While you’re waiting…[Novel excerpt]

Hello readers! Wanted to check in again today. I have a few things to report on BLOOD OF THE WINDMAKER, but I want to go through it again first before I make any decisions or commit to anything. So instead of an update on that front, I thought I would share a scene from my new work in progress, THE UNMAKING MACHINE. Let me know what you think in the comments!

The first gunshot sounded like a demon ricochet swirling around Claudya Kereyn’s head, behind her eyes, through her skull. Loud. Panicked. She gave a short screech and ducked behind the low garden wall she had been walking past, gray skirts flying, her basket—which should have been full of bread by now—askew. Peering over her fingertips, she tried to see where the gunman was. The city around her . . . kept on doing what it had been. Citizens walked through the market with baskets and the day’s shopping drooped over their arms, clearly oblivious to the din that was still thundering around Audy’s skull.

Where was the panic?

Why wasn’t anyone running?

She was beginning to think it was all a misunderstanding, that she had imagined the sound—that her ringing ears were simply a product of auditory hallucination—and had begun to stand when the second shot rang out, sending her into a crouch once again. The sound was much like the first—she frowned, feeling her heart beat faster. People were staring at her now, some whispering to their neighbors behind discreet hands, especially those of the café behind her, to which the garden wall belonged. They continued their afternoon meals as though nothing was happening, as though two gunshots hadn’t just resounded through the market of Heredo.

“What’s wrong with that girl?” she heard a man ask his partner behind her. Her ears grew hot.

It couldn’t be in her mind.

She looked around frantically, trying to convince herself to stand. Getting your dress dirty, her mother’s voice lamented in her mind. It seemed safe. No gunman. No mob of panicked citizens. No blood, or other horror. No—wait.

That man on the corner near the bakery was staring straight at her. His dark eyes narrowed slightly when he saw that she was watching, and then he was gone. Just . . . gone, around the building. Up the alley between the bakery and the building next to it.

Clearly, there was no danger. Audy stood, wiping sweaty fingers on her soiled dress, and with as much dignity as she could muster, walked back around the wall. With affected calm, she started toward the corner where she had seen the strange man. The guy had probably thought she was have some kind of attack and was just staring at her like the others had been. But . . . something about him had been different.

“Hey!”

The voice came from behind Audy. She kept walking. I need bread anyway. Might as well take a look around this wall while I’m at it.

“I said, hey!”

The exclamation came from closer, nearly at her elbow. She looked around. The woman standing there was strangely dressed, with a white shirt and black vest tucked into pants that were—of all colors—purple. Her thick black hair swung in tiny braids around her dark-skinned face.

Audy’s breath caught. The woman’s face was . . . beautiful.

She was also soaking wet.

“You saw him, didn’t you?”

It was a moment before Audy realized the woman was talking to her. Audy looked around, and she realized the woman’s eyes were fixated on her face and her face alone while everyone else just continued their days, like everything was normal.

Everything was normal, Audy reminded herself. She must have just been . . . hearing things.

“Saw who?” she said to the strange woman. The other’s dark eyes glinted sharply, accusing. The woman reached up and proceeded to wring out a handful of braids, looking beyond Audy to where the man had disappeared around the corner.

“You saw him.” It was no longer a question.

“I . . .” This lady looked like she had just swum across Lake Shiniren.

The woman growled to cut her off, and Audy, startled, took a step back. “That man owes me a ship. Which way did he go?”

Owes her a ship? Well, that explained why she was so wet. Maybe. “Um . . .”

An exasperated sigh met this latest mumble—seriously, what was going on here?—and the woman brushed past Audy and began to march in the direction of the bakery.

Boom.

Another gunshot.

She couldn’t help the whimper that escaped her throat as she fled to the alley on the nearest side of the bakery. She pressed herself up against the stone wall, feeling her heart beating an erratic rhythm against her ribcage. Still, no one reacted. What in the name of Jahan was going on? Three shots in the span of two minutes, and no one was doing anything.

The woman—sopping wet as she was—spared a glance for Audy, huddled against the building. Then she shook her head, spraying droplets of water everywhere, and disappeared into the crowd.

Audy exhaled. This was fine. Everything was fine. She willed her heart to stop beating so hard. It’s in my head.

Looked like Ren had been right about the whole thing.

Bread. I need bread. She looked down at her empty basket. The soaked woman had already disappeared around the corner where the wild-eyed man had been. Forget about that. Bread.

Claudya pushed herself away from the wall, took a deep breath. Her mother had sent her down here to get items for dinner, and if she ran home empty-handed, she wouldn’t get off easily. Her mother had enough on her plate without worrying about whether or not Audy was going to do what she was told. She pushed the woman—and the gunshots—to the back of her mind. As well as she could for the time being, anyway.

She walked into the bakery, flashed a half-smile at the man behind the counter. A half-smile that probably looked beyond forced, but there was nothing more she could do. Pretend it didn’t happen, and maybe the memory will go away.

“Hi, Mister Medrell,” she greeted the baker.

He nodded to her, and she gave him her order. As he was gathering the dark, crusty loaves and placing them in her proffered basket, she stared down at her good black boots and wondered. I’ve lived in this city my whole life, she thought. And today is the first time something like this has happened. Could it have something to do with the decision she had made late last night?

Audy’s memory opened its jaws.

***

I have to do something. She lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to Ren’s wet, haggard coughs in the next room. It was her mother’s night to watch him. Her elder brother was not himself. He was wrong.

He had been this way for a year.

Something, her feverish mind screamed. She knew what she needed to do, but doing it was something else entirely. Leaving the city . . . Leaving Mother? I can’t.

She had exhausted the libraries in Heredo. Despite the city being one of the large trade capitals of Elará, she hadn’t found anything remotely related to his symptoms in any of those dusty books. There was really only one option left, if she wanted to figure out how to cure her brother. Her best friend.

Audy's home country, Elara.
Audy’s home country, Elara.
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