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Confederacy Teaser Excerpt

August 1, 2010

I must be dreaming, Nasan thought, in a detached way.  But no, people who were dreaming never wondered whether they were dreaming or not, right?  She didn’t bother much to puzzle it out.  It didn’t seem to matter.

“Come,” he said, and his voice was that of the man who was speaking to Oscar earlier that night.  He held out his hand, palm up.

Without hesitating she took his hand and stood.  Then they were standing out in the square, and she was not sure how they had gotten there.  It was daylight, but the sun was a bloated red disk like a vision of the end of the world and it seemed to be in the wrong place in the sky.  She wondered that she didn’t hear anybody else in the city stirring.  How could they help but wake up?

The whole city was lifeless and reddish as if preserved in amber.  The buildings had turned into red sandy stone with empty windows like dead eyes.  They cast long shadows in the ember sun.  The khipu totem at the center of the square had somehow become a tree.  It was still in the grip of winter, leafless, dead.

“That tree isn’t dead.”

The robed man said it matter-of-factly.  There he went, reading her mind like Oscar did.  He produced a knife from somewhere – her knife.  There was that chip in the end from when she dropped it on her first hunting trip.  She was too far away to see the knife clearly, but she knew the chip was there all the same.  The man walked toward the tree and beckoned her to follow.

While she watched, he used the knife to strip some of the bark off of a low branch at about chest height.  The tree’s flesh underneath was green.  Beads of sap welled at the edges of the cut.

“So you see it’s not dead.  It’s lying dormant.  Waiting for something.  A bit more light, maybe some rain, and it will bud out again.”

She looked up at him.  “What are you?”
A knowing smile.  “I am the Star Menkar.”

And then he changed.  He became fluid, like heated putty.  Limbs bent, ran together, grew brighter.  Seconds before the transformation was complete she realized what she was about to see.  A Star-centaur of legend, and it was standing there before her.

Part man, part bird, part horse, it was beyond classification.  At the horse’s shoulders where its head and neck should have been was the upper half of a man’s body.  Whether he was covered in skin or fur she couldn’t tell because he was so blindingly white it hurt the eyes to look at.  His eyes might have been any color; against that brilliance they appeared black.  On this man-horse’s back were four feathered wings, each as long as a man was tall, the same dull red of his steaming hooves and hair, and the robe he’d worn a moment ago.  The wings beat the air slowly, out of time.

Nasan dropped to her knees.

“Don’t kneel, child.”  Amazingly, the creature’s voice was the same as before his transformation.  “I’m a very lesser Star.”

“What do you want with me?”

A pause.  In anything other than a Star it would have seemed like dissimulation.

“I’m here to help you.”

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