Welcome to another sneak peek at what we are up to! Today we have an excerpt from David Sherman’s recently released Demontech: The Last Campaigns, a collection of reprinted DemonTech shorts including “Surrender or Die”, “Delaying Action” and the novella, Get Her Back!. Our excerpt is specifically from the latter.
Also, for those of you with NetGalley accounts, this book is available for review copy request this month: DemonTech.
“What did you say?”
Startled, the newly arrived refugee jerked around to look toward the demanding voice. He blinked at the sight that met his eyes—a magnificently beautiful woman, golden from crown to toe. The spun-gold color of her hair, the amber of her eyes, and the honey-sunshine glow of her copiously exposed skin combined to deceive the eye into seeing her clothing as golden as well, although she wore nothing of gold. The fillet that held her hair in place was a simple leather strip. The short vest that didn’t quite close between her breasts, and the pantaloons that hugged her hips so low as to leave her entire midriff open to the air before billowing gracefully about her legs were all a parti-colored patchwork.
“L-Lady!” the refugee stammered. Even though no lady he’d ever caught a glimpse of dressed so like a houri, this woman’s bearing was such that she could only be a lady. He snatched his cap from his head and held it crushed in his hands. “I said—I said that I heard the music of a sothar before I escaped from the Desert Nomads’ camp.”
The golden woman thrust her face close to his. “Did you see the musician? Was he with a dancer?”
The refugee took an involuntary step backward. “N-No, Lady.I only heard the music.”
The woman stepped forward to keep her face close to his. “Did you see a dancer with this musician?” she repeated.
“N-No, Lady. As I said, I only heard the music.”
“Then how do you know it was a sothar that you heard?” she demanded, staying close to intimidate the man.
“I-I’m a merchant seaman, Lady. One time my s-ship made port in Frangeria. I saw a Djerwolh dancer, and heard her musician. Sh-She,” he took two brisk steps back so he could look more widely at this woman, “she looked a lot like you, only her clothes were gold.” His face reddened as he contrasted the lady’s splendid patchwork with his own seaman’s rags.
The woman stood erect and stared hard at the refugee. After a short moment she demanded, “Where is the Desert Nomads’ camp that you escaped from?”
The refugee swallowed. “In the High Desert. Three or four days walk from here. Maybe more. I wasn’t keeping track of how long I ran.” He swallowed again. “I ran and walked, and napped when I found safe places to stop.” He shook his head. “I can’t even say how many times I ate, I only ate what little I could grab as I ran.”
“I don’t care how many times you ate,” she snapped. “I want you to tell me where the camp is!”
The seaman swallowed. “I think th-three or four days w-west of here.”
“Then you will guide me to the place. Prepare to leave at first light.” The woman, Alyline, also called “the Golden Girl,” spun on her heel and strode toward the wagon that held her belongings.
The refugee looked after her, gape-mouthed, for a long moment, then spun around and ran, looking for a hiding place. There was no way he was going to return to the camp of the fierce nomads of the High Desert.
The long column compressed as it stopped for the night. With close to eight thousand people together on the move, fleeing before the invading Jokapcul army that had already conquered half the continent, it took time for the column to telescope closed. And for those who had them to erect tents. That meant the end of the marching day had to come correspondingly early. Spinner, one of the two Frangerian Marines in charge of the refugee train, fretted over the lost marching time. He knew that the enemy forces had to be getting ever closer behind them; those forces would be marching faster than the refugees were moving. He didn’t want the train caught before it reached the safety that was offered by the city of Handor’s Bay.
Well, the early halt did give time for a commander’s call before dinner, which was a benefit.
Spinner had spent the day as was his want, riding a horse up and down the length of the column, seeing and being seen in his familiar double-reversible, four-sided cloak, which he wore red-side-out for increased visibility as he moved along the column. Spinner didn’t simply see the people and be seen by them, he talked to them as well. “Do you have enough food?” he asked. “Do you have enough to drink?” “Do you have clothing other than what you are wearing?” “Is anybody in your group ill? Injured?” Everybody knew him by sight, not only from his red-side-out cloak, but also by his slightly taller than average height and his dusky complexion.
A time or two he had to settle a dispute, but not as often as he had when the column was much shorter. Now the people were too tired from the long trek to fight among themselves.
When Spinner returned from his final circuit of the day, the tent he shared with Haft, with whom he shared leadership, the largest and richest-looking tent in the train, was already set up.
Spinner, as always, shook his head when he saw the tent. He thought it was far too grand for use in a refugee train. But the others in the command group thought that he and Haft, as the leaders, needed symbols to make it clear to everybody that they were in charge. The big tent was such a symbol.
In recent weeks the command group had grown too large to meet inside the tent, so a circle of campstools was set up in front of it. Fletcher, Zweepee, and Xundoe the mage were already there when Spinner reached the tent—they must have set out the stools. He saw the company commanders arriving. There was Captain Geatwe, who still wore the blue tabard of the Zobran Prince’s Swords; Captain Mearh in the yellow of the Zobran Light Horse; Captain Phard wore the bear fur-trimmed maroon-striped tabard of the Skraglander Bloody Axes; and Sergeant Rammer, the training commander, distinguished by his Frangerian Marine reversible, double-sided cloak, worn mottled-green-side out, with its gilt rank chevrons on its shoulders.
Alone among the company commanders, Rammer had refused to accept an officer’s rank. He had been the commander of the Marine contingent on the ship Sea Horse, and Spinner and Haft had been part of his unit. They were separated when the Jokapcul attacked the port of New Bally; while Rammer was captured, Spinner and Haft managed to escape. By the time they were reunited on the north side of the Princedon Gulf, Spinner and Haft were leading several thousand refugees, many of whom either were soldiers or were being trained. Everybody knew that under the circumstances, Sergeant Rammer had to be subordinate to the two men who had been under his command.
Spinner knew it would be a few more minutes before Haft showed up; he had to come all the way from the rear guard where he spent most of his time on the march. And he knew that Silent, of the giant nomads of the Northern Steppes, was, as he usually was, ranging far afield on a reconnaissance.
As soon as Spinner dismounted a hostler took the reins of his horse and led it off to be curried and fed. Spinner suppressed a grimace—he thought that a horseman should see to his own mount. But this was another instance where the rest of the command group thought that the leaders needed the symbolism of having someone else take care of mundane matters. He stifled a groan when he eased himself onto his campstool, one of only three that had a back. The other two were currently empty. Haft would sit in one when he arrived, and the other…
“Where’s Alyline?” he asked. “I haven’t seen her all day. And where’s Doli? She’s usually one of the first here.”
The others looked questioningly at each other. But none of them knew where the Golden Girl was, or could recall having seen her that day.
“Here comes Doli,” Rammer said, nodding in the direction of the column’s end. “And it looks like she’s bringing someone with her.”
Doli was indeed bringing someone, dragging him along by the scruff of his shirt collar like a disruptive student being hauled by his teacher to the headmaster’s office. The man may have once been a seaman, if the cut and colors of his ragged clothes were to be believed.
Doli marched with an unaccustomed firmness to the center of the circle and halted in front of Spinner. The man whose collar she clutched dropped to his knees and whipped off his sailor’s cap to twist between his hands.
“Are you aware that Alyline is gone, that she has left the caravan?” Doli demanded of Spinner.
“What?” Spinner shouted, leaping to his feet. “Where did she go? When did this happen?” He looked about for his gear, ready to take off after the Golden Girl. Doli slammed the flat of her palm into the middle of his chest and he plopped back into his chair with a startled expression on his face.
“We were just talking about that,” Rammer said dryly, “wondering where she—and you—were.”
“This one claims to know.” Doli sniffed, nudging the one-time sailor with her knee. “Tell him what you told me,” she ordered.
“L-Lord—,” the man began, tugging his forelock and bobbing a bow at Rammer.
“Don’t tell me,” Rammer interrupted, “tell him,” and jerked a thumb toward Spinner.
The man was briefly confused, he’d sailed enough to have seen the uniforms of the Frangerian Marines. He didn’t understand why the older Frangerian with the sergeant’s rank insignia deferred to the younger one, whose only insignia was the trident-bearing merman riding on the waves that held his cloak closed at the neck. The lack of any other insignia indicated that he was very junior indeed. But he quickly recovered. It wasn’t up to him to wonder why the man who looked most like a commander deferred to someone who clearly looked to be his junior.
“L-Lord,” he began again, this time addressing Spinner. “Last eve a woman most beauteous and golden accosted me. She had me repeat what she’d overheard me say about hearing a sothar being played. Then she demanded that I take her to that place.” He averted his eyes while speaking, and hung his head at the end.
“But you didn’t take her?” Spinner growled.
“N-No, Lord.” The man cringed, not sure admitting that he hadn’t done the Golden Girl’s bidding wouldn’t get him into trouble.
“Good,” Spinner said with a whoosh of relief, thinking that Alyline must be somewhere nearby.
“How do you know she went without you?” Fletcher asked.
“L—, S-Sir,” he said hesitantly, unsure how to address this third person, “I hid last night so the lady c-couldn’t find me and make me g-go with her this morn. But I hid in a p-place wh-where I could see her leave.”
“Now for the most important question,” Rammer said, looking directly at Spinner.
“Where did she go?” Spinner asked, needing to know, but unsure that he wanted to. “And did she go alone?”
“She went to the High Desert, Lord.” The man paused to moisten his suddenly dry mouth and throat. “Seeking the camp of the Desert Nomads.”
Rammer grinned wickedly and leaned toward the man. “That’s why you hid, isn’t it,” he said. “You escaped from the Desert Nomads, didn’t you? And you’re afraid to go back to their camp. Now, tell us who was with the Golden Girl. Surely she didn’t leave by herself.”
“N-No, Sir, she wasn’t alone. There was small troop of mounted men with her.” He hesitated, then added, “They wore blue surcoats.”
All eyes turned to Captain Geatwe. There were blue-clad horsemen in his company.
Geatwe dropped his head into his hands. He sighed, then looked up. “Was their blue the same as mine, or was it a light blue?” he asked.
“It was much lighter than yours, Sir.” The seaman paused for a moment’s thought, then added, “They carried lances instead of great swords like the one you have.”
Geatwe shook his head and mumbled, “When I didn’t see all of them this morning, I thought they had gone ahead to scout the way.”
Rammer asked, “Are they in the habit of going ahead without letting you know?”
“Sometimes,” Geatwe admitted.
“We’ll have to do something about that,” Rammer murmured, “when we get them back. If we get them back.”
Spinner seemed to look inward for a moment, then looked at the sailor and said, “You wouldn’t guide Alyline, and that’s good because now you can guide me to that nomad camp.”
Ignoring the man’s wailing insistence that he didn’t think he could find the Desert Nomads’ camp again, Spinner stood up to make his preparations for going into the High Desert. Before he even got out of the circle, though, he had to stop because Haft arrived, and Spinner had to tell him what was happening.
David Sherman is the author or co-author of some three dozen books, most of which are about Marines in combat.
He has written about US Marines in Vietnam (the Night Fighters series and three other novels), and the DemonTech series about Marines in a fantasy world. The 18th Race trilogy is military science fiction.
Other than military, he wrote a non-conventional vampire novel, The Hunt, and a mystery, Dead Man’s Chest. He has also released a collection of short fiction and non-fiction from early in his writing career, Sherman’s Shorts; the Beginnings.
With Dan Cragg he wrote the popular Starfist series and its spin off series, Starfist: Force Recon—all about Marines in the Twenty-fifth Century.; and a Star Wars novel, Jedi Trial.
His books have been translated into Czech, Polish, German, and Japanese.
After going to war as a U.S. Marine infantryman, and spending decades writing about young men at war, he’s burnt out on the subject and has finally come home. Today he’s writing short fiction, mostly steampunk and farcical fantastic Westerns.
He lives in sunny South Florida, where he doesn’t have to worry about hypothermia or snow-shoveling-induced heart attacks. He invites readers to visit his website, novelier.com.