SHADOW WORLDSA blast singed the edge of Samantha’s cloak and she pushed back against the wall, pissed. Even with all the training and fighting she had gone through, the cloak hadn’t actually been damaged.

Until now.

To make it sting that much more, she had been fighting a simple Kolack when she had been hit. Those little bastards seemed to breed like rabbits, inhabiting many of the planets Hadrian sent Samantha to for her skill-point grinding.

Still, she couldn’t help but wonder if the creatures were capable of such accuracy.

They weren’t the only enemy she had faced lately. Whenever she had the urge to go charging in and blasting something to bits—or cutting through hordes like a hot knife parting butter—she had the ancient magi send her to planets such as this.

But now, not only did she have a reason to be pissed, she also had cause to be somewhat worried. Whatever had just shot her had been a skilled shot, so she was pretty sure it couldn’t be Kolack.

In fact, she was fairly certain she had seen a human staring back at her from under a helmet, their visor partially fogged. Kolack could occasionally be found wearing such gear, but it was rare.

A glance down at the cloak confirmed that the material was already healing itself, glowing slightly before being restored to its original condition. The dark fabric flowed around her as though she were submerged in water. The cloak was easily the best gift she’d ever received, and she had her teammate Dex to thank for it.

Time to show this human what this gift can do, she thought, turning and springing forward. The robes flowed behind her as the shadows made her one of them. Dark cloths fluttered and spiraled in the air, and then she was descending on the human, slamming him against the rock wall as she raised her left forearm and triggered her shield.

The effect was a blast of electricity that held her opponent tightly as it sent its helmet flying, exposing purple skin like that of an eggplant.

Not a human at all, then.

The creature snapped at her with its sharp, pointed teeth, and Samantha jerked back to avoid being bitten. With another thrust of her shield she released the Kolack, allowing only a moment before her shield’s next electric shock sent the creature slamming even harder against the rock. It collapsed to the ground.

Damn. She needed to get her mind straight. Stop seeing things that weren’t there. This was not the first time she had thought she’d seen a human that had turned out to be a Kolack or some other alien creature.

When she had told Napalm about it, his fiery eyes had narrowed. He had shaken his head, muttering something about leftover effects from their run-ins with Karstrack, the corrupt magi. Some sort of echo in her brain from the stress, perhaps. Or maybe she was thinking too much of her own team, back on Earth.

But there seemed to be more than that going on here. At times she was certain she had seen a face looking back at her from the darkness. More than once.

Samantha pulled her thoughts back to the moment and focused on the very real issue at hand: the sound of more Kolacks coming at her from behind. She spun to see two of them, wearing body armor similar to that worn by the Syndicate Marines. A well-trained group—she guessed from the way they moved as a team—they covered the corners in a way that made her highly doubt they lacked intelligence as Ferder or the others claimed.

Wrong side of the war? Yes. Completely stupid sacks of blood with no purpose other than to serve as cannon fodder for the Great Deceivers in this war against the allies and all that was good and holy in the universe? Not sure.

One of the Kolacks made a clicking sound and gestured her way, and a second instantly threw himself to the floor, firing two rounds in her direction. This time she took advantage of her upgraded grip skill and ran for the wall, her robes gathering the darkness around her so that the enemy shot wildly in their confused state.

She reached the wall and ran across it, sword out and sparks of electricity trailing behind it. Blue lines sizzled through the air as her sword came down upon the lead Kolack, cleaving his helmet in two and filling him with volts so that he skittered smoking across the floor.

Damn, it felt good having the electricity skill tree maxed out. That’s what months of training did, after all.

The other Kolack rolled out of the way, coming up on his knees to shoot. He managed to get off a blast, and Samantha had to throw herself backwards to avoid getting hit. Since the sword would need to recharge before it could fire electricity again, she decided it was time to try one of her newly upgraded skills.

She chose ‘Static Stomp.’ Peering at the icons on her HUD, it looked like fun. Hell, fun was her middle name when it came to fighting these little bastards. From what she could tell, all she had to do was lift her leg up high and then stomp down in her opponent’s direction.

Sam’s foot hit the ground, and a blue light flared as a shockwave of energy rippled outward. It threw her opponent back, momentarily stunning him while she stumbled a bit as well, not used to the force of the upgrade.

That would come in handy someday, she thought, regaining her feet. But maybe it needed a little more practice. Right now might be a better time for some good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat.

Quickly sheathing her sword, she kicked off the wall and leaped forward. The power from her robes gave her an extra push that sent her fist cracking through the enemy’s faceplate. Her brawling skills weren’t on par with her weapon techniques, so she liked to get some practice in private, where none of the Shadow Corps team could see if she messed up.

Like now, as she lost her balance going for a roundhouse kick to the broken faceplate. Falling on her butt was embarrassing enough without the stupid Kolack sneering at her.

He’d get an extra punch or two for that, she decided, as she started to pick herself back up.

A kick caught her in the side, and then the Kolack’s blaster rifle was descending on Samantha to slam into her helmet. She raised both arms and formed a small force field around herself, a blue light that fizzed on impact while still keeping her protected. As soon as she moved her arms, it was gone. But she was now on the offensive.

“Kick me while I’m down, huh?” she shouted, coming at the Kolack with wild, haymaker punches. Against Dex or Carma, Samantha’s punches would’ve been laughable. But this Kolack had gotten overconfident and, since its faceplate had fallen off, each metal-gloved punch sent him reeling back.

He lay wheezing against the wall, purple blood dripping down his face. He stared up at her and held out a hand, a pleading look in his eyes.

It was almost enough to make her doubt herself, to pull back and let him go. Until she saw his other hand sneaking up toward her, finger wrapped around the trigger of a small blaster.

“Dick,” she said. “I was almost feeling sorry for you.” She kicked the blaster away, pulled out her sword, and ended the little bastard.

FROM JUSTIN >>> Shadow Worlds is live on Amazon now – so exciting! I’ve loved writing these books, because they’re so fun. They have everything I could want in a story, and Podium has found an amazing narrator to bring you the audiobooks (more to come on that soon). If you liked this, you’ll love the book. You’ll especially love book 3, because I’m not holding my punches on that one – the gloves are coming off 🙂

In other news, JN Chaney and S Nofke have launched their first 2 books in the Age of Expansion books. Have you read those yet?

Grab it here: