From the Back Cover
We all become monsters at the edge of the breach. In a post-apocalyptic world where season of birth determines power — spring healers, summer mages, fall shapeshifters, and winter shields — a man and a woman emerge from tragic childhoods to lead humanity on opposite sides of an interrealm war.
There is a hole in the sky. They call it the Rift. A portal to the gods. The scar of a suffering world. Through it, the gods rule the last scraps of civilization, harkening war. As chaos beckons, two leaders emerge from the ashes of a dying planet.
Julian Kyder is the son of an abusive rape victim who compensates for his abandonment through psychopathy. Sira Rune is a cancer survivor who dedicates her life to living free and fearless while experiencing the taboo and the unorthodox. Rune is the only one unafraid of Kyder, and that terrifies him, because he only knows how to function through fear. Even though she gives him more chances than he deserves, how much violence can she forgive? When is a person beyond redemption? While he struggles to control his demons and she struggles to find purpose, the gods drag the ruined world into war.
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Grimdark, Horror, LGBT, Mental Illness
Below you can read the first 10 pages of Edge of the Breach (Rift Cycle Book 1), by Halo Scot
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Pain Made a Man
Julian Kyder, Age 9 July 7, 7009
Her body is stone. Her eyes glass. She doesn’t see me. Doesn’t want me. Yet her blood runs through me, a river of pain. I call her mother, but she calls me nothing. She hopes to forget me. Hopes I will disappear. Conceived in violence, I am a constant reminder of the crime that made me.
“Come,” she orders me. Like a dog. And I jog at her heels, obedient.
She won’t use my name. It’s a reminder I exist. The meaning behind it is empty, anyway. She refused to name me, so the hospital staff did. Julian Kyder — Julian after the doctor who delivered me and Kyder after the hospital. Forever marked by the circumstances of my birth.
She tried to abort, but I survived. She put me up for adoption, but no one took me. She tried to release me into the system, but they were already at overcapacity. We’re trapped. Stuck together as two halves of misery. The doctor told me I am a miracle. She told me I am a curse.
She leads me along the edge of the Shelf toward the market. With each step, my feet crunch along the parched gravel. To our left, cliffs drop hundreds of meters into the Ruined Sea, a toxic cesspool that encircles the island. In the distance, Mount Erebus puffs ash into the blanched sky, a grandfather smoking the last bit of a cigar. We mutilated our world, bombarded the planet for centuries with nuclear weapons until we ran out of missiles,
until Earth flipped upside-down. The only habitable continent is Antarctica, now the North Pole, and even here, the war melted the desolate wasteland into a scorching desert. Humans near extinction, huddled near the top of the planet like exiles. But we
A circular wound punctures the sky at its zenith, everpresent. It’s the Rift — a dark, festering mass opened by the end of the war one thousand years ago. The hole in the sky is the size
of my fist from here, unassuming from the ground, yet worldchanging to civilization. It’s a gateway to the other realms, though the gods are mostly silent, indifferent, rarely speaking and never interfering. They care as little about this place as I do. Sweat trickles down my back. I pull my robe tight around myself, hoping to block out the sun. It’s summer, so there’s no respite from the heat. The days are endless. They bleed into each other like ink on a page, no distinction between the lines. Night won’t come for another few months, and soon after it does, it won’t leave till winter’s done.
Some call it balance. Day and night. Light and dark. Sun and stars. Birth and death. People look for meaning when it’s only chaos disguised as order.
“Halela, it’s been too long.” One of the men from church greets my mother with a warm smile.
“Reve.” She shirks away but manages to dip her head in polite acknowledgment.
My mother has autism. Severe autism. Normal sensation is overwhelming. Pregnancy was torture. The doctors drugged her into a medically induced coma for the duration while I grew,
a parasite in her belly. And when I was ready, they cut me out, lanced her uterus like an overgrown cyst. The first face I saw was a nurse. The next, the doctor. Then the midwife. My mother was fourth, high on anesthetic. She didn’t touch me. Couldn’t touch
me. It was too much. She couldn’t handle it. They put her back under. I never blame her for her condition. I blame her for everything else. For her cruelty, for the things she can help. She
could say she loves me or be there for me in her own way, but she isn’t. She’s never even made an effort.
“Rations are limited today, I’m afraid.” Reve motions to the market where a sprawl of tents crouches under the relentless sun.
He’s one of the nice ones. Keeps his distance, understands our situation, but goes out of his way to help. Most aren’t like him. The Shelf is a refuge for the rural poor, for those who can’t afford to live in Zawad, the last city of human civilization. Most of our neighbors are half-mad zealots preaching about nonsensical bullshit. We fit right in.
“Yes, yes,” my mother says. She taps her fingers against her thigh, a nervous tic.
“And who do we have here?” Reve asks. He squats down
to look me in the eye.
“Little Kyder, how you’ve grown! You’ll betall as the Four Towers when you’re done.”
He addresses me properly, by surname, even though I am but a child. First names are reserved for matters of love or intimacy. I have neither.
“Yes, sir,” I say.
He ruffles my dark hair. “But too skinny. Here, take my bread. Ra knows I do not need it.” He chuckles and pats his round stomach.
“I cannot accept, sir,” I say. “Thank you, though.”
Reve shoves the bread into my hands. “Take it, child. And get inside right after the market. A sandstorm’s forecasted for this afternoon.”
I blush at his kindness. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Always a pleasure, Halela.” Reve bows and leaves us.
Silence follows in his absence. My mother speaks only if necessary. It’s a wonder I learned language at all.
“Good morn!” an airsail vendor by the side of the path calls to us several minutes later. “On your way to the market? You’d go much faster in one of these.”
He pulls out what looks like a wooden surfboard from behind his booth and throws it onto the ground. The board quivers. The top unfolds until a translucent sail interwoven with
gold webbing stretches two meters in the air. The board hovers several inches above the gravel path, sail shimmering like dragonfly wings in the sunlight. It’s a shred of high technology
pirated from Zawad, out of place in this apocalyptic Hel. My mother twitches, flustered. Her mouth opens and closes like a marionette as she attempts conversation. “N-no
money-y-y,” she stutters.
“I’ll make you a deal.” The vendor, oblivious to my mother’s deteriorating condition, continues in singsong. “Pay half upfront and the other half next year.”
“M-m-my…I-I-I-I…” Words sputter from my mother’s mouth like an engine failing to start.
I step in. “Thank you for your consideration, sir, but we will unfortunately need to decline your generous offer.”
The vendor’s eyebrows shoot up, noticing me. “How old are you, boy?”
“You don’t talk like a nine-year-old.”
“I don’t act like a nine-year-old, either,” I say, my temper rising. “Please allow us to pass, and we will be on our way.”
There’s something in my look that causes men triple my age to cower before me. My eyes are an unnatural shade, a shocking cyan that glows with inner fury. They’re my one gift from him, the him I never met, the him who abandoned me before my first cells joined. My mother never told me his name, but I don’t need his name to know his soul. I see him in my face, in the blue fire that burns in my gaze. I sense him lurking in my subconscious, a shadow of aggression that threatens to unleash if I echo the darkness. The vendor senses it, too. He stumbles backward, mumbles something about a special next month, and waves us on.
My mother glances at me, wary. I scare her. She fears me to be like him. I fear to be like her, an animated skeleton seeking death. She’s all I have in this world. And I hate her, as I suspect she hates me, or at least hates what I symbolize. She’s never shown me love or kindness or comfort, so in its absence, I substitute hatred and anger and loneliness. And she blames me
for what I’ve become.
We reach the market at noon. People swarm the stalls like maggots in a corpse. My mother freezes, paralyzed. She should have let me come alone, but she doesn’t trust me. Her diet is very particular, of her own doing, and she only trusts herself to acquire the ingredients.
We make slow progress. The heat rises to stifling levels. In the village school, they teach that Antarctica used to be as cold as the Lost Realm of Mogard, but today, I find that difficult to
believe. Each breath sears my lungs. The putrid mix of sweat and body odor permeates the tents. Mirages rise from the earth like warbled ghosts. People rest in the shade, passed out from heat exhaustion.
My mother doesn’t mind the heat. She focuses on one stall at a time. First vegetables. Only the green ones. Five of each, except for seven leaves of spinach. Then fruit. Only those with large seeds. Peaches, nectarines, papaya, and mango are okay. No apples. No watermelons. No grapes or bananas. Next, starch. We can only afford potatoes today. She buys seven, for the
Seven Realms, and touches each four times, for the Four Towers of Ma’at.
“Kyder!” I recognize the voice. A peer from my class. One I tutor. Jereby. My stomach knots. I’m in no mood for pleasantries.
Frantic, my mother scurries away. “I can’t,” she mutters in excuse and leaves to finish the shopping. The conversations with Reve and the vendor sent her over her threshold. It takes little to overstimulate her. I’m the opposite. I can’t get enough. Jereby jogs over to me, flanked by a group of his friends. All beautiful. All popular. All easy targets.
“Good morn,” I greet.
“So this is the boy you can’t stop talking about,” a tall girl, Anjeli, says. As she speaks, her hair fades from auburn to platinum, and the lashes around her sultry eyes widen. A shapeshifter, then. Focused on parlor tricks. Pitiful.
After the nuclear war ended, the fallout radiation mutated human DNA. Everyone born since is connected with Earth’s cycles and harbors a power linked with their season of birth — spring healers, summer mages, fall shapeshifters, and winter shields. Proximity to the North Pole heightens our powers. It’s part of the village school’s curriculum. They teach us best they can. If you’re good enough, you can join one of the four seasonal guilds of Ma’at. Most aren’t, though. The majority of the remaining population is marginal at best. Many found purpose in the knowledge of realms and gods and guilds, especially after the war. It gave people hope, something to look forward to, something to dedicate their lives to, someone to pray to, a category to fit neatly inside. No longer did they have to search for meaning. They were told from birth who they were, what they should do, and where they should go. Simple. Uncomplicated. You are your birth. And I am mine, more than I’d like.
Progeny of rape. Heir to violence. Drunk with power.
Forged from fire. The sun-made child. Sometimes, I wish to be ordinary. It would be easier if I was normal. Easier, but far lessfun.
Jereby’s ears redden. “I do not talk about him all the time.” He nudges Anjeli, and the motion sends her flying. He’s a mage, like me, a master of gravity. But he’s not that good. I am.
I’m a prodigy. I was born at noon on the summer solstice and am thus bestowed with the highest possible genetic gift. It’s wasted on me, though. I’m a poor nobody from the outskirts of civilization. The most I’ll amount to is a criminal. The least, a statistic in a gutter.
Anjeli brushes the dirt off her robe. “Clumsy oaf.”
“Sorry, Anj, I didn’t mean to—” Jereby starts.
“Don’t worry about it.” She smiles at him. Perfect white pearls for teeth. Cheater.
“Are you okay, Anjeli? Do you need me to heal anything?” a tiny, shriveled boy asks. Spring-borns are always so annoyingly helpful.
“No thanks, Shel. I’m good.”
The last of their group, a large brute, looks at me and squints. “Hey, aren’t you the kid who got suspended last month?”
“Leave him alone, Rylan,” Jereby says.
Rylan doesn’t. “Yeah, I recognize you. You lit the gym on fire, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I reply evenly. I have no wish to discuss my reasons with this pea-brained thug.
“I got bored,” I say. I’m always bored.
“Bored?” Rylan asks, the word foreign on his tongue.
“How are you bored? Don’t you take advanced physics or something? And ancient Latin?”
Jereby covers for me. “Kyder’s wicked smart. He’s top of the class. A genius.”
Please don’t, Jereby, I beg silently. Whenever people learn of my intelligence, I see the judgment in their eyes, the instant challenge of my brilliance. I want to be a fly on the wall. Unseen. Unnoticed. But then I’d have to stop lighting things on fire.
That’s not going to happen.
“Is that true? A genius?” Shel asks.
“By the arbitrary conditions set forth by an antiquated system of determination, yes,” I reply.
His face is vacant.
“My IQ is over 200,” I say.
And there’s the spark of comprehension.
“Holy Ra,” Shel gasps.
“Who cares? He’s still a creep,” Anjeli says.
I turn my blue glare on her, and she falls silent. I could kill her with the lift of a finger. Puny fall-born.
“Careful, Anj,” Jereby says. “He’s summer-born.”
She scoffs. “So are you.”
“But he’s really summer-born. Noon on the solstice.”
Jereby shifts from foot to foot, nervous. He’s seen what I’m capable of. Once. An accident. But it served its purpose. He won’t cross me again. He also won’t have full use of his left arm again.
“I’m not afraid of playing with fire,” Anjeli says. “Show
us, sun boy. Rylan’s a shield. He’ll protect us if anything gets out
He can’t. Few can match me, and I’d bet the last of my mother’s dwindling bank account that Rylan is not one of them. Winter-borns are too eager to prove their incompetence. My mother is one of them.
“It’s not a good idea,” Jereby warns. He cradles his arm, remembering. He challenged me to a duel a year ago after I stole his sugar rations. Before he could move, I crushed his arm from the elbow down. It took five adult healers to set the bone, but even they couldn’t fix it entirely. I was suspended for a month. I didn’t care. It let me focus on my own projects.
“What’s the worst he could do?” Anjeli grins at me, flirtatious. It’s disgusting. Fake. Plastic. Hollow like her head.
“Would you like a synopsis or a summary?” I ask, grinning back. I have a knack for charm that’s served me well in my short life.
“Oh, details, please.”
My eyes narrow. “I could squeeze your chest until your lungs pop like balloons. I could shatter your skeleton and make you a bag of bone soup. I could throw you from here to the
Ruined Sea and scatter your limbs throughout the Shelf. And since we’re in the fruit section, let’s make a few comparisons, shall we? I could burst your heart like a melon, peel your skin
like an apple, and pluck off your fingers like grapes. Would you like me to continue?”
Anjeli’s skin is green. Literally. “No,” she rasps, swallowing hard. “Thank you.”
“For the love of Llyr.” Shel swears the name of his patron god.
“You’re not normal,” Rylan says, backing away. He looks at me the same way the vendor did. With fear.
“No,” I say, “I’m not.”
Though I want to be. No thoughts rushing through my mind all hours of the day and night. No violent fantasies about how best to kill my adversaries. No questions as to my lack of
empathy or guilt or remorse. It would be so much simpler. Maybe therein lies happiness. In ignorance.
“As I said, leave him alone,” Jereby says, embarrassed. He keeps rubbing his arm.
“We’re just playing, Kyder,” Shel says.
“I am not playing,” I say.
“Why do you hang out with this freak?” Anjeli asks Jereby. Her skin has lost its green luster, but she is still pale. Because he feels my power and is drawn to it like a moth
to the flame. If he can’t be the fire, he wants to feel its heat. Jereby shrugs. “He’s not always like this.”
Yes, I am. I just don’t always show it. So I turn it off. I flash them a stunning smile, concealing the monster within. I can hide from adults, but children have a way of
revealing the truth in a person.
“I apologize,” I say. “I’ve been running lines to audition for the new play. I think I’ve taken to the role of Ra too well.
Please forgive me.” I lie easy as breathing. Always have.
The others relax a bit, though they’re still anxious around me.
“Yeah, Ra’s a crazy son of a bitch,” Rylan says.
“Don’t speak of his god in vain,” Shel says. “Show some respect.” He eyes me like a loose cannon.
“It’s fine,” I say. “So did you hear about the sandstorm?”
I switch to weather, the universal topic for shallow conversation.
“It’s going to be insane!” Rylan exclaims. “Bibby got a bunch of the guys together to watch from the top of Erebus.”
“Is that safe?” Jereby asks.
“Who cares? They’re saying the wall of sand could be
five kilometers high!”
Anjeli rolls her eyes. “Boys.”
“Weren’t you the one who bungee jumped Blood Falls a few weeks back?” Shel asks, cocking an eyebrow.
“Touché,” she says, and they all chuckle. I forget to exhibit normal behavior and join their laughter a few seconds late.
“Time to go.” My mother appears behind me, baskets of groceries in hand. She stares at the ground, avoiding eye contact.
Before anyone can notice her condition, I interject. “It was a pleasure visiting with all of you. I will see you in school on Monday.” I plaster on a smile and bow.
As I walk away, I hear Rylan whisper, “He talks like a bloody robot.”
I am a bloody robot, you imbecile. I wish I was a real boy. I wish I fit in, like you, something you take for granted.
Once we leave the market, my body compensates for the bravado. Composure leaves me, and I succumb to my nature. My eyes twitch — twice the left, then the right, two times to
match, then twice again the left — a rhythm to my insanity. My teeth clench together, my jaw locked like a vise. Pain throbs in my neck from the strained muscles, and I hum without realizing it — short, low grunts in the back of my throat, echoes of my inner torment. The doctors diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder thus far, though I’m sure there are many other demons stuffed inside of me. My mother ignores me when I have these spells. It’s the one decency she shows me. The one crucible that binds us. We are enemies to ourselves. And what we have, even the healers can’t fix. I try to calm my mind. I recite the powers of two. 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024. It’s not enough. I try seven. 7, 49, 343, 2401. Still not enough. Prime numbers? 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101.
It’s not working.
I switch to language. The seasons in French. Le printemps, l’été, l’automne, l’hiver. German. Frühling, Sommer, Herbst, Winter. Gaelic. An t-earrach, an samhradh, am forghar, an geamhradh. The Gaelic works. I repeat the seasons and move to months, days of the week, and colors. We’re halfway back before I harness control of myself. My eyes calm, my jaw loosens, and my breathing steadies. I fear the day normalcy fails to return. We pass the vendor’s booth, but he’s gone. Dozens of airsails stand unprotected behind the counter. I hop over the desk and snatch one. My mother glances toward me but says nothing. I throw it on the ground, and the sail unfurls. If they catch me, they’ll throw me in prison. But I’m clever. I’m sure I could escape. I can bribe anyone with the proper leverage.
“You first,” I say. My mother steps onto the board and grabs the mast. I step behind her and kick off. We skim above the ground, soaring over the edge of the Shelf on the way back
to the village. We make it in a quarter of the time. Our home is underground. The earth insulates against the heat. I descend the staircase, park the airsail by the door, and help load groceries into the freezer.
“You sh-shouldn’t…” my mother starts. She taps her
fingers against her thigh. “You shouldn’t have d-d-done that.”
She points to the airsail.
A rage flares only she can summon. “You’re judging me?”
She doesn’t respond. Can’t respond. Guilt was all she could manage. Unfortunate for her, I don’t feel regret, but I do feel anger.
“Don’t patronize me,” I growl, my cool cracking like ice.
“If you provided enough, I wouldn’t have to steal.”
“Demon child,” she spits at me. “Child. Child. Child.
Child.” She repeats the word over and over in echolalia, a symptom of her disease.
The chant lights the short fuse of my temper. I pick up a peach and throw it at her. It catches her in the chin, and she staggers, clumsy, until she hits the wall. She turns toward the
packed earth and bangs her head against the dirt, over and over.
Each repetition is the same as the last, a dance of madness between her and the world that disclaims us both. I desert the groceries and grab her arm, yank her back to
sanity. “I’m sorry.” It’s a lie, but it’s what I’m supposed to say. She pushes me away and crosses to the opposite end of the room, leans over a table for support. “I see…I see…I see who you are…are. You’re no bet-t-t-ter…no better…no better than him. Spawn of dark-k-ness…of darkness. I’d k-k-k-kill you myself if I wasn’t a…wasn’t a…wasn’t a c-c-coward.”
She straightens and faces me. Her fingers tap furiously against her thigh as her eyes meet mine. She looks away after a second, overwhelmed by sensation.
“I’d like to see you try,” I whisper. She’s a shield. A powerful one. Though she isn’t as powerful as I will become. Fear flickers in her gaze. I am her nightmare incarnate. But when she wakes, I’m still here.
“G-get out-t-t…out…out…of m-m-my house…my house…my house…my house…my house,” she says, staring at the floor.
“Gladly,” I say. I pick up the airsail and head toward the door.
“Bastard. Bastard. Bastard. Bastard,” she murmurs behind me.
Fire floods me. Wild. Uncontrollable. I shoot out my hand and unleash a gravity wave. My mother raises a shield at the last second, a bubble of energy conjured from the heart of the universe. She protects herself, but our home crumples into a mound of dirt. Shafts of sunlight shine through the tattered roof. The walls slide in avalanches onto the floor. Furniture becomes kindling. The groceries explode. Their sticky juices cover the wreckage. I almost killed her. And I feel nothing.
Fury mobilizes her. She takes two steps toward me and slaps me across the face hard enough to spark stars. The only time she touches me is in violence. Her hatred for me is the one
force strong enough to override her condition.
“Remember your birth,” she hisses at me like a snake.
Her voice is the steadiest it’s been in years.
“You never let me forget,” I say. I mean the rape that conceived me, but she means my power.
I am a cataclysm. If I was born in Zawad, I could be Komanguard, Arch of the Sun Guild at Ma’at. But I wasn’t born in Zawad. I was born on the Shelf to a crippled mother and an absent father. I doubt I’ll live long enough to see the Four Towers.
“Take off your shirt,” she orders.
I freeze. “No.” I won’t let her do it again.
“Take. Off. Your. Shirt.” With each word, she closes the distance between us. “Shirt. Shirt. Shirt. Shirt.” The word is like the pounding of a war drum. I step backward, flatten myself against the door, clutch the airsail like a lifeboat. “If you whip me again, I won’t control
My back burns with phantom pain. She had a healer tend me afterward, so there are no scars, no evidence of her abuse. But my body remembers. It’s not the punishment that
bothers me. It’s the shame.
“You won’t control yourself,” she says, noticing my word choice. Won’t, not can’t. The power inside me is a behemoth, bucking to break free. If I don’t stand in its way, it will possess
me. I would let it possess me if it would save me from her.
“Go, then.” She dismisses me with a wave of both hands
she repeats four times. “Don’t return until morning. Morning. Morning. Morning.”
I unfold the airsail and kick off into the sandstorm.
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