Coming by October 6th!
(And possibly sooner… Possibly.)
A Reaping Day excerpt
Jarek Slater poked his armored head around the corner of the stone wall. “Was it something I said?” he called.
A burst of gunfire from the front of the large, ornate house was the only answer he received.
He jerked behind cover and pressed his back to the stone wall, smooth and cool through Fela’s tactile sensors.
“I’d hazard a guess that your comment about the nuclear fortitude of the Japanese people didn’t help matters, sir,” Al said, talking through Fela’s speakers rather than directly into Jarek’s ears so that their companions could hear as well. “And I told Rachel you’d call upon commencing negotiations.”
“Well thank you, Mr. Robot.”
“Al has a point,” Alaric said beside Jarek. “It wouldn’t kill you to hold the wise cracks for fifteen minutes.”
“You can’t prove that.” With a careful thought, Jarek slid his helmet’s faceplate open so the wiry old Resistance commander could see the pointed stare Jarek fixed on his straw-woven hat. “And besides, you’re not exactly alleviating racial tensions walking in here looking like a goddamn cowboy samurai.”
He didn’t miss the way Alaric’s eyes drifted to the long, lovely claw trails Zar’Golga had left across his face a couple weeks ago. He was almost getting used to it by now, though that wasn’t to say he was a fan.
“And further besides,” Jarek continued, pushing the thought aside and leaning past Alaric to address the raknoth behind him, “I thought we were supposed to be in the company of friends here, Stumpy.”
Al’Drogan—also known as the Red King by many and as Stumpy by Jarek—showed Jarek a frown under sandy blond hair and lightly glowing crimson eyes. “Because all raknoth must be such great friends, yes?”
Jarek willed his faceplate closed. It snapped shut with a decisive click. “Mayhaps mistakes were made,” he said as the helmet’s internal tactical display came alive.
The faceplate Pryce and Al had cobbled back together from the one Golga had wrecked with a far-too-close-for-comfort club swing wasn’t perfect, but it was far better than nothing.
Armored as it was, he hesitated to poke his head back out. The house guards had only fired a few warning shots, presumably because they weren’t looking to shoot the ever-living crap out of their master’s estate, but he wasn’t so sure the silence would last once they caught sight of him again.
“So do we have a volunteer to go first?” Jarek looked pointedly at Drogan. “I vote the bulletproof raknoth, personally.”
Drogan only crossed his arms.
“Dammit, Stumpy. My armor doesn’t regrow like your hide. You could walk straight up there and give those guys a good whack on the head—no problem.”
“Do not talk to me about whacking anything,” Drogan muttered.
Jarek smiled and reached up to pat the hilt of his beloved Big Whacker, the same sword he’d used to relieve Drogan of his hands a few weeks prior, before this entire alliance between human and raknoth had even been a twinkle in their wide, desperate eyes. Drogan’s hands had since grown back (and creepily fast at that), but he hadn’t stopped calling Drogan by the nickname Stumpy, if for no other reason than that it seemed to get under the raknoth’s skin. Or hide. Whatever.
“Fine,” Jarek said. “I’ll go do all the work. Again. Might I trouble you for some cover, Commander?”
Alaric drew his mismatched revolvers and nodded. Jarek drew one of his own pistols. It wouldn’t do to go killing potential allies, but a little suppressing fire might let him close on the gunmen without putting Fela through more abuse than need be. The poor exosuit had already been through too much lately. They all had.
He flicked a salute to Alaric and took off underneath the ornately carved arch that spanned the wall’s entryway.
Under his own power, Jarek was pretty fast. Aided by Fela’s strength and stability, “pretty fast” was upgraded to “impossibly fast”—at least for a human. At a full out sprint on nice flat ground, he could hit nearly sixty miles an hour.
The rock garden sand pit wasn’t exactly nice running terrain, and the Big Whacker strapped to his back, not to mention the people shooting at him, didn’t really promote textbook running form, but he was still well into the manicured yard before the first shots dinged off of his armor.
He fired back in their general direction. Behind, Alaric’s revolvers added their own voices to the chaos in the courtyard. There was a pained cry from the front porch as Jarek rounded a giant boulder at the corner of the house. A second cry followed, and the thunderous roar in the courtyard dimmed to a few traded shots every couple of seconds.
“I thought the plan was not to shoot our potential allies,” Al said in Jarek’s earpiece.
“Yeah. And then there’s the hat too. Guy’s clearly out of control.”
In truth, he would bet money (if anyone had cared about money anymore) Alaric had only winged a couple of the gunmen to give the rest of them pause.
“Do you have a plan, sir?”
Jarek holstered his pistol, looked up to the first of the giant house’s multiple slanted layers of roofing twenty feet above, and smiled. “Have you ever known me to be a man without a plan, Al?”
Before Al had time to point out the alarming frequency of times he’d led them into dangerous situations without a scrap of a plan, Jarek gathered himself and jumped. With Fela’s legs, he easily cleared the edge of the rooftop and landed in a light crouch.
From the vantage point, he could see Alaric’s revolvers poking around the wall to fire a couple of blind shots.
Jarek took off over the slanted, rust-colored rooftop. Several tiles cracked underfoot as he went. Al dropped four pins on his tactical display, designating the locations of the gunmen. Nearing the first two pins, Jarek went into a slide and allowed the roof’s slant to carry him over the edge.
As he shot out to open air, he grabbed the rooftop edge and swung back under the rooftop to land between the two men on the stone porch. Or at least he tried to.
Tiles shattered and slipped under his grip, and instead of reversing direction and swinging onto the porch, he ended up landing in the well-groomed bushes in front of it.
“Well executed, sir.”
He looked up from the tangle of greens and his retort died at the sight of the two repeater rifles trained at his face.
“Ah. Hey, fellas.”
For a brief moment, the two Japanese men only stared at him in surprise. Then they snapped to it, tensing to fire.
Jarek leapt up and swatted the barrels aside hard enough to tear the rifles from their owners’ grasps. He landed on the porch and sent one of the guards into the wall—no, through the wall, it turned out—with an open palm strike to the chest. Feeling an inkling of remorse at the damage, he caught the second guard’s wrist to keep him from drawing his sword, bopped him “lightly” atop the head, and dumped him off the porch and into the bushes. That would keep him dazed for a minute or—
“Behind you, sir.”
Jarek spun in time to deflect an incoming blade with a raised forearm. Said blade clapped thunder, and he realized it was a freaking shotgun bayonet he’d just narrowly avoided.
“Holy shit, dude.” He yanked the weapon free, swept the guard’s legs out with a kick, and planted a foot on the man’s chest before inspecting it more closely. “This is hardcore.”
Ahead, the last standing gunman snapped something at him in Japanese.
“He says, ‘Put down the weapon, steel demon,’” Al said. “Or something like that.”
“Great.” Jarek held the gun non-threateningly to his side. “Well tell him we came here to talk and that we wouldn’t have—”
Footsteps from inside. Rapid, padding thumps of—
“Incoming!” Al cried.
Jarek was already dropping the gun and throwing himself backward. Too late.
The wall to his left exploded outward with a tearing sound, and what felt like a small freight train plowed into his side. Only the freight train appeared to have arms, mint green ones that wrapped around his midsection as they flew off the porch and into the courtyard below.
Jarek grabbed at strong mint green fingers and waited until the moment they hit the ground to rip and roll.
In a contest of pure strength, Jarek would have had his work cut out for him, even with Fela’s strength. Breaking free in the wild tumble of their landing, on the other hand, was easy enough.
He reoriented himself as they bounced to a halt and drove a heel straight into Minty’s face as the raknoth scrambled to regain his feet.
The blow sent Minty tumbling backward and bought Jarek a moment to roll to his feet.
“I was wondering if the adults were gonna come out to play. We need to talk to your boss. Uh, unless you are the boss . . . Sorry, I’m not great with faces. Zar’Kole?”
Minty pulled himself to his feet and brushed some dirt from the shoulder of his dark kimono. “Zar’Kole is not here, human. And I have no interest in talking.”
“Ah.” He caught a glimpse over the raknoth’s shoulder of Alaric and Drogan entering the courtyard. “Is it alright if I call you Minty, then?”
Raknoth tended to fight as if they were invincible, which made sense seeing as they nearly were against most foes. This one was no different.
He lunged straight for Jarek’s throat.
Jarek caught the raknoth’s wrists and pivoted to drive an elbow into his temple. Minty ducked the blow, hooked an arm through Jarek’s armpit, and stepped forward into what felt like the setup of a raknoth-powered body slam.
Jarek lifted his legs, and Minty reflexively supported his weight long enough for Jarek to replant his feet on the raknoth’s thigh and torso and kick off as hard as he could. The grating shrieks of claws on armor made him flinch, but the kick landed him back on his own two feet with Minty staggering backward to catch his balance.
The raknoth gave a battle roar and was tensing to spring at him again when Drogan stepped in on his flank and drove him to the ground with a devastating punch to the head.
Jarek threw his fists to the air. “Stumpy with the KO!” He walked over, grabbed Drogan’s hand, and raised it in victory. Or tried to.
Drogan shook his hand free in clear irritation. “Do not touch me, Jarek Slater. And he is not even . . . KO-ed, as you say.”
In testament to Drogan’s statement, Minty was staring between the two of them, clearly perplexed by the fact that Drogan wasn’t tearing Jarek’s head off.
“Okay,” Jarek said. “So no KO. But wouldn’t you say he looks . . . Stumped?”
It was hard to tell what with the lack of pupils and the uniform red glow, but he was pretty sure Drogan rolled his eyes.
“What is wrong with you?” Minty asked, rubbing at the spot where Drogan had decked him.
Jarek shrugged. “Hey, even we get bored sometimes. Well, maybe I shouldn’t talk for Stumpy here, but I—”
“Jarek . . .”
The tone of Alaric’s voice made him turn immediately. Four more raknoth stood under the stone arch of the entryway, watching them with crimson eyes. Minty gave a satisfied, hissing chuckle behind them.
Alaric drifted casually away from the newcomers and toward Jarek and Drogan. “I think our six o’clock is here,” he muttered when he was close enough. Not that the raknoth wouldn’t hear it from across the courtyard anyway.
Jarek traded an uncertain look with Drogan then gave the four raknoth a wave.
“Hey there, fellas. I don’t suppose you’d have a minute to talk?”
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