GEARS OF WAR: EPHYRA RISING – EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT
THE END OF THE LOCUST WAR WAS JUST THE BEGINNING OF THE BATTLE FOR SERA’S FUTURE
The Locust War has ended with an energy weapon that pulsed across the land, destroying Locust and Lambent alike. The world is in shambles and the few survivors are isolated from one another. Humanity must begin anew.
With most of Sera’s civilization destroyed, Sergeant Marcus Fenix and Lieutenant Anya Stroud must somehow rebuild the ruins. For Marcus, his purpose is impossible to grasp. With no clear enemy to fight, there may be no place left for him in this postwar world. Some call him a hero, others view him with resentment.
As Anya struggles to create alliances to re-form the Coalition of Ordered Governments, she quickly discovers how impossible it is to tell friend from foe. Then whispers of Locust still stalking the land begin to spread. Fearing the worst, Marcus sets out to assess the potential threat. As he searches for Locust survivors, he quickly discovers that the new enemy may be all-too-human, and utterly ruthless.
Available on November 16, 2021
Read the exclusive excerpt below!
Near Ephyra, Sera
16 Harvest 18 A.E.
Marcus could still feel the resonation of the glasses touching throughout the gallery, could still hear the echoing clink, could still see wine and whiskey sloshing, when the Locust erupted through the floor. Marble cracked. Splinters flew, along with people. Bodies spun lazily, gallons of blood splashing against the walls then dripping down over portraits and repainting peaceful landscapes into charnel fields.
The Locust—bulky, scaly humanoids—reached out and grabbed partygoers. They ripped off arms, bit off heads. More blood geysered. The invaders were awash with it, gore dripping from them, mixing with saliva. They wielded torn limbs as clubs, battering people, breaking them, knocking them aside as if they had no bones or mass. In an instant perfectly well-tailored and preserved clothes became rags.
Their roaring drowned out the band, which valiantly kept playing. For a time they managed even to stay in tune, then one Locust Gnasher Shotgun blew the flautist in half. Her insides sprayed over the outsides of the other musicians. The bassoonist discovered that his horn did not function as a shield, and then that it functioned no better as a weapon. The Drone snatched it away from him, then dashed his brains out with the instrument.
Not again! Marcus hurled his glass at a Locust, smashing it against the creature’s domed head. He dashed past Anya and snatched a wine bottle from a terrified server’s hand, then backhanded a Locust across the face, shattering the bottle. With the jagged neck in his right hand, Marcus stabbed the grub in the throat. Black blood gushed, steaming and stinging, but the Locust picked him up and hurled him halfway across the room. He smashed into the wall, smacking his head. Stunned, he slid to the ground and the painting that had hung above him tumbled down into his hands.
Somehow Marcus caught it. A landscape. He couldn’t read the small bronze plate on the frame, but he knew the place. The Stroud Estate.
We will rebuild it. We will make it our future.
A clawed hand swept through the painting, reducing the canvas to ribbons. The Locust shook the frame off its hand, then grabbed Marcus by the wrists. It lifted him up, pinning his hands high against the wall, and using its body to trap Marcus’ legs. Peering over its head he saw the reception drown in waves of blood, with heads bobbing and Locust wading through. A blonde woman in a green dress bobbed to the surface, grabbing at anything that would allow her to stay afloat. She clutched at a corpse, but her grip slipped. She went under again, red bubbles marking her disappearance.
He stared, waiting for her to surface again, but saw only the bubbles. Bubbles growing smaller and smaller with each passing heartbeat, and as they shrank, his conviction grew that he knew the woman’s identity.
His throat tightened, strangling off his shout. He got his feet against the wall, tried to push off, to knock the Locust away, but it just laughed. It opened its mouth, displaying grey needle-teeth, and bit into his stomach.
Marcus sat bolt upright in bed, throat aching, sweat pouring off him. He covered his face with his hands, thankful for the sweat burning his eyes. He focused on the stinging as the dregs of the dream melted. The ocean of blood flowed back into the floor and the people reassembled themselves. His chest heaved as he drew his knees up and rested his forehead on them.
Anya’s hands settled gently on his shoulders. “Dom again?”
“Different dream. Same shit.” He reached back with his right hand and found her knee, squeezing it. “I’m sorry for waking you. Let me just grab a blanket and…”
“No, Marcus.” She leaned in and kissed his head. “If you want to tell me about it, I’ll listen.”
“No, it’s… it was weird. Not from the war. Not entirely.” He shrugged. “Dom got to rest easy.”
“What happened?” Anya shifted around, sitting side by side with him, but facing him. She rested her hand on his shoulder.
“Locust, you know. At the reception last night.”
“And not a gun in sight. No way to defend yourself.” She nodded. “I have to say I felt that lack, too.”
“So many people not understanding.” He rubbed a hand over his forehead. “There was a portrait of this place, your family’s home, and a grub shredded it.”
“That’s not a dream, Marcus, that’s reality.” Anya took his right hand in hers and kissed the back of it. “We have a lot of their handiwork to undo here.”
“One brick at a time.”
“Do you think you had this dream because of what Jamila Shin spoke about with me?”
“About organizing people, maybe making a government?” He gave her a wry grin. “Just because I don’t like psychology doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. Sure, new challenges. Challenges where guns won’t be useful. I was as useful as a toddler in a minefield at that reception. Shrinks would call it an anxiety dream, right?”
“I think that depends on whether you were naked or not.” She glanced down. “If you don’t think I should do this—”
He squeezed her hand. “Stop. I have always trusted you to make the right decision. I’ve bet my life on it, over and over. I’d be an idiot to second guess you.”
“I’m glad you trust me, Marcus. I’m not sure I do. Not with this one. It’s something bigger than me, massive, and I’ve seen what that can do to people. My mother.” Anya swept her free hand around to take in the estate. “The reason I never spent much time here was that my mother chose to serve the COG, to devote herself to something bigger than herself. Her family hated it. I don’t think they were right to do that, but that same devotion was what got my mother killed. And you and me, we’ve spent the majority of our lives dealing with something bigger than ourselves. We’ve devoted ourselves to it. I guess part of me thought we’d have the chance to step back, at least for a bit.”
“Hey, I did, too.” Marcus smiled at her, stroking her cheek with a finger. “To tell the truth, I knew it would be tougher for you than me. You have so much talent. How could anyone miss it? What surprised me was that it took them so long to come asking.”
“It’s not like there is that much talent left to choose from.”
“Most of the folks last night wouldn’t have shared your opinion.” Marcus slowly shook his head. “We’ve seen it countless times. Folks who want to be talented, but…”
“Their only talent lay in the fact that their father owned something. Yes. Surround those people with enough competent folks, and you could prevent them from doing too much damage. At least it used to be that way, but now, with so much damage already done, society is so fragile.” Anya raked fingers back through her hair. “Jamila Shin introduced me to a number of people, and I could see it in their eyes. Fear. They make a wrong step and the tenuous threads of civilization just unravel. Most of the people there would have walked away from the risk, but they knew that if they walked away, the grubs would have succeeded in destroying us, doing it from the grave.”
Marcus felt tightness in his belly. “You see things the way they do, too?”
“You must, as well.”
He shook his head. “I leave operational and strategic thinking to you and Colonel Hoffman. I’m tactics. You decide that we need a school, give me coordinates, a sketch of what you want, and I’ll have it there for you. I don’t need to know why. I trust that you know why.”
She leaned in and kissed him on the lips. “Thank you.”
Anya sat back on her heels. “If I go to work with Jamila and get involved in rebuilding society, I feel as if I’ll be abandoning you.”
“But I don’t.” Marcus slipped from the bed and spread his arms wide. “You’ve taken care of me for a long time. Now I get to return the favor.”
“You don’t owe me, Marcus.”
“I know, but maybe I owe myself.” He pointed at the bedroom entrance—an eight-pane glass door he’d salvaged from the ground floor. “Wrestling that thing up here, replacing the broken panes, hanging it, that’s the first constructive thing I’ve done in forever.”
“What you accomplished with Delta wasn’t nothing, Marcus.”
“This is different. We agreed to come here, to build a future for us. You working on keeping humanity together, it will be part of that.” He chuckled. “And you don’t want to be around when I hit my thumb with a hammer.”
“Like I haven’t heard you curse before, Sergeant Fenix.”
“True, but maybe Mister Fenix doesn’t swear.”
Anya tugged the sheet from the bed and wrapped it around her as she stood. “Mister Fenix. That’s different. So you’ll have my dinner on the table when I get home?”
“If that’s what you want. You know, you don’t have to be your mom. I don’t have to be my father. We have a chance to decide who we want to be.”
She walked over to him. He reached out, and she settled herself in the circle of his enclosing arms. “Well, I can’t be my mother, since I’m well past the age when she had me.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t still be a mom, and a great one.” Marcus kissed her forehead. “We’ve seen them, kids who need homes. So many people have died and left little ones behind.”
“And non-swearing Mister Marcus Fenix will be the perfect dad, right?”
“As best I can.” He lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes. “Of course, any kid raised under this roof will be plenty smart and all trouble, so I might backslide on that cursing thing. But our kid will be squared away.”
“You’ll have him saluting before he can walk, and making up a tight bunk.” Anya laughed. “I can see it.”
“And I’ll be a better father than mine was.”
“Marcus, Adam loved you…”
Tightening his hug, he just drank in her warmth for a moment or two.
“He did, in his way, but in that moment when he knew my mother was dead, when he knew I was going to need him more than I ever had before, he lied to me about her. Sure, to save me pain. To delay it. But I knew, and knew I couldn’t trust him. It took Dom and Carlos and you to let me trust again. I won’t do that to our children.”
“I know, Marcus.”
“I am serious, Anya. You’ll see.” He held her out at arm’s length and smiled. “You didn’t grow up here, but our family will and it will be great. We’ll rebuild. East wing first, and the greenhouse in the garden. The main building only needs touch-ups, so we’ll have time, but this will be a home for them, for us.”
She caressed his cheek. “Don’t take this as me doubting you, Mr. Fenix. I mean, I love our new door here, but how are you going to put the rest of this estate back together?”
Marcus scratched at the back of his neck. “Well, you’re right, I’ve never built a building, but I have taken a few apart. I was thinking I would just reverse the process. That ought to work.”
“Maybe you can reach out to Damon. He could help you with some of the finer points of structural physics.”
“Anya, Baird will just talk the thing to death. And it will look funny.”
“And probably blow up. Still…”
Marcus laughed. “It might keep him out of trouble for a while.” Then, before the echoes of his laugh could fade, Marcus felt certain that Baird’s visiting wouldn’t work. Not yet. I’d just bring him down. This is something I have to handle on my own.
Marcus rubbed a hand over his jaw. “You’re meeting with Dr. Shin today, yes?”
“Yes, she wanted to get organized as fast as possible. It’s just… Marcus, there’s so much we don’t know, so much that’s just out there.”
“And no one better than you to handle it.” He settled his arms around her again and hugged her. “I can’t count the times, when pure insanity was exploding all around us, your calm voice came through the comms. You knew right where we needed to go. You were that link to sanity. That’s what Shin needs. What Sera needs.”
“How about you, Marcus? Is it what you need?”
“Always.” He kissed her forehead. “More immediately, though, I need to know what you expect out of how I should be keeping your family estate.”
She pulled back and looked up into his eyes. “You want a mission brief?”
“Reporting for duty, ma’am.”
“Oh, you are so going to pay for that.”
“If you can’t do the time…” He smiled easily. “But I’m serious. Should I make you a lunch? What do you want for dinner?”
“You’re going to perfect being a chef now, too?”
“There are depths to me you can only begin to guess at, Anya Stroud.” He shrugged quickly. “I’ll need to scrounge for some food, and finalizing the greenhouse repairs will be a necessity. I’ll clear out as much as I can downstairs. Kitchen seems to be in decent shape, so probably start there. You know, securing a base.”
“Okay, but don’t use explosives.”
“I’m saving those for plowing up some space on the south lawn, for planting. That’s how it’s done, isn’t it?”
“Marcus, I think there’s a reason the verb is plow.” She stood up on tiptoes and kissed the point of his nose. “But I know you will do it all perfectly.”
“Well, this place, it’s a big part of our tomorrow. So, yes, perfect.” He squeezed her again. “You fix the world, and I’ll fix this corner of it.”
Gears of War: Ephyra Rising is published by Titan Books. Pre Order Today!