Sky Queen teaser: hunter.

It’s getting close, folks. The sequel to Tabitha is starting to come together. I don’t want to leave you hanging though, so I thought I’d post a little snippet hot off the press. See what you think.

Trudging back through the forest with nothing but her own ragged breath for company, Tabitha stopped for a moment by a tall tree. Closed her eyes, breathed deep, and listened to the mothbirds chirp and sing like little spirits. The bamboo leaves rustled like paper feathers in the chilly wind; the sound gave her tingles. Swaying branches shuttered the sunlight as she raised her closed eyes to the sky; the daylight glow flickered off and on like a light switch. A sudden shrieking bang cut the silence like skin and threw her back screaming. Staring around at the forest in a wild panic. More shrieking shots; laserbolts bit the ground around her. Clutching the burning hole in her chest, Tabitha scrambled to her feet and dived into the bushes as the shots whipped and crackled around her. Reeling from the scorching sting, clamping her palm against her gushing blood, she stamped the old Tabitha back down and crept into cover. Switched on the huntress. Yellow eyes peering through the leaves; watching for any sign of what was out there. Heard a soft dry crunch off to her left, out there between the trees. A slow careful footstep. It was stalking her. Tabitha quickly pressed her bloody palm against a tree trunk. Pushed her foot hard into the soil, and crept away in the other direction. Watching from the bushes. Waiting for it.

It took a few minutes, but the snail-slow footfalls grew closer. Soft steps on the dry dead leaves. She didn’t dare breathe too loudly; didn’t dare move. She watched something grow slowly from the side of the tree then, out a few yards there in front of her. A thin brown tube. A gun barrel. Slow as death, the rest of the gun followed after it. A slender soldier in a striped gold cowl; painted like bamboo. Camouflaged perfectly but for its slow creeping movements. As it glanced slowly around, it saw her silver bloody handprint on the tree trunk beside it. Instantly trained its gun off to its left, marking the footstep she’d planted there in the soil. One creeping silent footstep at a time, it stalked away from where she was hiding. Tabitha watched it in a frozen silence, cat-still. Gold eyes staring wide. Waiting.

The sniper scanned the ground slowly, carefully through his masked helmet, peering from his cowl to scrutinise every square inch. Any frayed fallen leaf; any drop of strange silver blood hidden away on the soil. Standing stock-still when the wind stopped blowing; edging on in his slow shaking creep when a fresh gust moved the bamboo around him. Waited until the minutes felt like hours. He froze up at every distant chirp; only planted a fresh footstep when it was masked by the rustling leaves up above. Breathing soft and silent; watching the woods. Gulping soundlessly; raw nerves in the thick cold silence. She wasn’t here. The alien wasn’t here. He’d taken a killshot; he knew he had. He’d been hunting and tracking and sniping since he was a kid; he’d perfected his one-shot kill until raw recruits thought he was just a myth. He didn’t miss; he’d never missed. How the hell had she crawled away? Standing there like a statue, hidden away against the trees, he gulped again and grounded himself. Listened to every single tiny sound out there. Strained his eyes on every fallen leaf; every rustling branch in the undergrowth. Then he saw it. A holy revelation in the distant trees. It was that same bright red hair, hidden in shadow but stark as a road sign. Mottled and shrouded behind the branches of a thick dark shrub, almost impossible to see. He shrank back behind the tree beside him and slowly raised his rifle. Settled into his stance. Gave the forest around him a slow careful glance for anything else that might be out there. Breathing deep and silent, he shouldered the rifle stock. Raised the scope to his eye. Trained the glowing crosshairs right in the shadowy centre of those thick red distant curls. Held his breath until his shaking sights settled still; curled his finger tighter round the trigger. Fired. But the burning hair didn’t fall down like it should have. The shot should’ve dropped her. It should’ve dropped her to the dirt and it didn’t. Panicking, the sniper snapped his rifle up and fired again. And again. The burning hair was smoking and dropping to shreds, but it hadn’t fallen back with the body like it should. Unless…

Cold golden eyes crept on silently behind him, bobbing and staring in silent hate. Tabitha pushed her hair back behind her ear, covering her new bald spot. By the time he looked back she was on him. Ripped his cowl down and smashed her fist over and over into that struggling staring mask until it was a crumpled screaming mess. Sprang out her claws and tore at his gloved hands until she could prise the rifle from his desperate grip and beat him to death with it like a baseball bat. She didn’t stop swinging until the screaming stopped. Until there was no chance in hell that creeping fuck was getting back up to kill her. By the time she stopped he was nothing but gore in the dead leaves. Staring at the forest around her, catching her breath until her heart stopped pounding, Tabitha wiped the blood splatter off her face with the back of her hand. Turned the body over and wrestled the cowl off him, and dragged it in the mud to hide the bloodstains on the fabric.
‘Fuck,’ she growled to herself, studying the rifle. She’d totalled it; it wasn’t even going to hold together for a club any more. Clawing around on his belt though, Tabitha found his sidearm. Cocked the strange laser pistol, tried the sights on a distant tree, and shoved it in her belt. Drained his water bottle in big parched gulps, checked around her to make sure nothing was hunting her, and disappeared into the trees.
‘I’ve got a gun now, fuckers,’ she growled into the silence, wrapping the cowl around her shoulders and blending away against the trees. ‘I’m coming for you. All of you.’

 

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