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       Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura), p.1

           Martha Wells
Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura)


  The Cloud Roads

  “[Wells’s Raksura books] are dense, and complex, with truly amazing world building, and non-human characters who are quite genuinely alien, yet still comprehensible and sympathetic. The characters, particularly the protagonist, Moon, are compelling and flawed and likable. The plots are solid and fast moving. But it’s the world that . . . just, wow! There is a depth and breadth and sheer alienness here that I have rarely seen in any novel. Shape-shifters, flying ships, city-trees, six kazillion sentient races, floating islands, and on and on and on.”

  —Kelly McCullough, author of the WebMage series and the Fallen Blade novels

  “The Cloud Roads has wildly original worldbuilding, diverse and engaging characters, and a thrilling adventure plot. It’s that rarest of fantasies: fresh and surprising, with a story that doesn’t go where ten thousand others have gone before. I can’t wait for my next chance to visit the Three Worlds!”

  —N. K. Jemisin, author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

  “It reminds me of the SF/F fantasy I read as a teen, long before YA was categorized. Those books explored adult concepts without ‘adult content’; the complexity of morality and the potential, uncaring harshness of life. This story’s conclusion satisfies on all those counts as well as leaving me eager for the sequel.”

  —Juliet E. McKenna, Interzone

  “There’s so much to like here: multiple sapient species sharing a world (or NOT sharing) with complex gender roles, wildly differing societies, and varying technologies. This is rigorous fantasy without the trappings of European medievalism. And most of all, it’s riveting storytelling.”

  —Steven Gould, author of Jumper and 7th Sigma

  “Martha Wells’s books always make me remember why I love to read. In The Cloud Roads, she invents yet another rich and astonishingly detailed setting, where many races and cultures uneasily co-exist in a world constantly threatened by soulless predators. But the vivid worldbuilding and nonstop action really serve as a backdrop for the heart of the novel—the universal human themes of loneliness, loss, and the powerful drive to find somewhere to belong.”

  —Sharon Shinn, author of Troubled Waters

  “I loved this book. This has Wells’s signature worldbuilding and wholly real character development, and her wry voice shines through. I can’t even explain how real the world felt, in which each race and city and culture had such well-drawn back story that they lived on even outside the main plot.”

  —Patrice Sarath, author of Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge

  The Serpent Sea

  “With these books Wells is writing at the top of her game, and given their breadth, originality, and complexity, this series is showing indications it could become one of the landmark series of the genre.”

  —Adventures Fantastic

  “Wells remains a compelling storyteller whose clear prose, goal-driven plotting, and witty, companionable characters should win her fans among those who enjoy the works of writers such as John Scalzi and Lois McMaster Bujold.”

  —Matt Denault, Strange Horizons

  “A worthy sequel to The Cloud Roads and it features all of the strengths (fantastic world-building, great story, awesome characters) of that first novel. It is so easy to fall in love with this series and the reasons are manifold.”

  —The Book Smugglers

  The Siren Depths

  “I really loved Book 3, which wound up as my favorite book of the trilogy . . . I’ll be pushing it on everybody who loves great writing, ornate worlds and wonderfully-drawn nonhuman characters.”

  —Rachel Neumeier, author of Lord of the Changing Winds and Black Dog

  “The first two books, The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea, were excellent, but in my opinion The Siren Depths is an even better and more satisfying book, because it takes the series to a whole new level of depth.”


  “The Siren Depths has more of what I’ve come to love about the Books of the Raksura—a compelling story, great world-building in a unique setting, and lovable characters with very realistic problems. In my opinion, it’s also the most satisfying installment in the series.”

  —Fantasy Café

  “Truly inventive and stunningly imaginative world-building perfectly melded with vivid, engaging characters make the Books of the Raksura one of my all-time favorite science-fiction series.”

  —Kate Elliott, author of The Spiritwalker Trilogy

  Stories of the Raksura: Volume One

  “Wells is adept at suggesting a long, complex history for her world with economy . . . Longtime fans and new readers alike will enjoy Wells’s deft touch with characterization and the fantastic.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “The worldbuilding and characters in these stories are as wonderful as the novels and I had no difficulty immersing myself into Wells’s world and societies again.”

  —SF Signal

  Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two

  “Immensely pleasing . . . the shorter stories still encompass everything that makes the novels so satisfying, from the daily interactions between Raksura to the incredible creatures, mysteries and landscapes of the Three Worlds, and if Martha Wells were to never write anything other than Raksura stories from now on, as much as I love her other work, I can’t say I’d complain.”

  —A Dribble of Ink

  “I wonderfully enjoyed these stories . . . I urge readers with any interest in secondary world fantasy who have not done so to pick up The Cloud Roads and begin there and work your way to this volume. And then, like me, you can hope and wait for future volumes set in Wells’s rich and endlessly entertaining world, peoples and characters.”

  —Paul Weimer, Skiffy and Fanty




  City of Bones

  Wheel of the Infinite


  The Element of Fire

  The Death of the Necromancer

  Between Worlds: The Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories

  Fall of Ile-Rien:

  The Wizard Hunters

  The Ships of Air

  The Gate of Gods

  The Books of the Raksura:

  The Cloud Roads

  The Serpent Sea

  The Siren Depths

  Stories of the Raksura Volume One:

  The Falling World + The Tale of Indigo and Cloud

  Stories of the Raksura Volume Two:

  The Dead City + The Dark Earth Below

  Stargate: Atlantis

  SGA: Reliquary

  SGA: Entanglement

  Emilie and the Hollow World

  Emilie and the Sky World

  Star Wars: Razor’s Edge




  Night Shade Books

  an imprint of Start Publishing

  Jersey City, New Jersey

  Copyright © 2016 by Martha Wells

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Start Publishing, 101 Hudson Street, 37th Floor, Suite 3705, Jersey City, NJ 07302.

  Night Shade Books is an imprint of Start Publishing LLC.

  Visit our website at www.nightshade.start-publihsing.com.

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Wells, Martha, author.

  Title: The edge of worlds / Martha

  Description: New York : Night Shade Books, [2016]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2015050039 | ISBN 9781597808439 (hardback)

  Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Fantasy / General. | FICTION / Fantasy / Epic. |

  FICTION / Science Fiction / General. | FICTION / Science Fiction /

  Adventure. | GSAFD: Science fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS3573.E4932 E34 2016 | DDC 813/.54--dc23

  LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015050039

  eISBN: 978-1-59780-595-7

  Edited by Jeremy Lassen

  Cover art by Yukari Masuike

  Cover design by Lesley Worrell

  Printed in the United States of America

  To my husband Troyce, for everything


  Moon knew he was dreaming.

  In the real world, he was in Jade’s bower, lying on the furs near the metal bowl of the hearth, just close enough to feel the heat of the warming stones on his skin. Chime lay nearby, breathing deeply, a book unrolled across his chest. Jade was up in the hanging bed, and he could hear the faint rasp of her scales against the cushions as she stirred in her sleep. The damp night air was laced with the familiar scents of the court, the flowers floating in Jade’s bathing pool, and the ever-present musky sweetness that was the scent of the mountain-tree that housed the colony.

  In the dream world, he was watching the Fell destroy the Indigo Cloud court.

  He could see the central well, spiraling up through the heart of the great tree, lit by the soft glow of snail shells that were spelled for light by the mentors. Fell stench was thick in his lungs and the walls were alive with hundreds of dark shapes as dakti swarmed up the polished wood walls. Three massive major kethel climbed up from the greeting hall, their claws catching on the carved balconies, gouging through the stairs that curved up the walls, cracking the delicate pillars. They plunged their clawed hands into the bower doorways, and Arbora screamed and blood splattered against the wood and jeweled inlay.

  The perspective changed and Moon watched dakti flow through the passages of the teachers’ levels. He tried not to see faces and couldn’t help it. There were Rill and Bark and the soldier Ginger, piled up at the mouth of a chamber they had tried to defend, their eyes blank with death but their mouths open in snarls of furious terror. And the warrior Vine, lying in a junction of bowers, caught between his scaled form and his groundling one, half soft brown groundling skin and half-scaled, one wing twisted under him, his stomach ripped open and guts spilling out. A scream of rage rang out from further up in the central well and Moon knew it was Pearl, the reigning queen.

  Where’s Jade? Moon thought. Where am I? Where’s Stone? Why aren’t we doing anything? That thought almost broke him out of the nightmare, and for a moment he lay on the furs again. He could see his favorite carving, the one of the Raksuran court that covered most of the bower’s ceiling. In different colored woods and gemstones it depicted queens, consorts, warriors, and the wingless Arbora, all their bodies entwined or flowing apart, separate pieces making one whole.

  He tried again to turn the dream into something else, tried to wake, but the rulers flowed down the stairs to the teachers’ hall, past the mutilated, blood-streaked bodies of Arbora and warriors, took the passage that led toward the nurseries—

  “Moon, wake up,” Balm said.

  He snapped out of the dream. He was on his feet, breathing hard in terror and fury. Chime yelped and shifted, sat bolt upright, dumped the book off his lap, and kicked a stray piece of pottery across the room. Jade flipped out of the hanging bed and landed on her feet, spines lifted for battle.

  Balm leapt back a pace, dropped her spines and held out her hands. “Sorry! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you!”

  The relief was so intense, Moon’s knees almost gave out. He said, “No, sorry, no, it was me.” He shifted back to his groundling form, scales dissolving and reforming as soft skin, and he felt a chill cold enough to make him shiver. It was the thwarted fight-urge from the dream, still running through his blood. He had had plenty of nightmares but he rarely shifted while he was asleep. It was a long ingrained habit from all the turns of self-control while he had been living in groundling settlements, pretending to be anything but a shapeshifter. “I was having a nightmare.”

  Chime struggled to his knees and rescued the book and the cup. “So was I,” he said, following Moon’s example and shifting back to his groundling form. His hand trembled as he set the cup next to the others beside the hearth bowl. “It must be something in the air.”

  “I wasn’t sleeping well, either.” Jade settled her spines self-consciously. Queens didn’t have a groundling form, shifting to a smaller Arbora-like shape with softer scales, no wings, and fewer spines. That was the form they slept in, and Jade must have shifted to her winged form at some point between leaping out of the hanging bed and landing on the floor. Moon’s heart was still pounding. The relief of seeing her and Chime alive and well was almost as intense as if the dream had been real.

  Balm should have been looking at them as if they had all lost their minds. Moon knew he was still twitchy from his turns of living like a feral solitary, but waking him usually didn’t cause this much of an outburst. Especially considering it was Balm, Jade’s warrior clutchmate and one of Moon’s oldest friends in the court. But Balm looked worried, the gold scales of her brow furrowed. She said, “Were you all having nightmares? About the Fell attacking the colony?”

  Startled, Moon said, “Yes.”

  Jade flicked her spines in an affirmative, then glanced at Moon. “What, you were too?”

  Rolling the book back up into its cover, Chime looked up. “Uh, so was I.”

  They didn’t have a moment for the strangeness of that to settle in, because Balm said, grimly, “So did almost everyone down in the teachers’ bowers, and maybe everyone in the court. Some of the younger mentors woke up screaming. Heart wants to talk to you and Pearl right away.”

  “I know it’s odd,” Chime was saying as they went out into the queens’ hall, “but it’s theoretically possible for a mentor or a queen to share a dream with the rest of their bloodline and related bloodlines.”

  “Theoretically possible doesn’t mean any mentors or queens know how to do it, or if they have, they never mentioned it to me.” Jade’s spines and expression were somewhere between appalled and angry.

  As sister queen of the court, she should know. Of course, Moon was her consort, and technically he should know too, but he hadn’t been raised as a Raksura, and most of the time it seemed everything he learned about his own people had to be acquired the hard way. “I think if Pearl could do it, we’d know by now,” he said. It might be theoretically possible, but the idea made his skin creep.

  The queens’ hall, meant to impress visiting queens and consorts, was still quiet except for the water falling into a fountain pool against the far wall. The huge sculpture of a queen, her scales set with bright sunstones and her outspread wings stretched out to circle the hall and meet tip to tip, was suddenly an uncomfortable metaphor, at least for Moon. The open gallery of the consorts’ quarters was above the sculpture; Moon, Stone, and Ember, the only adult consorts currently in the court, had bowers up there, but they seldom slept in them. From the well that led down through the center of the tree came the faint sounds of movement and voices. Raksura, especially Arbora, didn’t always sleep through the night, but this was the noise of disturbance, uneasy voices and people calling out to each other.

  Jade stepped to the edge of the well and unfurled the deep blue expanse of her wings. “Balm, you wake Pearl. Chime, find Stone.” She jumped off the ledge and cupped her wings to control her fall.

  Chime looked uneasy at the prospect of disturbing Stone. “If he’s having the same nightmare we were . . .”

  “Just make sure he’s awake before you get close,” Moon told him. Stone was the court’s line-grandfather and could be cranky at the best of times, let alone when he was ca
ught in a vivid dream about the Fell eating all his descendants.

  Balm went toward the reigning queen’s bower to wake Pearl, saying, “I think I’d better stand in the doorway and call to her.”

  Moon shifted to follow Jade and used his wings to drop straight down through the central well.

  The dream was still too close for Moon to be able to look at the stairs curving up the spiral well and the carved balconies without wincing. He kept expecting to see dead bodies lying in the round doorways.

  It wasn’t as if the dream had been of some far-fetched, impossible circumstance. The Fell existed by feeding on groundling settlements and cities and had destroyed Raksuran colonies and killed entire courts. Moon was a survivor of one of those attacks; it had been the reason he had spent most of his first forty or so turns of life alone. A Fell flight had nearly destroyed Indigo Cloud’s old colony to the east before the court had fled here to the Reaches.

  Moon landed on the floor of the greeting hall a heartbeat after Jade. This was the first chamber visitors to the colony tree would see when they entered through the twisting passage that led in from the knothole, and it was designed to be impressive, as well as easily defended. Directly across from the entrance a pool of water was fed by a small fall from a higher channel, and the shell-lights glinted off all the warm colors of the carved wood.

  Warriors and Arbora, some in their scaled forms and some in groundling, were out on the balconies that looked down on the hall, their voices rising in worry as more of them woke from the dream. Arbora soldiers were on watch in the hall all day and night, gathered around the hearth bowl near the pool. Usually they traded off turns sleeping but now they were all awake, on their feet, and watching Jade’s arrival with relief. She said, “Ginger, you all had the dream too?”

  Ginger flicked her spines in an affirmative. “Four of us were sleeping, and we all saw—” She stopped and her throat worked as she swallowed uneasily.

  “We thought it was just us, but Balm said it’s everyone,” Sharp added.

  Jade made her voice reassuring. “Send someone to find Knell.” He was the leader of the soldiers’ caste, and one of Chime’s clutchmates. “Tell him to have the other soldiers check through all the bowers, make sure everyone’s all right.” She glanced up at the warriors gathered on one of the upper balconies. “Sand, Aura, Serene, the rest of you. Get down here and help the soldiers guard the entrance.”

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