I'm getting very close to finishing Zyearth Book II to share with the world... Right now the tentative title is Brothers at Arms and it's shaping up to be a fantastic start.
To get you guys all excited, I thought I'd share an excerpt from the WIP. Here's the opening of the next installment of the Zyearth Chronicles. Enjoy!
The Zyearth Chronicles – Book Two
Brothers At Arms
By R. A. Meenan
Chapter One: Post-Trauma
“Welcome to Fencing 101,” Matthew Azure said, glancing out over his students, as Ouranos of the Athánatos watched him. The Golden Guardian stood on a six-inch-high stage at the front of the room, holding his custom sword, the Firewing, as Ouranos had learned it was called. The quilar ran his fingers over the intricate patterns on the hand guard. His white, blue tipped quills rustled in the subtle gusts from the mechanical air conditioner.
Ouranos sat on a stool near the back of the room, trying to keep a neutral face. His time on Zyearth necessitated that he trade his royal Athánatos garb for a practical Defender novice uniform, a pair of plain black pants and a long sleeved black jacket. The black clothing blended with his own black fur and made him nearly invisible in the dark corner of the exercise classroom.
Cix, a black, blue streaked wolf Captain in the Defender army, and Matt’s sword partner, stood to Matt’s left. He eyed Matt carefully, running his fingertips over the hilt of his own sword. Though Ouranos noticed he also had one eye half trained on his corner of the room. Cix was an ally, to be sure, but the events that led Ouranos to this planet were still fresh in their minds, and murder was not easily forgotten. Ouranos twitched an ear, but kept his face impartial, his emotions under control.
A much easier task now that the Vasilefs lacked the power to bend Ouranos to his will. It was a priceless gift Matt had passed to him that could never fully be repaid.
“You’ll be learning the basics of swordplay in this class,” Matt told the students. “It can be dangerous, so before we get started, everyone needs to fill out a waiver.” Matt pulled a stack of papers out of his backpack. “Cix, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Cix took the forms from him and passed them out.
Twenty-four students nodded nervously and a few muttered to themselves. They scattered over the soft blue mat covering the floor of the classroom, digging pens out of their bags to fill out the waivers. The dull sounds of footsteps, claw scrapes, and feather rustles danced off the sound-dampening walls.
Matt sheathed his sword, crossed his arms, and took a deep breath, bending one white, blue tipped ear back. He looked tired, unsettled. And Ouranos knew why.
Six months. It had only been six months since the incident with Gaia and the Cast. Not even half a year by the Zyearth calendar.
But Zyearth had already returned to normal, as if the incident had never come to pass. As if the Defender’s labs did not house over two hundred of their comrades, trapped in the stolen, inky form of a Cast. As if the Vasilefs’ victims did not die.
As if Earth, the humans, and his people, did not face war.
Ouranos still trembled at the thought of his time as Gaia, physically and mentally “fused” to the Guardian on stage. The experience carried with it a mix of feelings. His time as Gaia had been both beneficial and destructive. On the one hand, his fusion with Matthew had boosted his confidence and granted him power over his father that he had not known in a century. On the other, hundreds of lives lay ruined at his feet, until the Defenders discovered a way to break the bonds of a Cast.
If the Defenders discovered a way to fix the Cast. Decades of research among his own people, the people who had developed the means for making Cast in the first place, resulted in nothing. The Defenders may be good at their skills, but this was beyond mere science or even magic. His skull pounded thinking about it.
The battle may be won, but the war was far from over, as the saying goes.
Cix held the completed stack of waivers in his hand and bent a blue streaked ear back. He muttered something to Matt, eyeing Ouranos.
Matt glanced at the corner. Ouranos gave him a slight smile. He had asked Matt if he could observe one of his classes, saying that he wanted to get a feel for how a Defender trained. Perhaps he could learn something for his fight against his father, or at the very least, allow himself a temporary distraction from the deeper issues at hand.
But if he had correctly judged Cix’s look, the wolf was not too happy to have Ouranos watching them. Thankfully Matthew had more faith in him.
“Alright everyone, pay attention,” Matt called. The class fell instantly silent and every eye fixated on their teacher. Ouranos perked his ears as well. “Cix and I are going to give a demonstration of swordplay. This is what your final exam will look like.”
Cix drew his own sword and faced Matt with a wolfish smirk. Matt held his sword out. He stared his partner down.
Cix began the engagement, swinging his sword down hard. Matt blocked easily, pushing against Cix’s sword and forcing him to take two steps back. The wolf lifted his sword and swung back. Clang, clang, clang! The swords bit at each other with every swing. Ouranos watched with a deep fascination.
Athánatos did not use swords. Their experience with weapons were limited, in fact, since they were a small tribe of people, not prone toward violence. At least, not until his father instigated violence with the mainland.
Ouranos, however, had been acutely exposed to violence for the last several decades. It was something embedded into his head. Even now as he watched the pair square off, his brain pressed images into his mind’s eye. Every clang flashed some form of violence.
His sister, Melaina, being forcefully transformed into a half-finished Cast by their father.
The stink of blood and death on the Athánatos battlefields while fighting the Vasilefs.
The war on Sol – screaming children, dirt stained red, the cries for mercy.
The Omnir, ruined and broken before him, dying in fits.
The first perfect Cast, formed on Zyearth in a scream so powerful his ears still rang with the memory.
The fusion with Matt, the formation of Gaia, the destruction he caused. Without realizing it, his thoughts drifted beyond the exercise classroom and into that recent past.
He found himself back on the island where he had first landed, the place where he had met Matthew for the first time. And the place where the pair of them had fused into one being. He remembered the confusion, the fear, the pain, and then, their first confrontation with Matthew’s partner, Izzy.
Who are you? Izzy’s voice rang in his head. Her blue eyes, wide with fear. The panicky way she held herself chilled him.
Cix swung hard to Matt’s left side. Matt blocked. Swords met in a horrible clash.
Together, we are Gaia. Ouranos felt the Vasilefs’ in his mind, speaking words he could not control, using Matt’s voice against his will.
Sword clashes, ever louder, ever more violent, crashed through his mind.
I have stolen your Guardian. Would you like to get him back?
Ouranos bent his ears back now and pressed his hands to them, trying to block out the battle. Trying to forget the past.
Clashes, grunts, straining, bangs!
I see the Guardian has some fight left in her. The memories rang in his ear. Too close. Too real. Maybe it’s time I stopped playing.
Louder, louder, louder, louder!
Do you have any last words? Will you beg for your life?
Everything stopped. The sword clangs ceased and everything fell quiet again. Ouranos opened eyes that he did not remember closing.
Every student had wide eyes trained on him.
Ouranos blinked, slowly pulling his hands off his ears. That final scream. He did that. Out loud. Without even realizing it. He frowned, his ears flushing from fear and embarrassment, and huddled closer on his stool. “I apologize. Forgive me.”
Matt frowned, splaying an ear and eyeing Ouranos. Ouranos simply shook his head and glanced down at the floor. Gradually the students turned their faces away. Matt cleared his throat to command attention.
“Class,” he spoke clearly, steadily, to his credit. “Who won?”
The students exchanged looks with each other. Several mumbled and one or two people threw out vague answers.
Ouranos stared out at the students, picking up nervous glances and worried frowns. Fearful. Uncertain. Several shot looks in his direction. Matt tried to keep his ears perked up, but he just couldn’t.
“We both won,” Cix said, his voice clear and steady. He shot a glance and a forced smile at Matt. The students focused their attention on him.
Matt nodded and followed his example. “That’s correct. Neither of us are hurt. Our weapons are intact. In this Academy, we teach you to fight, but we are designed to protect. If we can avoid a fight, or come away from a fight unhurt, we win. There is no victory in death.”
The Guardian dug into his backpack and pulled out stacks of paper. “For now, let’s just go over the syllabus and get out of here for the day. We’ll start proper fencing next class.” He handed half the stack to Cix and they passed out syllabi.
Matt spent the next half hour explaining the syllabus with occasional interjections from Cix, then he dismissed the class. The students filed out slowly, still tossing glances at Ouranos. Ouranos sat on his stool, doing his best to ignore the stares.
When the last student filed out, Ouranos padded over to the stage and leaned against the wall. “That was some demonstration, Guardian.”
Matt frowned. “You okay?”
Ouranos stared at the floor. “You know the answer. It would be pointless to lie.”
“Maybe you’d like to fill me in on some details,” Matt said.
Ouranos sighed. “As the two of you fought, my memories brought me to one of my previous battles.” He took a heavy breath. “In my mind, I fought Izzy. As Gaia.”
Cix frowned. “Maybe I should leave you two to talk.” He nodded to Matt. “See you both later.” He left the room.
Matt sat on the stage and invited Ouranos to do the same. “So. . . you’re having PTSD episodes?”
Ouranos sat down, then lifted a brow and perked an ear. “I am not familiar with this term.”
“Post-traumatic stress disorder,” Matt said. “After a traumatic episode you might relive the moments. It’s not uncommon.”
Ouranos bent an ear. “The term is fitting.”
“How long has this been going on?”
Ouranos shrugged. “I am unsure. I have been having nightmares for several weeks, but this is the first time that I have experienced this while awake.”
Matt sighed. “We need to go after your father. Finish all this. Then you could start to heal.”
“There are reasons why your Master Guardian has chosen to stay out of this.”
“What reasons?” Matt snarled, startling Ouranos with his sudden anger. “People are in danger. Theron has perfected the Cast. It’s only a matter of time before things start getting out of control.”
“We cannot fight the Cast, Matthew,” Ouranos said. “Not really. We only have temporary ways to keep them at bay. You know that. More than that, your people are not equipped to fight this. You are a small army from a country hardly bigger than my own. Lance will not risk your entire army for something like this. You would not survive.”
Matt scoffed, bending an ear. “So what, we just let the Vasilefs start turning people into Cast and killing left and right?”
“It is not a pretty truth,” Ouranos said. “But until we really understand how to cure the Cast, how can we expect to win? And more than that, I am not the only one who has suffered from the events surrounding Gaia. Your army has faced a terrible event, and has lost a significant portion of itself. Admittedly, by my hand.”
“Our hand,” Matt said.
Ouranos narrowed his eyes. “I have told you many times that you should not hold yourself responsible.”
“There is no room for discussion,” Ouranos said. “What is done is done. The issue now is that your army is not equipped nor ready to tackle the problem at hand.”
Matt sighed, leaning his elbows on his knees. “I promised to help you. To give you an army.”
“You made that promise before I was aware of the size of the army,” Ouranos said. “Or the impact these events would have on it. I cannot, in good conscience, ask for your aid.”
“Ouranos,” Matt said. “You can’t do this alone.”
Ouranos silently disagreed. The only choice was to do this alone. If only to prevent anymore death at his hand. But he kept silent on the matter.
Matt stood. “We should get you to a therapist. It’ll help with the PTSD episodes.”
Ouranos perked an ear. “What will they do?”
“A therapist talks to you about the past and helps you work out the issues bothering you,” Matt said. He gripped Ouranos’ shoulder. “Let me arrange it, okay? Then when you’re feeling better, we’ll continue this discussion about letting us help.”
“If Lance will allow it.”
“He will, in time,” Matt said. He stretched. “I suppose we have a little time. Theron needs a Gem user to get the residue he needs to make Cast, and there aren’t any Gem users on Earth. His plans will have to be put on hold for now.”
Ouranos raised an ear. “There are no Gem users on Earth?”
Matt shook his head. “Gem bonding died out a long time ago on Earth. There are probably a few unbound Gems floating around, but no one knows how to bind them, and an unbound Gem is just as useless to Theron as a rock.”
“I suppose that is true,” Ouranos said. Some distant part of his mind reminded him of the unbound Gems they had in their own treasuries. Still, Matthew was right. There was no one who could bind them. Perhaps he could relax a little. “I will take you up on that therapist, if you believe it will help.”
“It should,” Matt said. “Let’s go out for lunch in the meantime. I need a distraction.”
A distraction would be nice. “Then let us go.”
As they walked toward the cafeteria, Ouranos thanked Draso that he managed to avoid the sticky issue of the war. But he knew that would not last.
No victory in death, Matthew had said. Perhaps there was some truth to this. But the Vasilefs did not believe this. His victory was in destruction. Genocide. And he would murder everyone that got in his way. Even these new friends that Ouranos had made. Especially these new friends.
Ouranos had an obligation to stop his father. He did not have an obligation to put Matthew and Isabelle, his friends, in danger. He must move forward with this philosophy. He could have no more incidents like Gaia’s fight with Izzy on the island.He would dedicate himself to protect his friends, and all those the Vasilefs set his eyes on, even if that meant his own death.