Our Dark Duet

Monsters of Verity, Book 2
By V.E. Schwab (or Victoria Schwab)

I’m always excited when V.E. Schwab releases a new book! Especially one that ends a series. I read This Savage Song last year, and loved it, so I had high hopes for Our Dark Duet! It did not disappoint: though the reading experience was quite different.

Summary32075662

THE WORLD IS BREAKING. AND SO ARE THEY.

KATE HARKER isn’t afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she’s good at it.

AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

THE WAR HAS BEGUN.

THE MONSTERS ARE WINNING.

Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims’ inner demons.

Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?

Musings

Six months have passed since the events of This Savage Song, and Verity is in disarray. The northern half of the city has been taken over by Sloan, along with Alice, the malachai born of Kat’s actions from the end of the first book. Kate has run away to prosperity, as August has risen to lead the FTF. A new sunai has been born, Soro.

I don’t know how to really write this review, because I’m still reeling from the ending. I was entranced, per usual, by Schwab’s fantastic style, which flows seemingly effortlessly on the page – and elevated through short passages written in verse. Her short poems depicting the point of view of a monster unlike any other were by far my favorite part of this book. I would love it if there was a companion story entirely in that glorious style of hers, as it offered not only insight into the new enemy, but a real depth to the story.

I was excited to see my favorite characters again. Both have grown (or changed) since the last novel. Kate is shaken from her own actions, while August is more determined in his resolve. We find Kate in Prosperity fighting the monsters both of her past and the ones that plague a city that turns a blind eye on what lurks in the dark. Her isolation is at the forefront of her arc. August has got the voice of Leo in his head, pushing his monstrous side out as he tries to be a good leader. This is what Schwab writes the best: messed up people with confusing, conflicting feelings. She weaves complex characters that are relatable through their massive flaws.

And then, there are the monsters. Sloan gets his own POV, as he ruthlessly tries to satiate his thirst for Kate’s death. There’s Alice, Kate’s dark shadow. And then there’s something new: a creature that kills by inciting others to kill in a frenzy, whose reflection lives in a sliver in Kate’s eye, who we see through poetry. The author has managed to make monsters musical. It’s outstanding.

But there was something… missing. I don’t know what it is! The novel has a slow build, and an incredibly fast ending that left me shattered. The ending is magnificent. Heartbreaking. All the feels. Everything about it is amazing. And yet, the novel as a whole doesn’t feel as poignant as the other books by Schwab. I think it might be because so much of the strength of TSS came from the connection between Kate and August. The growth they experienced at each others’ side. I’m not even talking about romantic chemistry, just how well they work together. And here, we only get one small scene where they open up to each other. It was insanely beautiful.

But their own personal isolations made it harder for the reader to connect with them, and the story. And this is intentional, I see the novel couldn’t be written any other way. But this lack of connection made it feel less powerful than the last book.

Nevertheless, it was a fantastic conclusion to the duology. I highly recommend these two books.

Heroine Worship

Heroine Complex, Book 2
By Sarah Kuhn

If you read my review of Heroine Complex last year, you’d know I’m all over this amazing series! Two badass  female Asian-American heroes, fighting demons and taking names? I’m in! So when I saw the sequel was coming out this year, I pounced. And Heroine Worship delivers everything I wanted and more!

Summary30955863

Once upon a time, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) was demon-infested San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine, a beacon of hope and strength and really awesome outfits. But all that changed the day she agreed to share the spotlight with her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka—who’s now a badass, fire-wielding superheroine in her own right. They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but more and more, Aveda finds herself shoved into the sidekick role. Where, it must be said, she is not at all comfortable.

It doesn’t help that Aveda’s finally being forced to deal with fallout from her diva behavior—and the fact that she’s been a less than stellar friend to Evie. Or that Scott Cameron—the man Aveda’s loved for nearly a decade—is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder after what seemed to be some promising steps toward friendship. Or that the city has been demon-free for three months in the wake of Evie and Aveda’s apocalypse-preventing battle against the evil forces of the Otherworld, leaving Aveda without the one thing she craves most in life: a mission.

All of this is causing Aveda’s burning sense of heroic purpose—the thing that’s guided her all these years—to falter.

In short, Aveda Jupiter is having an identity crisis.

When Evie gets engaged and drafts Aveda as her maid-of-honor, Aveda finally sees a chance to reclaim her sense of self and sets out on a single-minded mission to make sure Evie has the most epic wedding ever. But when a mysterious, unseen supernatural evil rises up and starts attacking brides-to-be, Aveda must summon both her superheroine and best friend mojo to take down the enemy and make sure Evie’s wedding goes off without a hitch—or see both her city and her most important friendship destroyed forever.

Musings

That’s the longest blurb I’ve seen in a while, so I won’t talk about the plot! The biggest change compared to Heroine Complex is the different POV: we’re no longer following Evie, we’re following Aveda. Aveda feels awful for the way she treated Evie in the last book, and is working hard on fixing their relationship, and being a good friend. But it’s not always easy: now Evie is San Francisco’s beloved leading lady, and nothing Aveda can do seems to make the blogverse happy. This throws her into an identity crisis: is she Annie Chang, or Aveda Jupiter? Is she a hero or a sidekick?

My favorite thing about this series is how unabashedly honest the characters (and the author) are. There is absolutely no sugarcoating. The fallout from the last book is still being addressed, and Aveda is trying very hard to be different, but nothing seems to work. And they actually TALK about it. The unhealthy history is addressed in length, as they try to resolve their issues like adults.

I was surprised to see so little of Nate in this story, but he’s just a supporting character for Evie (they’re engaged! Finally!). The love interest in this novel is Scott, which will come as no shock to readers of Heroine Complex. Hearing Annie/Aveda’s story with him, how she say the events Evie told us about in the last book, gave us a fresh new perspective and reason to root for them together as a team. And just as in Heroine Complex, Kuhn gives us quite the relationship! There’s an intensity there that the author writes incredibly well, and we need more healthy couples in literature! (Dang, that’s hot!)

While the demonic plot was a little all over the place and I’m not quite sure was about, the real heart of this novel was on Aveda Jupiter coming to terms with Annie Chang. She is an incredibly complex character, and relatable all the way through her identity crisis. She strives for perfection in everything she does, and it still isn’t enough for the people of San Francisco, or even her own parents. People are always telling her how she should be, and not giving her the space to actually be herself. Honestly, her characterization could be the subject of hour long book club debates.

I noticed a few readers found her unlikable (at first), but for me she was more relatable than Evie. I guess I’m a lot like her: headstrong, extroverted, perfectionist, and assertive. Traits that usually get called “Bossy.” There’s an idea that since she’s a woman hero she needs to be held to a higher standard, but she’s doing her job, and she’s doing it well. Here we are talking about how Aveda needs to be a better friend to Evie, and I’m wondering if Evie couldn’t try a little more herself.

In short, here’s what I love about this series: healthy relationships, dang good romance, powerful female friendships, leading ladies of color who are aware of the power of this own image, incredible honesty, downright perfect writing about what it is to be human, and the most dynamic duo since… ever.

And of course: hilarious, laugh out loud moments! Fantastic geekery! Love in all its forms! Sexiness and dildo jokes! WHY AREN’T PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS SERIES?

I got a copy of this book from DAW books, which in no way affected my review. Thanks, DAW books!
Expected publication: July 4th 2017 by DAW

Gork, The Teenage Dragon + Sweepstakes!

by Gabe Hudson
Reviewed by SA

This book was so insanely different from anything I’ve read lately! As I started to read the novel, I thought “ok, this is not for me. Probably someone in High School or Middle School would like it more.” But to my amazement, the book was stuck in my hand: I couldn’t put it down! Even after finishing the book I can’t put my finger on why, all I know is this was insanely fun!

Summary32766443

Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.

Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.

A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.

Musings

At WarWings academy, graduation isn’t like what we’re used to here on earth. You don’t ask a date to prom – you ask a dragonness to be your queen. Together you set off in a spaceship to colonize a new world with your hatchlings. Gork might have survived High School (though only by the skin of his teeth) but can he survive graduation? Can he convince his crush – who he’s never even heard speak – to be his queen?

To make matters worse, Gork suffers a chronic illness that makes him pass out multiple times a day, and keeps his social ratings and rank near the very bottom of the pile. His horns are stubs. His heart is huge. Not exactly mate material…

I think what really drew me in was the world building: it was spectacular! What’s not to love about technically advanced Dragons with spaceships? With robots?  With body switching evolution machines? Time machines – and time junkies? It’s brilliant for fans of science fiction, with throwbacks to famous tropes (my favorite throwaway gag was the reverse grandfather paradox, it had me in tears!). Its Dragons  – IN SPACE!

Gork is witty and fun, and his world is interesting and totally off the wall crazy. I loved the creativity there! But the plot wasn’t really my cup of tea, and the ending got me a little confused. The author has a habit of repeating himself/certain plot points that made me eye-roll. Yet I’m still unsure about a few things? I have questions!

But I have to admire the twist at the ending. I definitely do not want to spoil it here, but I have to say that most of the things that annoyed me about Gork’s goals were resolved, and I felt like it was a really important lesson for teenagers everywhere.

While there was just something I personally couldn’t connect with, I am sure other readers will instead latch on and go crazy about it. I would seriously recommend this to teens 8th-10th grade!

Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group


SWEEPSTAKES! 5 lucky readers will get their claws on Gork, The Teenage Dragon

A wacky, exuberant, heartfelt debut novel: the unholy child of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter, and Sixteen Candles—and this time with dragons.

Knopf is having a giveaway! YOU could win a hardcover copy of Gork before it even comes out! Follow this link here to enter the sweepstakes. 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:01 am (ET) June 7th, 2017 and 11:59 pm (ET) June 28th, 2017. One entry per person. Open to legal US residents who are 18 and older.

 

The Seafarer’s Kiss

By Julia Ember
Reviewed by SA

Friends have been telling me for ages that I absolutely needed to read Julia Ember’s books.  Unicorn Tracks has been a favorite in my bookworm groups, and people won’t stop telling me how fantastic her YA writing is. So when the opportunity came to read her new book, The Seafarer’s Kiss, I leapt at the chance. And, excuse my all caps here, THIS BOOK WAS INCREDIBLE!

Summary32890474

Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.

Musings

If you were to combine The Littler Mermaid with The Handmaid’s Tale and Norse Mythology, you might have something that looks a little like The Seafarer’s Kiss. It tells the story of a young mermaid who finds a shield-maiden who’s been shipwrecked near her ice craves, and their relationship as they both deal with separate objectifying societies. Ersel the Mermaid lives in a restrictive and patriarchal society, where women are valued only for their fertility due to te harsh cold of the icy northern waters. Ragna was born blessed with moving tattoos, making her a prize catch for rival clans.

The worldbuilding in this novel was exquisite. Everything was carefully thought through and relevant, managing to surprise the reader at every turn. Including Loki as a main player in the novel – who has they/them pronouns, which I thought was a nice touch – elevated the story to a complexity you don’t always get to see in YA novels. This is not a simple retelling of the Little Mermaid, it’s so much more than that. It hast real magic running through it.

Ember has created a society for the merpeople that makes sense in their context, something not modeled off human society as you might expect. Explaining how their biology has adapted to the cold was brilliantly done: the scales that trap the heat and keep the merpeople warm when they dive deep, or how they eat to grow their blubber. It was funny to me that Ersel’s first thought when she saw Ragna was how scrawny she was.

Not only was the character development masterfully crafted (Ersel’s growth was perfection) but the relationships were relatable and compelling as well. There were so many different kinds of love here: maternal love, friendship, romance… beautiful bonds that explored relationships both healthy and toxic.

If I was a little ticked off, it was by Ersel’s “I’m not like other girls” mentality. She loves to explore shipwrecks, is/was best friends with a guy, and doesn’t want the life of eternal motherhood that everyone else her ages does. She’s sometimes cruel and mocking towards others of her age. But can we really blame her?

And if you’re into YA for the romance, then you’re going to love the relationship between Ersel and Ragna.  Their friendship that grows into something more, their fierce independence and respect for each others worlds… and not to mention their insane cuteness. Love them!

Please read this book! If you love YA, you’re going to love Ersel and Ragna. But make no mistake: this book is crazy dark. Dark, beautiful, and powerful. An instant favorite you won’t be able to put down.

Tombyards and Butterflies

Montague & Strong Case Files #1
by Orlando Sanchez

I’m a sucker for a good Urban Fantasy novel, so of course I was incredibly excited to start reading this one when it came my way. In short, it’s terribly fun: incredibly fast paced and with a fantastic cast of characters, you’re going to want to add this to your TBR!

Summary34419392

An emissary from the Dark Council has just materialized in the office of the Montague & Strong Detective Agency, and makes Simon Strong an offer he can’t refuse. Charon is missing. The legendary ferryman responsible for transporting sorcerer souls across the river Styx hasn’t been seen in days. And with each passing hour, those unable to cross the river are left to walk among the living, tilting the world further out of balance.

Meet Simon Strong, an immortal, who is also the best private detective in New York City. Together with his surly partner-Tristan Montague, a mage of indeterminate age, they must find the Ferryman and get him back to work before another Supernatural War ravages the earth, destroys humanity, and Simon’s local coffee shop.

Time is running out. His landlord wants the rent and Karma with a capital K is paying him a visit, and she can be a real…

Join the Montague & Strong Detective Agency and help them locate Charon, so he can restore balance to the universe, put the dead sorcerers to rest, and maybe solve the age old conundrum-coffee or tea?

Musings

Meet Simon Strong: an immortal and a detective. His partner, Tristan ‘Monty’ Montague is a mage; not a wizard, and don’t you dare ever calling him a sorcerer. When an incredibly deadly emissary from the Dark Council breaks into their offices and gives them a job, they know it’s something they can’t refuse. She can’t be involved, so you know it’s going to be bad.

Simon wasn’t always an immortal: we learn more about this curse, and the person behind it, as the story progresses. He’s still getting used to it, and doesn’t want to test how far this immortality goes. There’s a mark on his arm that links him to a god, who seems both intent on protecting him and making his life a miserable hell. Maybe both at the same time.  The author leaves a lot of the backstory unspoken, so there are details with the characters yet to be revealed. It showed them all to be complex and exciting.

My one qualm with the book was that I felt like I was reading a sequel. Many times the characters referenced a moment in their shared history that seemed like something I should have know about. This is the same with Simon’s relationship with Karma: when she first appears, she isn’t given a name in the entire chapter, and I was left confused until she was properly introduced later on. It’s like I skipped the Pilot Episode entirely – but this might not be a bad thing.

The writing style took me a bit to get into, but once I did, the ball was really rolling. I loved the character of Simon, with his funny quips and witty remarks, always breaking the tension with a joke. He seems like someone you’d want to be friends with. And Monty? Still a bit of a mystery, but one I’d really like to uncover.

The overarching plot was masterfully crafted and exciting to unravel. There’s so much happening in this book you, you wonder how it fits in only 300 pages. It’s fast paced and exciting, with fun characters along the way.Seeing Hades, for example, working at the head of a fancy company; or the special Uber created just for people in supernatural muck; these were proof of fantastic world building and a fun and enjoyable read. And if you love puppies, you’re going to adore Peaches!

All in all, if you love UF, then this should be on your shelf. It’s fun, enjoyable, and a series I personally will be reading a lot more of. Enjoy!

Caught on Camera

by Madelle Morgan
Reviewed by SA

Let me start off this review by saying I don’t usually read romance – heck, it’s a genre I rarely ever connect with. But when the author sent me a copy of her book, I though it might be high time to give it a chance. And I was right: Caught on Camera was such a blast, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Did I mention it has a playlist?

Summary31945536

To achieve her dream of working on Hollywood film sets, star struck chambermaid Rachel Lehmann needs $35,000 for film school tuition by the end of the summer. When she’s asked to fill in for a missing bridesmaid at a movie star’s wedding and pretend to be the bride’s cousin, it’s her big chance to secretly take photos of celebrities and sell them to the entertainment media! Then Mickey, one of the groomsmen, sweeps her off her feet.

Mickey McNichol, talent agent to the stars, believes everyone in show business is out for what they can get. When he falls hard for the bride’s “cousin”, he thinks he’s finally met a beautiful woman he can trust. But if Rachel betrays the wedding party, Mickey will ensure she never works in Hollywood.

Musings

Rachel needs a whole lot of money if she’s ever going to get into her first choice film school in LA – a problem that’s so wholly relatable to other New Adults like this reader right here. I remember looking up how much money I could make selling my kidney. Rachel’s smarter though – she gets a job working the summer at a hotel in Muskoka, sneaking snaps of celebrities she hopes she can sell to reach her financial goal.

But when a bridesmaid fails to turn up at the huge, star studded wedding that had rented out the hotel for the weekend, the bride needs Rachel to go from maid to bridesmaid in a flash. This gives Rachel a fantastic opportunity to sneak pictures of the event. What she didn’t count on was love at first sight. When she meets Mickey, there’s an instant attraction – but what if he learns her secret?

Sure, there are a whole lot of clichés and tropes in this novel… but it’s a Rom Com! And it will have you laughing out loud, let me tell you. You have a bridezilla with a temper; a tiny, very needy dog; a comedy of errors as Rachel’s luck flip flops all over the place. And, of course, you have the couple you want to root for so much you could burst.

I think what holds me back when I read romance is the suspension of disbelief. A lot of things happen by ‘coincidence’ which are a little too convoluted. And we have a lot of coincidences in this novel that made my eyes roll… until I started to really get into it and want Rachel and Mickey to end up together. After the climax of the novel, as we push for resolution, I found myself thinking of how perfect this ending was, how much I wanted every second. I realized that the author had fully managed to reel me in, despite my annoyances with Rom Coms! I closed the book thinking how brilliant of a movie this would be, with butterflies in my stomach and a craving for chocolate.

So. Fantastically. Sweet!

I think what sold me was Rachel. She’s so relatable and fun! I love her ethical dilemma, I love the classic makeover scene, I love watching her fall for Mickey. She’s a perfect stand in for the reader.

Oh, and did I mention this novel comes with its own soundtrack? You listen to the playlist at key moments and are sucked right in! So unique! The playlist itself is perfect even without the book, great songs to listen to on repeat.

So while I’m not a big fan of the genre, I’m still a huge fan of this book. Perfect feel-good weekend read!

Pick up your copy right here!

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Starstruck – EXCERPT!

By S.E. Anderson

Heya Bookworms! Today’s post is a little different – because I’m going to tell you a little bit about my new release, my debut novel, Starstruck. It’s a funny, quirky space story about aliens, anxiety and adulthood. And so far, people are really liking it!

“S.E. Anderson’s debut is a hilarious galactic romp with loving nods to Hitch Hiker’s Guide to Galaxy but with a voice all its own. It’s quirky, fun, and utterly enjoyable.” ~Dragon Award-nominated author, R.R. Virdi of The Grave Report and The Books of Winter.

“It’s witty, it’s fast paced, and it’s delightfully tongue in cheek. […] If you like The Doctor, Hitchiker’s Guide or Space Shennanigans, you’ll like this book. Can’t wait to read more.” ~ L. Burke

“My only question is WHEN CAN I READ THE NEXT BOOK?!” ~ C. McGough

“I think anyone who is a fan of things like Doctor Who, Douglas Adams’ trilogy, or even Firefly would feel right at home with this one.” ~ H.

“I’ll be definitely picking up the second book in this series. S.E. Anderson is a skilled writer, and Starstruck’s pages burst with personality, action, and humour. A must-read for science fiction fans.” ~ M. Dyer

But as the author, it would be very odd of me to review it. Though I have said a little bit about it before, right here! So instead, I’m just going to share with you the prologue. Enjoy!


PROLOGUE
It All Begins With a Lot of Sand

The commander raised his binoculars and surveyed the desert. The bleak landscape spread out for an eternity before him, flat as far as he could see, broken only by the crumbling buildings of the city. “Where are you?”

“Um, sir. W-what are your orders?”

The commander drew in a sharp breath. His second might only be a kid—on his first posting, no less—and maybe he hadn’t seen the kind of action that kept the commander awake at night, but he had to keep his face straight. If he thought that skirmish with the fugitives was an actual attack, he was kidding himself. Besides, the men counted on them for strength and guidance, not fear and weakness.

His team waited in silence on the roof beside him. Most were looking anywhere but at the commander, avoiding eye, or any other kind of contact. He did not blame them.

“I want you to find those fugitives.” The commander’s order flew off his tongue like sparks from a fire. “They must be within the city limits or someone would have spotted them.”

“But, sir, we searched the burg, and there was no sign of them.”

“Then look harder,” the commander hissed, raising the binoculars again. He scowled at the empty wasteland. It was the same as always, as it had been for months … well, until today.

“Maybe they’ve, um, braved the desert?”

The commander resisted the temptation to slap him. How his superiors thought the boy ready for the post was beyond him. Maybe it was meant as a slight, giving him children to command, like he was a babysitter rather than a decorated war hero. “Can you see them out there?”

His number two swallowed. “Um, no, sir.”

“Then they’re not there, are they?” The commander shifted his gaze back to the horizon, daring the universe to put the fugitives in his field of vision. “They’re in the town. They can’t be anywhere else, which makes me wonder what you are still doing here.” He turned and glared at his number two. “Find them.”

“Sir!”

A call from the street below made him lower his binoculars. He marched to the edge of the roof and looked down at the cracked pavement, ignoring his second-in-command as the boy scampered off to follow his orders. A soldier looked up at him, clutching a rifle against his chest like a shield.

“What?”

“They’ve been sighted, sir.” His voice cracked. “They’re making a run for it on foot, but they’re not moving very fast. They’ve taken to the desert, by the east bridge.”

The commander spun on his heels, turning from his perch to make his way to the staircase. He gave a curt nod to each of the men standing by, gesturing for them to follow. He would need every soldier assigned to this middle-of-nowhere dump he had been defending for half a century. The atmosphere had been quite cheerful until today, the day when everyone under his command learned what it meant to be tested.

But they’d been seen, finally, and he could take as long as he wanted to get to the East End. The desert was eternal, without shelter or cover until one reached the mountains, and that took at least three days by ‘craft. If they were on foot, all his men needed to do was to keep them in sight, and he would have them.

He ran through the list of rewards he would receive for capturing the elusive pair. Money? Land? A promotion would be in order; he deserved that much, at least. Somewhere nice, somewhere where the sun shone, instead of burning like fire on his constantly covered-up skin. There was a little place he liked not too far away, with sandy beaches and a deep ocean, a post that required plainclothes rather than camouflage.

He marched through the ghost town, realizing how high the sand had risen since his first day all those years ago. It had been a vibrant place back then, with a market on this very street and flags flying from the windows. Now, all that remained were crumbling memories; the rising sands were devouring what lingered. Soon, all they would leave would be a gigantic dune—the only dune for thousands of miles.

“You have them?” he asked as he reached the squadron at the east bridge. The soldiers huddled in a mass, each trying to mask their fear. The broken bridge had all but crumbled away, leaving a cement perch over an ocean of sand, a perfect vantage point from which to see … well, more sand. Only today, just for a change, there was something else out there.

Each of his soldiers bore a mark from the so-called attack: a red-raw neck; a lump or two growing on their head; a small mark in the shape of a cigarette burn, accompanied by the scent of scorched clothing and skin. Their wounds were minor, however, which meant he would capture the two most wanted criminals in the universe without losing a single man. He did wonder how they had managed to get through the fight with such light injuries, though. According to legend, the fugitives could kill hundreds in a single minute—some even said the blink of an eye—though he was sure the stories were exaggerated.

The felons dashed across the arid desert. They wore desert clothes, loose layers of cotton wrapped around their bodies to help them blend in with the sand. The man’s turban was coming undone, fluttering in the wind he created by his sheer speed. The woman danced lightly across the sand beside him; unhindered by the wrap, she was so graceful, she almost floated in the air. It was enough to make the commander freeze as he watched her shrinking from view.

“I have them in my sights, sir,” the sniper announced. His finger hovered above the trigger. The commander found himself staring at it, that lonely digit, reveling in how something so simple could bring such vile things to an end. The rest of his companions stood further back, eyes wide with terror, faces contorted with fear, and legs paralyzed by both. This man had no welts on his arms, no marks or bruising on his neck. No wonder he could still think clearly. The commander ran a hand over the burn on his right wrist, sliding his sleeve to cover it.

“I see them.” He grinned at the sniper, his binoculars trained on the two figures. “Shoot to incapacitate. Then have a retrieval squad pick them up.”

The sniper fired a single shot. A loud, piercing sound broke the silence. Almost instantly, the man fell to the ground, a red spot spreading from the middle of his back, soaking through his cotton garb. The commander sneered. Just minutes away from glory.

His sneer faded when the man stood up; he didn’t seem to notice the bullet, even though the splotch of blood spread. The man fled across the desert unhindered by the wound, his feet pounding rhythmically. “Shoot him again,” the commander ordered, mortified. He clutched his burn as if he could reflect the pain back tenfold upon those who bestowed it.

The shot rang out, seemingly louder this time, but the man kept running, despite fresh blood saturating his shirt. “Again.” Finally, losing his temper he commanded, “Kill him!”

This time, the bullet hit the small of the man’s back, but he didn’t fall. Instead, his hand reached across his back, as if to swat a fly, smearing the blood without slowing his stride.

“This is clearly the wrong approach,” the commander said, forcing himself to keep his composure, though fury flooded his words. “Arms at the ready.”

“What, all of us?” a soldier asked.

“Yes, all of you,” he snapped, raising a hand in the air. “Ready … aim …”

The soldiers had barely raised their guns when the targets just … disappeared. They had not fallen, nor had they escaped upward. The commander scrutinized the landscape, but there was no trace of them; in their place, an unfurled turban floated to the ground in the breeze.

The commander’s fury burst the dam of self-control, and he howled. He ripped off his helmet and slammed it on the ground. It hit the pavement and rebounded, ramming into his shin. He felt none of it; his anger eclipsed his pain, the fury burning through his veins like acid, stronger and hotter than he had ever felt before.

Everything he had heard about them, everything he wished he hadn’t known but had learned to fear about them … it was all true, and there was no better truth than the one he had seen with his own eyes. One second they were there, just out of reach, the next, gone. Just … gone. Bullets didn’t even slow them down. No wonder they had a knack for evading the law.

No wonder they needed to be taken down.

For the first time in his life, the commander dropped his head into his hands, a sob ringing across the empty wasteland, heard only by the cowards behind him. He picked up his helmet, and, seeing the burn marks upon it, shouted words into the desert that his men could not understand. Then, without thought, he tossed it into the desert, watching the dented metal tumble in the air, before falling into the sand and lodging itself there to be covered up by time. With that, the commander fell to his knees, rubbing his webbed fingers over his irritated, sunburned scalp.

They had escaped once again. And with them, his dreams.

Goodbye, money.

Goodbye, land.

Goodbye, promotion and plainclothes.

And he had so wanted that quiet posting on Earth.


Starstruck All Angles

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