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A spiderviper had scampered from behind a nearby Nutblossom to investigate the disturbance. It skittered to a stop 10 yards away and flattened its belly against the ground, making it look more like a cockroach than a spider. The screeching came to an abrupt stop. Out of the corner of his eye, Joshua saw red disappear into blue and heard a rustle of leaves. He held himself completely still as the monster pivoted toward him with small rapid steps of its four feet, its hooked forelegs reaching forward with tentative grasps at the air, searching.  Oh please, oh please…

Joshua stood riveted as the spiderviper stopped, facing toward him, and raised its belly from the ground. When its maw opened and the proboscis seemed to fill with fluid and extend directly at him, he knew it had locked onto him. He spun for Hidey Hole and heard a screeching whistle become lower in tone as  time    slowed.    Joshua    willed    his    muscles    into    action    and    the    distinct clatter    of    scattering    pebbles    told    him    the    spiderviper    was    giving    chase.    He  flowed    across    the    ground,    every    movement    maximized    to    increase    the    speed of    his    stride.    Halfway    to    safety,    the    sounds    of    pursuit    changed    and    he    turned his    head    back,    almost    stumbling    at    what    he    saw    -    the    pursuing    spiderviper  had risen    up    high    on    his    legs    and    was    galloping    like    a    horse.    Turning    forward, Joshua    cut    hard    around    the    Ice    Spike    Tree,    and    his    Bluebell    came    into    view. He    heard    the    spiderviper    overshoot    and    slide by in a clatter of pebbles. Another glance showed the predator low to the ground, but scrabbling back up into a run. Turning forward and accelerating his stride for the final stretch to safety, Joshua was shocked for second time.  The Bluebell leaves are down! I can’t get in!  He shifted the pole, butcher knife, and dangling vine to his left hand and slowed to lean down, snatch up a small stick, and lunge back to full speed in two long steps. As the stick spun toward the Bluebell, the louder clicking behind him signaled the spiderviper was gaining.  The leaves are up!! Faster!!!  Air roared in and out of his lungs, but he needed more. His muscles were becoming less responsive. At 10 feet out, the leaves began to redeploy downward.  NO!!!  Joshua forced every ounce of speed into the next four strides, launched himself feet first to slide under the descending needle-edged foliage, head tilting back to look behind, seeing the spiderviper’s feet skid to a stop before  Uuummmph!!!!  His slide had ended in the nearby rock wall. Lungs still heaving, he scrambled to his knees and extended the pole in front of him, oblivious to the inadequacy of this defense.

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Excerpt from Book 1 The Deepest Cut - 

Jumping out from the bush’s interior, a bird like creature hopped forward, its elongated neck stretched upward, sharp beak vibrating, head turning back and forth to allow golden eyes on each side to track Joshua’s position. The creature came to an abrupt halt as it extended fingers of bone connected by a light blue membrane, exposing a brilliant red breast and orange inner wings that fluttered with rhythmic flaps of aggression in concert with the undulation of its cry. Joshua stopped its resumed advance with a panicky yell and jab of his pole. This did not, however, stop the Siren Swan from continuing its angry warble. Another frantic check for threats revealed Joshua’s greatest fear.

Excerpt from the upcoming 4th book in the series:

SPOILER ALERT - Don't read if you haven't read Book 3 - Tempered Steel

Drayev stared through the glass wall. Joshua lay absolutely still, closed eyes dark and sunken into his pale waxy face. Machines surrounded the tilted-up hospital bed, displaying constantly changing colored numbers and flashing LED lights. Tubes emanated from everywhere: from between strips of white gauze out the left side of his encased head, from his nose, a large one from a mask covering his mouth, as well as IVs attached to both arms and the back of one hand.

Someone squeezed his shoulder   hard! He looked back to Sovissa, her other hand covering her mouth, eyes wide and glistening. Drayev covered her hand as he turned back to Joshua, blinking back the reality of his friend’s condition. He jumped when a shrill beeping stabbed out from the nurse’s station and a middle aged man behind the counter looked up with eyebrows raised in question.

… “I need you to go back to the waiting room so I can address this issue…   right   now.

Drayev found himself in the waiting room, unsure of who had pushed him out… He heard his own words, “It’s almost as if he’s dead and we’re at his wake,” that lingered in the stunned stillness. Seeing his own shock reflected in faces of his mates, he quickly added, “Of course he’s not going to die.   I’m sure the Doctor has everything under control.”  But I’m not sure of that and everyone knows it.

 

Drayev’s extremely uncharacteristic self-doubt alarmed Yashe. Already concerned about slipping Team cohesion, she was emphatic, “Listen,  he is going to live, no matter how bad he looked in there. And that’s because we all took care of business and got him off of Darnan ASAP.” Her arms spread wide, “All of us!  As a Team!” Her hands clinched into fists, “Trust me on this!”

 

…Meegale’s response to Yashe’s assertion rang hollow because it had bounced off the unspoken question that stood immutable in the Team’s midst. His words made it visible, “We trust you, Yashe. But    what if Joshua can’t return to The Combine?    What happens to 237 then?”

 

Sawyor’s dismissive wave was emphatic, the answer obvious, “That’s not a problem, Man. He can just work Shadi Farms.”

“What if he can’t even do that?”

The voice was so soft and tentative that at first Sawyor was unsure it had come from Sovissa’s mouth. “Still not a problem, Sis. I’ll just quit fieldwork and help him run the place. There’s plenty of room on The Range for us to expand and with the ideas I have for ol’ Shadi Farms, there’s going to be plenty of profit for all of us to survive, and more!” 

 

Sovissa turned away from Sawyor, his answer reasonable but somehow, not reassuring. Bereft of the armored cloak of her bravado, her fingers trembled when the conviction again reverberated through her. Regardless of what Yashe and Dr. Berry said, she knew Joshua was teetering on the brink of death.  There was an arrow in his head, for God’s sake!   And   it was there    because of  me.   Her anguish slipped out, “He knew he was going to get shot when he came for me.   He   knew it!  He’s in there now because he had to come   for me.” Self-accusation causing a full-body shiver, Sovissa’s hands slid up and across to grasp her own shoulders, arms forming a flimsy shield that only made her feel more vulnerable. The warmth of the hand that gently squeezed her neck was surprising, as was the level of comfort it imparted. She looked back to see Glin’s concern for her, but also a haunted flicker of guilt in his eyes. That recognition was lost in a wave of embarrassment and gratitude.

 

“Sovissa, he’d have put himself in danger for any one of us.” Glin knew this to be true as he smiled at his Mongoose partner. At the same time, his shame surged for having been thinking of himself when Sovissa started sharing instead of being with the Team, even if it was not his Team at this point… Glin’s future had very few options. If Joshua did not recover enough to rejoin The Combine, 237 would cease to exist.  Because they won’t be loyal to me, not completely, and neither Drayev nor Meegale really want to command.  

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