About the Book
Author: Zamil Akhtar
Genre: Science-Fiction / Fantasy
When Kav sleeps, a firefly whispers in his ear that his wife is not dead. But to find her he has to kill the three Magi that protect the land of Eden.
The same Magi destroyed Kav’s hometown four years ago to crush a rebellion, and he hasn’t seen his wife since.
As Kav plots to kill the Magi, a flying armada bent on conquest and destruction invades Eden. Only the Magi and their ability to turn sunshine into magical energy can stop them.
Granted the same power by the firefly, Kav must either kill the Magi to reunite with his wife, or let go of his longing for the sake of Eden and its people.
Zamil Akhtar is an indie science fantasy author and blogger living a location-free lifestyle. He can be found in Boston, Dubai, or Manila depending on the time of year. Of Pakistani-heritage, he grew up in the Middle East and moved to Western Massachusetts when he was thirteen, and his varied upbringing colors his fiction. He has a BBA in Marketing from the University of Massachusetts and an MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University. His loves are videogames, science-fiction and fantasy novels, HBO dramas, and Southeast Asia.
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Kav stared at the fireflies whirling around the otherworldly tree. Their light strengthened as they whirled, more luminous than the sun. Fixated by their motion, Kav began to wonder.
When did I get here?
The grass was muddy and soft. The dew was cool, wetting his lips and eyelids. The breeze seemed to be whispering.
Then the otherworldly tree groaned and opened its mouth. The garden shook with fury, the tree parted, and a path to its insides appeared.
The wind told him to go.
It was dark inside the tree, until a firefly fluttered next to him. Kav followed its light as it zigged and zagged its way through the tree’s innards, toward its swarm, where hundreds of fireflies lit the end of a hallway. They glowed around a throne made of shadows, upon which someone was sitting. From the shadows grew snakes, and they slithered across the one on the throne, holding him in place. No, it was a she. Her pale skin sank beneath the snakes, strangled by their coils. Her blue hair was slowly devoured.
Kav pulled at a snake, but their mouths were inside her flesh. He feared he would hurt her by yanking them out.
“Nur, help me save her!”
More snakes bit her. There was hardly a spot on her that wasn’t bloody. Then a message appeared in Kav’s mind.
Do you want to see her again?
Who sent it? There was no frequency, but he could still respond.
Can you help?
And hundreds of snakes grew out of the throne and bit Layla, until she was entirely eaten. Another message hit Kav.
Soon, I will come to you with an offer. Accept it if you wish to save the one person who ever mattered to you.
Shar didn’t really miss prison. Four years ago, the day the Continentals came for him, he was resigned to what had to be. Locked in chains, aperture clamped, they tossed him into the brig of a levship. One headed for some dungeon in Almaria.
His cell there was dirt and puddles of mud, enclosed by rusted iron bars. He wasn’t afraid of the time, nor the execution date. He sat in his cell, made a pillow of mud, and stared at nothing.
Drip. Drip. A leak in the ceiling swelled the puddle. It expanded its territory in this tiny barred world. Whatever. Didn’t matter. Nothing did.
His neighbors, surely, weren’t so positive. Eyes were downcast, expressions limp, gazes lost. Despair welled through the air like a collective current.
The baby one cell over cried. Its mother, an Almarian girl, “shhd” it to stop. But it wailed and wailed.
“Aaaash ghhh tammm.” She began to sing a Kalamic lullaby. “Aaaash ghhh tamm.” Whatever it meant.
Shar closed his eyes. Sleep knocked on his skull. Out — his soul flew somewhere. Images of that place whirled onto his vision. He was back in that Keldanese city, but nothing was there. Entirely flat, it was just a slab of concrete — the whole island. Wiped clean by the Magi.
When Shar woke, he was hungry. Not for food or water. This was a hunger for what sustained his sanity. Empty, his stomach curled in. He breathed in and out to regain himself, but the pain became worse.
It felt like something inside his brain wanted to come out. Like a monster imprisoned in his skull was scratching its way to freedom.
Shar wailed, then screamed. And wailed some more. With blurred vision, he saw a man at the door of his cell.
“Shut it.” It was one of the guards.
The man had a gut that stuck out of his buckled trousers like a ball. He wore a piss yellow Almarian constable uniform. The Emblem of Two Rivers shone over his bulging left breast.
Shar grabbed one of the bars and pulled himself onto his knees. “Get me something. I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll go get a stick to beat your ass with.”
“Listen, I can pay you. I’ve got a man on the outside with the stuff already.” Colonel Aasad had set it up — the least the man could do. “In Qindsmar. You go get it for me, and he’ll pay you, equal to what you make here in a week.”
The guard banged Shar’s hand, sent him thudding back. “Shut the hell up. I’m a man of honest labor.”
“Do it, you know you want to. My guy’s a pharmacist, works in one of the hospitals. Okay?”
“No, not okay. Shut your mouth and do your time.”
Shar spent the next few hours in pain. He listened to the baby wail and its mother struggle to shut it up. And the lullaby — it soothed him too.
“Aaaash ghhh tamm.”
Later, the guard came back. He bent down, brought his face close to the bars. “Okay, where do I meet this fellow?”
Shar gave him the info, and the guard left.
A UHR of hell ensued. Writhing in pain, Shar listened to that baby go on and on. Shouting at it made it louder. So he splashed his face in the mud puddle.
Somehow he managed a few drops of sleep.
The next day, the fat guard returned. He threw a tiny vial through the bars. Shar grabbed it, opened the top, and sniffed the saqara tree oil.
He wanted it inside him, all of it. He inhaled, until the monster in his skull calmed, the blur in his vision lessened, and he could grip his world again.
“That’s all you’re getting,” the guard said, “once a week.”
“Once a week? Listen, he must’ve given you more than this!”
“That’s all you get, once a week.”
The guard walked away. Shar sniffed and sniffed. Control yourself. He needed to savor this morsel for the entire week.
“You’re worse than my baby here, without your drug.” It was the girl in the next cell. The baby slept in her arms. The tree oil’s life giving scent staved off the smell from that child. No change of diapers in there.
“It’s all well and good now.”
“You’re smiling like it’s your birthday. Is that little vial really bringing you so much happiness?”
Shar hadn’t realized. “Why not? It’s all I got now.”
Guards brought food. They pushed a bowl of water through the bars and tossed a piece of bread on the ground.
Shar chugged the water. He chomped the bread, a brittle and harsh crust, as his stomach unknotted.
For the girl and baby, only one piece of bread and one bowl of water were given up by the guards.
“Please, give us a little more, for the child!”
The guard laughed. “The little shit isn’t gonna survive anyway.”
Shar watched as the girl tore off little pieces of crust, until they were tiny grains. One by one, she dropped those grains in the baby’s mouth. In that way, all the bread finished. With the baby on her lap, she poured the water down its throat, then kissed it on the cheek. Saved nothing for herself.