Welcome to the first in my Acolyte book series. If you like teens with superpowers, alliances and betrayal, all wrapped in an action-packed Science Fiction setting, then this is the story for you!
Souls for Suffering - Book 1 of the Acolyte series
As a former child soldier for the Female Dominion, Sacet understands the war between the sexes well. And now that she's free, all grown up and can open portals, she could help end that war. But she'd rather keep travelling with her little brother, Eno, ignoring the plight of the world, as well as her past.
However, with super-powered soldiers hunting them down, they can't run forever. And eventually Sacet will face a grave choice - will she risk both their lives to fight back, or will she serve her old masters once again to keep Eno safe?
Story 100% owned by me. Some art created by me, some commissioned, and a lot was taken from Google Images for illustrative purposes only (not-for-profit).
For giving me the power to dream,
imagine and journey into the unknown
I dedicate this story to my parents,
Gary and Raylee
“I will never understand why you saved her. She’s not your real daughter,” my grandfather said from behind the tent wall. “What if one day she snaps and hurts your son?”
I tread through the hot sand, careful not to kick it or make any noise. I placed my hands on the animal-skin wall and leaned closer to hear them talking about me.
My father, Azua, gave a gruff sigh. “I’m sick of having this conversation, Dad.”
“Sacet is a part of our family now,” my mother, Enni, said firmly. “She’s not one of them anymore, she probably doesn’t even remember them.”
Would I get in trouble if they knew I was listening in on them? No, they were talking about me, so I had a right to know.
“I’m not asking you to kill her,” my grandfather continued. “That was before I found out about her powers. She could help Nomad tribes all over this world, uniting us against the Dominions …”
“She’s 10 cycles old!” my mother blurted out, before adjusting back to a whisper. “She won’t be a part of this war, your war.”
There was an extended silence. I froze, holding my breath.
My grandfather sighed. “She’s already been a part of this war, on the wrong side of it.”
“I’m not putting a gun in my only daughter’s hands,” my father said.
“You won’t have to,” my grandfather replied. “Today she was able to make a portal from here to the lake. It was by her memories alone; she couldn’t physically see the destination. We spent the day training on the beach to celebrate.
“Maybe … maybe there is no limit to the distance of these portals. Let me take her to the other settlements and teach her to make a link between all of our people. On the way I can train her to fight.”
“I don’t care how useful she could be,” my mother said. “She’s my child and we are not abandoning her!”
There were footsteps thudding on the rocky pathway leading up to our tent. I ducked down behind the side of the tent wall as the villager rounded the corner, yanked aside the cloth doorway and stumbled inside.
“Arleigh?” my father said. “What’s the matter?”
I could hear the girl panting from here, unable to speak.
“Where’s Eno?” my mother asked. “I thought you were taking care of him?”
“I … I can’t find him,” she managed between gasps. “I was playing with him … and …”
“He could have wandered too close to the water,” my father said, cutting Arleigh short. “I’m going to the river.”
“Well, where did you leave him?” my mother demanded. “How could you take your eyes off him?”
Perched upon the cliff’s edge, an almost sheer drop below me, I cast my gaze over the settlement. It was now abuzz with villagers exiting their tents and searching for Eno, led by my parents and grandfather.
I knew my toddler brother better than most. He always bugged me to climb the cliffs with him so he could see what was on the other side. After the dangerous climb itself, there was nothing to be seen but an unending, desolate, sand-covered wasteland. Not old enough to truly understand death like I did, it didn’t matter how we explained this to Eno; he just wanted to explore everywhere.
A long, winding path led to the cliff where I stood, and there were two sets of fresh tracks in the sand along it, including my own. The other footprints belonged to someone much smaller.
I should probably tell someone. I opened my mouth, about to call out to the villagers below, but then paused. No, I was sick of how the village treated me. If I found him first, maybe they would finally trust me instead of thinking me a monster. While the rest of the village searched along the waterside, I would search from above.
I turned away from the settlement, instead eyeing the dry canyon that connected to our ravine. Eno couldn’t have climbed out of the canyon yet, he would have followed one of the forking paths, which created another drop in the middle.
As I descended down the left path, I heard the faintest of whimpers coming from below.
“Eno?” I called out, getting down onto my knees and sliding closer to the edge to peer over the side, down into the deep chasm. “Where are you?”
“Sassy!” I heard him call out from below.
There he was, sitting with his back to the rocks on a lower tier that jutted out from the cliff face. There was nowhere for him to go, other than down. Tears had swelled around his blue eyes. His clothes, and even his normally blond hair, were covered in dirt, no doubt from falling and attempting to climb back up.
“Sassa, I want mummy,” he pleaded. “I want mummy!”
No, I was going to be the one who rescued him. I’ll prove to everyone how grown up I am, and how trustworthy. I could make a portal to him. “Alright, just don’t move, okay? I’m coming to get you.”
I stood up, backed away from the ledge, closed my eyes and began to twirl my fingers. Picturing Eno’s ledge and my own position in my mind, I strained until all of my muscles went stiff.
My grandfather and I had been training all day making portals. I had already made three, the most I’ve ever made in one day, and I felt really drained. I kept straining, but nothing seemed to come from my effort. It was no use.
I got back down on my knees and positioned myself on the ledge directly over him as he began to bawl. “Mummy’s on her way, okay? She’s coming.”
Eno wasn’t that far down, maybe I could reach him? I stretched my hand down. “Eno, can you grab my hand? Big sis can pull you up.”
He refused to budge, instead continuing to moan, which echoed off the canyon walls.
“Come on, reach Sassy’s hand,” I said, but it didn’t motivate him.
There was a loud roar coming from farther down the chasm – it echoed and rung in my ears. Eno stopped bawling, we both went silent. It was a Necrolisk.
“Eno … take my hand,” I said, much quieter than before. “Stand up and reach.”
A new kind of fear had taken my brother, one I had never seen before. Maybe he did understand death? As good a time as any, for death was fast approaching us. He stood up, eyes wide and tear-filled, and mouth agape but silent.
The scuttling of insectoid legs came up from below, the echoing so intense it was impossible to know how many of the creatures there really were down there. But then I saw one. The behemoth rose from the depths of the chasm, scaling the wall with ease as if it were flat ground.
“Eno?” I called out, my eyes fixed upon the creature. I felt a brush against my fingertips and looked down to see Eno reaching out. I latched onto his sweaty, dirt-encrusted hand and yanked him up. As soon as we were both up, I grabbed him with both arms and ran towards the village.
The Necrolisk reached the cliff’s edge to our side and launched itself up onto the path, blocking our way back. Its gigantic claws were raised high into the air. Its carapace was covered in spikes and glistening scales. Its sharp head, more teeth than anything else, was pointed towards us. I felt as if my heart had stopped. I had never seen a Necrolisk up close before, and its menacing size, far larger than any man from our village, caused me to freeze.
It opened its jaws and roared again, almost deafening me. My legs refused to move. More scuttling could be heard by the chasm to our side. The creature lowered its head and slowly closed in, as if relishing the kill. I still couldn’t move.
There was an explosion and a shower of green blood engulfed me. I fell onto my back and Eno flew out of my grasp to the side. After clearing the blood from my eyes, I shot back up again. The Necrolisk’s body was headless, unmoving, slumped against the cliff wall.
On the other side of the chasm, on the highest ledge of the cliffs, our parents stood with their rifles aimed at the fallen attacker.
“Sacet, take Eno and get back to the village!” my mother screamed.
The scuttling I heard earlier was on the other side of the chasm … at least 10 more Necrolisks were ascending the chasm wall towards mum and dad. My parents noticed them, too, and backed away from the ledge.
“Go!” Dad said, edging farther and farther back with mum until they were both out of sight.
The Necrolisks reached the precipice and followed my parents out into the desert above.
Eno was to my side, shaking and not taking his eye off the monster’s corpse in front of us. He flicked his hands towards the creature, as if he were trying to push it away.
“No! Get away,” he screamed, sobbing as he did so. “No, stop it! Get away!”
I still couldn’t move. I looked down at my robes, drenched in the monster’s dark-green blood.
At the canyon’s entrance where we first entered, a horde of other villagers clambered down the rocks towards us. Our grandfather was leading them; I recognised his white beard first. They all stopped in their tracks and looked to the other side of the chasm when they heard my mother scream in the distance, followed by the roars of the Necrolisks.
I could only stare at the dead creature in horror, frozen in place.
Later that night
“Thank-you for your father’s offer, but we’re not going with you,” my grandfather said from the tent’s entrance. “Tell him we wish the rest of you luck.”
Arleigh stood at the parted doorway, confused. “Well, can I at least say goodbye to the kids?”
“Now’s not a good time,” my grandfather replied. “We’ll say our goodbyes when we part ways in the morning.”
Arleigh hesitated, but nodded, and gave a half wave to Eno and I. My grandfather closed the cloth door, looked down at the ground, and turned back to us. He took a seat on Eno’s toy trunk and tried to force a smile.
Eno was lying on his pelt-covered bed, not moving, and not as excitable as his usual self.
I was sitting on the end of my own bed, staring at my grandfather pleadingly. “Why do we have to leave?”
He looked down at the ground between us. “The village is packing up. We can’t stay this close to Necrolisks. We didn’t know they were hunting nearby, or maybe they were here all along.”
“But why can’t we stay with the others?” I shot back. “It’s safer to stick together.”
“I want mummy and daddy to come, too,” Eno cried out, shooting up from his bed and punching his sheets.
Our grandfather closed his eyes and shook his head, and then tried his best to compose himself before looking back at Eno. “Your mum and dad have gone far away.”
“Don’t lie to him,” I said. “You lie too much.”
He stood up from the trunk. “Sacet, you can’t talk to me that way. I’m your grandfather.”
“No you’re not!” I yelled back, before throwing myself face-first into my pillow behind me. Tears formed in my eyes and dampened the fabric upon my cheek.
“You remember …” He went silent. “You know where you came from? What you are?”
“I’ve always known,” I muffled through my pillow.
I could hear Eno get out of his bed and amble over to me. He prodded me in the side. “Hey! Sassy, where’s mummy?”
I sat up, tears now flowing freely, and brought Eno onto my bed to hug him, before looking back at our grandfather. “No more lies.”
“Fine,” he said, sitting back on the trunk. “I want to take you around the world to as many Nomadic settlements as we can find. Eno is my grandson. He isn’t staying with these people, he’ll stay with us.”
He stroked his beard. “I’m going to train you to become a warrior, and when you’re ready, you’ll let yourself be captured by the Dominion. Once inside their cities, you’ll open portals to all of the settlements so our soldiers can come through and we’ll tear the enemy down from the inside.”
Six cycles later
I smashed my closed fists down onto Eno’s high guard like a hammer. His incorrect blocking technique started to give way. Every time I hit, he shifted back in the sand closer to the river.
I was too strong for him. My 16 cycles compared to his 10 made a big difference to our sparring. And while he had hardly any muscle-tone, I was the strongest I had ever been.
“Keep that guard up, Eno!” Aberym shouted with a cracked voice. “Fight back, come on!”
Eno’s grandfather was standing farther up the riverbank, getting angrier at my success and his grandson’s lack of progress. He never tried to inspire confidence in me, only his real grandchild.
Eno lowered his arms and groaned in pain, so I backed away.
I mirrored Eno’s stance and raised my arms as if sparring an invisible opponent. “Try to angle them. Like this, see?”
Eno’s face twisted up. “I’m doing it like that. You’re hitting me too hard!”
“Both of you, stop!” Aberym called out as he trudged down the bank. His long, airy robes dragged a path through the sand.
He glanced at both ends the river-canyon, as well as the cliffs above, probably to make sure no one was watching us. Then he gently patted Eno’s shoulder. “Take a break. Go refill your bottle and maybe take a short swim.”
Eno looked relieved. He spun on the spot, leant down to pick up his leather-covered canteen out of the sand, before traipsing down the embankment.
Now that Eno was out of earshot, Aberym shot a loathsome look at me. “This is your fault. You lack control … restraint.”
I folded my arms and furrowed my brow. “I’m sparring him like you sparred against me when I was his age. He won’t learn anything if I don’t attack with intent. You taught me that.”
He gritted his teeth. “If I say you’re going too hard on him, then that’s exactly what you’re doing!”
I shook my head, rolled my eyes, and smirked, before following in Eno’s tracks.
“And where do you think you’re going?” he asked, and I stopped mid-stride. “I didn’t say you were finished.”
I glanced over my shoulder and gestured to the water where Eno had now jubilantly submerged himself. “Can’t I get a drink first?”
“No,” he replied, approaching me from behind. “You’re training isn’t over. Close your eyes.”
I sighed loudly. “Not this again, I told you I can’t open portals anymore.”
I complied, standing in place. Aberym approached closer. The wind howled on the canyon walls, and Eno splashed in the water behind me.
“I want you to remember what happened to Eno’s parents,” Aberym began.
I peeked my eyes open and sneered. “They were my parents, too.”
“Enough!” He looked back at Eno and made sure he wasn’t paying attention before continuing. “I want you to picture them in your mind. Where they died. How … they died.”
My lips trembled. “This is a waste of time.”
“Hold out your hands,” he said, and I shook my head. After a brief pause, he latched onto my wrist and yanked it up higher. “You could have saved them if you had of opened a portal.”
I shook my head. “No, they ran off before I …”
Aberym began to slowly encircle me. “You knew how to make portals by then, you must have made at least four that day alone. But you froze, in the moment it mattered most.”
“You can’t put this on me,” I replied.
“Strain your wrists. Open a portal, now!”
I stood motionless, trying to focus. I felt a kick to the back of my knee, forcing me to kneel in the sand.
“The Necrolisks are coming,” he said in my ear. “Get up and do it now! Open one and save them!”
I had enough. I shot up, opened my eyes, turned to him and gave a scathing gaze. A single tear rolled down my cheek. When I blinked, more began to flow.
I brushed past him, knocking his shoulder, before stomping back up the embankment and into the cave we were keeping our gear.
“You can’t walk away every time you fail,” Aberym called out, his words echoing through the canyon. “If you do, your failures will follow you to the ends of this world.”
Later that night
“Are you okay, sis’?” I heard a faint whisper say.
I turned on the fur rug. The cave was dark, with only a little light from the night sky outside. Eno was beside me, staring into my adjusting eyes. I looked over to Aberym to make sure he was still asleep.
“I’m okay,” I whispered back to Eno.
“I don’t think Grandpa wanted to make you feel bad,” Eno suggested. “Whatever he said, I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
“No, he meant it. But don’t worry about it, alright? It’s going to be over soon anyway. When we get to Metus, he’ll see how great everything is there, and … maybe we can just … live there. Live normal lives.”
I leant over and hugged him. “Goodnight.”
The next afternoon, outside the Teersau ruins
“We’ve made it, look,” Aberym said, pointing to the hazy vision on the horizon. “The ruins of Teersau. We have successfully travelled the famous pilgrimage.”
I plodded up the next dune, pulling Eno up it by the hand. “So that’s the promised land? Another endless stretch of desert?”
“No, behind the ancient city are mountains, and behind those is a great forest, with a network of many rivers and lakes. The next river is two days away.”
Eno moaned as he sat on the sand. “I don’t have enough in my canteen for that!”
Aberym chuckled. “If your sister could open portals, we could make the trip by nightfall.”
I ignored him, striding down the next dune. “And let me guess,” I called back, “when we get to this paradise, we’re going to spend all our time searching for more settlements, right?” I stopped and looked between them.
Aberym stopped, too. “Sacet, your power, when you finally get it working again, will save this world.”
I shrugged. “I thought you’d say that.”
Eno walked past him, avoiding eye-contact. When he reached me, we both continued down the dune, focusing on where we stepped.
“Kids,” Aberym called out, and we stopped once more. “How about when we find a good place to rest, a settlement with food, water and shade, we’ll stay longer than usual? You both deserve a rest.”
Eno gave a sarcastic smirk. “Longer than usual, so what … three days instead of two?”
Aberym attempted a smile. “Longer.”
I nodded slowly. “Okay, you promise?”
“I promise,” he replied as he reached us.
Eno looked positively ecstatic. “Maybe there’ll be other kids?” He smiled at me. “Other kids!”
I smiled back. “Maybe some my age for once, too.”
Eno gave a mischievous smirk. “Yeah, I bet you’re hoping for all of them to be boys, huh?”
“Jerk!” I tried snatching at him but he ran down the dune ahead of me.
“Well,” Aberym began, pointing to the ruins in the distance, “let’s get there first.”
Eno led our trio, almost with a spring in his step, somehow reinvigorated by the potential of other kids to meet. Aberym and I trailed behind together. And when our eyes met, I didn’t feel my usual hate for him. Maybe he was capable of inspiring me after all?