A Dark Sky Opens
welcome to the
SNEAK PEEK OF
FOUR MONTHS LATER
Four long months ago, a league of half-people were sent to a world that was dying. But was it dying? And were they truly half-people?
They knew and didn’t know all at once.
Knowing and not knowing—that was their fate, as a league of half-people, to be caught under the hot folds of an impossible truth like a pill trapped under a tongue.
It was their Purpose.
To be unswallowable and slow to dissolve.
To witness Earth’s true nature and begin suffocating under the weight of that heavy, impossible truth.
For Earth’s true nature was ugly.
Its people warped and wary, stripped of the values to which they once pledged fealty—compelled by the hysterical whims of celebrated violence and the united resignation of hope.
Was this black stain of humanity worth saving?
Was it worth dying for?
They knew and didn’t know all at once.
HER GRAVE IS DIFFERENT.
Less a marker, more a quiet reminder—it sits humbly under the moonlit hollyhocks, half-disguised by overgrowth: a face of wordless, flaking limestone.
To be fair, I haven’t seen many graves.
Where I’m from, they don’t exist.
The grave before me is the first real one I’ve ever seen, and everything about it is tragic and stunning. Gone are the days of organized rows of marble headstones, poetic epigraphs, and red eyes crying behind black veils. These days, you’re more likely to share a poorly-built pyre with a handful of others—your limbs tangled up in theirs, with a fire roaring you into another world.
My knees meet the slightly damp, rocky soil, and I wonder to myself if it’s more fertile now that she’s sleeping there, if that’s why all the flowers grow so well.
As though she’ll reply.
As though I even deserve a reply. After all I’ve done, I don’t deserve anything. Not a reply from a dead girl, let alone a house stuffed to the gills with supplies: a final gift from Rion.
Maybe he saw it coming.
Maybe he didn’t.
Either way, he’d left a key and an address—a future, tucked away in the outskirts of Kipling, Colorado. A safe-house draped in swaths of dusty sheets, a layer of shattered glass glittering over the outdated parquet flooring.
And a cellar.
Locked up tight and utterly priceless.
My eyes orbit skyward, to the full moon overhead: as white as a peony in full bloom and now, for the first time in over thirty apocalyptic years—as solitary as a widow.
I return my gaze to Lindall. “So, the Ora’s gone,” I say, voice tripping over the absurdity of such a thing. “And apparently the apocalypse is now over.”
I swallow, sitting back. “I don’t believe it, either.”
The tip of my finger traces the damp soil, making some kind of a mindless journey over it—finding all the weeds, thorny and full of bristles, which I rip up from the roots.
They keep crowding out the flowers.
“Well, thanks for the chat,” I say lightly, getting back to my feet at the same time a noise echoes over the landscape: a choke, deep and guttural, that has become far too familiar.
My posture stiffens ever so slightly.
I place my shotgun against my shoulder, stroking the length of it like it’s a well-behaved lapdog, and give Lindall’s grave one final glance before leaving.
Tragic that all that’s left of Lindall is an unraveled skeleton folded under a few shallow layers of gravel and soil—covered by a skin of fast-growing weeds.
“I suppose that’s the difference, isn’t it?” I grate through the frog swelling in my throat. “It’s only a grave if somebody bothers to visit you—otherwise, it’s just a hole in the ground.”
With a sigh, I shift my attention to the shrieking of a Mute echoing in the distance—turning my back on one dead thing in order to face another.
I HAD TWO CHOICES.
The day Onyx died, I knew I had two choices.
I could stay on Earth with my so-called league and fight to finish the work our mentor had started, leading the charge in a valiant effort to save the world. Or I could simply return to the spaceship in the sky, and the makeshift family living there.
Of course, I chose to return. And what an utter mistake that was.
I can’t say what possessed me, really. My memory is a stew stirred so fast, I can’t make out any of its ingredients. All I can recall clearly is the blood—the scent and grotesque volume of it, spilled like garnets and tar all over that clearing.
And Onyx lying in the snow. Not breathing. I’d somehow ran straight into Eos, then. Told her I was returning to the Ora to be a spy for our league—for Earth, or whatever. What a load of bullshit and, frankly, idiocy.
I was lying to myself as much as I was her.
“Move.” Pavo’s voice, as only Pavo’s voice can, pulls me out of my little jaunt down memory lane with all the consideration of a gunshot to the chest.
I glance back at the alien, scandalized. We’re in yet another mysterious corridor, deep within the bowels of the Ora. It smells of wet metal and untouched things, like a vacation home draped under white sheets for too long. Dusty, desperate.
The collar around my throat is sadistically tight.
How long have I worn this thing? How many months have come and gone since Onyx died in that clearing? Since Peridot’s sudden betrayal of her?
“I said, move,” Pavo barks with a swift kick to my backside that only encourages my stubborn ass to stay put.
“Will you give me a treat for being a good boy?”
“No,” he replies, deadpan. “You’ll get a blow to the skull so swift and efficient, you’ll spend the rest of your life gazing at an empty wall, clucking like a chicken.”
“That is an extremely detailed threat,” I say, trying to resist the tug of the leash, but my skin’s so appallingly raw, doing so stings like a son of a bitch. “I accept.”
Pavo’s nostrils flare. Those slit-like, inhuman nostrils.
Flecks of spit fly as he says, “Dare to disrespect me in front of the Ancient Ones today, and I will be sure to do much worse than that to you, earthling.”
That’s another thing that’s changed: I’m an earthling now.
And I’m constantly reminded of this fact.
Pavo tugs my leash, and I swallow a yelp of agony. We walk through a shadow-dark hallway, exploring the Ora’s deepest and most secretive spaces. In the time I’ve been held captive here, I’ve come to learn, through the art of eavesdropping, that the Ora’s anatomy is akin to the anatomy of an egg.
The fifty Branches are the egg’s shell, lining the outermost stratum of the Ora. Beneath that layer is the Nursery, where the are specimens spliced in utero: a library of DNA and a book of baby names that are, bizarrely, all related to Greek mythology.
That I can’t explain. Yet.
Beneath that layer is the cavernous Loading Dock. And then, lastly, we’ve got the yolk of the egg—the core of the spaceship itself that is buried beneath thick slabs of iron, and that is where the Ancient Ones are.
That’s where they always have been: hiding in plain sight.
The last of the Borealian’s society.
Pavo stops abruptly, our footsteps echoing. “They are close to us now,” he says, smelling the air so theatrically, I snort back a bark of laughter. “I can scent their great power.”
“So powerful they smell?” I itch my chin. “Interesting.”
“You have absolutely no concept of such power.”
“Enlighten me, then,” I cajole. “The Ancient Ones hide all the way down here like a mischief of sewer rats. Even you’ve got to agree that doesn’t necessarily ring to the tune of—”
“They are not hiding,” he states dryly. “If it weren’t for the thousand layers of pure iron separating them from Earth, what exactly do you think would happen?”
“The gluttons would eat everybody?”
“Every single soul,” Pavo raves evangelically. “Every single one on Earth—in only days.”
“An endeavor the Muted would surely assist with.”
“Indeed,” he replies, sucking on a fang while mulling over a thought I’m not privy to. “Those with true power, Apollo, are never actually free.”
“You’re welcome, you imbecile.”
We waltz into a large hall, empty except for the geometric tangle of Borealian letters strung along the walls like garlands of spruce during the holidays. It’s eerie, really. These strings of words: a billowing, sharp sort of language I’ll never know.
Again, no furniture. No décor. Nothing.
Not even a single rug to smother the echo of our footsteps as we traverse the stretch of metal flooring. I gaze up to a ceiling vaulted so high, it’s endless.
A very distinct architecture.
And perhaps the Borealian’s only measure of creativity.
These far-reaching ceilings and twisted catacombs carving through a massive block of iron, like water beating away at rock until creating the masterpiece of a canyon.
“What’s it like, earthling?” Pavo’s voice echoes. “Trying to understand true power when all you have ever experienced is the very opposite?”
“I don’t need to understand,” I answer blandly, a grotesque memory fluttering to life in my mind: a body swinging like a pendulum from the rafters, singing a song of old wood straining.
My heart’s scream, when my lips wouldn’t part for one.
My first big betrayal. My last, too.
With another deep sigh, I shake the memory loose, trying to rid myself of it altogether. A waste of energy—like a poison that can’t be metabolized, forever stirring in my veins.
“Unlike your Ancient Ones, I’m not interested in power.”
“What could possibly interest you more?”
“Something they’ll never have,” I say blandly. “A soul.”
“Is that why you did it?” I realize Pavo’s stopped walking, an ominous twinkle to his pitch-black eyes. “Why you returned to the Ora? To save your soul?”
I stare back at him, no longer a boy afraid of dying or a boy afraid of loss—but a full-grown man who’s already died, who’s already lost every-fucking-thing he’s ever truly loved.
And therefore has nothing left to fear.
“I said I’d be more interested in having a soul,” I say, all of a sudden so angry, I yank my leash right out of Pavo’s grasp and start walking without his escort. “Not that I have one.”