It’s Duff Roman’s eighteenth birthday, but no one is lighting candles.


Turning eighteen in the orphanage on Kalecca means starvation for those who aren’t hired into a Family. Outside the Family compounds lies the jungle. And in the jungle lies death. And Relics—the only real currency on Planet Kalecca.


The orphans are Duff’s family, and he’s sacrificed everything to keep the orphanage running, even his chance to move on. Now, at eighteen, he has no choice but to leave. Without him to bring in extra money, the orphans will starve under the Company’s control. Duff’s only chance to save them is to find a spot on an independent crew and hopefully find a Relic to sell.


A seemingly chance encounter with Z, leader of the most feared independent crew, offers Duff his opportunity to score a Relic. And offers Z a chance to relieve the guilt he feels over his past.


But a company assassin has plans to lay waste to Duff’s future, and the orphanage as well.

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The upstairs creaked and moaned in the wind. It didn’t seem right. He listened intently, but heard nothing that sounded like there was anything up there. The demons must be hiding. If he and Zachariah made any noise going up, that would alert the demons. He hoped the silence didn’t mean that the demons had killed everyone and left already. Fear dried his mouth, making him wish that he’d checked the basement before coming up here. He knew and had obeyed the rule that the door shouldn’t be reopened until the place was clear. He’d just trust they were all safe in there, waiting like they’d been taught.

Zachariah took out his sword.

Duff waved his arms to catch Zachariah’s gaze. Then Duff pointed to the side and held up two fingers to indicate the second step creaked. Zachariah nodded and stepped close to the wall, stepping over the second step. Duff followed behind. At the top of the stairs, Zachariah quietly opened the door.

The bright light spilled down the stairs. The light was too bright for his gloom adjusted eyes and blinded him.

Once his sight adjusted, the room looked normal but that sense that something was very wrong reared its head. The sense crawled up his back leaving shivery foot prints. There should be some evidence of the demons other than their smell that coated the inside of the room like mud, but from here all he could see were the carefully made beds. Could the demons have left already?

About the Author

Claudia Blood’s early introduction to Dungeons and Dragons, combined with her training as a scientist and a side trip into the world of IT set her up to become an award-winning author of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

For her latest release, visit her at


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