Bigger spaceships. Bigger explosions. Bigger planets. Bigger problems.
It’s been three years since Esa joined the ranks of the Justified after her rescue from the fanatical murderers the Pax. Together, Esa and her mentor Kamali travel from planet to planet, searching for children with supernatural abilities. It’s hard work, but Esa has never felt more assured of her place in the universe.
On a visit to a planet so remote that its inhabitants never learned that the Sect Wars ended over a hundred years ago, they learn that the Justified are not the only people searching for gifted children. There is a creature with unexpected powers who will stop at nothing to get its hands on the children that Esa and Kamali are trying to rescue.
With their latest recruit in tow — a young Wulf child named Sho — Esa and Kamali will travel halfway across the galaxy in pursuit of answers. But the answers only lead to more questions, and the danger will only increase as their terrifying nemesis turns his eyes on them.
In relatively short order, we got a response to our banging. That response was, of course, half a dozen rifles pointed at us from murder holes carved out of the sides of the high wall, but it was a response nonetheless. “Travelers,” Jane said, spreading her hands wide to show that she was unarmed— well, to show that she wasn’t holding a weapon, at least. On a world like Kandriad, nobody went anywhere unarmed, and the rifle butt sticking up from behind Jane’s shoulder would have just seemed like an everyday necessity to the locals, no dif fer ent than a farmer carry ing a hoe would have been on my homeworld. “Seeking shelter.”
“This city is at war, traveler,” a voice said from one of the murder holes— sounded like a Wulf, which made sense, since the vaguely canid species had made up about a third of this world’s population, before the pulse. “ There’s very little shelter to be had here.”
“Very little to be had out there, either.” Jane jerked her thumb behind us, indicating the smoking craters the poorly aimed bombs had blown in the urban “countryside” of what had once been a factory planet.
“How do we know you’re not enemy spies?” the Wulf growled. I mean, Wulf almost always growl, the sound was just what their muzzles were built for, but I detected a distinct note of aggression in the low- pitched rumble of this one’s voice.
“Esa,” Jane prompted me, and I reached into my jacket— slowly, as the rifles were still following my every move—to produce a tightly rolled-up scroll. The parchment was as close to what local conditions would have allowed the natives to create as Schaz had been able to make it; hopefully they wouldn’t ask too many questions about its provenance beyond that, questions we wouldn’t be able to answer given that we’d actually printed it on a chain across The dawn board a spaceship in orbit, a concept that had receded mostly into myth for the people on Kandriad.
I held the scroll up, where they could see. “Reconnaissance,” Jane told them simply. “Aerial photography of the enemy assaulting your walls from the north. Troop positions, fortifications, artillery emplacements— enough intelligence to turn the tide of the fight.” Neither Jane nor I really gave a damn who won this par tic u lar battle, or even this par tic u lar war— whatever conflict it had spun off from, the fighting on Kandriad had long since ceased to matter to the galaxy at large, let alone to the doings of the Justified. What we did care about was getting access to the city, and to the gifted child hidden somewhere inside.
“You have planes? Like they do?” The guns were still holding . . . pretty tightly on us.
“Kites,” Jane said simply. “And mirrors.” That was a flat- out lie, but “we took images from our spaceship in low orbit, then smudged them up to look like low- tech aerial reconnaissance” wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well.
A low sound from the Wulf, not that dissimilar to his growl from before; thankfully, our boss back on Sanctum was also a Wulf, and I recognized the sound of a Wulven chuckle when I heard one. “Kites,” the unseen sentry said to himself, almost in won der. Then: “Open the gate!”
The big metal gates rumbled open; Jane and I stepped along the train tracks, into the interior of the city, where the sentries— Wulf to a one, their rifles still held tightly, though at least not aimed directly at us anymore— watched us closely. Jane handed over the map to their leader, the one who’d spoken. He unrolled it, studied its contents for a moment, then without a word handed it off to one of his subordinates, who promptly took off, presumably for the factory city’s command. “It’s valid, and it’s recent,” the lieutenant acknowledged to us, his ice- blue predator’s eyes still watching us closely, not as friendly as his words. “I recognize shelling from just a few days ago. Intelligence like that will buy you more than just entry here, strangers. Name your price.”
“ We’re looking for some intelligence of our own,” Jane replied. “Looking for one of your citizens, actually. A child, younger than my associate here.” She nodded her head toward me; I didn’t know how well the local Wulf population would be at gauging a human’s age, but at seventeen, I guess I did still have a slightly “unfinished” look, as compared to Jane, at least.
“And why do you seek this child?” the lieutenant asked— not a no. Pro gress.
“He or she will have . . . gifts. Abilities. We seek children with such gifts, and we train them.” All true, for its part. It was simply a question of scale that Jane left out.
“Train them to do what?”
“What ever is necessary.” That part wasn’t exactly an official piece of the Sanctum syllabus.
The Wulf nodded his head, once. “I know the child you’re looking for,” he said.
Finally, something going our way for once
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About the author
Drew Williams has been a bookseller in Birmingham, AL since he was sixteen years old. Although he got the job because someone had called in sick the day he applied, working with books became a vocation. It is full of amazing moments like arguing with coworkers about whether Moby Dick is a brilliant encapsulation of the human condition (it’s not) or an overlong, over-obvious metaphor for futility (it is.) It is discovering authors like (fill in people here) and sharing them with his customers. He loves to write, and he hopes you will love these characters and their story as much as he does.