Stargate Monuments

marthawells

Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus


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Stargate Monuments
marthawells

The Cloud Roads available for preorder

The Cloud Roads is now available for preorder, at least at a few online retailers. It's going to be released also as an eBook, but I don't think you can preorder eBooks, can you? I have no idea.

Anyway, preorders are very helpful, so if you feel inclined, please do. It'll be showing up in more spots the closer it gets to March, the release date, when it'll be arriving at bookstores.

I've put the first chapter as a teaser below the cut, plus the current preorder links. (Everything is also on my web site here.) And here's the lovely cover blurb by Sharon Shinn:

Martha Wells' books always make me remember why I love to read. In The Cloud Roads, she invents yet another rich and astonishingly detailed setting, where many races and cultures uneasily co-exist in a world constantly threatened by soulless predators. But the vivid world-building and nonstop action really serve as a backdrop for the heart of the novel--the universal human themes of loneliness, loss, and the powerful drive to find somewhere to belong.
- Sharon Shinn




Preorder: Barnes and Noble, Powell's, Mysterious Galaxy, Borders, Books-a-Million, Book Depository.com (free shipping worldwide), Book Depository.uk, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon.ca, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de. Also available directly from the publisher at Night Shade Books.

Chapter One



Moon had been thrown out of a lot of groundling settlements and camps, but he hadn't expected it from the Cordans.

The day started out normal enough. Moon had been hunting alone as usual, following the vargit, the big flightless birds common to this river valley. He had killed one for himself, then taken a nap on a sun-warmed rock and slept a little too long. By the time he found a second vargit for the camp, killed it, dressed it, and hauled it back, the sky was darkening. The gate in the rickety fence of woven sticks was closed, and he shook it, shifting the heavy dead bird on his shoulder. "Open up, it's me."

The gate and the entire fence were mostly a formality. The camp was built on a field leading down to the wide bed of the river, and the fence didn't even go all the way around. The jungle lay just outside it, climbing up the hills toward the steep cliffs and gorges to the east. The dense leaves of the tall trees, wreathed with vines and hung with heavy moss, formed a spreading canopy that kept the ground beneath in perpetual twilight. Anything could come out of there at the camp, and the weak fence wouldn't stop it. The Cordans knew that, but Moon still felt it gave a false sense of security that made everyone careless, especially the children. But the fence had sentimental value, reminding the Cordans of the walled towns in their old land in Kiaspur, before it had been taken by the Fell. Plans to take it down and use it for firewood always came to nothing.

After more shaking, something moved just inside the gate, and Hac's dull voice said, "Me who?" Then Hac laughed, a low noise that ended in a gurgling cough.

Moon looked away, letting out an exasperated breath. The fence wasn't made any more effective by letting the most mentally deficient member of the group guard it, but there weren't a lot of jobs Hac could do.

Sunset beyond the distant mountains cast the lush, forested hills with orange and yellow light. It also framed a sky-island, floating sedately high in the air over the far end of the valley. It had been drifting into the area for some days, traveling with the vagaries of the wind. Heavy vegetation overflowed the island's surface and hung down the sides. Moon could just make out the shapes of ruined towers and walls nearly covered by encroaching greenery. A flock of birds with long white bodies, each big enough to seize a grazing herdbeast in its talons, flew past it, and Moon felt a surge of pure envy. Tonight, he promised himself. It's been long enough.

But for now he had to get into the damn camp. He tried to make his voice flat and not betray his irritation. Showing Hac you were annoyed just made him worse. "The meat's spoiling, Hac."

Hac laughed again, coughed again, and finally unlatched the gate.

Moon hauled the bird inside. Hac crouched on the ground beside the fence, watching him with malicious glee. Hac looked like a typical Cordan: short and stocky, with pale gray-green skin and dull green hair. Most Cordans had patches of small glittering scales on their faces or arms, legacy of an alliance with a sea realm sometime in the history of their dead empire. On some of the others, especially the young, the effect was like glittering skin-jewelry. On Hac, it just looked slimy.

Hac, who held a similar opinion of Moon, said, "Hello, ugly."

A few other outsiders lived with the Cordans, but Moon tended to stand out. A good head taller than most of them, he was lean and rawboned where they were heavyset. He had dark bronze skin that never burned no matter how bright the sun, dark hair. The only thing green about him was his eyes.

"Keep up the good work, Hac," Moon said, and resisted the urge to kick Hac in the head as he carried the carcass past.

Tents were scattered across the compound, conical structures made of woven cable-rushes, dried and pressed and faintly sweet-smelling. They stretched down to the greenroot plantings at the edge of the broad river bed. At the moment, most of the inhabitants were gathered around the common area in the camp's center, portioning out the meat the hunters had brought back. People down at the river washed and filled big clay water jars. A few women worked at the cooking fires outside the tents. As Moon walked up the packed dirt path toward the central area, an excited band of children greeted him, hurrying along beside him and staring curiously at the vargit. Their enthusiastic welcome went a long way to make up for Hac.

The elders and other hunters all sat around on straw mats in front of the elders' tent, and some of the women and older kids were busy cutting and wrapping the kills brought back earlier. Moon dropped the vargit carcass on the muddy straw mat with the others, and set aside the bow and quiver of arrows he hadn't used. He had gotten very good at dressing his game in such a way that it was impossible to tell exactly how it had been killed. Dargan the headman leaned forward to look at it and nodded approval. "You had a good day after all, then. When you were late, we worried."

"I had to track them down the valley. It just took a little longer than I thought." Moon sat on his heels at the edge of the mat, stifling a yawn. He was still full from his first kill, which had been a much bigger vargit. Most of his time had gone to finding a more medium-sized one that he could carry back without help. But the novelty of coming home to people who worried that something might have happened to him had never paled.

Ildras, the chief hunter, gave him a friendly nod. "We never saw you, and thought perhaps you'd gone toward the west."

Moon made a mental note to make certain he crossed paths with Ildras' group tomorrow, and to make certain it happened more frequently from now on. He was comfortable here, and it was making him a little careless. He knew from long experience that elaborate lies were a bad idea, so he just said, "I didn't see anybody either."

Dargan waved for one of the boys to come over to cut up Moon's kill. Dargan and the other male elders kept track of all the provisions, portioning them out to the rest of the camp. It made sense, but the way they did it had always bothered Moon. He thought the others might resent it sometimes, but it was hard to tell since nobody talked about it.

Then Ildras nudged Dargan and said, "Tell him the news."

"Oh, the news." Dargan's expression turned briefly sardonic. He told Moon, "The Fell have come to the valley."

Moon stared. But Ildras's expression was wry, and the others looked, variously, amused, bored, and annoyed. Two of the boys skinning a herdbeast carcass collapsed into muffled giggling and were shushed by one of the women. Moon decided this was one of those times when he just didn't understand the Cordans' sense of humor. He discarded the first few responses that occurred to him and went with, "Why do you say that?"

Dargan nodded toward another elder. "Tacras saw it."

Tacras, whose eyes were too wide in a way that made him look a little crazy, nodded. "One of the harbingers, a big one."

Moon bit his lip to control his expression and tried to look thoughtful. Obviously the group had decided to humor Tacras. The creatures the Cordans knew as harbingers were actually called major kethel, the largest of all Fell. If one had been near the camp, Moon would have scented it. It would be in the air, in the river water. The things gave off an unbelievable stench. But he couldn't exactly tell the Cordans that. Also, if Tacras had been close enough to see a major kethel, it would have eaten him. "Where?"

Tacras pointed off to the west. "From the cliff on the edge of the forest, where it looks down into the gorge."

"Did it speak to you?" Vardin asked in wide-eyed mockery.

"Vardin," Dargan said in reproof, but it was a little too late.

Tacras glared. "You disrespect your elder!" He shoved to his feet. "Be fools then. I know what I saw."

He stamped away, off between the tents, and everybody sighed. Ildras reached over and gave Vardin a shove on the shoulder, apparently as punishment. Moon kept his mouth shut and did not wince in annoyance. They had all been making fun of the old man anyway. Vardin had just brought it out in the open. If Dargan hadn't wanted that to happen, he shouldn't have made his own derision so clear.

"He's crazy," Kavath said, sounding sour and worried as he watched Tacras walk away. He was another outsider, though he had been here much longer than Moon. He had shiny pale blue skin, a long narrow face, and a crest of gray feathers down the middle of his skull. "He's going to cause a panic."

The Cordans all just shrugged, looking unlikely to panic. Dargan added, "Everyone knows he's a little touched. They won't listen. But do not contradict him. It's disrespectful to his age." With the air of being done with the whole subject, he turned to Moon and said, "Now tell us if you saw any bando-hoppers down in that end of the valley. I think it must be the season for them soon."



When Moon had first found the Cordans and been accepted into their group, Dargan had presented him with a tent, and with Selis and Ilane. Moon had been very much looking forward to the tent; in fact, it was the whole reason he had wanted to join the Cordans in the first place. He had been traveling alone a long time at that point, and the idea of sleeping warm and dry, without having to worry about something coming along and eating him, had been too attractive to pass up. The reality was every bit as good as he had hoped. Selis and Ilane, however, had taken some getting used to.

It was twilight by the time he reached his tent, shadows gathering. He met Selis coming out with the waterskin.

"You took long enough," she snapped, and snatched the packet of meat away.

"Tell that to Dargan," Moon snapped back. She knew damn well that he had to wait for the elders to divide up the kill, but he had given up trying to reason with her about three days after being accepted into the Cordan camp. He took the waterskin away from her and went to fill it at the troughs.

When the Cordans had fled their last town, many of their young men had been killed covering their escape. It had left them with a surplus of young women. The Cordans believed the women needed men to provide for them; Moon had no idea why. He knew that Selis in particular was perfectly capable of chasing down any number of grasseaters and beating them to death with a club, so he didn't see why she couldn't hunt for herself. But it was the way the Cordans lived, and he wasn't going to argue. And he liked Ilane.

By the time he got back, Selis had the meat laid out on a flat stone and was cutting it up into portions. Ilane sat on a mat beside the fire.

Ilane was beautiful, though the other Cordans didn't think so, and their lack of regard had made her quiet and timid. She was too tall, too slender, with a pearlescent quality to her pale green skin. Moon had tried to tell her that in most of the places he had lived, she would be considered lovely, that it was just a matter of perception. But he wasn't certain he had ever been able to make her understand. Selis looked more typically Cordan, stocky and strong, with iridescent patches on her cheeks and forehead. He wasn't sure why she had been stuck with him, but suspected her personality had a lot to do with it.

Moon stowed his weapons in the tent and dropped down onto the mat next to Ilane. She was peeling a greenroot, the big, melon-like staple that the Cordans ate with everything, fried, mashed, or raw. After the kill earlier in the day, Moon wasn't hungry and wouldn't be for the next day or so. But not eating in front of other people was one of the first mistakes he had ever made, and he didn't intend to make it again. It had gotten him chased out of the nice silk-weaving town of Var-tilth, and the memory still stung.

"Moon." Ilane's voice was always quiet, but this time it held a note of painful hesitancy. "Do you think the Fell are here?"

Tacras' story had, of course, spread all over camp. Moon knew he should say what Dargan had said, but looking at Ilane, her pale green skin ashy-gray with fear, he just couldn't. "No. I've been hunting in the open all up and down the valley and I haven't seen anything. Neither have the others."

As she wrapped the meat up in bandan leaves to put into the coals, Selis said, "So Tacras lies because he wants to frighten us to death for his amusement."

Moon pretended to consider it. "Probably not. Not everybody's like you."

She gave him a sour grimace. Forced into actually asking a question, she said, "Then what?"

Ilane was having trouble getting the knife through the tough greenroot skin. Moon took it and sawed the hard ends off. He squinted at Selis. "Do you know how many things there are that fly besides Fell?"

Selis' jaw set. She did know, but she didn't want to admit it. All the Cordans knew that further up in the hills, there were birds, flighted and not, that were nearly as large as the small Fell, and nearly as dangerous.

"So Tacras was wrong?" Ilane said, her perfect brow creased in a frown.

Moon finished stripping the greenroot's outer husk and started to slice it. "He saw it with the sun in his eyes, and made a mistake."

"We should all be so lucky," Selis said, but Moon knew enough Selis-speak to hear it as a grudging admission that he was probably right.

He hoped he was right. Investigating it gave him yet another reason to go out tonight.

"You're cutting the greenroot wrong," Selis snapped.



Moon waited until late into the night, lying on his back and staring at the shadows on the tent's curved supports, listening to the camp go gradually quiet around him. The air was close and damp, and it seemed to take a long time for everyone to settle down. It would never go silent; there were too many people. But it had been a while since he had heard a voice nearby, or the low wail of a fretful baby.

Moon slid away from Ilane. She stirred, making a sleepy sound of inquiry. He whispered, "It's too warm. I'm going to take a walk, maybe sleep outside."

She hummed under her breath and rolled over. Moon eased to his feet, found his shirt, and made a wide circle around Selis' pallet as he slipped outside.

He and Ilane had been sleeping together since the second month Moon had been here. She had made the first overtures to him before that, apparently, but Moon hadn't understood what she wanted. Ilane hadn't understood what she had interpreted as his refusal, either, and had been very unhappy. Moon had had no idea what was going on and had seriously considered a strategic retreat--right out of the camp--until one night Selis had thrown her hands in the air in frustration and explained to him what Ilane wanted.

Ilane was sweet-tempered, but her lack of understanding was sometimes frustrating. Several days ago, she had said she wanted to have a baby, and Moon had had to tell her he didn't think it was possible. That had been a hard conversation. She had just stared tragically at him, her eyes huge, as if this was something he was deliberately withholding. "We're too different," he told her, feeling helpless. "I'm not a Cordan." He thought that if there had been any chance of it, it would have happened already.

Ilane blinked and her silver brows drew together. "You want Selis instead."

Selis, sitting across the fire and mending the ripped sleeve of a shirt, shook her head in weary resignation. "Just give up," she told Moon.

Moon threw her a grim look and persisted, telling Ilane, "No, no, I don't think . . .I can't give you a baby. It just won't happen." He added hopefully, "You could have babies with somebody else and bring them to live with us." Now that he thought about it, it wasn't a bad idea. He knew he could bring in enough food for a larger group, even with the elders taking their share.

Ilane had just continued to stare. Selis had muttered to Moon, "You are so stupid."

He stepped outside. The air was cool compared to the close interior of the tent, with just enough movement to lift the damp a little. The full moon was bright, almost bright enough to see the groundling woman that supposedly lived in it. The sky was crowded with stars; it was hard not to just leap into the air.

Moon stood beside the tent for a moment, pretending to stretch. Across the width of the camp, two sentries stood at the gate with torches, but the cooking fires were out or banked. He carried Ilane's scent on his skin, and the whole camp smelled of Cordan, so it was tricky to sense anyone nearby. But he wasn't going to get a better chance.

His bare feet were silent on the packed ground between the tents. He didn't see anyone else, but he could hear deep breathing, the occasional sleepy mutter as he passed. He stopped at the latrine ditches, pissed into one, then wandered off, tying the drawstring on his pants again.

He went toward the far end of the camp, where the fence ran down toward edge of the river channel. Made of bundles of saplings roped together, the fence wasn't very secure at the best of times but here, where it cut across the slope of the bank, there were gaps under the bottom. Moon dropped to the ground and wiggled under one.

Once through the fence, he loped across the field and reached the fringe of the jungle. There, in the deep shadow, he shifted.

Moon didn't know what he was, just that he could do this. His body got taller, his shoulders broader. He was stronger but much lighter, as if his bones weren't made of the same stuff anymore. His skin hardened, darkened, grew an armor of little scales, overlapping almost like solid feathers. In this shadow it made him nearly invisible; in bright sunlight the scales would be black with an under sheen of bronze. He grew retractable claws on his hands and feet and a long flexible tail, good for hanging upside down off tree branches. He also had a mane of flexible frills and spines around his head, running down to his lower back; in a fight they could be flared out into rigid spikes to protect his head and back.

Now he unfolded his wings and leapt into the air, hard flaps carrying him higher and higher until he caught the wind.

It was cooler up here, the wind hard and strong. He did a long sweep of the valley first, just in case Tacras was right, but didn't see or catch scent of anything unusual. Past the jungle, the broad grassy river plain was empty except for the giant lumpy forms of the big armored grasseaters that the Cordans called kras. He flew up into the hills, passing over narrow gorges and dozens of small waterfalls. The wind was rougher here, and he controlled his wing curvature with delicate movements, playing the air along his joints and scales.
There was no sign of Fell, no strange groundling tribes, nothing the Cordans needed to worry about.

Moon turned back toward the sky-island where it floated in isolation over the plain. He pushed himself higher until he was well above it.

He circled over the island. Its shape was irregular, with jagged edges. It had been hard to tell how large it was from the ground; from above he could see it was barely four hundred paces across, smaller than the Cordans' camp. It was covered with vegetation, trees with narrow trunks winding up into spirals, heavy falls of vines and white, night-blooming flowers. But he could still make out the round shape of a tower, and a building that was a series of stacked squares of vine-covered stone. There were broken sections of walls, choked pools and fountains.

He spotted a balcony jutting out of curtains of foliage and dropped down toward it. He landed lightly on the railing; his claws gripped the pocked stone. Folding his wings, he stepped down onto the cracked tiles, parting the vines to find the door. It was oblong and narrow, and he shifted back to groundling form to step through.

Fragments of moonlight fell through the cracks and the heavy shrouds of vegetation. The room smelled strongly of earth and must. Moon sneezed, then picked his way carefully forward.

He still wore his clothes; it was a little magic, to make the shift and take any loose fabric attached to his body with him, but it had taken practice to be able to do it. His mother had taught him, the way she had taught him to fly. He had never gotten the trick of shifting with boots on. His feet had a heavy layer of extra skin on the sole, thick as scar tissue, so he usually went barefoot.

When he was a boy, after being hounded out of yet another settlement, Moon had tried to make his groundling form look more like theirs, hoping it would make him fit in better. His mother had never mentioned that ability, but he thought it was worth a try. He might as well have tried to turn himself into a rock or a tree, and after a time he had concluded that the magic just didn't work that way. There was this him, and the scaly winged version, and that was it.

He made his way to the door, startling a little flock of flighted lizards, all brilliant greens and blues. They fluttered away, hissing harmlessly, and he stepped into the next room. The ceiling was several levels above him, and the room had tall doorways and windows that looked into an atrium shaped like a six-pointed star. Shafts of moonlight pierced the darkness, illuminating a mosaic tile floor strewn with debris and a shallow pool filled with bright blue flowers. Doorways led off into more shadowed spaces.

He made his way from one room to another, the tile gritty under his feet. He poked at broken fragments of pottery and glass, pushed vines away from faded wall murals. It was hard to tell in this bad light, but the people in the murals seemed to be tall and willowy, with long flowing hair and little bundles of tentacles where their mouths should be. There was something to do with a sea realm, but he couldn't tell if it was a battle, an alliance, or just a myth.

Moon had been very young when his mother and siblings had been killed, and she had never told him where they had come from. For a long time he had searched sky-islands looking for some trace of his own people. The islands flew; it stood to reason that the inhabitants might be shifters who could fly. But he had never found anything, and now he just explored because it gave him something to do.

When Moon had first joined the Cordans, he hadn't thought of staying this long. He had lived with other people he had liked -- most recently the Jandin, who had lived in cliff caves above a waterfall, and the Hassi, with their wooden city high in the air atop a thick mat of link-trees -- but something always happened. The Fell came or someone got suspicious of him and he had to move on. He had never lived with anyone long enough to truly trust them, to tell them what he was. But living alone, even with the freedom to shift whenever he felt like it or needed to, wore on him. It seemed pointless and, worst of all, it was lonely. Lost in thought, he said, "You're never satisfied," not realizing he had spoken aloud until the words dropped into the stillness.

In the next room, he found a filigreed metal cabinet built into the wall stuffed with books. Digging down through a layer of moldy, disintegrating lumps of paper and leather, he found some still intact. These were folded into neat packets and made of thin, stiff sheets of either very supple metal or thin reptile hide. Moon carried a pile back out to the atrium, sat on the gritty tile in a patch of moonlight near the flower-filled fountain, and tried to read.

The text was similar to Altanic, which was a common language in the Three Worlds, though this version was different enough that Moon couldn't get much sense out of it. But there were drawings with delicate colors, pictures of the people with the tentacle faces. They rode strange horned beasts like bando-hoppers and flew in carriages built on the backs of giant birds.

It was so absorbing, he didn't realize he was being watched until he happened to glance up.

He must have heard something, smelled something, or just sensed another living presence. He looked up the open shaft of the atrium, noticing broad balconies, easy pathways to other interior rooms if he shifted and used his claws to climb to them. Then he found a shadow on one of the balconies, a shadow in the wrong place.

At first he tried to see it as a statue, it was so still. Then moonlight caught the gleam of scales on sinuous limbs, claws gripping the stone railing, the curve of a wing ending in a pointed tip.

Moon's breath caught and his blood froze. He thought, You idiot. Then he flung himself through the nearest doorway.

He scrambled back through the debris, then crouched, listening. He heard the creature move, a rasp of scales as it uncoiled, clink of claws on stone. He thought it was too big to come further in, that it would go up, and out. Moon bolted back through the inner rooms.

He couldn't afford to be trapped in here; he had one chance to get past that thing and he had to take it now. He skidded around the corner, his bare feet slipping on mossy tile, and scrabbled up a pile of broken stone to a vine-draped window. He jumped through, already shifting.

He felt movement in the air before he saw the claws reaching for him. Moon jerked away with a sharp twist that wrenched his back. He swiped at the dark shape suddenly right on top of him. He swung wildly, catching it a glancing blow across the face, feeling his claws catch on tough scales. It pulled back, big wings knocking tiles and fragments of greenery off the sides of the ruin.

Moon tumbled in midair toward the cracked pavement below, caught himself on a ledge around a half-destroyed tower, and clung to the stone. He looked back just as the creature flapped upward in a spray of rock chips and dead leaves. Oh, it's big, Moon thought, his heart pounding. Not big enough to eat him in one bite, maybe. But it was three times his size if not more. Moon's wingspan was close to twenty paces, fully extended; this creature's span was more than forty. So two bites, maybe three. And it wasn't an animal. It had known it was looking at a shifter. It had expected him to fly out of an upper window, not walk or climb out.

As the creature flapped powerful wings, positioning itself to dive at him, Moon shoved off from the tower, sending himself out and down, over the edge of the sky-island. He angled his wings, diving in close past the jagged rock and the waterfalls of heavy greenery. He landed on a spur of rock and clung like a lizard. Digging his claws in, he climbed down and under, folding and tucking his wings and tail in, making himself as small as possible.

He kept his breath slow and shallow, hoping he didn't have to cling here too long. His claws were meant for fastening onto wooden branches, not rock, and this was already starting to hurt. He couldn't hear the creature, but he wasn't surprised when a great dark shape dove past. It circled below the island, one slow circuit to try to spot Moon. He hoped it was looking down toward the jungle.

It made another circuit, then headed upward to pass back over the top of the island.

Here goes, Moon thought. He aimed himself for the deep part of the river, flexed his claws, and let go.

Tilting his wings for the least wind resistance, he fell like a rock. The air rushed past him and he counted heartbeats, gauging how long it would take the creature to make a slow sweep over the sky-island. Then he rolled over to look up, just in time to see the dark shape appear at the western end of the island.

It saw him instantly. It didn't howl with rage, it just dove for him.

Uh oh. Moon twisted back around, arrowing straight down. The rapidly approaching ground was a green blur, broken by the dark expanse of the river.

At the last instant, he cupped his wings and slowed just enough before he slammed into the river. He plunged deep into the cold water, down until he scraped the bottom. Folding his wings in tightly, he kicked to stay below the surface, the rushing current carrying him along.

Moon wasn't as fast in the water as he was in the air, but he was faster in this form than as a groundling. Swimming close to the sandy bottom, Moon stayed under until his lungs were about to burst, then headed for the bank and the thick stands of reeds. The reeds were topped with large, wheel-shaped fronds that made a good screen from above. Moon let his face break the surface, just enough to get a breath. The fronds made a good screen from below, too, but after a few moments, Moon saw the creature make a lazy circle high above the river. He had been hoping it would slam into the bank and snap its neck, but no such luck. But he knew the water would keep it from following his scent. It probably knew that, too. He filled his lungs, sunk down again, and kicked off.

He surfaced twice more, and the second time, he couldn't spot the creature. Still careful, he stayed under, following the river all the way back to camp. Once there, he shifted back to groundling underwater, then swam toward the shore, until it was shallow enough that he could walk up the sloping bank.

He sat down on the sparse grass above the water, his clothes dripping, letting his breath out in a long sigh. His back and shoulder were sore, pain carried over from nearly twisting himself in half to avoid the creature's first grab. He still hadn't gotten a good look at it. This is going to be a problem. And he and all the Cordans owed Tacras an apology.

But that thing wasn't Fell -- he knew that from its lack of scent. It might live on the island, drifting with it, and just hadn't needed to hunt yet. Or it might just be passing through, and had used the island as a place to shelter and sleep. He thought it must have been sleeping when he had reached the ruins, or he would have heard it moving around. Idiot, you could have been dinner. If it had snatched him in his groundling form, it could have snapped him in half before he had a chance to shift.

If it attacked the camp, what it was or why it had come here wouldn't matter much; it could still kill most of the Cordans before they had a chance to take cover in the jungle. Moon was going to have to warn them.

Except he couldn't exactly run into the center of the camp yelling an alarm. If he said he had seen it tonight, while sitting out by the river . . . No, he could hear that the camp wasn't as quiet as it had been when he left. It was a warm night, and there must be others sitting or sleeping outside, who would say they hadn't seen anything. He would look as unreliable as Tacras and no one would listen to him. He would have to wait until tomorrow.

When he went hunting, he would walk down the valley toward the sky-island. That would give him a chance to scout the island by air again, to see if the creature was still there, if it would come out in the daylight. Cautiously scout, he reminded himself. He didn't want to get eaten before he could warn the Cordans. But when he told them he had seen the same creature as Tacras at that end of the valley, they would have to take it seriously.

Moon pushed wearily to his feet and wrung out the front of his shirt. As he started back up the long slope of the bank, he considered the other problem: what the Cordans were going to do once they were warned.

Moon didn't have any answers for that one. The creature would either drive them out of the valley or it wouldn't. He knew he couldn't take it in an open fight. But if he could think of a way to trap it . . . He had killed a few of the smaller major kethel that way, but they weren't exactly the most clever fighters; he had the feeling this thing . . .was different.

Moon took the long way back through the camp, which let him pass the fewest number of tents. Still thinking about traps and tactics, he came in sight of his tent and halted abruptly. The banked fire had been stirred up, and the coals were glowing. In its light he could see a figure sitting in front of the doorway. A heartbeat later he recognized Ilane, and relaxed.

He walked up to the tent, dropping down to sit next to her on the straw mat. "Sorry I woke you. I went down to the river." That part was obvious; he was still dripping.

She shook her head. "I couldn't sleep." It was too dark to read her expression, but she sounded the same as she always did. She wore a light shift, and used a fold of her skirt to lift a small kettle off the fire. "I'm making a tisane. Do you want some?"

He didn't; the Cordans supposedly used herbs to make it but it just tasted like water reed to him. But it was habit to accept any food offered to him, just to look normal. And Ilane hardly ever cooked; he felt he owed it to Selis to encourage it when she did.

She poured the steaming water into a red-glazed ceramic pot that belonged to Selis and handed Moon a cup.

Selis poked her head out of the tent, her hair tumbled around her face. "What are you--" She saw Moon and swore, then added belatedly, "Oh, it's you."

"Do you want a cup of tisane?" Ilane asked, unperturbed.

"No, I want to sleep," Selis said pointedly, and vanished back into the tent.

The tisane tasted more reedy than usual, but Moon sat and drank it with Ilane. He listened to her detail the love affairs of nearly everybody else in camp while he nodded at the right moments and mostly thought about what he was going to say to Dargan tomorrow. Though he was a little surprised to hear that Kavath was sleeping with Selis' cousin Denira.

He didn't remember falling asleep.



end of chapter 1


Preorder: Barnes and Noble, Powell's, Mysterious Galaxy, Borders, Books-a-Million, Book Depository.com (free shipping worldwide), Book Depository.uk, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon.ca, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de. Also available directly from the publisher at Night Shade Books.


***

More cool stuff:

Judith Tarr/dancinghorse has posted the book trailer for her Caitlin Brennan YA fantasy House of the Star. Recommended for horse people, fantasy people, and book people.


arcaedia linked to this post by agent Rachelle Gardner: Rejection Isn't Fun For Us Either

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User thanate referenced to your post from and another thing... saying: [...] : Today looks to be just as lovely. Also, the new Martha Wells book is available for pre-order [...]

YAY!!!!!

And does it matter who we pre-order from?

YAY! I don't think it matters. There's only a few links now, but I'll keep updating the web site as I notice more places have added it.

Pre-order done! And I love that cover.

Thanks! :) He really did a fabulous job on the cover.

The awesome and the not awesome

User mahoni referenced to your post from The awesome and the not awesome saying: [...] haven't and this is your first, you are in for a treat. She has posted the first chapter at her LJ [...]

marvelous things to read

User jess_ka referenced to your post from marvelous things to read saying: [...] The Cloud Roads, is orderable. And she's kindly provided you with a taste, here [...]

*piteous cry*

When will the ebook be available?

The publisher's release date for the printed version is March. As far as I know, the publisher will put up the Amazon Kindle version a couple of weeks after that. But they should put up a version on the Baen webscription ebook site around March 1.

I'll post on my LJ and on my web site when I find out the ebook versions are available.

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