Featherlight Snippet

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten from those who read Ravages of Honor is, “What are the donai women like?”

Like so much about the donai’s world, the scope of Ravages didn’t really let me address that question. The Ravages universe and its inhabitants are too big, too detailed, too deep to be fully developed in one novel, even a 150,000-word one.

But the story of Lady Yedon did give me the perfect opportunity to answer this question, at least for one donai. Lady Yedon was introduced in Ravages during Galen’s flashback to the first time he met Emperor Thán Kabrin.

If you’ve read Ravages, some of the world-building details are repeated here (for those that have not). If you have not read Ravages, it’s my sincerest hope that you will.

Either way, know that this novella stands alone as its own story. And that, unlike Ravages, it is a dark one.

Chapter One

Valeria stormed through the arched hallways leading from the swordhall to the Sovereign’s Suite as though she were some elemental force of nature. Her blonde hair was darkened by sweat. She swept it out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. 

Barefoot, she strode across intricate mosaics, cutting through shadows cast by carved, stone titans. Lightning split the sky, hurling blinding flashes of light at a universe gone wrong. The storm brewing outside was nothing compared to the tides of emotions she was caught in. They sent her crashing against unyielding cliffs and then sucked her back only to smash her anew.

Valeria was losing her strength and agility—an unbearable travesty. She’d not only lost the sparring session with her men, but she’d emerged bruised and battered. Healing was taking longer than it should have. Had it been a real fight, her enemies could’ve finished her off despite the nanites that gave her kind—the donai—their incredible healing ability.

The doors slid aside and she entered the ante-chamber. Lanterns floated down from the ceiling, casting a soft glow in the spartan chamber. Intricately carved panels covered the walls, deceptively hiding the ante-chamber’s main function: a kill-box. No enemy could pass through this chamber into the ones beyond where they might catch her unaware. Everything in the room, from the lanterns, to the tiles, to the panels was made of utility fog. Nanites stood ready to change form as needed, depending on the threat level.

A sword rack protruded from the column just inside the main chamber. She shed the killing sword and placed it on the rack, but the short sword remained within reach even as she stepped out of the hakama and shrugged out of the wide-sleeved jacket. They landed on the tiles as she made her way past over-stuffed couches and low tables. She had no attendants—not today, not tomorrow, not as long as she was like this. The fewer people who knew of her growing weakness, the better.

The chamber presence had dulled the mirrored walls. It knew that she could no longer bear the sight of her body. The donai may have started out human, still conforming in general appearance, but she could not look at the changes she’d undergone. Her softness disgusted her. Even the swell of her belly was false, mocking. 

It was different for the men. Larger, taller, the donai men merely looked like enhanced versions of their progenitors. Only the layered amber irises of augmented eyes and the points of their ears gave them away. But the differences between humans and donai were truly pronounced in the women of her sub-species.

It was those differences that had been offending her for some time. Her musculature had become less defined, weak and prone to damage. There were times when the new weakness of her muscle fibers turned her stomach. Even the density of her bones had changed. She was no longer able to tolerate impacts without risking fracture and breakage: slow-to-heal fracture and breakage.
She entered the dimly lit bathing chamber with its simulated stone walls, its simulated sky, its simulated peace.

Caretaker nanites had turned the bath water opaque with their shimmer. They glittered and swirled in her wake as she lowered herself into the steam so the extra dose of nanotech could accelerate her healing. Maybe they’d even wash off the stench of failure. Unbearable weakness resonated deep within her heart, increasing the pressure in her tear ducts. 

All normal, she’d been told. 

All part of the change. 

She breathed through the sudden frailty and eased into the giant tub. Warmth seeped into aching muscles, a lingering caress that made her crave touch—real touch—in a way she never had before.

Despite her young, talented physician’s warnings, his agonizingly detailed explanations, she’d never imagined the true extent of the consequences she’d agreed to bear. Ever since she’d acquired him, her pursuit of an heir had been single-minded, but in moments like this, she questioned her resolve. And his loyalty.

When there is no penalty for failure, failure proliferates.

It was so very tempting to assign failure to him and his methods. But she hadn’t become the sovereign of her House by ignoring facts. It was a fact that donai women had been engineered for infertility. She’d been fortunate to find someone willing to even attempt altering that engineering.

”Galen Karamat requesting entry,” the chamber presence announced in a soothing, male tone. It had been designed to mimic the best-trained majordomos in every way, from syntax to the way it anticipated her needs. And unlike a human majordomo, it was utterly loyal, incapable of gossip or spying, all things which had become an increasing matter of concern over the last few months.

“Is he alone?” she asked, scrubbing at the aching bruise blooming on her forearm.

”Yes, Lady Yedon.”

”Let him in.” 

Unhurried footsteps approached. Her pet physician was tall for a human. When they stood face to face, she could look him straight in the eyes, which was in itself an interesting experience. Not many humans dared. Not after the donai had revolted, turned on their human creators and built an Imperium where all humans were chattel. 

Strange gray eyes on Galen. Dark hair and strong masculine features despite being clean shaven—and human. He wore a gray tunic with a high collar and darker gray trousers and boots. His collar bore insignia identifying him as a physician of the Court, and as her property. His thin frame gave him a frail appearance, a deceptive one. What he lacked in strength and size he made up for with intelligence and persistence. She needed to remember that.

“My lady,” he said, his voice even. Too even. 

For weeks, her donai senses had been deteriorating. She could no longer see the heat gradients on his skin, hear the betraying cadence of his heartbeat, or smell the hormones seeping through his pores. She could call in one of her donai armsmen and have him read Galen for her, but that would expose her shortcoming and call her abilities into question. Eventually her men would lose faith in her and she could no longer lead them.

She waited. 

No bow. 

He didn’t like bending his spine, this human, and whenever they were alone, he did not. He knew she’d tolerate his defiance in private and never made the mistake of not giving her the proper obeisance in public where she would be forced to act. She had no doubt that it was going to cost him someday. He’d fail to properly kowtow to some donai lord who wouldn’t tolerate the transgression. 

The Imperium had only spared the most docile, passive humans, and still took great pleasure in eliminating all who showed any tendency to become the dominant species once again. Perhaps a lesson imparted at her hand would be a mercy, for she would merely punish, not kill, but she could not bring herself to teach it. It was a dangerous sentiment, one she should not indulge in, but did, yet again. He was too valuable and she trusted him. Not since she’d reached adulthood had she looked at a human with anything one might call regard. 

Galen reached into the pocket of his uniform and withdrew a medical rover. The palm-sized disk lit up, swelled into a sphere and floated towards her. He launched two others and sent them her way.

Diagnostic beams sliced the air with a pale blue shimmer, casting lines across her body. A rover submerged, swirling around her, as a holographic projection detailing all the damage she’d taken, coalesced in front of him. 

He raised a brow, casting a judging gaze her way. “Have you changed your mind?” 

So smug, so arrogant, as if he was begging for that lesson.

Her short sword was within reach. Even in her weakened state, she could still move much faster than he could react. 

All it would take was a few cuts—nothing fatal, even for a human. The rovers and nanites would heal him readily enough. Unlike the donai, whose obedience to anyone they recognized as a leader was ingrained and instinctual, certain humans seemed to need gentle reminders.

“No,” she said. “I haven’t changed my mind.”

Shrinking rovers returned to Galen’s hand. He pocketed them as he held her gaze. “Your behavior suggests otherwise.”

”I stopped before they pushed me too far. The lingering bruises, the aches, are proof of that.” 

Aren’t they?

This was the other side of the unfair coin her kind had been dealt by these same humans. If she took too much damage, her nanites would compensate and undo all the things Galen had done to make her fertile. Battle-driven hormones would return her muscles and bones to their former strength. The nanites would burn the fat she’d managed to accumulate and she would never ovulate. The handful of eggs she might have would never be fertilized. And then all of these months of vulnerability she’d had to suffer would be for nothing. 

Without a proper donai heir, it was only a matter of time before the emperor took her House away from her.

A pained look flashed across Galen’s face as he swept the hologram away.

”You were lucky this time,” he said dryly.

She sighed and let her head fall back. Tremors propagated an unexpected release in tension. It had been so difficult to hold back, to let her armsmen win, to walk that fine line that might lead them to question her fitness or her ability to lead them.

”Your donai are bound to notice the changes,” Galen continued. “Why not just tell them what you are doing?”

”As soon as they see me as a potential sexual partner, they’ll compete for that ‘honor’ and tear my dominion apart.”

”You do realize you will need them to—”

Them? Do you see me as human already?”

She must’ve let more anger than she’d intended color her voice. There was a flare of emotion from Galen. Fear maybe. Or anger. She couldn’t be sure. Humans learned to hide the reactions they could control. The scent clue was gone almost as quickly as it had appeared.

“No, my lady,” he said, lifting his chin, making no attempt to hide his pride. “You told me you were willing to do anything and multiple partners would increase your chances of conceiving.”

“No,” she said, rising, and strode out of the water, stopping only to pick up the short sword. She passed through the drying field and walked straight on to her bedchamber. 

“How can you still not understand us?” she asked. “You who know so much about us.”

”I understand, my lady,” he said, following, maintaining a respectful—for him—distance.

She slipped into the dark blues of the ship-fatigues she’d set out prior to the sparring session. They were too form-fitting, betraying her softening physique. Robes would’ve been better. Maybe she could become one of those donai sovereigns whose affectations tended towards the anachronistic. Why not? A return to tradition. The emperor would love that.

–End of Snippet-

Featherlight: A Ravages of Honor Novella, available at your favorite store. Get it now.

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