With the Outliers united and the Fortis eliminated, Indra thought she was nearing the end of her journey. Instead, Asa went into the city only to be captured and the Sovereign decided to unleash the full power of their technology.
Now, bleeding and separated from her husband, facing a traitor and an uncertain future, Indra finds herself wondering if she united the Outlier tribes simply so the Sovereign could destroy them more effectively.
With vile characters, brutal conditions, and vicious creatures, the final chapter in the Outliers Saga will take readers on an unforgettable journey. Follow Asa and Indra as they fight to start a life together while facing impossible choices that will test their limits and show them what sacrifice, forgiveness, and love really mean.
Release date: November 9, 2018
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 367
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Retribution: A Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Novel
Kate L. Mary
The hole led into darkness, reminding me of a tunnel to the underworld or possibly even the belly of a grizzard. The heat from the wastelands faded as I began my descent, giving way to a chill that seemed to seep into my blood. Fear wrapped around me, grasping me in a hold tighter than my grip on the ladder and making me pause. Why did it feel like this was the end for me?
I looked up at my wife, who was staring down at me with worry shimmering in her green eyes.
How long had I loved this woman?
Years. Almost since the moment I first laid eyes on her.
After everything we’d been through, it seemed impossible that she was finally mine, and even more impossible that I was leaving her now, heading into the very city that had worked so hard to destroy us both of us. Her physically and me mentally. Yet I was. I wasn’t doing it just for her, but for myself as well. To prove I was more than what I’d been born.
For most of my life I had fought against people determined to turn me into a monster, but I didn’t find the courage to really fight back until I met Indra. She’d been beaten down and abused, and by all rights should have had no reason to be as strong as she was. She’d persevered, though. She’d taken a group of people who’d lived through centuries of oppression and made an army. She’d shown all of us what it was to stand up for yourself. And for others.
It had made me love her even more.
“I love you,” I said, suddenly feeling like I couldn’t move another step without telling her how I felt. I’d done that before, watched her walk away and remained silent. More than once. Too many times to count.
It was a mistake I wouldn’t make again.
Indra swallowed, and then her shoulders straightened like my declaration made her stronger. “I love you.”
Like so many times before, I found words impossible when faced with the feelings welling up inside me, and chose only to dip my head in response.
Focusing on the blackness beneath me instead of the woman I was leaving behind, I forced my arms and legs to work. Down I climbed, the darkness surrounding me until it felt like there was nothing else. When I reached the bottom, my feet hitting solid ground, I took a deep breath. It sounded shaky and impossibly loud in the stillness surrounding me.
“This isn’t goodbye.” Nyko’s voice boomed through the silence, bouncing off walls hidden by darkness. “I’ll make sure you get back to her.”
“We aren’t always in control of what happens to us,” I said.
My friend grunted, and the sound once again echoed off the walls. “We hardly ever are, but I’ll be damned if I let something happen to you inside this cursed city.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
I let out another deep breath as I moved my hand through the darkness, searching out the wall. The stone was cold against my fingers, and even though I had always imagined the underworld being aflame, I couldn’t help thinking once again that the only place this tunnel would lead me to was an eternity of torment unlike anything I could’ve ever imagined.
I prayed to the gods I was wrong.
Since backing down wasn’t an option, I forced myself to start moving. “We need to go.”
Nyko let out another grunt in response.
I ran my fingers along the wall, and it helped keep me grounded as I moved through the darkness. Behind me, the soft thud of Nyko’s footsteps was barely audible over the thump of my own heart. Each step took us closer to the city and the uncertainty of what we’d find there, but even worse was the distance I felt growing between Indra and myself.
Only five days ago, the Outliers had sent two people into the city through this very tunnel, Xandra of the Windhi, and a man from another tribe I’d never met. Not only had they not returned, but the gates of the city had remained closed since the morning after the Fortis village was wiped out.
That morning, the Fortis men and women who’d fled during the attack had been welcomed into the city. Nyko and I had watched from the relative safety of the Lygan Cliffs as it played out, knowing the Sovereign wouldn’t hesitate to shelter the remaining Fortis. There weren’t many left, a couple dozen where once there had been hundreds, but even from a distance I could tell the strong had survived. I only prayed I was able to make it through the city without running into any of my former people.
When Nyko and I reached the end of the tunnel, I felt around for the ladder that would lead us into the city. Even in the darkness it took only a moment to locate, and when I gripped the rungs, the metal was cold against my palms. I didn’t pull myself up right away, but instead paused for a moment and took a few deep breaths.
“Asa?” Nyko’s voice broke through the silence just as it had when I first climbed into the tunnel.
“I’m here,” I said even though he knew it. “I’m preparing myself.”
Nyko, like so many other times, only grunted in response.
Two more breaths. That was all I allowed myself before beginning my climb. My body was tense as I made my way up, and in no time my head made contact with the ceiling, forcing me to stop. The tremble in my hands would have made any other Fortis man hang his head in shame, but I embraced the fear because I knew the reality of what faced me inside these walls. If I were caught, the Sovereign and remaining Fortis would make sure I suffered. Even worse, it would mean leaving Indra behind for good.
It took only a moment of feeling around to find the door. I pushed it open and moved it aside before pulling myself up the rest of the way.
When I emerged, I was in a small closet, but thanks to Indra, I was prepared for the tight space. She’d been here before, when she’d fled the city with Mira. After saving her. After stabbing Lysander.
I hadn’t been there when it happened, but I’d heard about it and about the fallout. That was the day the Fortis had gone into the wilds with the intention of wiping out the Winta tribe. They hadn’t just killed the people, though. They’d raped and plundered and tortured. They’d taken joy in their actions, and in retelling what they’d done once they’d returned to our village. I had listened to it all, certain Indra had perished with everyone else, and the despair I’d felt over the loss had nearly killed me. I had known I loved her before that day, but until I thought she was dead, I hadn’t realized how much.
Through the darkness, I managed to find the doorknob and turned it, pushing the door open with my breath held. The hinges squeaked, making my heart beat harder, but not a single sound followed the groan of the door.
The room I stepped into was dark and silent. It was the middle of the night, and I had no reason to expect the family to be up, but the house still felt unusually quiet. The hollowness of it reminded me of the tunnel we’d just come through, and something about it felt wrong.
Nyko stepped out of the closet at my back and pulled his sword. “It’s empty.”
“It can’t be,” I said even as I nodded.
He was right. Like my friend, I instinctively knew this house was empty, and I also knew it had something to do with the missing Outliers who’d preceded us into the city.
Not a single light was on, but the moonlight shining in through the windows gave me a good view of our surroundings. The dining room was larger than the one in Saffron’s house, and grander, too. But something was off. I stepped forward and ran a finger across the smooth surface of the dining room table, revealing the gleaming wood hidden by a thick layer of dust. This was a result of more than just a loss of servants. This table hadn’t been used in several days.
I pulled my own sword.
Jerking my head to indicate Nyko should follow, I headed for the door on the other side of the room, knowing it would lead into the kitchen. We were silent, moving the way we had when hunting for game in the wilds, the only sound the occasional creak of the floorboards beneath our feet. When I reached the door, I paused, pressing my ear against it, but once again, I was met with silence. It had me more on edge than even the hiss of a lygan. It was too quiet. Too empty.
“This isn’t right,” Nyko said again.
This time, I didn’t bother disagreeing with him.
“Stay alert,” I replied before pushing the door open.
The kitchen stood in front of me, dark and silent and as empty as the rest of the house felt. Like the dining room, it was covered in a layer of dust. Dirty pots and plates filled the sink, something I had never seen in any of the dozens of Sovereign houses I’d been in over the years. Even more alarming was the odor of rot filling the air. I stepped closer to the sink, knowing the smell was coming from the dishes before I had even confirmed it with my own eyes. Mold had begun to grow on them, dark and fuzzy against the white of the china, and when I moved closer, a group of flies buzzed into the air as if trying to escape my approach.
“What happened here?” Nyko asked.
I turned my back to the sink, my heart beating and my ears straining for sound. “The people living in this house were Outlier sympathizers. Someone must have found out.” I knew it was true, which meant we were in real danger of being caught if we stuck around this house for too long. If the people who once lived here had been captured, the Sovereign most likely knew about this tunnel. We were lucky they hadn’t blocked it off yet.
“You think they’re dead?” Nyko asked from behind me.
“No.” My grip tightened on my sword as I headed for the door. “At least not yet. They’re probably in the square being made an example of.”
A shudder shot through me at the memory of the square. I had witnessed too many atrocities in that desolate space. Had even been forced to participate in a few. Like the time I’d held a ten-year-old boy down while his hand was cut off. The memory would always haunt me, and I would no doubt face punishment for my part in it after I died. Still, it was nothing compared to the day I’d had to stand by and watch Indra on the stage, on display for the enjoyment of the Sovereign. First, I had been forced to hold her back while her husband was taken from the earth, and then I’d had to watch as she was whipped. The sound of her screams still echoed through my head at night, and the memory of the blood pooled beneath her, of the damage done to her back, haunted me.
In the mudroom, I stopped at the door and peered out into the alley through a small window. It was dark and as deserted as the house, but I was under no illusion that the rest of the city would be as empty. A couple dozen Fortis guards had survived the attack on our village, and if Xandra and the other Outlier had been caught, which I had every reason to believe they had, my former people would be keeping an eye on the streets. Whether or not they knew some of the Fortis had abandoned them to take up with the enemy was something I was unsure of. Either way, Nyko and I would have to be careful not to let anyone get a good look at us. The Fortis living inside the city would most certainly recognize us and know we hadn’t been here for the past few days.
“What’s our next move?” Nyko asked.
“We take the back alleys where we’re less likely to run into anyone. Stick close to the shadows.” I looked over my shoulder at him for just a moment, my hand already moving to the doorknob. “I want to check out the square first. So we can find out what’s happening.”
Nyko’s mouth scrunched up, nearly disappearing behind his red beard. “You’re the one who knows this place.”
I’d known he would defer to my opinion even before he spoke. I was the one who’d worked in the city, a job passed down by my father, but Nyko had never set foot inside the walls before today. He was a hunter, a provider. I was a guard.
I only hoped I was making the right decision.
“Let’s go,” I said, turning the knob and shoving the door open.
Outside, the air was stuffy despite the late hour. The high walls and too-close houses had worked together to trap the heat from the sun, making it feel like the city was closing in on me as I moved.
It was how I’d felt since the first day I’d come to work here, after my father was maimed during a grizzard attack. I’d always known the job of a Fortis guard would one day be mine, but stepping into the position had been different for me than for most men in my village. I had dreaded it, dreaded being inside the walls. I had grown up surrounded by hatred for the Outliers, and from a young age had been fed stories of the abuse they were forced to live through. I had never understood it, though. Never had the stomach for it.
During the years leading up to my mother’s death, I had often found myself in the center of our village, watching the Outliers make their trek to the city. They were small compared to the Fortis—although not nearly as short as the Sovereign—and often worn-looking. Haggard, even. No match for my people. Yet the Fortis had never tired of hurling abuse at Outliers as they passed through our village, and sometimes it even went further. I had witnessed Fortis men and women hurl rocks at people half their size, had seen women pulled into houses, watched as children had handfuls of pig shit thrown at them. It had sickened me, but I’d found it impossible not to watch. Part of it was out of a desperate need to understand where the hatred came from, but there’d been another reason as well.
Back then, I was still trying to decide who I would become.
Would I be a Fortis guard who hated for no reason, who preyed on the weak, who took what they had no right to? Or, would I defy the hatred surrounding me and become a better man?
Ultimately, the choice had been an easy one to make, and despite the hardships, it had been equally easy to live with.
The houses in Sovereign City sat back to back, with the main streets in front of them wide enough for carts and people, and the roads behind them narrow. These were the roads Nyko and I took, running in the shadows as we wove our way through the quiet city. Not a single sound could be heard other than the pounding of our feet against the stone, but I kept my eyes and ears open, anyway. The Fortis guards who had survived the attack on our village were somewhere inside these walls, and they were on the lookout. I was certain of it.
Every road led to the center of Sovereign City and the town square. It was where all public activities were conducted, and it faced the government building, the tallest structure inside the walls. In front of the building sat a raised platform, and when Nyko and I burst from the alley and into the square, the sight of the stage, illuminated by the electric streetlights, made my stomach jump, threatening to expel the stew I’d eaten only a couple hours earlier.
This was where I’d knelt, pressing my knee into the spine of a boy who’d done nothing more than try to feed his family, while his hand was cut off. It was also where Indra, along with countless other Outliers, had been whipped. Where my wife’s first husband had been beheaded, where people who’d dared to defy the rule of the sovereign had stood in stocks. It was a place of torture, and today was no different.
I pressed my back to the wall when I stopped, keeping to the shadows, while at my side Nyko did the same. The platform, just as I’d suspected, wasn’t empty. While I didn’t recognize the people in the stocks, it took only one look to know that two of them were Sovereign. A plump woman stood in the center, nude and beaten. The streetlights illuminated the bruises dotting her body, and her normally yellowish skin was now bright pink from sun exposure. With her head hanging the way it was, I couldn’t tell if she was dead or just sleeping, and part of me hoped it was the first. Nothing good awaited this poor soul.
At her side was a man, just as plump as every other person living in the city. He was as naked and beaten as the woman, but unlike her, he was awake. I wanted to go to him, to ask who he was and what was happening, but I knew it would be foolish. Fortis guards couldn’t be very far from the town square, and going to this man could get me killed.
The third person was not Sovereign, but an Outlier. He wasn’t from Indra’s tribe, though, nor did he bear the piercings of the Mountari or Huni. The passage markings he bore weren’t contained to his face alone, but swept down his arms and chest, and even his legs. This must have been the man who came into the city with Xandra.
But where was she?
“Gods,” Nyko hissed in a low voice. “I knew the Sovereign were bastards, but those are their own people.”
“They’re sympathizers. They were probably caught helping the Outliers.” Turning my back to them wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to. The only way to help them now was to get the gate open. “Which is what we need to focus on.”
Nyko grunted his assent and followed when I jogged back into the alley.
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