QSFer Allison Carr Waechter has a new queer sci-fantasy romance out: Vessel of Starfire.
SISTER. ASSASSIN. VESSEL.
Echo Rodrigal isn’t just a survivor; she’s a success. But in a land where the law is there are no laws, the terms of success rest on a knife’s edge, and Echo’s luck is about to change.
The Vindicata are one of the top vengeance crews in the Ten Realms of Interra. Their oaths to only commit crimes of justice have earned them the respect of their peers. But the Vindicata are more than a crew, they’re a family. And ever since they adopted Echo, she’s cared about one thing: making her family proud.
For years, that’s meant becoming the continent’s most feared assassin. But each kill wreaks havoc on her soul, no matter how justified. Echo’s unraveling fast, complicated by the mysterious rift growing between her and her beloved sister. Miyala’s keeping dangerous secrets, and Echo cannot find the key to unlock her sister’s trust.
When the Warlord orders the Vindicata to transport foreign dissidents to a new prison, they must put their personal issues aside to face an impossible choice: die for defying orders, or die for breaking their oaths to uphold justice. Between meddling gods returning to the continent, mercenaries around every corner, and an ancient prophecy that foretells the end of all worlds, the pressure on Echo is mounting fast.
Can she make enough right moves to save her family? The fate of many worlds rests in Echo’s next choice.
Possible CWs for reference to child abuse, sexual assault and discussions of systemic oppression.
Snowflakes swirl around the courtyard below me, floating down like moths on a current. My fingers tremble as I struggle to fasten my coat, whether from the anger building in my belly or one cup of tea too many this morning I can’t tell. I stop trying to button myself up against the early autumn flakes and wrap my arms around my knees.
“This couldn’t get any worse,” I murmur.
There’s a crunching noise behind me, a muffled clatter and a bitter curse before Miyala crawls up next to me, her slim body and bouncing black coils bumping into me with the kind of familiarity bred only in the closest families.
“What are we doing on the roof?” she whispers conspiratorially.
I point to the activity in the courtyard and Mi wrinkles her nose in thought.
“That can’t be what I think it is…” she trails off, her eyes widening as the truth dawns on her.
“Prisoners from Loramir,” I confirm.
Mi hisses in displeasure. “Seventeen hells, what are they doing here?”
I shrug helplessly. I’m as surprised as she is to see Midlanders in the courtyard, acting as though they’ve been invited into our home. I came up here to enjoy the first autumn snow by myself, only to find a betrayal of the deepest kind occurring below. We watch five pale, lumpy prison guards unload nearly thirty people from an ovis-drawn wagon into the courtyard. The assassin in me counts their weapons, the ones I can see, and the ones they think they’ve hidden. Something isn’t right.
“Does June know about this?” Mi snaps.
“He’s been out twice to check on them.”
Her amber eyes narrow, tense with emotion. She’s leaning against me, hard, and I feel her shaking. Her aura is a mix of fury and the familiar clouds of obfuscation that tell me her reaction has something to do with the secret she’s been keeping for years. I try not to sigh at it— it only makes her angry with me when she knows I’ve sensed it. I’m glad Mi can’t read auras; mine is a shameful haze of fear and desperation.
I can see the filth caked on the prisoners from here, and my stomach clenches. The hardy mountain rams that drew the wagon look uneasy, their noses prickling in displeasure at the stench coming off the people they’ve carried. As each prisoner descends from the wagon they are unchained from the one that came before. They’re looking around the courtyard, blinking in the light after emerging from the dark of the cart.
It’s hard to tell how old they all are, but there’s a sickening number of small bodies that can only be children. One especially hungry-looking child holds out their hand to catch a snowflake. I wonder what children could possibly have done to become political prisoners. My heart catches in my throat and I glance at Mi, who is stifling a cry with her hand, looking at the same child.
June steps out into the courtyard, shattering any hope that I was reading this whole thing wrong. He begins chatting with one of the guards, making jokes and laughing. Our father is on friendly terms with the prison guards.
The horror spreading through me is contagious. Miyala reaches for my hand. I take it and squeeze, our fingers twining through one another in sisterly comfort. It’s not just that the Binding should have stopped this from being possible in the first place. We never do jobs that involve dissidents unless it means freeing them, and the crew hasn’t done that kind of work since Miyala and I were adopted fifteen years ago.
From the friendly way June is chatting with the guards, it doesn’t look like that’s our mission this time, but in our business looks can be deceiving. A shout rings out from the edges of the courtyard, just beyond my field of vision, though I can hear Bori well enough from here. Our brother’s voice is razor-sharp, laced with the same fury burning in Mi’s aura.
“This is supposed to mean something,” he snarls, shaking his exposed wrist at June. Instinctively, I look at my own wrist, at the draconae talons tattooed there, same as they are on all of us.
“What the hells is the Binding worth now?” Bori shouts at June. “I don’t hear the bells ringing. The Warlord still lives, how is this sanctioned?”
Allison Carr Waechter writes magical books for readers craving inclusive stories. Allison lives in Minnesota, where she spends her days both telling stories, and helping other people tell theirs. Right now, she’s probably drinking a cup of tea and herding a lynxcat off her desk.