So here’s an excerpt from my debut novel The Root, first in The Wrath & Athenaeum Trilogy. Though Erik and Lil are the main characters in the story we do see a lot of viewpoints. This part is from the POV of Lil’s little sister Min.
Min didn’t understand why people were so weird around her big sister. Her memories were spotty due to the fact that Lil had been given to the Athenaeum before she was born, but Lil had still come around regularly until she was five. That was when they moved and everything changed. The neighbors treated Lil badly, either staring or ignoring her completely. Still she had visited often, at first. Then the visits slowed, until now they only saw her every six-day for an awkward dinner. Davi didn’t know any differently. He had been born here, into this. He didn’t remember Lil telling stories, or Lil comforting her when the crikes outside grew too loud and scared her. He loved Lil because Min loved Lil, not because he knew her.
They had already had their awkward family dinner this sixday so when the door cracked, a small hole in the pink at first then a fluttering wave of opening to allow her sister entrance, she was surprised.
Min rushed over for a hug. Lil smiled down at her and squeezed back.
“How are you, my Minnie?”
Min frowned and pulled back. “Don’t call me that.” She would have continued, but a weight slammed into her own leg and she saw their brother Davi holding them both, smiling up with gap-teeth.
“Lil.” Mom’s voice was quiet. “We weren’t expecting you.”
Lil dropped her arms and turned to face their mother in the kitchen. A large hand settled on Min’s shoulder and pulled her back against the mountain bulk of her Pop.
“Yes. Holder Mayer had a meeting. So I came home for the night.”
“With Antes?” Pop’s voice was low and his hand tightened painfully on Min, so she wiggled until she escaped his hold.
“Yes.” Lil hesitated. “A Queen and its attendants came to see him.”
“I see.” This was from Mom before she disappeared back into the kitchen.
“What did they look like?” Davi’s voice whistled a little because of his missing teeth.
“What? I want to know!” He stamped his foot and Lil laughed.
She moved to the living room and gestured for Davi to follow her. Min hurried behind them before Pop could stop her and so he followed as well. They all settled into one of the half dozen seats scattered around the room. Min sighed as the bottom and back contoured to her form.
Until her mother called them for supper, Lil described the Antes that had come to visit, and if Pop stayed silent and unapproving in the corner Min hoped that her and Davi’s enthusiasm made up for it. She wasn’t faking; she’d never seen an Ante before, that’s what a better district meant in Zebub, a place one could live and see an Ante rarely or never.
Dinner was quiet. While one unapproving stare could be overcome, having both of her parents glaring was harder to ignore.
After dinner they were quickly ushered off to their rooms despite the complaints that it wasn’t near time for resting yet.
Min lay awake in her bed, waiting for the noise outside to die off so she could try to sneak into Lil’s room to speak with her. She’d never been inside Lil’s room before, none of them had. The door would not open when she was gone and she never stayed long enough to use it anymore. Min wondered what exactly it looked like in there, but more than that she wanted to talk to her sister again without feeling like she was doing something wrong.
She jerked awake to the sound of muffled screaming. She leapt from the bed toward her door, which was already sliding open. The screams were louder but still deadened, traveling through walls to reach her ears. It reminded her of the time she had seen a small crike break its leg against the side of a building and the sounds it had made as two larger ones of its kind ripped it apart and devoured it.
Her pop was in the hallway, Davi in his arms.
“Minnie! C’mon girl.” He reached for her but Lil moved around him quickly and grabbed her hand. Min was still in her sleeveless sleep gown, but Lil was already dressed in her official white tunic and pants. Min pressed herself against her sister. Pop would have picked her up like a child. She was past ten cycles despite her shortness. She was not a child like Davi.
“We need to get outside. I summoned Thiot. He will take us to Kandake for shelter.”
“No!” “No!” Pop and Mom both shouted at the same time.
Lil’s hand tightened around Min’s almost painfully.
“Do you have a better plan? A better shelter in mind? From the screams out there, whatever is happening is not stopping and the longer we fight about what to do, the more chance we are caught.”
There was silence and Lil stalked forward, Min following closely behind, and pulled open their front door. They exited their apartment and were engulfed in a river of neighbors all trying to move toward the stairs and out.
“Stay together. Hold hands,” Lil yelled back.
Min reached back, grasping her mom’s hand in her own; her mother reached back to grab Pop, who still held Davi. Her brother looked half asleep and terrified, turning his face into Pop’s shoulder. They moved with the panicked mass, fleeing from something they still hadn’t seen. The screams still happening were enough for Min. Then all movement stopped. Min slammed into her sister and Mom into her back. There was a loud scream from in front of them and Min looked through the gaps in the group before her, catching her first glimpse of what they were running from—what had found them and cut off their escape.
It was nothing.
A darkness that was not shadows, not the fleeting glimpses Min had seen of Nif, not the sweet, quiet, comet-and-moon-filled dark of night. This was something devouring, something alive and hungry and full of invisible teeth that she could nonetheless feel. It was coming for her and everyone and everything and there would be nothing left—no life, no light, not even cool, calm darkness—but an endless nothing, no hope, nothingness for all time.
Min began to weep. She was not the only one.
Lil growled something out under her breath and Min felt herself moving, being yanked around. At first it was a struggle, but it slowly became easier and easier not to look. The effect spread out from them, as they moved through the frozen crowd, the front ranks continuing to scream as they were devoured.
Did that mean they were no longer paralyzed?
Did the nothingness unlock them only to eat them as soon as they were free?
She shuddered as she recognized a voice. Wasilav. The new crack in his voice was unmistakable. He was a neighbor, one of the few who would play with Davi and her. He’d liked to play Crikes & Antes. He had been her first kiss. And now he was dead.
No, worse than dead. That thing did not kill, it erased.
Then they were back in their apartment and Lil ordered the door to seal and reopen for no one through a flurry of coughs. Min saw small specks of blood dot the pink surface of the door in red with each cough.
She led them to her room.
“Why did you seal the door?” It was the first thing Mom had said since her earlier protest.
“Touch nothing,” Lil warned as she opened her door and let them in. Mom pulled Min to her and positioned them in the center of the room. Min could not help goggling. The walls were not the warm, living pink flesh of the rest of the apartment. Instead they were a dark, burnished wood. Most of the walls were covered with bookcases layered with bound books and scrolls and spiral notepads and every configuration of paper Min had ever seen and many she never had. There was a chill wind that moved through the room without disturbing anything. The night outside the window was the same as outside Min’s room, but somehow the light was dim and duller through Lil’s window.
“They’ll try to come in here. The neighbors, they saw that I wrenched free of that thing, they will think I can fight it or help them escape.”
“Can’t you?” Pop asked, his voice shaking.
Lil’s laugh was bitter and empty. It made Min shiver. “No. It was all I could do to pull our attention away from it. The effect on the others was . . . unexpected. This must be what the Ruling Courts want to see us about.”
Min was pretty sure that last part was meant to be to herself but everyone in the room reacted to it. Lil continued talking before anyone could speak, shoving some of the materials on her shelves into a hipbag that took them all but did not grow fat.
“As for helping them escape.” She paused. “Maybe I could, but my priority is getting you all to safety. They may follow if they wish, but if they panic you all may be hurt. Also, I do not want to be near them when they start to blame me. Those who are different are always blamed and shunned. I’ve . . . seen it many times before.” Her tone was very even on the last words and Min felt Mom tense. “Ah, here it is.” She pulled a bundle of sticks and rope from the back of a shelf behind a row of books. They heard the sickening sound of the front door being forced open, the schlurp and screech of the fiber being torn and shredded.
Lil turned to her window and dropped her bundle. A ladder.
“Min, you go down first.”
“No, Lil. We don’t know what’s down there, someone has to go down that can watch out for them. You go first. Then Min and Davi, we’ll come last in case they get through.”
“No, we have done you wrong . . . for many years. It was us who gave you to the Athenaeum and we blamed you for our choice.” Mom looked away from Lil and Min wanted to run up, to hug her, but she knew it wasn’t her place. This was not her story. Pop placed one hand on Mom’s shoulder, the other on Lil’s and nodded in agreement.
“Your mom is right. Hurry and we will join you.”
Someone was pounding on the door, trying to force it the way they had the front door. Lil must have changed this along with the walls because though it bulged it did not break.
“It will hold them for a while.”
More voices joined the ones already outside the door, all of them raised in anger. Lil nodded and Min saw her eyes widen in shock as Pop pulled her into an embrace, Davi still sandwiched between them. Mom did the same and Lil’s mouth opened and closed before she simply hurried out the window.
Min ran forward and embraced both her parents as well. She was scared, more scared than she’d ever been, because she knew that she had to do this. She followed Lil out the window. Halfway down the ladder it jerked as Davi started down, and as she waited for the movement to settle she realized the ladder was not sticks and rope. The white rungs she clung to were bone and the brown dried muscle, like jerky. She peered more closely and noticed the healthy pink of the building wall was turning to a sickly sepia, as if rotting away.
“C’mon, Minnie. Just a little farther.”
Min took a deep breath and continued her descent. She reached the ground and fell into Lil’s waiting arms. They both turned to watch Davi continue down; he was tall and lanky for his age, the opposite of Min, but he had still only crossed into six. Their mom followed and Davi reached the ground just as she was halfway down.
Then the ladder jerked. They all looked up to see Pop trying to climb out the window while more and more arms pulled at both him and the ladder. He yelled down for Mom to hurry, more and more bodies trying to force themselves out alongside him. Mom doubled her speed of descent and called up to Pop for him to hurry as well. It jerked again and Min heard the snap. She would never forget.
A hand covered her eyes and her head was yanked around until she was pressed into Lil’s side. There was another snapping sound and then a scream and a crack of a body hitting the ground, the sound of a life ending. Min struggled against her sister’s hold but it was strong as iron. Sobs built in her chest, tumbled into the air around her, joining the wails of her brother Davi. Lil jerked to the other side and she figured Lil was also holding Davi against her body, shielding his sight as well. That was good. He was a child but Min was not. She deserved to see, to know.
She heard the unmistakable steps of a crike coming closer.
“What are you doing here?”
“Holder Mayer sent us to assist in any way you may need.” The voices that answered were a hairsbreadth from unison.
“How did he know what was happening?”
“He did not; he simply assumed for you to summon Thiot so late into the night that all was not well.”
There was silence and then Lil ordered.
“Come. Take them.”
Min was lifted into the air; all she could see was pale flesh, too pale. Whoever held her smelled of that sharp scent of new rot mixed with lightning. It had to be an Ante.
Min went still.
“Take them to Kandake. When you arrive, send Thiot back for me. I am going back in to try and get my pare— my father.”
Min began to struggle again. She thought Pop had fallen as well. If there was a chance, but—
“Lil, no!” Her mom was dead, her pop likely dead. She could not lose Lil as well.
“I will be fine, Min. I will meet you there. I promise.”
Min was carried, her struggles nothing to the steel bands that held her. She rose into the air and then they were moving swiftly through the air and she looked down. Just in time to see her home disappearing behind them.
“…so much to recommend in this novel: great characters, new worlds, alliances and betrayals… ” – Pondering The Prose
“I loved the inventiveness of the demonic world! Organic buildings and insect-like transportation… It actually reminded me a bit of the work of Max Gladstone…” – The Illustrated Page
“With this novel, Tilahun has laid the foundations for a very promising trilogy. The world building is mightily impressive, but more importantly, its world is inhabited by characters you’ll want to embark on future journeys with. All in all, it’s highly recommended for fans of young adult fiction first and foremost, but you can never be too old to appreciate storytelling this marvelous. ” – Starburst Magazine
“In short, it’s a lot of fun, with a chorus of amazing voices and characters, a deep and interesting setting, and a fast pace and brilliant action with just enough tragedy, romance, darkness, and hope to keep me glued to the pages and grumpy af that I have to wait for the next book to come out.” – nerds of a feather, flock together
“Tilahun’s strengths lie in writing family dynamics…” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Tilahun has created a unique world that features diverse characters and fantastical otherworldly beings…” – Monlatable Book Reviews