Excerpt- Sunborn Rising by Aaron Safronoff

Below is an excerpt from Sunborn Rising, of an early, harrowing scene when Barra first discovers the minions of the dark.

Alone in the Dark

The room seemed alive, but it wasn’t. There was something else in the room with her.
Along the far wall, a sheet of black undulated like a doorweave waving in a breeze. The sheet grew wider as it moved, spreading outward from the center. It rippled and slid, covering up the wall and continuing up the ceiling, working its way around the room toward Barra.
The low light turned the sheet into a canvas where Barra’s imagination painted nightmares. As the sheet grew closer, details resolved out of the darkness; it was a multitude of tiny creatures moving in unison. Barra caught glimpses of legs and antennae as the creatures flowed together and expanded along the wall. It didn’t take long for them to cover every surface of the kitchen. She had no idea where they were coming from, or how many there were.
They were almost at her feet.
She stood, and the creatures stopped sharply.
The warped kitchen was trapped in stillness. Barra’s heart was drumming the urge to run into her chest. She stole a quick glance over her shoulder to locate the way out, and when she looked back, the tapestry of creatures had closed the distance to her.
Eyes burning because she was afraid to blink, Barra backed up slowly.
The bugs moved. They matched her progress toward the doorway. She took another step backward. They narrowed the gap.
Barra felt her pulse in the quick of her claws. Adolescent claws her mother was always reminding her; fragile. Easily broken, easily repaired, Barra had argued. Suddenly, she wished she’d listened to her mother, and just tried to avoid danger. If she made it home, she would hug and kiss her mom, tell her how right she was, and promise to listen better. She had to make it home.
She felt the closeness of the insects, and the closeness of her escape.
She picked her moment. They picked the same.
Hundreds of pinprick lights turned on as the tiny creatures’ eyes flashed open. Wings fluttered and clacked ominously. In unison, the insects faced Barra and swarmed like tendrils of smoke reaching for her. They billowed around Barra, a terrifying, rattling cloud. Barra coiled, and then in one swift motion, burst through the cloud and out the doorway. She flew into the open boughs of the Middens with the insects trailing after her.
Barra fled through the woods. The oily collection of insects accelerated. They flew together as one large predator. Barra cut through a thicket of brambles, but the insects were unfettered, flowing like liquid over the sharp thorns. The chase sent Barra winding around branches, through dense nettles, and over great gaps in the boughs, but she couldn’t lose them.
Trying a new tactic, she jumped and spun herself around. She whipped out her tail, lassoed a branch, and pulled. Changing direction mid-flight, she headed up toward the Loft. But the insects were too fast. They swarmed and cut off her ascent.
Her pursuers flowed in and out of each other, eyes appearing and disappearing in a frightening miasma. Barra saw their eyes and felt chills—no warmth in those tiny lights, only predatory instinct. They were focused. They allowed her to turn any way but up, relentlessly driving her toward the Fall.
Barra dashed into a den. She bolted through distorted rooms and passages, found a window, and leapt back out. Her eyes were focused, seeing only the path ahead. She ran, but not at full speed. The shadows and boughs were dangerously interchangeable in the dark. Barra hesitated at turns and stumbled after jumps, all the while colliding with leaves and ferns she couldn’t see.
A large clearing in the branches yawned open ahead of her. She couldn’t mark the distance across, but all the way to the edge was clear. She went for it, increasing her speed to make the leap of her life… then realization skewered her like a broken branch through her chest. Her blood drained. Her lungs collapsed.
It was too far.
Digging in with all her strength, she tried desperately to stop. Her claws broke and cracked from the stress, but fear kept her fingers braced through the pain. Searching for a hold, her tail thrashed like an angry snake behind her.
Barra stopped. A whisker’s breadth from the edge, shaking, she inhaled. She didn’t finish her breath before the mass of insects hit her like a tidal wave. They engulfed her and carried her over the edge.
As she struggled viciously against them, Barra realized that she wasn’t falling, at least, not falling fast. The cloud of tiny beasts was metamorphosing, becoming thick. Each insect clutched at the next, holding fast with their claws and jaws. Working together, they became a stretchy, writhing net.
Arms and legs frantic, Barra fought through the ever-thickening mesh like she was swimming upstream through sap. Finally, she splashed through the amalgam and burst out. The bough from which she’d just fallen was close. She reached for it. Pain shot through the tips of her shattered claws as she shredded bark before managing a grip.
Barra hauled herself back up onto the bough and was running again before she was even conscious of it. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the disentangling mesh of insects was slow to follow, unable to detach from one another quickly.
Barra went vertical, heading for the Loft while she had the chance. Hot blood in her veins, she ran and climbed like never before. She didn’t look back again until she crossed into the Loft. Looking down through the dense branches, she was positive she spied the insects hiding in the shadows. But they didn’t follow her. Cautiously, she waited. She stealthed, camouflaging herself with her specialized fur.
“Why’d they stop?” she thought as she paced, ready to run, but curious.
It wasn’t unusual for branches in the Loft to settle, creak, and crack, and sometimes for no obvious reason they snapped. That’s probably all it was, that sound, but Barra was away in a flash.
Halfway home, Barra thought, “At least I have a good excuse for being late.”

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