrote a book with a glossary, you guys — I always wanted to do that!). You can find them at the bottom of this post.
Every year, Rheia’s father brought home four prisoners of war, sacrifices to keep the demon Typhein bound. Rheia never gave them much thought … until her father’s enemy made her one of them. Now she has two weeks to find a way to escape death at the hands of the Beast and either save her people or condemn them to destruction.
The last thing Rheia expected was to fall in love with the Beast oath-bound to kill her.
Rheia — an excerpt
Rheia waited, fidgeting, until the herbalist finished tying off the bundle of fennel and counting out her change. Then she tucked the herbs into her basket and followed her brother, head down so as not to attract attention: an unwed, unaccompanied woman. She would kill Aias if his running off resulted in any slight against her name. She swallowed and adjusted her veil, making sure her hair was completely covered.
She found Aias standing in the deep shadows beneath the statue. He couldn’t see into the temple from there, wedged as he was between one huge sandalled foot and an outer pillar, adjacent to the shadowed porch, but his head was cocked as he listened, eyes wide as wine cups. “You just wait until I tell Mammidon about this,” she hissed.
“Shh,” Aias whispered, raking her with a contemptuous gaze. “I’m listening.”
“And if the priests see you out here, lurking like a thief, what will they say?” She grabbed his arm and tried to pull him away, but he eeled from her grip and stepped closer to the entrance. If she tried to grab him again, he might stumble backward, out into the bright sunshine where he would be much more obvious. Grinding her jaw with frustration, she glared at him.
He glared back, head tilted upward to meet her gaze. “Rheia, something is going on. They are stirred up like an ants’ nest. Don’t you want to know why?”
“No,” she whispered, shaking her head emphatically. And she didn’t. She wanted to browse the trinkets at Phidias’s stall, see if he knew her name, see whether Galen was lurking out the back somewhere and might come over to see her.
But she couldn’t do so without Aias. “All right,” she said with a sigh, crossing her arms and looking away towards the harbour as though she was merely taking a moment to shade herself from the hot sun. “One minute.”
Resolved not to listen to the voices inside the great building, Rheia studied the mason’s mark hidden at the statue’s heel as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. She had heard of Myron, even though he’d died when her grandmother was a baby; the huge statue had been his last great work. But a babble of raised voices as they passed close by the inside doorway caught her ear: the words thysia and offering louder than the rest, as the speaker emphasised a point. They fell away, and she wondered what had happened to cause such consternation. Had the helot girl tried to escape again? Had she been successful this time? There would be a city-wide manhunt to find her if it were true. A surge of sympathy for the girl made her purse her lips. How awful it would be, to know you would be dead when next the moon was full.
Aias’s fingers digging into Rheia’s arm brought her back to herself. “Rheia,” he whispered, the sound sharp with fear. “Let’s go.”
“Finally,” she muttered, glancing up and down the street for watching eyes before hurrying him away from the temple, her hand at the small of his back so he couldn’t dart off again. But when she tried to stop at the goatherder’s stall to buy a pottery jar of milk, he dragged her on, out of the agora. “Aias, stop! Wait!”
“You heard what they said.” He shook his head, curls bouncing emphatically as he hauled her along the street, almost at a run. “We have to get home. Father will know more.”
Rheia’s heart felt strange in her chest, anxiety making it flutter. “More about what? I was trying not to listen. As you should have been.”
Her little brother stopped, staring up at her with his mouth ajar. Then he pulled her by the hand into a quiet alley, away from the bustling traffic of the main street. “One of the helots is dead,” he whispered, eyes glittering with excitement. “One of the girls. Suicide, they say.”
Rheia’s eyes widened as she stared at her brother. The flutter in her chest expanded to swallow her belly. “But what will happen now? It’s only two weeks until the festival. The offering!”
“That’s what they were arguing about. One of the priests thought the triremes would be sent back out, while the other said it was too late. Father will know; if the ships are to be sent, he will captain the fleet. Come on. Before he leaves!”
Rheia let Aias drag her up the hill towards their villa, her mind whirling with the implications. The Broken Ones were meant to have the thysies for a full ten days before the ritual. Something about cleansing rituals. But that would only give the triremes three days to get to the helot lands and back again. Would it be enough?
And if not, what was the alternative?
agora – a combination of a marketplace and a central point where citizens can meet and discuss important issues
helot – slave; used to describe the subdued peoples across the sea
mammidon – a term of endearment meaning mother
thysia (plural thysies) – a sacrifice or offering
It’s less than a week till Guardian Angel hits the e-shelves (shush, that’s totally a thing) — 28 April is the big day, and I’m not at all nervous, ahahahaha. D: Seriously, releasing a book, even a novella, is always nerve-racking. But I am proud of this little story, and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
All the pre-order links are live, so you can buy Future You a present. And as Guardian Angel is a bargain at US$0.99 (around AU$1.30), Future You will be super-impressed at your frugality!
If that price doesn’t convince you, you can find an excerpt below. Enjoy.
Can her light hold back the night?
There are two things actor Jordan Woodrow always swore were true: that there was no such thing as love at first sight, and that he could never love a fangirl. But after he met Brianna at a convention, everything changed.
Now, hallucinations creep at the edge of his days and nightmares scuttle through his sleep, and only Brianna can keep them at bay. When she is with him, everything is fine. No, it’s better than fine—it’s perfect.
Why can’t his family and friends see that?
Jordan was dreaming.
He knew it was a dream, because he was on the set of Beyond Deathgate, and he knew, even dreaming, that he’d finished filming that movie three years ago. It had already premiered, and it had been a hit. They were negotiating the sequel.
But knowing that didn’t change the dream.
He was back in the spideresque cavern, but he was in his pyjamas, not Aldron’s trademark blue leather armour. There were no film crews hovering around the edges of the room, no cameras on tracks or scurrying assistants carrying messages or coffee. The domed ceiling was full of heavy cobwebs and shadowed darkness, not a lighting rig.
He turned around to look behind him … or tried to. He couldn’t move. A thick, sticky web was wrapped around him, cocooning him, its strands gleaming sullenly in the uncertain light. He looked down at himself; his hands were crossed over his chest, like the corpse at a funeral, and bound as tightly as if he wore a straitjacket. His feet were bare in the thick detritus on the floor of the cavern. The frail skeletons of small animals looked up at him with accusingly empty eye-sockets from amid the decomposing leaf matter.
Something squirmed against his toes.
Oh, god! Jordan made a small, panicked sound in the back of his throat. He tried to lift his feet, but he couldn’t—the web didn’t have enough give in it for him to bend his knees. His pulse thundered in his ears. What the—?
That was when he smelled it.
His brain struggled to find a word for the foul reek that drifted through the tunnels. Struggled and failed. Maggot-infested meat rotting in the sun? The stench of untreated sewerage? It was both those things, and more. His eyes watered with the acrid stink of it, and he thrashed against the web that bound him. He knew what was coming. The spideresque: half human, half spider, all black malevolence and aching hunger. She was going to scuttle into the cavern, and she was going to devour him. And this time he had no Ring of Emrys to save him.
The huge, bloated shape of the spideresque appeared, silhouetted against the roughened stone of the far wall. Her stench washed over him, stronger now. He coughed, retched. It’s a dream, he told himself. It has to be. But that initial certainty seemed far away now. A second thought came, barely a whisper: I’m going to die. Despair flooded him, weighing down his limbs and settling like a rock on his chest. What’s the point in fighting?
There was no point. He hung in the web, a fly ready to be eaten.
Jordan lifted his head, relieved at the sound of that familiar, beloved voice. Brianna stood before him, facing the beast. She was dressed in lambent white, a vision of Emrys herself; her hair glowed with its own golden light, casting soft shadows across the webs that ensnared him. She held one hand before her, palm outward toward the spideresque. “Get back,” she yelled again. Her light grew brighter—so bright his eyes began to water. “Leave him alone!”
The monster shrieked, rattling its forelegs together. Dust rained down from the ceiling with the force of its cry, and it paced back and forward—but it drew no closer. Finally, unable to face the purity of her light, it retreated into the shadows with a final, protesting wail. The reek of its body faded.
Brianna turned to him, her brilliant emerald eyes wide, and reached out to touch the webs. They disappeared, and he collapsed into her arms.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said.
At her words, they were transported onto a field of grass whose blades were so soft they were like feathers beneath him. Flowers bobbed in the breeze, yellow and perfect. The trees whispered at the edge of the field, and the sky was a brilliant, aching blue.
Brianna cradled him against her chest like a baby as he wept with relief. “It’s okay,” she murmured, “I’ll protect you. Don’t you worry. Your guardian angel is here.”