© 2018 by Joshua David Bellin
The Ecosystem breathes.
I crouch at the edge of the forest, waiting. Waiting for its attention to shift so I can make my dash across the greensward. Waiting until I can Sense its thought in my bones.
There are no guarantees, Sarah, Aaron told me before I set out this morning. There is only the Sense of things: eyes and ears and nerves and muscle. And, he added, smiling, a little bit of luck.
The Ecosystem rustles, settling. I edge forward, my eyes focused on the patch of bright green turf just beyond the dense tangle of bushes and creepers. I breathe shallowly, lowering my heart rate to a relaxed, steady rhythm. The suffocating smell of vegetation surrounds me, but I detect no threat from the sultry air. The Ecosystem has lost sight of me in the tall grasses, failed to track me from the kill site. Its final assault will come at the edge of the village, where its anger runs deepest. Where there’s nothing to attract its thirst for blood but me.
I rise to a sprinter’s crouch, fingers braced against moist earth. My heart pulses in my fingertips, and I hope that isn’t enough to rouse the Ecosystem’s ire.
The Ecosystem doesn’t sleep, Aaron reminded me. But it dozes. It sends signals from place to place, heightening some zones while dulling others. Always conscious, but not always mindful. Not always. Not everywhere.
Not here, I think. I Sense. Not now.
My body uncoils, hurdling the fringe of underbrush that separates forest from lawn. My foot strikes the turf, but only long enough to propel me into my next stride. Stumble on the grabgrass and I’m dead. I cross the green in a random, zigzag pattern, hoping the individual blades can’t anticipate my next move. I Sense snares exploding in my wake: a sinkhole, a clinging tendril, a venomous thorn. But the Ecosystem is sluggish, emerging from dormancy, too slow to catch me. I leap from living grass to the charred circle surrounding the village stone, and the vines the Ecosystem hurls at my back clutch nothing but air.
I trot across the boundary circle, bare soles crunching on blackened turf, heart hammering in my throat. When cool village stone lies beneath my feet once more, I turn to the forest. The Ecosystem’s many tongues erupt at the sight of me: winged cicatrix chatter, prowler monkeys hoot, bloodbirds screech. I smile, pull my first kill from the pouch at my belt, and dangle the dead thing before the forest’s face.
“I am Sarah,” I say to it, enunciating each word despite the raggedness of my breath, the heaviness of my heart. “You have taken what was mine, and now I take what is yours.”
With an exaggerated motion, I twist the spine of the thing I killed until I hear a sharp crack. Then, while the Ecosystem howls in thwarted rage, I cross the stone terrace and enter the village.
More about Ecosystem
Then Miriam, an apprentice Sensor, is lost in the Ecosystem, and Sarah sets out to rescue her. Joining Sarah is Miriam’s beloved, Isaac, a boy who claims to possess knowledge of the Ecosystem that will help their people survive. The harrowing journey to find the missing apprentice takes Sarah and Isaac into the Ecosystem’s deadliest places. And it takes Sarah into the unexplored territory of her own heart, where she discovers feelings that threaten to tear her—and her society—apart.
A thrilling fantasy adventure from the author of Freefall and the Survival Colony series, Ecosystem is the first book in a YA trilogy that includes The Devouring Land (2019) and House of Earth, House of Stone (2020).