About This Book
A dark fantasy tale of aliens and tragedy that will leave you reeling: The Sundered by bestselling author, Ruthanne Reid.
Harry Iskinder knows the rules: Don’t touch the water, or it will pull you under….
You don’t go in the water. You don’t touch it. If you do, it will get you, drag you down, and you’re gone.
Harry Iskinder knows the rules: Don’t touch the water, or it will pull you under; conserve food, or you’ll run out at the worst time; use Sundered slaves gently, or they die too quickly to be worthwhile.
The Sundered create food. The Sundered create shelter. They’re also dying out. In a world lost to deadly flood that kills on contact, Harry thinks he knows the score, but when he claims the magnificent and powerful Sundered One named Aakesh, he quickly finds himself in deep and dangerous water.
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Excerpt from Chapter One
The world I know is flooded.
The water’s black. You don’t go in the water. You don’t touch it. If you do, it will get you, drag you down, and you’re gone. You’re only safe from the black water in boats or on land, at least if you’re a human. The Sundered can do anything they want in the water. Who knows why?
I believe the world wasn’t always this way—that once there was land that stretched forever and water that held no danger—but that doesn’t set me apart. What sets me apart, makes me different, is I believe it can go back to that.
“Hey, Harry!” Toddy, one of my younger Travelers, points at something. He straddles the black water, each boot on a different tuft, standing with the easy balance we all must learn or else we die. “There’s something over there!”
I hate the tufts—knobs of land sticking out of the water, covered with limp grass like dirty hair. If there are a lot of them, we have to carry the boats. “Coming! Hold on!” Balancing my skiff on my back, I hop toward him, nodding at my Travelers who move to other tufts so there’s room for me to leap past.
I don’t really give a damn what Toddy wants. Whatever he has to show me, it’s not the Hope, the reason I’m out here in this screwed-up place. But I’m young. I can fake interest.
The last space between us is water. I put the skiff in, untie the paddles, and skim toward him.
“There are eyes,” Toddy says, crouching now as I float near. “Over there, in the water. It’s a Sundered One, I’m sure of it.”
Sundered? Here? “That’s weird. We’re not near any cities or catching grounds.”
“Think he’s unclaimed? He must be!” Toddy whispers excitedly. “Can I claim him? If he’s unattached, I mean? Can I?”
“No.” Damn, I said it too sharply—there’s hurt in his eyes. “No,” I say again, more gently. “We don’t know what tier he is. What if he pulls a reversal on you?” I give myself points for not mentioning he flunked out of Sundered training.
Toddy nods, trying to be grown-up about this, but I’ve hurt him.
Later. I’ll fix it later. Now, I skim where he pointed.
I see more tufts. I see black water, still and dark as far as the horizon in all directions, swallowing my world. I see—there it is. Round eyes bulge out of the water, over a hint of skin that looks freakishly orange.
This thing isn’t even close to high-tier. I just feel it, the way I’d know what kind of pie it was by putting it in my mouth. The Sundered One realizes I’m staring at it seconds too late, and ducks under as if it thinks it can hide.
Why is it out here? Sundered only run wild in the southern tip of the world. I can feel it’s unclaimed—that slick-slime mind, ugly and incomplete, parts of its psyche frozen and alive but not really functional, not really there. It’s so low-tier there’s no point categorizing it.
Toddy might be able to handle it, but I already said no, and to go back on my word is to regress as a leader.
It’s free and unclaimed, and Sundered are worth money, so that means it’s mine.
I half-close my eyes, focus my will, and tighten my grip around that worn mind.
It reacts to me and tries to run away, but this one has been claimed before. It—his—mental spaces almost fit me, edges dulled, and it’s no effort at all to hold him tight. Into that mind, into those ruined Sundered thoughts, I plunge—and then I pull.
Pull with will and thought and purpose, like lifting a weakly struggling thing out of thick, sucking mud. The mind suddenly comes free as easily as lifting my own head, and I know he’s mine.
That was too easy. He won’t be worth much. “Come up and let me see you.”
He hears the words. Sundered have different ears than we do. Any vibrations seem to get through. He obeys and clambers onto the tufts.
He looks like a frog. An orange frog-man with bumps all over, a wide, flat mouth, and big googly eyes too far apart for a man’s but not wide enough for an animal’s. His spine curves so much he almost seems meant to go on all fours.
Toddy gasps, my Travelers paddle closer to see, but I don’t look at them right now. I’m fitting my brain to this little guy’s. “Ugly, aren’t you?”
He sort of ducks twice, acknowledging what I said with a humility so low it’s self-hate, and I realize he’s got suction-cups on each fingertip and webs between his fingers. Wow. Really low-tier, then.
“What’s your name, Sundered One?”
“Gorish,” he says.
Toddy tells the others how he spotted this one, so it’s sort of his even though it’s not. I want to find that endearing. I want to. I can’t. I’ve been out here too long. “Hello, Gorish. You know you’re mine now, right?”
“Oh, yes, master,” he says, doing that ducking thing again and again and again.
An unclaimed Sundered in the middle of nowhere. This is really weird.
My mind goes in all the usual directions. Why is he here? Could this have something to do with the Hope? Am I missing some important clue because I’m messing around with him instead of watching?
Maybe there’s no Hope involved, and he just pulled a reversal on his former owner and got away.
Yeah, right. Not this little guy. He couldn’t fight his way out of a wash bucket. Maybe his owner died. That would explain his condition.
I can’t question him now, anyway. If I do it wrong, if I look stupid in the eyes of my Travelers, I could lose them. “I need a place to make landfall, Gorish. You know anywhere around here like that?”
“Oooh, yes, master!” the orange guy says, and he starts to caper. He dives in and out of the water, back up onto the tufts, showing off or—no, he’s just playing because it’s something he knows how to do.
This guy’s head is shattered. Whoever claimed him last was rougher on his mind than I am. “Lead the way, Gorish. It’s getting dark, and we have to set up camp by then.”
So Gorish does.
I say nothing as we paddle, my single-person skiff cutting through the black water. This wasn’t the direction I was going. Gorish is leading us completely away from the tufts, further west than I’d planned.
I see some land, tiny islands, nothing but bald mounds of mud. What we need is a simple matter of size: What can handle eight people and all their gear, their tents, and a fire, but has a slope gentle enough that nobody rolls into the water in the middle of the night and vanishes forever?
Like all Sundered Ones, Gorish just knows where proper landfall is.
This one is almost flat, a mass of mess rising from the water. I whirl my hook-and-rope over my head and send it hard into the mud, anchoring myself so I can pull my boat to shore. My boots make sucking noises. This is one messy landfall.
Solid land is worth the mess, worth the relief of space between us and the water. Tents and voices rise, and our boats line the shore like silent guardians.
We’ll rest well tonight. We’re going to need it.
Buy Now $4.99 eBook / $17.99 Paperback / $19.99 Hardback / $21.99 Audiobook