Tentacles and Teeth is the first book in my Land of Szornyek series. Click here to grab a copy!
The apocalypse wasn't what anyone expected--no rising flood waters, no zombies, no nuclear bombs. Instead, monsters. Their sudden invasion left the world in shatters, and now, decades later, all that's left of human civilization are a few nomadic bands struggling to survive off the land.
Askari was born to this world, and lives, fights, and survives alongside the community that raised her. But when she breaks one too many of the community's rules, her punishment is severe: leave.
Armed with her bow and blade, Askari sets off alone, guided only by a map and the promise that if she can find a book hidden in a nearby town, then she can return. But what can one person do alone in such a harsh, violent landscape? How will she survive?
Askari faces a challenge that will force her to learn not only about the world she lives in, but question what she believes about herself.
Not sure if you’ll like it? Read the excerpt below.
This takes place in Chapter 3. Askari, the main character has been sent on a mission by the elders in her community as punishment for breaking too many rules, and is now traveling alone in the wilderness. The word ‘garg’ is a generic term for any monster. Read on!
Askari observed plenty of plants in this part of the forest, but she didn’t recognize most of them. She did recognize some of the trees—mostly oak and maple, with a few pines mixed in, many of them old or dead. That would make it easier for her to find kindling, at least.
Askari spent the next few minutes staring at a large, shiny black mushroom that grew several feet away. She had been taught time and time again to stay away from all mushrooms, given that so many of them turned out to be poisonous. And whenever they cooked mushrooms at home, they were little dinky things, not giant ones like this. She wondered if mushrooms liked rain. Did they have personalities? Opinions? Or were they just like the rest of the plants in the forest?
She sighed and stood up, re-latching her bag. She had to keep moving or either a garg would find and eat her, or else she would never complete her mission and die anyway. The rain had let up entirely at this point, and she could even see rays of sun had begun to peek through the clouds. It was still pretty dark on the forest floor, but it was nice to think somewhere might be drying out a little.
As she neared the river, she noticed another mushroom, big, black, and shiny, like the one before.
“Must grow in this area,” she muttered to herself, frowning a little. There was something off about the mushroom, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Askari wished she had paid more attention during her botany and foraging lessons. She stopped walking and stared at it for a few minutes, and then continued on her way. She didn’t know anything about plants, so as long as she stayed away from it, she should be fine.
She walked a few more feet toward the river and saw another mushroom. This one quivered briefly, like it had just been brushed by something moving past it. Frowning, Askari turned and looked back at the previous mushroom. It was gone.
Her frown deepened as she walked slowly past the new mushroom, keeping an eye on it over her shoulder. What exactly was it? A weird plant? A hallucination? As soon as she was past, the mushroom miraculously sprouted ugly hairy legs and scurried behind a tree.
“Oh, good grief,” she said, rolling her eyes. She wracked her brain trying to think of what kind of garg this would be. It was a small one, and not something her community had come across, at least not that she knew of. It might have been mentioned in a lesson though, or maybe she had seen a picture of it in a book. A mushroom-shaped head with hairy legs. She needed a better look at it.
Askari continued walking through the forest, watching for the mushroom. Sure enough, not too much farther ahead, she saw it sitting perfectly still, as if it had been there the entire time. She bent over and picked up a long stick with one hand, while quietly sliding her dagger from its sheath with the other. She slowly moved closer, then reached the stick out and poked the mushroom creature with a quick jab.
The garg stood up and hissed at her, drool dripping from six-inch-long fangs. It had one eye in the center of a bald, slimy head, which was mostly taken up by its enormous mouth. It had long legs, like a frog, but was covered in a thin, scraggly hair, and the mushroom hat appeared to be attached to its head.
“You’re a gamba!” she exclaimed, a grin breaking across her face. She had heard about these. The last time the Baratok had encountered a smaller group of travelers, they had told stories of mushroom-hatted gargs. She pursed her lips, trying to remember what else the travelers had said. All they had said was that the gambas ate meat and would stalk their prey until it slept, then attack, going straight for the jugular.
“Glad I noticed you before I went to bed tonight,” she said. Then she hissed back at it, the way it had hissed at her, and waved her arms to make her look bigger. It gave a little bark-yip and scurried off into the trees.
“I probably should have killed it,” she said to herself. “Oh well. Next time.”
Askari trudged through the woods for several more hours until the sun was just over the cusp of the tree line. She could see a break in the trees ahead, and the rush of the river was quite loud now. A moment later, she stepped out onto a rocky ledge, set a few feet over the river. It was spilling over its banks, no doubt because of the rain that had passed through that morning. On the opposite shore was another rock ledge, but this one had dry ground underneath. She could use it as shelter to camp for the night—if she could somehow get across the river.
Mud squelched and sucked her feet down as she mucked along the edge of the riverbank. She had a feeling that no matter how hot it was the next day, she wasn’t ever going to be dry—or clean—again. Then, to her right, she saw the gamba. It was sitting almost hidden behind a log, waiting for her to pass by.
“I see you!” she exclaimed, waving her hand at it as if to shoo it away. “I’m gonna poke you with my stick again if you don’t go away.”
The mushroom ignored her. Askari walked past it, carefully keeping an eye out to make sure it didn’t attack. She didn’t want to be immobilized if it had some kind of paralytic agent in its saliva or fangs.
“You stay back,” she warned, swinging her stick at it.
Again, as soon as she had passed by it, the gamba leaped into the air and disappeared into the woods.
“It’s not a very subtle garg, is it?” Askari muttered.
The next moment she heard something growl deep in the woods. “Aw, great garg,” she muttered. “What now?”
She moved close to a tree and peered around it. The mushroom was in a heated battle with… something. Askari squinted to try to see what the other creature was. It had big ears, that much she could tell. Big ears and gross-looking wiry fur, with enormous hands. It didn’t really look like a monster, more like some sort of unfortunate rodent that had gotten stuck with the short end of nature’s stick. It did appear to have fangs, though, and blood-red eyes, and it was a little smaller than the gamba. Part of her brain thought it seemed familiar, like she had seen it somewhere before. It appeared to be losing the fight.
Askari watched for a few minutes as the creatures tumbled and growled and tried to rip each other’s throats out. She debated for a minute if she preferred one to win. On one hand, the gamba was kind of cute and had been her friend for the last few hours. On the other hand, as soon as she tried to go to sleep, it would try to rip her throat out. At the same time, she didn’t know anything about the red-eyed rodent at all. But it was small, and she felt sorry for it.
She picked up a rock and tossed it from one hand to the other. She should probably stay out of it. Or… she could always let fate decide. Taking careful note of where the ball of hissing fur was, she pulled back her arm, closed her eyes, and threw the rock as hard as she could.
It hit the mushroom hat and the gamba went down. Instantly, the other creature was on top of it, gobbling away.
“Gross,” Askari said. She watched for a minute, then shook her head and turned away. At least somebody in the forest wouldn’t go to bed hungry tonight.
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Already read Tentacles and Teeth? Not to worry! Book 2, City of Dod, is available for preorder now!
Head down, mouth shut—this is Askari’s new mantra. A pall still hangs over the Baratok community from the rarohan attack only a few months before, and all Askari wants is to stay out of trouble and help her grieving community heal.
Until a stranger rides into camp. He offers her a chance to obtain something rare and valuable—monster blood with healing properties that could help prevent more of her people from dying. But when the mission goes wrong, she becomes the target of a relentless monster who won’t stop pursuing her until she and everyone around her are dead. Her only thought is to lead it away from the Baratok community, even if that means sacrificing herself.
Injured, scared, and with only Harcos and Shujaa to help her fight, Askari flees from the Baratok with the monster on her tail. As she runs, fights, overcomes injuries, and encounters unimaginable terrors, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever make it back home—or if she even wants to.