Raider

Raider

Justine Davis

April 2017 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-761-8

The Coalition will do anything to stop him.

 
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The Coalition will do anything to stop him.

In the mist-shrouded world of Ziem, when the people are ready, a hero will rise . . .

A mysterious, battle-scarred warrior known only as the Raider wages war against the Coalition conquerors.

Drake Davorin, a tavern keeper and "first son” of Ziem, has turned away from the resistance to protect his orphaned siblings.

Kye Kalon is a woman caught between them both in her fight to save Ziem.


One man fights for their world. The other for family. One is the commander of the rag-tag group of fighters known as the Sentinels, and the other is the man she loved before the Coalition violently conquered their world.

But Drake Davorin keeps a deadly secret. One wrong decision could destroy all of Ziem . . . unless the Coalition destroys them first.

Author of more than sixty books (she sold her first ten in less than two years), Justine Dare Davis is a four-time winner of the coveted RWA RITA Award, and has been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books have appeared on national bestseller lists, including USA Today. She has been featured on CNN and taught at several national and international conferences and at the UCLA writer’s program.

Find out more at her website and blog at justinedavis.com, Facebook at JustineDareDavis, or Twitter @Justine_D_Davis.

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

THE MAN CALLED the Raider stared down from the mountain lookout at the convoy passing below. The Coalition flags fluttered in the mist. Their symbol was painted on the side of the transport vehicle—the entire galaxy encircled by a grid the Coalition called the connection, but he saw only as a snare. An air rover full of troopers to the front, another to the rear. Armed guards on top, likely more inside.

He knew the big vehicle was empty of cargo now, on the way to the landing zone. But he would have known anyway, by the way the troops acted, loose and a bit sloppy.

But once they had the cargo aboard, that would all change. The Coalition had not overtaken his world by being sloppy when it counted. They’d done it by being fast, efficient, and brutal. In their first attack, they had wiped out half of Zelos with the huge fusion cannon that now loomed over the city. They had followed up by slaughtering a quarter of the entire population of Ziem in the first month. And even on a planet that had had only a million people, that was a hideous number of deaths. Everyone still living in Zelos, or probably on the whole planet, had lost someone.

And the Raider planned to make the Coalition pay for every last grave.

"This is insane, you know.”

He didn’t look at his second in command, but kept his eyes on the oncoming column.

"Utterly,” he agreed.

"We’re outnumbered,” Brander Kalon pointed out.

"Three to one.”

"Those troopers up top have long guns.”

"Yes.”

"We don’t even know what they’re picking up.”

"There,” the Raider said, "I will disagree.”

Brander blinked. "You know what the cargo is?”

The Raider slipped a hand into his pocket, felt the folded parchment of the message he’d received this morning. "I do.”

He could almost feel Brander’s urge to ask how. But the man knew better by now. "Is it worth stealing?” he asked instead.

"Not to us.”

Brander frowned. "If it won’t even do us any good—”

"But it will do them great harm to lose it.”

There was a moment of silence as the convoy trundled on. Then, briskly, Brander said, "I’ll need some logistics.”

The Raider nodded. "Crates. Three of them. Metal. An arm’s-breadth square. And heavier than the cargo itself.”

Brander frowned. "Heavier?”

"Shielding. I strongly suggest we don’t drop any of them.”

He heard Brander’s quick intake of breath. "Fuel cells,” he breathed.

One corner of the Raider’s mouth, the corner beneath the tangle of gnarled scars that twisted the left side of his face, quirked.

"You were never slow, my friend.”

"That will make them very irritable, losing the fuel for their power generators.”

"They might,” the Raider said mildly, "even have to ration usage.”

"Then I say to them, ‘Welcome to what you’ve made of our world.’” Brander’s tone was bitter, and the Raider knew he was thinking of the hardships the people of Ziem had endured since the arrival of the booted, armored brutes of the Coalition.

He turned on his heel and strode down from the lookout, toward the band of fighters who were gathered at the base. They were known as the Sentinels, taking their name from the mountain that towered over the city of Zelos. The peak topped out above the mist that shrouded their world for three-quarters of the year. The name was a bit grand for the ragtag band, but the Raider measured stature not by looks but by courage, skill, and determination. The Sentinels had all of that, plus the stony toughness of their mountain stronghold.

He wanted no others at his back.

The wind caught the edge of his longcoat, swirled it. The mist was thin today, and he could feel the warmth as the occasional beam of light gleamed on his helmet, that bit of armor carefully crafted to conceal most of his face except the scars. He knew the image he projected, for he did it intentionally. It was against his nature, but he knew the value of symbols, the power of an icon for people to rally to.

"The mist is thin today,” he warned them, "so you will have to watch carefully for the signal.”

There were nods all around. Each detachment had at least one diviner with them, who was able to see even the slightest trace of glowmist. All Ziemites could see glowmist, the green froth that swirled when mist met heat—slight for a warm-blooded creature, brighter for fire or flare—but it was invisible to those not born here, those without the eyes that had adapted to this world.

The diviners’ glowmist vision was the most finely honed. And learning that Ziemites could see the glowmist but outworlders could not had been the key to their unexpected success—and survival—in the year since the rise of the Raider as a symbol to rally around. The Coalition and their minions had yet to understand why they were never able to sneak up on any Ziemite in close quarters.

Of course, this meant that they tended to blast indiscriminately from a distance, with their long guns and that damnable fusion cannon, but the Raider knew enough of them now to realize they likely would have done that anyway. The Coalition did not believe in finesse, only brute force.

"Are we ready?” he asked.

The cheer was loud. He wondered for an instant if it might be audible below, if perhaps some alert Coalition trooper at the tail end of the convoy had heard the sound and wondered what in hades anyone on Ziem had to cheer about.

You will see soon enough. We may have been foolish and naïve when you arrived, but Ziemites learn quickly.

He raised his left hand, which held the traditional curved Ziem saber, a symbol of their history and their world. In his right was the more practical and efficient blaster, a Coalition weapon they’d liberated on one of those annoyance raids.

The cheer went up again.

"Places,” he ordered.

They scattered, each to their assigned spot on the mountainside, following paths they’d known since childhood, and ready to strike their first real blow. Beyond ready, the Raider knew, and he could feel the eagerness hammering in his own chest as he returned to the lookout.

Until now, they had been limited to those minor strikes, harrying, harassing, occasionally winning a prize of weapons, even more precious ammunition or supplies, but not much more. But in that time they had learned, trained, and a peaceful people used to a quiet life on their misty world had become warriors. And now they would put what they had learned to the test. Deep in his gut, the Raider knew that if they failed this first test, it might well be the end of any rebellion on Ziem.

Whether that would be for good or ill, he didn’t think about. Nor did he think about what he himself would leave behind if he died in this idealistic effort. For all that mattered was that someone had to do something, and he could not live with himself if he did not try. And so he would, and if he died trying, so be it. Better to die free than live cowering in the muck waiting for the Coalition to decide you were of no further use to them.

It seemed forever yet too soon that the convoy, all snap and formation now, again came into view on the pass road. The Raider watched intently as they neared the choke point, that spot where the mountain jutted out and squeezed the road down to a single-lane passage. The first air rover came through, the troopers alert and watchful now, peering in all directions.

Then the transport.

"Now,” he ordered Brander.

His second raised his arm and fired the near silent flare down the mountain. It caught, swirled, and lit up the fog into that glowing green mist Ziemites knew well. The Sentinels, ready and waiting for that signal, charged.

The real war for Ziem had begun.


 

 

Chapter 2

Two years later...

"WHY DO YOU keep it there?”

Drake Davorin paused in his wiping of the taproom tables and glanced over at the dark-haired woman standing before the bar, not with a drink,but simply staring at the painting on the wall behind it.

Because it is your work, and for that reason alone I love it.

He said, "Once the lights come on, it draws the attention of patrons, who buy more brew while they stare at it.”

Kye Kalon snorted. He wondered if it was at what he’d said, or at her work being used in such a way. He used to be able to read her more easily, but everything had become more difficult lately. Of his own doing; you couldn’t push someone away as he had Kye and not pay a price. But he’d had no choice, not since the death of her father had sent her off to join the Raider. The more time she spent with him here, the bigger the chance she might put the pieces together. So,no matter how it pained him, no matter the baffled pain in her eyes, he couldn’t risk it.

But Eos, he missed her. He ached with missing her.

He shifted his gaze to the painting. She’d done it a year before Iolana Davorin had taken that death-plunge off the sheer face of Halfhead, when her beauty had been intact but her ravaged soul and the remnants of visions had burned in her eyes. Kye had captured it all, her skill even at fifteen amazing. It had been her first attempt at a portrait of such size, yet her hand had been steady and her eye true. A prodigy, his mother had once called her.

She had also warned him never to fall in love with her, for loving a person with a passion, as she had loved his father, was hades beyond hades.

The words had come too late. And now he knew the real truth of them. Because loving Kye had ended up bringing him even more pain.

"She was a beautiful woman,” Drake said, ignoring the ache in his leg as he walked over to stand as closely behind her as he dared. He couldn’t seem to stop himself, even knowing what he was risking. He was better at this pretense now—he’d had more practice at keeping the two facets of his life separate—but Kye was very, very smart. It was why he had to keep her away as much as he could.

That, and that it clawed at him to play the broken, tamed taproom keeper in front of her.

She looked at him. He allowed himself a moment of drinking in those rare, turquoise eyes, so different from his own more usual Ziem blue ones. "You speak of her as if she had no connection to you,” she said.

"In the end, she did not.” He shrugged, tearing his gaze away from those eyes, for fear of what she might see in his. "Her connection was to Ziem and her people. It was a physical thing to her; she felt what they felt, hurt when they hurt. And her heart and soul ever and always belonged to my father. It was why she could not go on without him.”

"So she abandoned you and your sister, and the twins. Yet you keep it here.”

And just that easily, she painted the picture of his tangled feelings. He had loved his mother, but hated what she’d done. But he had also loved, respected, and believed in his father and the cause he had died for, so much so that he understood his mother not wanting to go on after losing the likes of him, one of the greatest men ever born on Ziem. How could she have gone back to a normal life?

Not that her life had ever been normal. He doubted a woman such as his mother, with her oft-proven ability to sense coming events in a way that went beyond prescient into something mystical, had ever had a comfortable life with his pragmatic father. And yet, his father had always believed in her uncanny skill, and acted upon it. Had convinced others of her visions, and between them,they had achieved a standing on Ziem unmatched by any other couple. Hardly a normal life.

There’s no such thing as a normal life here anymore.

He fought down the bitterness. It was difficult, standing this close to the one woman who made him wonder if all the sacrifice was worth it. He wished his mother had told him what was to come. He might then have saved himself from this particular pain. But her foresight was something she never used for her children, saying she did not wish to influence their futures by foretelling them.

"Perhaps that’s why I keep it there,” he said aloud. "To remind me of the cost of truly loving someone.”

He expected some sharp rejoinder, of the kind she was rarely at a loss for. Nothing came. Instead, a wistful, almost sad expression came over her face.

"Yes,” she said softly. "The cost is high. Perhaps too high.”

She’d never sounded so sad, so grim before. "Kye—”

A hammering of a fist upon the front door cut off his words. And probably just as well, Drake thought as he hurried over, hiding his limp with an effort. He opened the small slider in the door at eye level. He managed not to wince; Jepson Kerrold.

"We are not yet open,” he said, pointing out that the hour was clearly posted about a foot from the man’s prominent nose.

"You shall open for me, Davorage.”

His voice was imperious as he used the old, insulting combination of Davorin and average that he thought so clever. Since he, obviously, was much above average. It mattered not that they had once been in school together, that Drake, in fact, had bested him regularly in schoolwork, and always in athletic pursuits. For Jepson Kerrold was of the East Town Kerrolds, as he had never ceased to remind them all, and as such, he was cut from a finer quality cloth. Just ask him.

And now he worked for the biggest traitor on Ziem, with the pretentious title of Liaison to the State. And was even more convinced he had a right to anything he wanted.

Drake heard a sound behind him, glanced back to see his sister Eirlys entering through the back door, carrying a box. He threw up a warning hand and she stopped in her tracks. Thankfully before she would be visible to Kerrold’s prying eyes through the slot. Now getting rid of the pest wasn’t just a preference, it was essential.

Sometimes he preferred the open evil of Jakel, the administrator’s chief enforcer—and torturer—to Kerrold’s unctuous mask. Except that Jakel also wanted Eirlys, and the brutal man would be much less polished about it, if only because he had loathed Drake since childhood.

The pounding came again. "Open the door.”

"If you insist,” Drake said blandly, knowing his adversary well, "but I warn you, we had a party of over-drunk Coalition troops in here until the early hours, and we have yet to finish cleaning up the vomit.”

Kerrold, ever fastidious, recoiled. He even stepped back from the door, as if he feared the vile waste would somehow seep out and envelop him.

If only.

"Perhaps if you returned this afternoon,” he suggested, putting as much unctuousness as he could into his voice, although it made him want to vomit in truth. "A bottle of our best lingberry would be waiting.”

"Your floor had best be unsoiled when I return,” Kerrold warned. "And I shall expect that bottle. Without charge,” he added, "for my inconvenience.”

"Of course,” Drake said, thinking even the expensive liquor a small price to pay for the sight of the man’s retreating back.

He pushed the slider closed over the door slot. He saw Kye looking at him assessingly. For once not condemningly. Oh, she tried to hide her disappointment in him, but he knew her too well. And it ate at him, in a way few things did anymore.

"Clever,” she said, with a flicking glance at Eirlys. She well knew that Kerrold had an eye for his sister, never mind her age.

The approval stabbed deep, telling him how much he had missed it from this fierce, bright flame of a woman. He had to look away before she read the unwanted emotion in his eyes. He could never, ever let her see the longing he felt. Not when she might realize she’d seen that same look in another set of eyes.

Eirlys walked toward him.

"I can deal with him, you know,” she said.

"I know, sister mine, but I would prefer not to have to break you out of the cell he would throw you in if you insulted him too harshly.”

"He’s loathsome.”

"Yes.”

"And repulsive.”

"That as well.”

"And weak.”

"I will have her, Davorage.”

"You will not.”

"And how are you going to stop me, taproom keeper?”

The exchange echoed in his head, and he had to force himself to calm. He needed to choose his words very carefully, for ordering his impulsive sister had little effect. He had sacrificed most of what control over her he had to secure the one, most crucial promise, that she not join the Raider.

And in but a few months she will be eighteen and beyond even that control.

He tried not to think about that. Or what he would do when the inevitable happened.

To his surprise—nay, shock—Kye spoke. "He is all of those things, Eirlys. Loathsome, repulsive, and weak. But he wants you. And he has the power of the Coalition behind him.”

Drake stared at Kye. He would never have expected to hear such understanding from her. Not since her father had been killed by that same Coalition.

"I will die before I let him put his filthy hands on me,” Eirlys declared.

"That,” Drake said quietly as he turned back to her, "is exactly what I’m afraid of.”

"You underestimate me.”

"Never. But what do you think would happen to you when you killed him?”

She appeared gratified that he said when, not if. "Better than the alternative.”

"Spoken like one who has never seen the inside of a Coalition jail—”

"They’d never find me. I know the mountains like no one else except the Raider.”

He knew this was true; Eirlys had roamed the mountains since childhood, even after the Coalition had conquered Ziem. He studied his sister for a long, silent moment. The ten years between them had never seemed more; he felt old and tired and worn, while she still bubbled with the energy and determination of youth.

He hated this, but he was going to have to mute her obstinacy with some blunt realism.

"You would have to escape, first.” At her frown, he clenched his jaw and went on. "Do you really think Kerrold would not call in Coalition troops to hold you? Perhaps even to strip you and hold you down while he raped you?”

She paled; clearly she had not thought of this. On the edge of his vision he saw Kye stir, but she said nothing nor made a move to stop him.

"I warn you he would not hesitate. He has done it before. He likes them young.”

"I—”

He went on relentlessly, because he had to. "And even if you succeed in killing him, will you savor your life when they collar you, and you are required to not only service any Coalition member who wants a moment’s amusement or pleasure, but to have your brain so twisted by their controls as to believe you want it?”

She was even paler now, shocked by his blunt words. He rarely spoke to her so coldly; he loved the bright spirit of her too much. But she must see this was not something to take lightly.

"He has set his sights on you, not just because you are young and beautiful, but because you are Torstan Davorin’s daughter. He and the Coalition fear that more than anything, that the people will rally to a Davorin if they are in the least encouraged.”

Her head came up then. "Yes. I am a daughter of Davorin.”

She said it proudly, fiercely, and his heart sank. She was more on fire than he’d realized, more aware of the power she held on Ziem by virtue of her name alone, and it would take very little to prod her into acting on that power. To offer herself up as that rallying point for the people.

He let the fear that thought engendered into his voice. "They would slaughter everyone, Eirlys. Everyone.”

She simply stared at him, silently. He did not like the look in her eyes, because he recognized it, having seen it often in the eyes of others. Perhaps not contempt, but on the verge.

"I only wish,” she said, her voice cold, "that my brother was a true son of Davorin.”

She turned on her heel and strode out, not even looking back. After a long moment in which he waited for Kye to agree, waited for the flash of pity that from her was so much harder to bear than even his sister’s hot anger, Kye turned and followed Eirlys out the back door.

Drake closed his eyes, denied the churning in his gut, fought down the part of him that so wanted to scream the truth at Kye.

He spent the next hour making the already clean floor as unsoiled as Kerrold had demanded.




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