Stellarnet Rebel is the first book of the Stellarnet Series by J.L. Hilton, published by Carina Press in January 2012. The sequel, Stellarnet Prince, will be released in November 2012.
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He could hear them screaming, banging on the walls, trying to claw their way out, while his mother lay dying in his lap.
“Kehlen,” she whispered through parched lips. The sound of that name, the name he never used, was more disturbing to him than the sounds beyond their cell or the smell of the five dead Glin in the corner.
“Yes, Hadi.” Holding her ashen hand, he cradled her head with his arm. Her breath wheezed in her throat and chest, when she breathed at all.
“I wish I could see the silver lake again.” Her words were in soft contrast to the desperate shrieking of those who still lived yet longed to die. It was impossible to block them out. His keen senses felt even the smallest whimper vibrating through the immense boat that was their prison.
“What silver lake, Hadi?” he asked. In a life of constant wandering, he’d never seen such a place.
“The lake where you were born.”
He wondered if her sanity was swimming away with her, beyond the Last Wave. She’d never talked about his birthplace before.
“I tried to save you,” she said.
“Save me?” He kissed her forehead, almost laughing as he sobbed. He had saved her. He’d killed all of the prisoners who shared their cell. Mad with confinement, the others scratched the walls, the floor, each other, until their fingertips were worn down to the bone. When they grew too thirsty, they threatened to drain the blood from his flesh and hers, for lack of water. They broke his mother’s arm. So he killed them.
He would have killed the Tikati, too, but they had fire. Flames hotter than the burn of a stinging guet, forcing him into captivity. So he and Hadi were trapped in a Tikati sky boat. He had no idea if they were still on Glin, on Tikat, or somewhere in between.
“When they attacked us, I saved you,” she said. “One of them let us go, in exchange for your soul.”
Kehlen pattered his fingers on her arm, trying to soothe her delirium. Anguish choked him when he tried to speak. “No Glin or Tikati can hurt you ever again. It is time to dream of rain.”
He hummed low in his throat, a song she used to sing to him when he was a child. He could no longer see her through the membrane over his eyes, thickened by sorrow, but he felt her exhale and the life leave her body.
“Hadi!” he cried. No, what did their secrets matter, here? He used her real name. “Vindael… mother…” He could no longer feel the rhythm of her heart vibrating through his bones. All he could feel was the symphony of terror that went on outside their cell. The crying and howling were one with him, a lament of his loss.
“Don’t leave me alone,” he begged, repeating the words in a litany, clutching her until she grew as cold as the walls, cold as the air that made it painful to move. Only then did he let her go and try to stand. Days without water or food made his head spin and he staggered, clutching the doorway for support.
Grief wrung a wild cry from his chest. For a moment, the Glin trapped in the rooms around him fell silent, waiting, wondering what new horror or hope it might herald.
The doorway sparked where his hands gripped it, the doors opened, and he fell forward into an empty corridor. More than his loss, his fear or his surprise at his sudden freedom, his body felt the urgent need for water. His nostrils flared and his brain screamed, Wet! He moved toward the scent. Careening from wall to wall, he passed several closed doors, some alive with whispers or pleas, others quiet as a grave pool. Around a corner and down another empty hall, he stopped when he smelled water beneath him.
Prying at the cracks in the floor, he exposed a hole and dropped into it with a small splash. It was another room, empty save for a few inches of greasy water. It tasted like dirt and waste and the bitter krich beetle. But he drank, cupping his webbed hands and lifting the liquid, letting it run through his fingers, down the dark blue skin of his hands and arms, and over his legs. He was filthy, but he was wet, and he felt the strength returning to his limbs. He pulled himself back out.
“Is someone there? Who are you?” called a hoarse voice behind the nearest door. It threatened to kill him if he was a Tikati, and then it begged for water.
But he had no idea how to open the other rooms. He had no idea how he’d escaped his own. And he didn’t care. If he helped anyone else he might have to kill them, like the Glin who attacked his mother, and he did not want to kill any more. The prisoners went on weeping and screaming, pleading and pounding, while he searched. More walls, closed doors and symbols of a language he could not read. But no Tikati captors and no fire.
In what he guessed to be the prow of the boat, he found a room larger than any hut he’d ever seen. It was filled with tiny lights, glowing like thousands of weeol, flashing, flickering, moving on the walls and surfaces. There were windows here, and he could see the sparkles of the deep sky ocean, beyond.
Out, out, out, urged every fiber of his being and he ran forward, vaulting up and launching himself at the nearest opening. His head hit an invisible barrier and he crumpled, knees slamming the lighted surfaces. The weeol changed color and emitted a shrill screech.
What is this? he wondered as he tried to push his pale face and palms through the window that wasn’t. A renewed sense of distress washed over him as he realized that there were no clouds above him and no water below. They were adrift, far beyond the raging storms of the Great Rain, far away from Glin. And he had no idea how to return.
“I am lost,” he bemoaned to the stars and the darkness.
Copyright (c) 2012 by J. L. Hilton
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
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