Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Greetings From Sunny Aluna - by Eric Lahti

One of the coolest covers this year!
Friend of the blog and former lifetime roomie Eric Lahti has a new book out: Greetings From Sunny Aluna.  Based on one of his shorts from The Clock Man: And Other StoriesAlunans say The Beast is a myth, a tale told by criminals to their kids about what can happen if they get too far out of line. Almost no one knows who The Beast is and the few who do refuse to talk for fear of repercussions.

Now The Beast has upped the ante and is seeking out a young boy from Earth with magic unlike anything else on Aluna.

In The Beast's way is an alcoholic ex-cop, a famed Wushu master, and a young woman sent by a dragon. Together, they'll navigate a city run by crime to find out who The Beast is and put a stop to him.

Unfortunately, they're about to find out the war never ended.

3 | Dragon Lady

The ends of Huizhong’s dark hair were pink tinted gray, a leftover from her time in Croatoa working in the Clock Tower. The city was noisy and dirty and stank of bad ideas and dark alleys where predators roamed unchecked. She described Croatoa as Dìyù come to life; a living, breathing example of what not to do.

She shuddered slightly as a bit of memory wafted across her brain. It was only her ongoing attempt at centeredness that let her push the memory aside and focus on cleansing her mind of the horrors she’d seen and done.

Huizhong sat cross-legged in the middle of a forest clearing and focused on removing the bad person she  had became from the good person she was supposed to be. But, like the smells of the city, the bad didn’t wash out easily. She felt tainted by it, like Croatoa had soiled her very soul.

All along the edges of the clearing were towers of neatly stacked, barely balanced rocks. Huizhong felt like those towers. All it would take is a gentle nudge to push her over into oblivion. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her stormy mind.

Huizhong wanted to rebuild herself after the Clock Man died. The death of Chenming Zhang was a net positive – less evil in the world – but she felt she had become as bad as he was. When he fell out the window at the top of the Clock Tower a part of her sighed in relief, but a thought nagged at her constantly. For everything she’d done: infiltrated the tower, infiltrated the Beast’s gang, killed a few people, nearly consigned Felix Crow to a slow, miserable death, she felt like a part of her soul had been stomped on and put back in place upside down.

Did the ends truly justify the means? Or was she as bad as Crow and Chenming Zhang? After all, she wasn’t exactly innocent in Zhang’s death. Before he fell, Huizhong had been actively exploring ways of killing him. To get closer to the Clock Man, she’d joined up with his inner circle and done the terrible things inner circles do.

When Chenming Zhang finally died, Huizhong ran from Croatoa and came back to the forest to rediscover herself. Everyone said Nüwa dwelt in their churches and places of worship, but Huizhong only ever felt Nüwa’s presence here in the forest. Specifically, in this clearing. Mab and the rest of the Furious Fae never claimed the great goddess lived here and maybe that was why the sense of her was so strong. No books, no rules, no chanting monks, just the peace and quiet of creation calmly doing its thing.

Xiǎojiě was shining her weak silver rays through the trees, casting long shadows across the clearing. Some people preferred the radiance of Dàjiě, but Huizhong felt Little Sister’s light was less obtrusive. Big sister lived up to her name.

Eyes closed, Huizhong forced her mind to calm itself. She thought of the still waters of the lake she had grown up next to, so calm the surface looked like glass. She felt her hair brush her cheek as the breeze played with it. Slowly, her mind became as calm as the lake and light as the breeze.

Then the vision started again. It was yet another thorn in her spiritual side, a vision of death and blood and horrifying things no one should experience. Each night when she closed her eyes to sleep, the vision took hold. Even in her dreams, she fought to close her eyes and roll into a mental ball to avoid seeing the images.

Maybe it was Nüwa, maybe it was someone else, but whoever was sending the vision was insistent. So far, Huizhong had managed to avoid seeing the details of the vision as it played out in her head night after night. And night after night, the vision came back. Tonight, Huizhong was determined to calm herself enough that she could explore the vision and remain detached from it.

It started as it always did; she was walking through a long passageway with Felix Crow. He was edgy and irritable, even for his already edgy and irritable personality. Someone was behind them. In her mind, she turned to see who it was, but all she saw was a tall man in a dǒulì that covered his eyes. He was wearing rough clothing made of canvas. Crow was wearing his trench coat and hat. They were following something, something young and male. Whatever it was, it felt tremendously powerful. The follower felt dangerous, like getting too close to a downed magic line. Then the vision degenerated into skeletons and blood and fire.

“Your friend Crow is an interesting thing,” a deep, rumbling voice said from behind her.
Huizhong’s eyes popped open. Part of her wanted to snap and lash out for interrupting the vision. The other part knew neither of those things was a good idea. Instead, she touched her neck and remembered.

“He’s not my friend,” Huizhong said.

The voice moved around the periphery of the forest. A sound like silverware lightly clattering followed its movements. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, the clattering sound stopped. “You treated him like a friend. A special friend.”

She felt like he was hunting her. In truth, he probably was. It was his way. “That was part of the job and you know it.”

Huizhong’s face burned in embarrassment. Of course, he would know about … that. How could he not? But he didn’t have to remind her of her shortcomings. “Do not fret, child,” the voice said. “Human mating rituals are beneath my concern.”

The voice moved around the periphery of the clearing. He was so silent, Huizhong never knew where the voice would come from next. Even though she’d conversed with him before, she couldn’t get over how such a large being could move so silently. It must have been eons of predatory evolution and centuries of practice.

“Then what does concern you?” Huizhong asked.

“Power,” he said. “The same thing that drives you drives me. We are not all that different, physical aspects aside.”

Huizhong brushed a stray hair out of her face and leaned back to look at the stars. “The only power I want is the power to find a nice bed and sleep in it forever.”

This time the voice came from left. “I, too, enjoy sleep. But sleeping forever would be a waste of a life.”

“Are you going to wander around the forest all night?” Huizhong asked. Her mind was still too much of a mess to deal with his games.

The forest fell silent. The usual chittering calls of insects and muted chirping of the tiny dragons stopped suddenly. A primal part of Huizhong’s mind tensed. When the forest critters went dark it meant something dangerous was lurking nearby.

If they only knew, she thought. If they could only understand exactly what was skulking around in the woods.

“I will never understand how you manage to do that,” she said.

The forest exploded. One moment it was deathly silent, the next a huge blur sped at her. Huizhong didn’t even have time to get her hands up before she was face to face with a dragon as black as the night itself. The creature’s eyes were glowing amber, as if lit from within by very fires that powered its breath. Fangs that could rend a person in two glowed in Little Sister’s faint light.

The multitude of whiskers on its snout pointed up in the air and bounced gently as it made a series of short growls. The dragon chuckled to himself, pleased with his ability to hunt and kill. “Do what?” he asked.

Huizhong’s flight response faded from her body even as adrenaline was still surging through her veins. Dragons were odd creatures; undoubtedly intelligent, but their intellect was far different from humans. The fact that humans had fought a war with these creatures and fought it well spoke more to numbers than any intelligence or skill on the humans’ part.

She took in a deep breath and tried to calm her raging heart. “Turn off the forest like that,” she said a little more breathily than she would have liked.

The dragon coiled around himself. Normally, dragons in this part of the world had long legs and majestic wings that made humans want to drop to their knees and worship them, but the big creature before her didn’t fit that bill. He had short, stubby legs. While he had wings, they were smaller than the normal Northern dragon, more evolutionary leftover than functional. He looked like a three-hundred-hand-long snake that someone had added wings and short legs to.

He cocked his enormous head to the side and bared his fangs in dragon-y grin. “Trade secrets, my daughter,” he said.

About the Author
He'd be prettier if he smiled more.
Eric Lahti hates writing bios. In fact, he hates them so much he writes about himself in the third person as if he was somehow writing about someone else. Photography doesn’t agree with him, either, so his pictures always make him look crazy. He’s the author of the Henchmen series and the nascent tales of Aluna as well as some really cool short stories about captured gods, the bogeyman, and a guy with a talking gun. Eric is currently working a new book surrounding the captured ghost of a woman, a roadside attraction, and the end of the world.

He currently lives in Albuquerque with his wife, son, and dog where he spends a large part of his day programming and studying Kenpo. When he’s not busy doing those things, he writes bios about himself.

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