Welcome to my stop on the Ashes of the Sun blog tour! I’m in the middle of this fabulous new adult fantasy book, and I can’t wait for you all to read it too. I’m so delighted to share an extract from the first chapter of Ashes of the Sun, where you’ll meet the badass Maya and get a taste for this new world from Django Wexler.
It was hot, and Maya was watching an empty house. She sat on a rickety chair, staring out a second-story window through the gap between two stained, threadbare curtains. It gave her a perfect view of the alley below, which contained nothing more obviously interesting than a midden aswarm with flies, and a mangy old dog, huddled miserably in the shrinking shadow of the building to try to keep out of the sun.
There was also the front door of a single-story shack that, as best as Maya and her mentor had been able to determine, was the lair of a monster.
Watching this was Maya’s assignment, which was all well and good, except that she was convinced the monster wasn’t actually home. There had been no movement through the one visible window of the little shack. No movement in the alley, either, aside from the drone of the flies, the panting of the dog, and the heat haze dancing above the baked-mud road.
The city of Bastion seemed designed for misery. It was surrounded by a Chosen relic, a rectangular unmetal wall stretching nearly a kilometer on its long sides and thirty meters high. The human city was jammed inside, like a wasp’s nest daubed between joists in an attic, the taller buildings around the edges leaning against the indestructible unmetal for support. All well and good for defending the city against bandits or plaguespawn, but it made for a tangled rat’s warren of streets, and the wall kept the air fetid and stagnant. The whole place smelled like a cesspool.
Her vantage point was a second-story room in the sort of flophouse that rented by the hour. At the moment, the room was only slightly more interesting than the alley. There was a bed whose stained sheets Maya had flatly refused to touch under any circumstances, a chamber pot, two rickety chairs that had been smashed and repaired so often they were more nail than wood, and a thirteen-year-old boy lying on his back and tossing baked nuts into the air to try to catch them in his mouth, surrounded by the evidence of his repeated failure at this task.
Maya glared at the boy, whose name was Marn. Against all appearances, he was also an agathios, another student of her mentor, Jaedia, and bearer of the same gift Maya wielded: deiat, the power of creation, the Chosen’s desperate legacy to humanity.
I refuse to believe the Chosen had Marn in mind, though. They would have taken one look at him and said, “Well, that’s it. Might as well close up shop and let the plaguespawn eat everyone.”
A nut caromed off Marn’s nose. Sensing her stare, he tipped his head back and looked at her upside down.
“What?” he said.
“You’re supposed to be studying chapter fifteen of the Inheritance,” Maya said.
“And you’re supposed to be watching the street, not paying attention to me,” Marn said, with thirteen-year-old sophistry. “So if you’ve noticed I’m not studying, then by definition—”
“Shut up.” Maya glanced guiltily back at the alley, but nothing had changed. The old dog rolled on his back, panting. “Hollis probably isn’t even there.”
“Jaedia thinks he is. Why else would she go to the Auxies for backup?”
“I don’t know why she bothers with the Auxies in the first place,” Maya grumbled. The local authorities were usually worse than useless. “Whatever’s in there, we can handle it.”
“If I had a haken, I could help,” Marn said, fumbling for another nut. “If you had a haken, you’d blow your own head off.”
That was about the level of discourse she and Marn achieved, most days. Jaedia told her to forgive Marn for being thirteen, but Maya had been thirteen only four years ago and she was reasonably certain she’d never been that stupid. Or stubborn. She turned back to the window with a sigh.
If Hollis is there, he’s staying out of sight. The dhakim known as Hollis Plaguetouch had eluded the Order this long. Maybe he’s already cut and run. In which case . . .
Maya froze. Shadows moved on the wall of the alley. A moment later, three people came into view, walking single file. Two were large men, in the sleeveless white shirts and canvas trousers of common laborers. One was shaved bald, and the other wore his dark blue hair in a long queue. Between them walked a young woman in a colorful dress, long golden hair unbound. There was something off about the way she moved, but Maya didn’t catch it until she’d walked directly under the window. Oh, plaguefire.
“Ow!” Marn rolled over. “Plague it, you made me drop that one in my eye!”
“They’re taking someone to the house!”
“Who is?” Marn got up and shuffled over to the window. The two men had reached the end of the street, one of them standing with the girl while the other unlocked the door.
“You think they’re with Hollis?” Marn whispered.
“The men are,” Maya said. “The girl’s a prisoner.”
“How do you know?”
“She’s gagged and her wrists are tied behind her back.”
Marn looked over at her nervously. “So—”
“Shut up and let me think.”
The door in the alley opened, and the trio went inside, one of the men pushing the girl along by the arm. She looks terrified.
Maya’s hand came up, unconsciously, and touched the Thing. It was a bad habit, calling attention to something that was supposed to stay secret, but she’d never been able to break it. The little piece of arcana, like a rounded crystal surrounded by a ring of smaller faceted stones, was embedded in Maya’s flesh just above her breastbone. It had saved her life as a girl, banishing the coughs and fevers that had nearly killed her, and ever since, she found herself tapping it when she was anxious, as though to make sure it was still there.
Jaedia won’t be back for another hour, at least. Her mentor had assigned her to watch for Hollis trying to leave, not people arriving. And she’d made it very clear that Maya wasn’t to do anything more than observe. But she didn’t consider them bringing in a prisoner, did she? Maya didn’t want to think about what might happen to a bound and gagged girl dragged into a nest of dhakim, but the images came all too readily to mind. Oh, fucking plaguefire.
Not much of a choice.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Marn, who’d been watching her expression. “I’m not being stupid.” Maya checked her panoply belt, threaded under her shirt around her midsection. Her haken was concealed at the small of her back, instead of in its normal place at her hip, but she could still draw it quickly. “Chosen know what they’re going to do to her.”
“Jaedia said to stay here!”
“Jaedia wouldn’t stay here and let some poor girl have her skin torn off,” Maya retorted. “And neither will I.”
“But you’re not a centarch!”
Not yet. Maya gritted her teeth. “I’m still going in. You go and find Jaedia, tell her to get back here as soon as she can.”
“How am I supposed to find her?” Marn said. “All I know is she’s somewhere—”
“Fucking figure it out!” Maya snarled as she turned from the window and ran for the door.
The flies scattered into a buzzing cloud as Maya emerged, and the ancient mutt cringed against the wall. Bad as the heat had been in the room, it was worse out here, the air baked dry and stinking of rot. Maya hurried to the end of the alley and paused in front of the door to the shack. Every instinct told her to knock, but under the circumstances it felt ridiculous. Excuse me, Master Dhakim, but I couldn’t help but notice you kidnapped a girl?
She touched her haken with one hand, and the power of deiat opened inside her. Heat flashed across her body, like sparks landing on her flesh. The sensation passed in an instant, replaced by the steady pressure of waiting energy in her haken. Maya threaded a thin strand into her belt and felt the panoply field activate, throwing a very slight blue haze over her vision. Thus protected, she stepped forward and tried the door latch, her other hand brushing against the Thing for reassurance.
The door clicked open, swinging inward on rusty hinges to reveal the filthy interior of the shack. There was no furniture, just a cold hearth against one wall surrounded by a few pots and pokers. Dirt was smeared across the floorboards, as though muddy livestock had been driven through. A small window in the back wall looked out onto a brick-lined carriage yard, but there were no other doors, and no sign of the dhakim or their prisoner.
They must have a hiding place somewhere. Maya looked over her shoulder. No wonder we couldn’t spot anyone inside.
The door swung closed, and only dim light came in through the curtained windows. Maya opened her hand and tugged another tiny strand of deiat, conjuring a cool flame that danced blue-white across her fingers. In that harsh glow, she paced in a circle, searching for some sign of the residents. There were bootprints in the dirt, but they ran in every direction.
Where in the Chosen’s name did they go? Maya’s jaw clenched as she imagined the two thugs dragging the girl through some secret passage, only meters away. Come on, come on.
Something made the hairs on her arm stand up. She stopped pacing and paused until she felt it again— a chill draft, lovely in the stifling, dead air. Not from the windows, but from the floorboards. Underground. Maya stomped her boot, hard, and the sound was hollow. Got you.
With a terrific crunch of shattering wood, a ropy thing studded with yellowing spikes smashed up through the floorboards, spraying splinters in all directions. It lashed itself around Maya’s ankle, and before she could reach for her haken she was yanked downward. The floor-boards gave way under inhuman strength, and she felt the panoply field flare as she fell, blunting her impact a moment later. Generating the shield pulled power from her, which she felt as a sudden chill, her heart abruptly hammering loud and fast in her ears.
She’d hit stone, about three meters down, light spilling from a bro-ken circle of floorboards overhead. The tendril-thing was still gripping her ankle, and Maya snatched her haken from the small of her back. She drew on deiat, channeling it through the Elder device. The haken, shaped like the hilt of a sword, grew a blade, a meter-long bar of liquid fire that lit up the underground space and threw shifting, hard-edged shadows.
Every centarch manifested deiat differently— as lightning, ice, raw force, or subtle energies. For Maya, it had always been fire. Deiat was the fire of creation, the raw power of the universe. When Maya swung her haken at the gripping tentacle, water on the damp rocks spat and flashed into steam, and the fleshy appendage parted with no more resistance than a damp sheet of paper. The end wrapped around her ankle spasmed and went limp, and Maya shot to her feet.
By the haken’s light, she could see the rest of the tendril, and the creature it was attached to. It was a hulking, heavyset thing, the size of a very large dog or a small pony. There was no confusing it with any natural animal, though. Plaguespawn.
It walked on six legs, asymmetrical, one dragging and one extra-jointed. The thing had no skin, its grotesque musculature on full dis-play, red-gray flesh twisting and pulsing as it moved. Bones protruded from its body, apparently at random, sharpened to yellow, hardened points. A skein of tangled guts hung loose beneath its belly, dripping vile fluids.
And yet the worst part was not what was alien about the creature, but what was familiar. Here and there, pieces of other animals were visible, incorporated whole in the fabric of the monster’s flesh. Half a dog’s snout, upside down, made up what passed for its jaw, with a dozen dangling, wriggling protrusions like the tails of rats. One of the legs ended in a five-fingered hand that looked disturbingly human. The tendril that Maya had severed was its tongue, a muscular rope at least four meters long, edged with canine teeth. A dozen eyes of various sizes stared at her from across the thing, all blinking in eerie unison.
Jaedia had once described plaguespawn as the product of a mad taxidermist, given the run of the contents of a butcher shop and a morgue. That was close, but Maya thought that no human mind, however mad, could have matched the awfulness of the real thing. And, despite all its deformities, the thing functioned. When it stepped forward, the play of muscles in its flanks was smooth and powerful. Its long tongue coiled under its half jaw, dripping black blood from the severed tip.
In the shadows behind it, Maya saw more of the creatures. They were smaller but no less horrific, each a unique amalgamation of rats and cats and dogs and whatever other flesh they’d been able to catch. Fangs, claws, and shattered, repurposed bones gleamed razor-sharp.
Maya straightened up, forcing a grin. Bravado was wasted on these monsters, of course, but . . .
“Well?” she said. “Are you coming or not?”
I hope you enjoyed reading this extract from Ashes of the Sun! If you’d like to check out reviews and opinions on this new fantasy novel, check out the other stops on the blog tour!