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Authors: Susan Cartwright

Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Dark Heroic Fantasy

WOLF DAWN: Science Fiction Thriller/ Romance (Forsaken Worlds)

BOOK: WOLF DAWN: Science Fiction Thriller/ Romance (Forsaken Worlds)
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Wolf Dawn
By
Susan Cartwright
Copyright 2011, 2012 by Susan Cartwright
Hotspur Publishing
Edited by David Bischoff and Christopher Lampton
Book design by Amy Gilbert
Cover art by Adam Paquette
ISBN: 978-0-9871885-0-2

No part of the publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. All rights reserved.

The Forsaken Worlds Series
By
Susan Cartwright
Book One: Wolf Dawn
Book Two: Wolf Revenge
Prologue

T
he air was icy, the wind a steady roar.
Assurance
had crashed well above the timberline, high in the mountains among jagged, rocky peaks and ridges. It was just past midday, but it was already dusky dark. Thick, low-lying cloud blocked any light or warmth from a feeble winter sun. In the few moments he spent outside the broken spaceship the boy found the sky of this alien world deep scarlet, while windblown flurries of crimson snow had pounded against his flesh like tiny, blood-red icicles.

Ash reached out with his mind, desperate.

There was no one at all close by.

He continued, seeking further, trembling. It was
so cold.

He brushed against something. Mental fingers sought to contact the unfamiliar intelligence. Was it even human? He had no idea.

Contact was sudden and startling.

Without a ripple, Ash’s consciousness gracefully slid into the unfamiliar form as though diving into a warm pool of water. A rush of relief flowed through him as he escaped his own cold and injured body. Instead of freezing temperatures and the pain of a broken arm, his empty belly burned with hunger. But also, in that instant of contact,
he could hear the snow fall
.

Ash’s mind registered this fact curiously, but accepted it.

A trace of something caused his nostrils to flare, a creature, warm, inviting … alive. The scent was twill; he knew the smell, the taste. His stomach muscles contracted in anticipation. A thrill of flowing adrenaline surged through him and Ash quivered at the thought of life — pulsing hot blood, fleshy tissue, oozing fat and muscle.

His nose twitched and his long thick tongue flicked out to lick his lips.

Ash’s new world came into focus.

His panting breath misted, fogged and swirled in the crisp, frosty air. Fascinated, Ash looked down and saw that his paws were wet as they moved through hulking drifts of blood-red snow. His crimson fleece steamed. In the bone-deep chill of an icy winter, Ash felt warm in the thick hide of this living fur coat. Comfortable and content, despite the burn of hunger, Ash looked out from within this foreign wolfish flesh and wondered where he was.

PART ONE
Prince Ashton Rynan Chayton
Events of his Thirteenth Year
1. Escape

Every world is a garden, and as the gardener of humanity I tend each one. Any impediment to my husbandry — father, mother, sister, brother, world, culture — all must be swept away. No child, no seed, no weed must be left to reproduce and return for vengeance. I’m a merciless gardener, Neopol, and you are my spade. There are no enemies in my garden. I destroy them all.

— High Command, private records, Lord John Andros

T
he day his life changed forever, Ash’s morning began like any other.

Icom woke him with an internal mental alarm as chilly crimson fingers of light touched the windowsill of his bedroom in Castle Delian. The Castle had been his ancestors’ Imperial home for more than three centuries, which was about how long it felt that he’d slept. Groggily, the young prince slipped out of bed. Ash’s bare feet were warm on the heated flooring as he dressed.

“Tynan?” Ash lightly slapped his thigh. “Here, boy.”

Tynan, his hunting wolfhound, bounded up from the foot of the bed and pushed his large bulk against him. Ash hugged and patted his friend, laughing out loud. The sound was muffled by the heavy drapes, thick carpets and ornate coffered high ceilings of his bedroom. Tynan’s rough rasping tongue thoroughly bathed his face before Ash could urge him back. The room smelled of warmth, slumber and his wolfhound’s silky musky coat. To Ash, Tynan’s scent was mildly reminiscent of fresh-mown grass.

“Let’s go,” Ash whispered.

Together, the young prince and his wolfhound moved quietly through the palace. Ash gripped Tynan’s thick black coat and pushed his fingers into the downy gray fur that lay beneath. They were an odd couple. Tynan was more massive than an actual wolf, and only two heads shorter than Ash. The prince was less than half his weight and smaller than an eight year old.

In the shadowy hallway Ash saw a tall thin figure moving in a slow stately walk, too far away to have noticed them yet.

“It’s Hen,” Ash whispered, as a thrill of excitement swept through him. “Hide!”

Abruptly they both dropped to the hardwood parquet and scuttled behind a convenient statue where they remained perfectly still. Henry, the prince’s gray-haired valet, walked past …

Ash ducked his head, grinning at his companion. Evading Henry gave Ash particular pleasure. Tynan’s eyes were bright — he also enjoyed this game. Ash’s nickname for his valet “Hen,” was not a shortened form of Henry, but as in “Mother Hen.”

Of all the palace staff, his personal valet mothered him the most. If Hen caught Ash sneaking out he would be forced to listen to a long anxious lecture about the frailty of his health, of his “inadequate apparel,” and the imperative need for him to keep “warm, and dry.” He would never be allowed into the “treacherous cold” of the morning air. Guarded and secretive, Ash had been successfully slipping out into the dark near-dawn for weeks.

Together the boy and dog continued moving, keeping low and out of sight. Watchful, they leaped across a corridor and slipped down the servant’s stairwell to the second level. The sharp fragrant smell of oranges gave Ash a moment’s warning — fresh squeezed juice. With instinctive accord they both slid into a narrow alcove, pressing against the wall as two maids walked by along the dimly lit corridor, each carrying a tray.

“The Queen seems distracted …”

“Who wouldn’t be with a government warship in orbit around Delian?”

The voices trailed off as Ash knocked his bony elbow against unforgiving stone. He winced. He had only minutes to get away before morning staff would cut off their escape. Tynan’s nails clicked softly as they snuck along the colonnade, past the golden domed gallery filled with family portraits. Dangerously exposed, they scooted rapidly down the double marble staircase, through the ground floor atrium and then darted out to freedom. Once outside, Ash moved in a semi-crouch along the castle wall, enjoying the steamy warmth of sol-slate while hiding from unwanted eyes. The man-made stone was created to store energy from the distant sun’s rays, then to slowly discharge its heat during the night. Now with the first ambient light of daybreak the stone released the last of its captured warmth, mitigating the caustic morning chill.

Safely away, Ash increased his pace. He slipped into the Royal Botanical Park, choosing the soundless phosphorescent trail that glowed softly in the dim first morning light and avoiding the gravel paths of the summer promenade. His face tingled with cold. No one would be out at this hour except the head gardener. Maxwell was an angry, surly man, who smelled of honey-ginger beer and preferred his own company. He was the only palace servant that ignored him. That was what Ash liked most about the head gardener, a quality he valued above all others — Maxwell treated him with disdain and callous disregard. Ash recalled the man’s scowl, and smiled with real pleasure.

He paused for a moment on Foundation Hill and looked down toward the water. Thick tendrils of smoky gray mist obscured Queen’s Lake in the weak morning light. Earth colonists had created that vast ornamental watercourse, digging a decorative pattern not long after their arrival over three hundred years ago. It was said that the first king of Delian fashioned it as a gift for his queen, as she loved to gaze upon tranquil water. He smiled. His own queen mother enjoyed the same pastime.

Cold to the bone, Ash shivered as he and Tynan entered the Imperial Woodlands. Filling his lungs with icy damp air, he pulled his dog close and laughed out loud.
Free!

Ash started to run. Now he had two hours of blissful solitude to enjoy, away from his life of constant coddling and interference, as long as he returned to his bedroom before anyone noticed he’d gone.

After less than a minute of jogging, Ash panted breathlessly. Why was his body so pathetic? At thirteen he had the scrawny build of a malnourished eight-year-old. Prince or not, no girl would want him when he looked like a child. He greatly feared that he would remain small and sickly for the rest of his life. Exercise exhausted him, but he pushed himself. His teeth clenched with determination. He must make himself strong. But so far nothing he did seemed to make any difference.

The wolfhound suddenly stopped and raised a foot, indicating that something strange and important was nearby. Ash sensed what Tynan knew: that while there was no danger, a visitor was in their woods. But who would come at this hour? Ash raised an eyebrow in query, but Tynan just smiled his wide dog grin and bounded ahead. The prince tried to keep up, moving through the forest on an old game trail. Chest heaving, Ash stopped to catch his breath for a moment. He looked across the horizon just as a blazing sunrise dawned.

The prince stopped and stared, frozen. Such red!
Blood red.

His heart lurched as a thrill of urgency and danger shot through him. “
Red sky, souls fly
.” Ash licked his lips. Curiosity stilled his fear as he examined his unreasoned dread logically, as he had learned to do through the Disciplines. He had seen sunrise many times. Why should this one disturb him? So strange. Yet somehow this dawn blazed like an ominous portent.

Breathing heavily, he scanned the area, searching for any obvious or subtle menace. He sensed nothing. Whatever danger he felt, it was not here, not with him now. Unable to explain his unaccountable apprehension, he shrugged, shook off his fear, and decided to ignore it.

He jogged on, still panting, until he came upon the old woman. Ash arrived in time to witness Tynan’s most chivalrous greeting, something his dog gave only to those he considered noteworthy. Ash called it the “King’s Salute.” The wolfhound stretched his front legs forward, and bowed low with his head to the ground. Through canny canine intuition, Tynan knew this was the correct way to greet Mother Latnok.

A mental check on Icom confirmed her identity. Arguably the most powerful individual on Delian, the seer rarely gave audience. The white-haired crone sat cross-legged near the clearing, wearing a rough woven tunic. She rested under one of the few maple trees that grew in this pinewood forest. As he approached, an earthy smell filled Ash’s nostrils in a pleasant combination of bristle pine, musk and sandalwood incense. The old woman was thin and wrinkled and had the strangest eyes he had ever seen.

Mother Latnok said, “Welcome, young wolf.”

Ash bowed. Still trying to catch his breath, he made no reply. Hers was a strange greeting. Why had she said, “Welcome, young wolf?” Was the Seer talking to his dog?

She gestured. “Come, let me look at you.”

Ash knelt before her, his breath slowing.

The Seer placed both hands on his head, running them down his neck, over his shoulders and arms, and ending by taking hold of his hands.

The woman’s bony cold hands griped him and her nails bit into his palms. Ash inhaled sharply in surprise but didn’t move. He took the time in which she was studying him to study her in turn; his eyes moved down her form even as hers moved down his. Everyone knew Mother Latnok was sightless. He wondered why she hadn’t restored her vision, why she chose to remain blind. Most Delians preferred regular physical modification, so that they could continue to look and feel their best. And surely everyone would prefer to see, wouldn’t they? Her skin was dry, with deep crags and folds, her fingernails thick with vertical ridges.

“Yes,” she said. “I see.”

Ash looked up from where she held his hands and was caught by her empty eyes. Something in the woman’s intense, unnatural gaze unnerved him. She was sightless — so why did her eyes seem so penetrating? Frightened, feeling strangely naked and exposed, Ash couldn’t look away.

Tynan squirmed from where he rested on the dew-laden grass, and crawled closer to Ash, making an odd guttural noise. It was more a soft sympathetic whine than a growl.

The Seer glanced at the dog, an abrupt unspoken command. Her gaze silenced the animal instantly. “Yes, young wolfhound,” she said. “I know of your bond.” The woman turned to Ash, her expression intent. “Listen to what I tell you, young wolf.”

Ash hardly breathed. Why did she call him “young wolf”? The chill of Mother Latnok’s power flowed up through her hands and into his body in an ice cold brutal wave. He gasped. Warmth within him stirred and flashed to life — awakened by this menacing chill. Like walking from a sheltered space into a dry windstorm, heat rolled up and over him from somewhere within.

Is this my own power that burns inside me?

A strange thought came to Ash then, emptying his mind of everything else:
I have lost something … something important.
He waited, motionless, his attention fixed. Whatever it was, he wanted to find it.

The woods were silent in the presence of the Seer.

The air was empty and still … waiting.

The crone demanded, “Say this: ‘I am Ashton, Trueborn of Delian. I am not afraid.’”

Ash frowned and felt a familiar feeling of resistance set within him. The Seer’s words were a lie. In his sixteenth year he would grasp his power and once so gifted, only then would he be named Trueborn. Ash, who knew he was not yet Trueborn, stared at the Seer. He was a quiet, compliant child but he had one flaw acknowledged by all: he could be stubborn. Palace staff, aware of this, gained his compliance through guilt or duty. He obeyed his parents because he loved them. But he didn’t have to obey this old woman! Ash didn’t want to repeat her lie, but for some strange reason he couldn’t seem to refuse. He was unable to correct her … or defy her.
What is this power the Seer has over me?

Against his will, Ash swallowed and said in his thin, childish voice, “I am Ashton, Trueborn of Delian. I am not afraid.”

“Louder!” she commanded.

His voice quavered, “I am Ashton, Trueborn of Delian. I am not afraid.”

“Again! With conviction! From deep inside you … here!” She jabbed an index finger into his belly.

Ash gritted his teeth. The Seer obviously didn’t think he could say it well enough, and truthfully — he
was
afraid. This realization made him unexpectedly angry. Indignant, his heart thumped against his chest as his temper grew.

A strange sensation came to him then from somewhere inside. It clawed at him, wanting to get out: inherent courage, pride and … something else …
something inhuman
.

Trueborn! Inhuman!

He thought:
This is what I’ve lost. This is what I seek … this truth.

His fear fled, banished by this colossal power, a sudden overwhelming awareness from within. Ash straightened and breathed in deeply. He said in a loud, almost animal snarl, “I am Ashton, Trueborn of Delian. I am not afraid!” A number of birds roosting in the trees above, startled
en masse,
squawked and took flight. Golden leaves shaken loose by the birds’ departure drifted down, falling upon their heads and shoulders, covering them both with a woodland cloak.

Without warning, Mother Latnok’s power poured over him in a fiery wave of approval. Ash gasped from the sudden, searing onslaught. Hyperaware and oddly at ease, Ash didn’t move. It felt
so good …
and strangely familiar. This extraordinary scorching heat flowed through his body as naturally as his own blood. Why then was he disturbingly reminded of a funeral pyre?

BOOK: WOLF DAWN: Science Fiction Thriller/ Romance (Forsaken Worlds)
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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