Raging Star Page 1

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THE EASTERN DEFILE

WE RUN. THROUGH THE NIGHT. THE FIVE OF US. THROUGH the white night-time woods of New Eden. Lugh an Tommo an Ash an Creed an me. The five of us. We run.

Dry tree litter cushions the ground. Hushes the pound of our boots. Our breath puffs steam in the chill. We’re all sharp, tight with intent.

Lugh’s got the rope, slung around his chest. I carry the blastpack. Swaddled in cloth, tucked in my sack, along with my meagre gear.

Long-looker. Sleepkit. Flint. Waterskin. Salt twist. Cooktin. Shirt. Medicine bag. Knife in my boot sheath. Bolt shooter. Ammo belt. My whiteoak bow an a full quiver. An the heartstone hangs at my neck. Cool in the hollow of my throat. That’s pretty well it. It ain’t much.

Guerillas travel light. An fast. An that’s what we are. We’re the Free Hawks, reborn. Set to fight fer the right to live in New Eden. Good land an clean water’s scarce in this world. But it’s here in New Eden. An it’s the birthright of all. Weak an strong. Old an young. People an beasts an all that share the earth. Not jest him an his Chosen ones.

Him. DeMalo. The Pathfinder. His Chosen ones, the Stewards of the Earth. Pure young people. Strong an healthy. Breeders, workers fer his shiny new world. Forced to his service at gunpoint. To be flattered an wooed by him. Convinced an overcome an bent to his will. Kept in line by his Tonton militia.

Tonight we thread through the trees. We each map our own course. We leap over streams. Over rocks. Then a sudden slowdown to pick-pick safe passage through a gangle of overground roots. We cain’t afford no injury. No slips or twists or breaks.

We’re at the dreg edge of New Eden. In the far southeast corner, where it bleeds to the bleak of the Raze. This is dead-bone country. No settlement or farms. It’s ridges an hollows an hills. Here the land holds itself close. The earth spreads thin over rock. The trees root wily an tough.

As much as we can, we keep to the high ground. Our forest world’s clear-lit. Washed cold white by the moon. We move outta the shadows. Into the light. Then back to the shadows agin. In an out, over an over. We’re silvered. Whitewashed. Ghosts on the run.

An Tracker’s my ghostly wolfdog. Rough-haired lord of the woods, his great body skims at my side. High above, Nero crow-surfs the night. Ridin the wind on a sea of stars. A sea of restless stars.

It’s star time. Star season. In these short days of the year when the light fails early an things perish, the stars streak through the night. They’re the unquiet souls of the dead. Returnin to earth on unfinished business.

I run at the front fer the most part. But I slip back now an then to save my breath. East, that’s our course, due east by the Plough. It warn’t my plan we should run all the way. It’s jest what we did, what happened. As we left the cave where we’d stopped to rest, I started off a quick walk pace. A few strides later, we was runnin. We’re too wired, too buzzed to go slower.

I keep sharp-eyed from the off. I’m lookin fer Jack’s first waymark. The start of his white spruce trail. White spruce, a tree like no other. Stunted an twisted. Easy to spot, night or day. When I clock the first tree, his first mark, I smile. He’s done jest like we said. On the tree’s north side, on a shoulder-height branch, he’s hung a twist of root. He’s tagged me this shortcut every half-league. It’s our secret. His an mine.

An Jack’s my secret. Everybody else believes him to be dead. They think he got killed a month ago. When we blasted the Tonton stronghold, Resurrection. An that’s how it must be. He’s gotta stay dead. Jack has few friends among us. Them I run with tonight in these woods ain’t his friends.

Ash an Creed hate him fer his time in the Tonton. Jack joined the enemy, sure. To work aginst them, though, not with ’em. But he got tainted by blood. He was there that night, at the Darktrees slaughter when the Tonton killed our friends. The Free Hawks an the Raiders. He took no part in that bloody deed. In fact, he saved their lives. Creed an Ash, that is. Maev too. An he helped us at Resurrection. He was the one who blew the place up. His quick thinkin spared Emmi’s life.

None of that stands to his credit. Not with Ash an Creed. They lost their tribes at Darktrees that night. Their souls was cut deep an fer always. Jack rode with the killers, that’s enough to damn him. If they know he’s alive, they’ll betray him fer sure.

Lugh’s got the biggest hate fer Jack. Tommo comes a close second. Both of ’em fer reasons to do with me. Slim don’t know Jack. Molly an Emmi love him. As always with Jack, it ain’t simple. So we decided, him an me. We cain’t trust all of ’em, so it’s safest we tell none. To them, he has to be dead.

If only they knew. Jack’s on our side. He’s my scout, my spy. Busy workin his tiny network of New Eden rebels. He’s got a few insiders, clear-eyed Stewards who share our aims. An some outcasts. So-called Treedogs, becuz they went to ground in the woods. When DeMalo seized their land, they chose to stay. To stay hidden an cause him trouble.

Jack’s helped me plan this first action. He scratched maps in the dirt. We talked tactics an ammo. He tagged our trail all the way, jest over two leagues from the cave to the bridge. The bridge that spans the Eastern Defile, to join New Eden to the Raze. The bridge that we’re set to blow.

It’s bin newly built by slave labour. DeMalo’s a builder of roads an bridges. Faster travel fer the Tonton. Easier passage fer his Stewards of the Earth as they work their stolen farmland. We aim to smash all of ’em, bit by bit. Way out here’s a good place to start. We’ll test our drill, our discipline, our method. Without no fear of disturbance.

Good thing Jack marked the way fer us. We know New Eden pretty good by now. But till they built this bridge, there warn’t nuthin in this lonely corner. We know it in general, not particular.

I slipped to the rear a while back. Keepin my eyes peeled fer Jack’s final waymark. There’s a white spruce ahead. This one hunches alone an apart. As I come up on it, I slow a bit. Yes, there it is. The twist of root on a branch. The Defile an the bridge lie jest ahead. Hot excitement kicks in me. Now I’ll lead the way agin. As I surge forwards, Tracker keeps pace.

Creed’s a little off to my left. He’s shirtless, like always, tattooed neck to waist. An he’s bootless, also like always. He says his feet map the land as they touch it. The chill’s nudged him into a dandyboy frock coat. Its shabby swallowtails stream in his wake. As I pass him, he flashes a wide, white grin. Silver rings gleam in his ears.

Ash stretches out in a casual lope. Long legs easy. Shoulders low. Her hair flies behind, a waist-length banner of plaits. I nod as I shift past her. Almost there. Her square-jawed face cracks a rare smile. Ash ain’t no misery, not by a long shot. But she ain’t cheerful by a long shot neether. Unless there’s trouble or danger or a fight ahead. Which is what she’ll be hopin. But not in a bad way.

I press on to Tommo. Come right up, close up to him. He shuns me. Ducks his head so’s his hair hides his eyes. But I know what I’d see if I could see ’em. Hurt. An anger. I touch his arm to let him know we’re near the bridge. He shrugs me off. Quick. A bit rough.

Tommo hates me fierce right now. An he’s justified. Steppin on his heart like I did. Heedless, careless of the fallout. At fifteen summers, he tips between boyhood an manhood. An I played them both false, man an boy, with a kiss. A lover’s kiss that was a lie. Now he nurses the bruise of my deceit.

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