We’re starting something new here on the blog, we’re featuring science fiction and fantasy with LGBT characters. There’s a lot of it out there, but for some reason, it’s not all that easy to find. I am a huge fan of both sci-fi and fantasy, and am very happy to kick off the first post featuring this sub-genre with an excerpt from In Liam’s Wake, the first book of Ashlyn Forge‘s new Toys and Soldiers Series. Enjoy!
For eight years, Liam has been trapped underground in The Colony—a sanctuary so determined to stay hidden it forbids anyone from leaving once they’ve entered. His only hope of returning home rests on his best friend Riley who, on the eve of their escape, slipped into a coma.
Despite staggering debt, vengeful mutants and bounty hunters, Liam continues a seemingly never-ending quest for a cure to end Riley’s unnatural five-year sleep. Every night, Liam stares at the listless man who not only holds his escape, but his heart. The suffering can end, however; Liam must only forsake all hope of ever returning home again, abandon Riley to his fate, and wholeheartedly serve as a soldier for The Colony—the very people he’s trying to escape.
Live the life within his reach, or continue chasing the one just beyond his grasp? He need only submit.
“Opponent, do you accept this challenge?” an unfamiliar voice called out.
With a soft groan, Liam pulled himself into a sitting position. His mouth tasted dry and foul, but he could speak.
“Challenge accepted,” said the voice. “Enjoy.”
Liam rubbed his brow and then his eyes, taking stock of his surroundings. He was in a tunnel.
A fight? How’d I end up in a fight? Where the hell am I, anyway?
There were thin-framed metal bleachers behind him, and directly before him sat his opponent.
For a brief moment, Liam wondered if the drugs were causing him to hallucinate. He wasn’t sure he’d taken them, though, so he considered the possibility that he was succumbing to his ailment. Whatever the reason, he now sat some distance away from something he’d thought was a myth.
“An imp,” Liam muttered to himself as he scowled, annoyed. “Fuck me.”
The situation was startling for a number of reasons. He finally realized something: this wasn’t some debt collector who wanted to scare him. No, this person, whoever he was, wanted him dead. Otherwise, he saw no reason why he’d be delivered to the one creature in the entire Colony that didn’t answer to any laws. Unjustifiable murder meant execution in the Colony, but that didn’t apply to imps.
When Liam saw the green-skinned creature unfold from its crouch, he knew he wasn’t supposed to make it home. He scrambled to think of who might want to do away with him rather than cause the usual bodily harm and he drew a blank.
As much as he wanted to know who wanted him dead, that knowledge was less important than the fact that he was about to fight—or, more accurately, about to die trying to fight—a damn imp. His biggest regret would be not knowing who the jokester was, because he was certain the promise of possibly getting his hands around the bastard’s throat would help considerably in motivating him to stay alive.
His vision hazed, his head pounding, all thoughts drifted to Riley. “Look how close I came to it, Rile. I came so close to being able to tell you ‘I’m sorry.’ Now look where I’ve ended up.”
“Well,” Liam said with a sigh as he reached into his jacket to take inventory of his blades. “Wished this on myself by the looks of it.” His fingertips grazed a hook, but he thought better of it and selected one of the shorter daggers. “Got my fucking unwinnable fight at last. But it serves you right, Liam. Serves you bloody—”
“You certainly are building the suspense,” Paddy’s voice boomed from the bleachers. “Deloris here does love to play with his food, so make sure and flail around a little. It’s more fun that way; the crowd loves it.”
Paddy spoke so loudly that Liam looked back to the bleachers to make sure the man was, in fact, at a distance. He seemed far away at first, then close, then far again. Liam realized his vision was playing tricks on him. He’d been so focused on the imp—and the prospect of dying—that he hadn’t thought to check his left hand.
When he opened his palm to see the two tablets safe, he stared at them for some time. He’d never tried Ivy; in fact, other than the medicine, he’d never tried any drugs. If the normal medicine to help his anxiety had him knocked out on his back for hours, these pills would be the last things he needed. He pocketed them and tossed the dagger from one hand to the next.
The imp moved—that is to say, Liam saw the creature’s red, nearly orange, hair as its head bobbed, following the blade. At that moment, Liam tossed the knife from left to right hand to confirm the imp was fixated on it.
“Oh, so you like shiny things, huh?” Liam wiped his face with the back of his hand, brushing the sweat from his eyes. “Right. Don’t suppose you’re bloodthirsty but unable to actually draw blood like the E’s, huh?”
Something stung his cheek. It distracted him momentarily, and when he looked back at his opponent an instant later, the imp was gone.
The clattering of clawed feet drew Liam’s gaze upward, where he saw the creature directly above him, its feet anchoring it to the ceiling.
“Well, fuck me,” Liam muttered.
Looking up for long wasn’t an option, because Liam was starting to feel dizzy. The creature jumped down from the ceiling, its body twisting so that it landed on its feet.
When the imp sat down, crossing its legs at the ankles, Liam narrowed his brow, confused. The creature did a strange thing: it began to suck on its right middle finger. Liam was well aware he was in no position to make any sort of assessment, but if he didn’t know any better, he’d think the thing was flipping him the bird.
There was blood on the imp’s digit, and it took a second more for Liam to touch his cheek and make the connection. His fingertips came away bloody, the redness making his body go rigid and cold. He’d been cut. The damn imp had cut him, and it was so fast he didn’t even know he’d been struck.
That answered his question about whether the thing could draw blood. Maybe imps were failed attempts at man-made E’s, but this was no fucking E.
In an instant, Liam loosened his grip on the dagger, allowing it to fall. He’d been cut so quickly that he hadn’t even seen the thing move, and if that was the speed he’d have to contend with, his chances were poor. He judged from the shallowness of the wound that the imp either moved too fast to be accurate, or worse, was as exactly precise as it had wanted to be. Either way, the faint hissing noise drew Liam’s focus.
The noise was coming from the creature, and if the wicked grin it wore was any indication, the imp intended to drag this out.
The crowd had cheered for the imp’s first strike, but there was no cheering now as Liam stared at his opponent. He knew it was because he had a shocked look on his face. What were his options? What was he supposed to do? The idea of running was simply laughable. If the thing was that fast, he wouldn’t get far.
He considered letting the creature pounce on him. Maybe he could do some sort of damage when the thing was at a close range. That thought sparked yet another: this was his first time seeing an imp—a real honest-to-God, man-eating, leathery-skinned, redheaded imp—but he’d heard about them. Imps were usually small, but they could grow well past six feet. He knew their leader had height on his side. Imps were also all male, and he needed a minute to reconcile this with the name Paddy had given it. It was just cruel that the bastards had named the thing Deloris. Imps were man-made abominations that were experimented on either in the womb or a test tube.
Liam wiped his eyes a second time, his vision clouded. He wondered briefly about Deloris, and which method was involved in bringing this monster to life. Never in his five years in the Colony had he heard of imp fights—and he’d been down on his luck more than once. Hell, he was certain that a few desperate occasions would have had him seriously considering it. Now, faced with an actual imp, he was glad he’d never had that option before.
He tried to grip the knife but realized it had fallen. The way the creature eyed it made Liam wonder: since imps were failed attempts at making man-made E’s, did they react as adversely to metal as E’s did?
With that knowledge, Liam calmed and smiled. He had an advantage, then. He decided to let it pounce; now that he knew what speed he was dealing with, maybe he could catch it. He might lose an arm, but he was sure he could sell something—maybe one of his remaining weapons, or even a memory—and get enough credits to pay for the repairs. The Colony could build him a new arm or leg, especially if he took Met up on his solution for the receptors and joined the Eletes. They’d jump at the chance to patch him up and throw a badge on him.
He exhaled, his breathing calm. “Okay,” he muttered to himself. “It’s either you eat me, or they eat you, Imp, but somebody’s getting fed tonight. So come on.”
He was afraid of that. He was almost one hundred percent sure that if he reached down for that knife, the thing would charge. So long as he could strike fast enough, he’d have a prayer. Imps had thick skin, he’d heard, but hell, a knife was a knife. He wasn’t opposed to taking the eyeballs first if he had to, but he couldn’t do that if he had to make the first move. He had to get that damn thing to attack.
Only, he didn’t know how.
His pulse raced, but he wore a peaceful smile as he thought of Riley. “You’re alive, at least. You’re back. If I die here, you’ll be okay,” he said to himself.
As soon as he said it, he felt an aching in his gut. Riley. He’d waited five years to confess to the man how he felt, and now he was going to die without ever having the chance. And for what? Because he couldn’t keep it in his pants for some Riley lookalike three years ago and now the medic?
The soft voice came in a rumble, slow and carefully paced. “I bet you’re good at mathss. Ttthiinking on your oddzz.”
A hiss left the S’s to linger. Liam blinked in surprise when he saw it was the imp that had
“You tthink. You arre a tthinker.” It—no, he—smirked. Allowing his finger to fall from his thin lips, the imp sat up once more. “I wonder what you ttthink now.”
Speaking seemed to be a challenge for the imp, probably due to the sharp fangs that Liam assumed were an impediment.
“You talk?” Liam asked. The horror stories never mentioned that imps were anything more than green-skinned, bloodthirsty, man-eating beasts.
Deloris was focused on his own right hand at first, but the observation caused him to jerk his head up; his eyes met Liam’s, though they were some distance away. The thing bristled. It wasn’t that he was agitated; if Liam didn’t know any better, he’d think he struck a nerve.
The once carefully paced tone of voice quickened.
“I ccan ssnap your head offf in ssecondss, but my ability to tttalk iss of more conccern to you?”
It was. The imp was small—no more than five-foot-two, he’d guess—but he was solid muscle. For the first time, Liam allowed himself to focus on the blue overalls Deloris wore, which he’d thought were denim. He’d noticed the clothing earlier, but figured it had been his condition making him see things. The thing had green skin, red hair, and overalls—it was just such a strange combo. Now Liam had discovered that it spoke, too—and it had an attitude problem to boot.
All his hopes for having one last chance at a fight were dashed. When the imp eased forward to brace himself on his long arms, Liam felt numb. Those arms weren’t that long a moment ago, so imps really can extend a body part temporarily. He wondered for a moment if the thing would swallow him whole, like the stories said. Although it seemed laughable that a creature that size could swallow a full-grown man, when he looked at Deloris, he decided to believe those stories just for today: his last day alive.
With sick fascination, he pondered whether the imp’s jaw dislocated or if it was more of a reptilian thing in which his body would expand around his meal.
While he studied Deloris, the imp studied him in return. The crowd started to boo, but neither Liam nor the creature concerned themselves with the noise. Liam wondered if the imp was waiting for him to move or answer.
From the bleachers, he could hear Paddy, his voice considerably edgier with anger. “What the fuck are you waiting for? Fucking move, you cocksucker!”
Liam glanced down at the dagger. He thought of the ones still inside his jacket, and then he looked at Deloris. His remaining energy fled his body.
“I can’t.” Liam shook his head grimly as he thought of the receptors. “I can’t. I can’t kill anyone. I fucking can’t. I can’t.”
Despite the risk of inadvertently prompting the imp to attack, he found himself rubbing the backs of his hands, his body caught in a wave of panic. “I can’t kill people! I fucking can’t.” He shook his head, defiant. “I won’t. I fucking won’t do it. And nobody can make me this time. I won’t.”
He wasn’t sure what was happening, but he heard Paddy approach and speak close to his ear, his hot breath filled with venom.
“Now you listen to me, you fucking junkie. A verbal contract is still a bloody contract. And you’ve agreed to this fight. You’ll fucking take it!”
Liam blinked as the words reached him.
“You’re acting like it’s your fucking sister. It’s just a fucking imp!”
There was a crunching sound.
Liam meant to turn and see the man’s face, but his body moved too slowly. What he saw was a green hand so big it engulfed Paddy’s face. Something else crunched, and Liam was splattered with gore.