As We Rise: Savage (As We Rise Saga Book 2), страница 1
As We Rise: Savage
As We Rise: Savage
Copyright © 2017 by Donnielle Tyner
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Copy-editing by Jessica Nelson of Rare Bird Editing
To all the women who endure.
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The continuing story of the As We Rise saga has been a joy to write. I hope you love Sky as much as I do and are eager for the conclusion with Rana’s story in Heretic.
The melody of blades clashing on the practice fields, mixed with the sweet fragrance of ers tree blossoms, awakened an intense yearning in Sky for her youth. For the days when the clan welcomed her and she honed her skills there as a warrior of the people.
Sky ignored the ache in her chest as she forced her gaze away from the newest batch of warriors. At her side, Rana studied the nimble yet powerful movements with rapt attention. Her stiff posture and fidgeting hands betrayed her nervousness and couldn’t hide the longing in her face.
“Do you want to learn how to fight?” Sky asked softly. Her astute gaze tracked the maneuvers of her clan, and she took solace that her mark hadn’t shot electric warning sparks down her spine. Other than her father, not a single person approached the shamed daughter of the clan elder, but every person young and old had stopped to stare.
“A part of me longs for the ability to defend myself, but an even bigger part fears something so foreign.” Rana sighed. “The moment the military placed me in that stasis pod, my life as I had known it was forfeit. I cannot think of a single Elitian woman who has learned to fight.”
“That’s a pity,” Sky grunted as she eyed a small group gathering around her father.
“Is it?” Rana wound her arm around Sky’s, tucking her smooth hand into the crook of Sky’s elbow and resting her cheek on Sky’s shoulder.
Sky smiled as she remembered the first time the chancellor’s daughter took comfort from her in that manner. It was the day Jo and Sky had questioned Rana about the bodies inside the other crates. Jo had been abrasive and curt in her dealings with the Elitian woman. Although Sky understood Jo’s reaction to the unexpected burden of hiding a person of Rana’s status on board the Kismet, Sky had felt drawn to the proud, formal woman. Later that evening, Sky returned to Rana’s quarters to find her curled into herself crying softly. Then Sky understood the great pressure on Rana’s shoulders. When they first met Rana, her haughty attitude had been a mask to protect herself in a dubious situation. Rana had unloaded her fears well into the night cycle, until she fell asleep leaning against Sky’s shoulder. In that moment, Sky accepted Rana, like Jo and the rest of the crew on the Kismet, into her surrogate clan.
They could replace the gaping emptiness in her heart.
“Yes, it is a pity.” Sky allowed all the fervor she felt regarding Elitian gender norms to invade her words. “You’re not the spoiled, meek woman who woke up in that stasis pod. Your time on the Kismet forced you to grow, and you will change multiple times on your journey until one day you will think back and not recognize the old you. I believe you could be the first Elitian woman warrior.”
“Thank you for believing in me.”
“Everyone deserves the experience of having another put their faith in them,” Sky stated with a subdued melancholy.
Arm in arm, the women walked along the path toward the center of Erswood village, avoiding the small groups huddled to gawk at the newcomer and the pariah. Sky tried to see her former home through the eyes of an outsider. The buildings were squat and functional, made with clay and sculpted with plantlike architectural details and fluid lines in order to blend in with the surrounding flora. Not a single building stood taller than one story. In the center of the village, a massive solar tent with open sides hovered over compressed soil. The Hub, as the clan had called the meeting place for centuries, was a market place, community center, and the seat for the elders council.
“It’s so natural here. How do your people hide their villages from sensors? I remember flying over this continent. It looked uninhabited.”
“Shields.” Sky skirted around the Hub and took one of the side streets that led to her family’s dwellings.
“Shields? Like what protects the Kismet?” Rana’s forehead wrinkled as she searched the air.
Sky chuckled. “Yes and no. Our shields provide both illusion and protection. The clans carry them in combat to protect against fast moving weapons, such as energy bolts or projectiles. They aren’t useful against melee weaponry, but that’s what our graphene and leather armor is for. Our armor has been known to hold up under fire, though. The shield technology uses a combination of meta materials and holotech. Its precise composition is highly guarded, and only master craftsmen know how to create the technology.”
“If I hadn’t seen the effects of the shields myself, I wouldn’t believe you.”
“When my people arrived at the system, the elders decided not to approach the burgeoning Elitian society. Even then, your people were openly disdainful of the other settlements. We hid with our defensive technology, preferring to keep to ourselves. Your corporations only recently discovered our superior tech.”
“No wonder the consulate has annexed the savage moons,” Rana mused as she gripped Sky’s arm tighter.
Sky held in the flinch at the derogatory term for her home world, knowing that Rana indented no insult. “Rana, while you are living with the c
“Oh, I am sorry Sky. I have never known the moons by any other name.” Rana’s cybernetic eyes swirled as she scanned Sky in distress.
“I understand,” Sky reassured her, omitting that if Rana were to offend one of the elders, Sky’s back would receive the punishing blows of the cane. And the clans would not be keen on mercy if Sky was the receiver. Telling Rana would only add stress when she needed to settle.
The women walked in companionable silence. Rana’s mechanical eyes shifted from one dwelling to another, constantly scanning the beautifully sculpted buildings, and her gaze lingered on those people who paused in their activities to glare at Sky as she passed. Rana didn’t pry into why Sky’s people were so hostile to her presence. Instead, Rana remained quiet as she observed Sky’s childhood home, and for that Sky was grateful.
As they crested the hill near the edge of the settlement, Sky’s mark vibrated and warmth spread down her shoulder as the apex of the derelict temple came into view. Her family’s dwellings were on the left of the temple just outside of the village proper, but Sky couldn’t resist the tugging in her chest that urged her to pay homage to the Ancients.
“Why are you leading me toward those ruins?”
“Does your culture have a religion?” Sky answered with a sly smile.
“Not in the customary sense, but we do worship the ideals of perfection and beauty. Every action we take is to attain those ideals. Why?”
“Long ago, the clans worshipped mystical beings called the Ancients. Over time, we have fallen away from our devotion, and many of my people have forgotten that we were once protected and loved by powerful beings.” Sky paused as they approached the looming clay and stone wall.
“Do you believe in the Ancients?” Rana asked through her teeth as if she were forcing her voice to remain neutral.
“I didn’t for many years, but in my direst time of need, they came to my rescue when no one else would.”
“I can’t imagine it.” Rana shook her head as they slipped into the cool interior.
Sky tried to picture what the temple’s crumbling walls would have looked like in its former glory. She imagined the altar decorated in precious metals and jewels, and the clean, white walls displaying colorful art depicting the majesty of the Ancients’ power. Beautifully carved statues would dot the room in regular intervals in front of elegant rugs woven of the finest wool, made specifically for worshippers’ comfort. Sky wished she could have witnessed the temples in their glory days, but that was one dream destined to never come true. The only item that remained of the original temple was the large, empty font standing vigilant in the middle of the building.
“Rana, I imagine by the time you are ready to leave Kore, your eyes will be opened to many possibilities.” Sky smiled at Rana’s skeptical expression. “If you are uncomfortable, you may stand outside while I offer my supplication, but I would prefer for you to stay where I can see you. If you haven’t noticed, my presence is not welcome.”
“I did notice.” Rana smiled nervously at Sky before scanning the room. “Is that corner okay with you?” Rana pointed to the wall directly across from Sky.
Sky tipped her head in acknowledgement, knelt in front of the font, and poured her worries, devotion, and love into the empty vessel, hoping her Lady would accept the meager offering.
The women continued walking toward the collection of villas that housed the entirety of Sky’s family unit. Sky’s shoulder buzzed with the warmth of Luz’s blessing. She hadn’t expected the Ancient to accept her oblation of worry and tears.
It amazed her.
“Sky, must we stay with your family? I appreciate their hospitality, but I don’t feel comfortable. The way your father looked at you in the forest… I can’t forget it.” Rana fidgeted with the sleeve of her dress.
It was the same costly gown she had been wearing when Sky and Jo opened the stasis pod. Jo had thought it would be best for Rana to look stately when they met with the clans and Sky had agreed, but now that the clans had formally invited her to stay, the silken fabric would not be sensible.
“Sky? Are you with me?”
“Yes, I was thinking that we need to get you some practical clothing in the morning. You will not be able to train in gowns.”
Rana shook her head. “I’m not sure you’re right about me becoming the first Elitian woman warrior, but I shall try.”
“You will see.” Sky returned Rana’s hesitant smile with a vibrant one. “And to answer your first question, we do have to stay with my family. Since we settled the twin moons, the only time a family member has the option to move is when they marry. The couple decides before the union ceremony which family they will live with. Since I have never married, I must stay with my father’s family.”
Rana’s brows lifted as her lips rounded into a small O. “It’s similar to how I have to stay in my father’s compound, but I have my own apartments.”
“Exactly, except we will be in a separate house located on the back edge of the property surrounded by forest on three sides. It’s beautiful and rather secluded. You’ll love it.”
“How do you know we’ll stay there? What if they want us in the main areas so they can watch us?”
Sky released a self-deprecating laugh and shook her head. “I know because it’s where they put me in the months before I left Kore. They will not want me living in the main home or any of the villas because they believe I’m a curse.”
“A curse?” Rana gasped, her hands clutched over her heart. “Why would they think that?”
“It’s a long story and not one to get into while we are in the open.”
Rana lifted a brow as her cybernetic eyes spiraled wide before narrowing into slits. Sky threw her a half-smile before turning back to the horizon.
“You will tell me though?”
“One day,” Sky said, releasing a slow, calming breath. “It’s not an easy story to tell.”
Rana’s arm snaked around Sky’s shoulders before pulling her in for a quick hug. The smile that Sky kept hidden by sheer willpower around Rana bloomed in full. Sky allowed herself this small comfort. She didn’t know what it was about Rana, but the woman had a way about her that pulled Sky out of hiding.
They reached the peak of another hill and Sky pulled to a stop. Rana slowed a few steps ahead and glanced back, her brows knitted in confusion. Without explanation, Sky turned her back to Rana. Rays of purple and red framed the sky around the village, the setting of the second sun centered on the derelict temple. A tingling warmth ignited in Sky’s chest and spread throughout her body, settling in her limbs. The beauty of her home world was so breathtaking, it simultaneously healed and broke her heart. Sky shifted to face her family’s villa. Like the temple, the sprawling property was centered under a heavenly body, but the murky eye of the gas giant Orus looming over the main house didn’t give her the peaceful feeling the setting star did.
The villas hadn’t changed in the rotations since Sky left, but that didn’t surprise her. Nothing changed on the twin moons without divine intervention. Sky let her eyelids close as she braced herself against the pain of facing her family. The last time she stood with them, their words cut her deeper than any blade.
We have no need for a cursed harlot tainting our family legacy.
Their words flooded Sky until she was drowning in them.
Why have you come back to shame us some more?
She bent at the waist and released a ragged breath, pressing her palms against her ears, attempting in vain to block out memories.
You should have died under the blade of the priests.
A low keen filled the air, and the warrior in Sky perked at the sound, but she realized that the sorrowful sound came from her. Shame heated her neck and rushed upward until her entire face burned with embarrassment. Sky wrapped her arms around her legs and buried her face into her knees.
“Sky, is t
“No,” Sky croaked. She lifted her head a fraction. “I wasn’t expecting it to be this hard.”
Rana nodded, her face hardened in a cruel understanding. Their circumstances were vastly different, but Rana and Sky had both been hurt by those who were made to love them.
The tightness in her chest loosened under Rana’s gentle ministrations. Eventually Sky stood and tilted her head until her face was bathed in the waning light of the sun.
“Thank you,” Sky whispered.
“You did the same for me during a weak moment,” Rana replied as she stepped closer to Sky until their shoulders touched.
“Yes, but I have never done that before. Not during my captivity or when I left home with the intention of being gone forever.”
Rana didn’t reply immediately, and Sky waited to see if she would comment on Sky’s breakdown. When she didn’t, Sky sucked in a cleansing breath and looked at her friend. Rana was watching the tip of the sun fall below the horizon with a thoughtful gaze.
“Just so you know—” Rana’s face scrunched up for a moment before smoothing into her usual stoic mask. “I have cried and broken down often in my life. Emotion is my greatest weakness. I cry no matter what I’m feeling. One day I realized that such emotions should only be expressed in private. I think I was about eight cycles. When I broke down on the Kismet, it was the first time in twelve cycles that I had an audience to my misery, and you know what?”