How does a world equipped with bows, arrows, and catapults, where steam power is just beginning to replace horses and sailing ships, avert a conquest from beyond the stars? Prince Regilius has been engineered to combat the Dalthin, a predatory alien species that enslaves worlds telepathically, and to do so he must unite his people. But when his mother murders his father, the land descends into chaos and his task may prove impossible. Faced with slaying the one who gave him life in order to protect his world, he seeks a better way. Set in a vast and varied land where telepaths and those with unusual mental abilities tip the course of events, Awakening goes to the heart of family, friendship, and betrayal.
"it's a grand debut. An ambitious and well considered SF crossover [that] breathes originality into the genre."– BookViral.com
"Bolton navigates through the plot lines and the mixed genres (Science Fiction but not exactly, Fantasy but not entirely, Paranormal but not completely) with the clear gesture of the conductor of a large orchestra. A new voice and author who is bound to grow a faithful readership."– Massimo Marino, international award-winning author of The Daimones Trilogy
"In AWAKENING Raymond Bolton presents us with an intricate and interesting problem, characters you care for, aliens who -are- alien, and a carefully-thought-out future."– Mike Resnick
Regilius awoke with a gasp. He attempted to sit, but the damp, prickling bedding entangled him. Drenched with perspiration, he tore off the covers, propped onto his elbows, and peered into the darkness. On a table to his right, dimly silhouetted against a blinded window, stood a light globe. Rocking onto one arm, he stretched toward the sphere and tore off its cover, bathing the space in soft blue light. The room was plain, sterile, and while he could not say where he was, he was certain this was not the palace.
He was trembling as he tried to remember where he might be and how he had arrived. The hand he ran through his hair came away dripping, while his mouth was parched and his tongue, thick and leathery, stuck to the roof of it. He reached for a glass of water, but as he tilted it to his lips, the room began to spin. Confused, he managed to empty the glass into a vase of morrasa blossoms before the world turned black.
He awoke again, this time his mind awash with images of murderers entering his home, of carnage and things that should not be. Yet, unlike childhood nightmares that become ethereal and fade, these coalesced into semblances of truth, of substance. Struggling to clear his head, he pushed them aside and searched for the tumbler. Miraculously, it lay unbroken on the nightstand. He was looking for a pitcher when his eyes fastened onto the vase. The blossoms, once white and fragrant, were now black, twisted, grotesque.
The door opened and he jumped. Light poured in and a woman wearing a nurse's cap peered into the room.
The utterance was not spoken. It filled his head and settled among his thoughts.
Still alive, young prince?
She stepped inside and closed the door.
You are truly remarkable. I have never sensed one such as you. You perceive my thoughts. Such a predicament for me and mine.
The nurse—no, the thing, for it felt as wrong as the flowers—approached his bed, and the hairs on his arms, neck, and scalp stood erect. His instinct was to bolt.
Stay where you are.
He had not moved, yet it had anticipated him. As the creature neared, it started to shimmer. Its shape and color began to change, and the abdomen of its now soft, gray, wormlike body rippled. Something like a mouth opened where its belly should have been, then closed, followed by another mouth and another until there were several opening and closing.
An appendage sprouted from its torso and snaked toward him. He had once seen something similar under his tutor's microscope when a tiny cellular predator reached out to snatch a meal. Eyes wide, unable to move, he was following this manifestation when, faster than he could react, it wrapped around his ankle and began pulling him toward it. As he opened his mouth to scream, light flooded the room.
He tore his eyes from the thing around his leg and turned to see a doctor and two orderlies entering. The physician paused, regarded his patient closely, and asked, "Your Highness? What in the world have you been doing?"
Prince Regilius found himself at the foot of the bed, clenching a handful of sheet. The covers, seemingly frozen as they streamed from the pillow, marked how he had been dragged. Yet, except for his odd location, all else appeared normal. His eyes went from the physician to the nurse and saw she appeared quite ordinary, her face betraying nothing.
"I want to get you into something dry and change your bedding," the doctor was saying, but as he followed the prince's gaze, he started when he noticed the woman in the corner. "Nurse, why are you here?"
"I was on my way upstairs and saw the light. I thought I would look in," she replied.
"Well," said the doctor, releasing his breath, "since you're here, perhaps you can assist us."
She and the orderlies set to work, and after several minutes the prince was clean and dry, wearing a new gown on a freshly made bed. The doctor ordered them out, and after a brief examination said to Regilius, "You have improved some, Your Highness. That is encouraging. I will check back again in a few hours. Meanwhile, please try to sleep." He covered the light globe and left, closing the door behind him.
Were it not for the flowers, Reg might have done as the physician had ordered, but their misshapen forms insisted he was not safe. Instead, he padded barefoot to the closet where he located his clothing. As he shed his gown with trembling hands and struggled to dress, an odd awareness overtook him: a cold certainty that the nurse, sensing he was leaving, was returning. Assuring himself he had forgotten nothing, he went to the window, struggled briefly with the latch, and as the blackness of night gave way to the deep green sky of morning, he slipped out and down to the street below.
Glancing over his shoulder, still sensing the presence behind him, he hurried along the cobblestone streets between the granite and marble edifices of the upper city. Eventually, however, his weakened state returned him to a walk. Feverish and thirsty, he spotted a fountain. He approached it and plunged his face into its waters. Stunned by the cold, he tossed back his head and gasped, sending a shower skyward. Then, leaning against the wet stone lip, he brought handful after handful of crisp refreshment to his lips. Satisfied, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve, breathed deeply and pressed on.
There was no question now that he would walk. After drinking so heartily, he knew he would cramp if he pushed too hard too soon, and the pace gave him time to consider the event that had brought him here.
Just yesterday, he had been engaged in a brisk game of platter with his friends, Danth, Leovar, and Ered. He recalled how Leovar had made a brilliant backhand catch. Without pausing, he had whirled and hurled the disk toward Regilius. It was an errant toss, and Reg had leapt to grab it. Then … nothing. No memory of a catch, or a miss, or of landing—nothing until he awoke in the hospital. And now he was fleeing from apparitions and a voice in his head with only instinct to guide him. He shook his head.
By the time the road had begun to slope up toward the palace, morning had arrived and the city was awake. Mahaz, the giant orange sun, had risen two hours above the horizon and second light would follow shortly when its smaller but hotter and brighter companion, the white dwarf, Jadon, appeared. More than enough time had elapsed for anyone looking to have discovered his absence and mounted a search, so he left the road, favoring footpaths to pavement. Ordinarily, he would have made directly for the security of home and family, but the visions that persisted warned him away, even from his own battalion. Despite everything within arguing to the contrary, he decided to leave the city. Although he would pass near the citadel, he did not need to enter its ramparts to reach his goal. Yesterday, before the game, he had dropped off his roadster at the club. Too small to carry four, he had left it, and with his friends had taken Leovar's coach. The club lay between him and home, but he reasoned if he could make it that far he could escape undetected.
As he climbed the ever-increasing grade, fatigue overtook him. He had abandoned the more commonly used paths for those he had known as a child, and the soil here was not always compacted. His legs grew rubbery and his feet slipped on loose earth in some of the steeper stretches. Climbing eventually reduced him from walking to scrambling, using hands for support until breaths became gasps and exhaustion forced him to halt.
He dropped to the ground behind a small shrub at the ridge top. Rolling onto his back, he could see how far he had climbed above the city. He shifted and spotted a brown and white speck overhead, a messenger pigeon winging toward the palace. Most likely it had been delivered to the hospital so word could be sent to Manhathus, his father, should his condition change. His eyes traveled from the bird to barakYdron, the fortification toward which it flew. Bright specks of color were proceeding up its causeway. They were banners, and the change in coloration from one van to the next indicated that guards from several houses made up the procession. Since their number, pace, and direction suggested their activity was unrelated to his, he decided he could move on.
He was beginning to rise when movement caught his eye. As he peered from behind the bush, a vehicle rounded a bend in the road, passed beneath his vantage point, and slowed. Its top was down, and the trio within craned their heads in his direction. He tried to flatten into the ground while their eyes probed the undergrowth. It braked to a halt; the passengers shimmered and, to his amazement, changed form. Three great gray slugs like the nurse emerged.
He had made no sound and was certain they could not have seen him, yet they seemed aware of his presence. At first, they cast about uncertainly. Time and again, however, they returned to his location until their eyes fastened on the spot where he lay. When they began to scale the hill, he could feel their minds reach out, and he started to panic. As they neared his hiding place, he grew sick and began to perspire. He wanted to run but was too weak. His breathing quickened and his heart began to pound. Could he somehow throw them off, he wondered?
Oddly, as the thought emerged, he sensed something small and warm nearby. At that awareness, his body shuddered, and he felt his mind cast something in the direction of that tiny presence. Simultaneously, the small furry animal burst from the brush below. It was a marmath. The creatures had apparently startled the rodent, and it dashed from its burrow past the trio and across the road.
The slugs' bodies jerked erect, and they turned to stare after it. They looked again to Reg's hiding place, then back toward the marmath. They swept the brush with their gaze and appeared to be debating among themselves. Minutes passed, and Reg feared they would decide to resume their search. Then slowly, hesitantly, they returned to their vehicle and departed.
He did not know what to make of it. Had they actually been attracted to the rodent rather than to him? Somehow, he doubted it. If not that, what had happened? It was as if, upon the animal's escape, he had been left without … what …? scent?
The carriage disappeared around the bend and Reg slowly rose from cover. He paused to ensure they had driven from sight, then he crested the ridge and warily descended.