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Lizz Huerta has stunned readers with her short stories and essays, and now that she's set her sights on long-form YA writing, she's about to bring her fans the buzziest fantasy debut of the spring. The Lost Dreamer (publishing March 1) will be the first edition in a duology inspired by ancient Mesoamerica: It follows protagonists Indir, who has the gift of being able to dream truth, and Saya, who is able to see beyond reality. They live in a supernatural world rife with familiar issues of patriarchal overreach and family separation. Here, in the very first excerpt from the novel, we meet the players of The Lost Dreamer.

Excerpt from The Lost Dreamer, by Lizz Huerta

King Anz was floating in a steaming pool; herbs and medicinal plants had been added to the water, and the chamber smelled sharp, green. Sacred smoke swirled and hung in the air, trailing out into the night through star-shaped openings in the stone ceiling. Healers held his body afloat, chanting and Singing. Council members sat on stone benches at the edge of the pool. I saw my mother and aunts. I joined them. My mother was holding a skin drum, beating out a slow rhythm. My aunts were talking to Naru of the Ilkan. Nahi, Naru's acolyte at the time, had eyes swollen and rimmed red from weeping.

"I need to Dream for King Anz, it was spoken to me in Dreaming," I said quietly, but the chamber was small and my voice echoed. King Anz lifted his head from the water. The healers supported him as he stood in the waist-deep waters. I cringed at how thin his body had become. I could see the ladders of bones on either side of his chest. The serpent bite–shaped birthmark at the center of his chest barely stood out.

The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta
'The Lost Dreamer,' by Lizz Huerta
| Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

"Then Dream for me." King Anz's voice was strained. I slipped into the water and went to him. Even frail and thin, his body retained the lines of his previous strength. His wounded arm was striated with spears of black and purple extending from armpit to wrist in one direction and toward his heart in the other. The healers brought him to the edge of the pool and propped him up. I sat beside him, holding his hand. He was a good king, flawed like all of us and aware of it.

"What would you like me to seek in Dreaming?" I had asked. He looked at the council members, his eyes softened and filled with tears.

"Leave us." His voice was weak, but everyone rose and left. My mother stayed, her eyes flicking back and forth between us. Anz raised his eyebrows at her, and she left, glancing back at us. We were alone.

"Indir, Truth Dreamer, tell me, does my son bear the Twin Serpents' mark?"

I blinked. Alcan had been living away from Alcanzeh for years. I held his question in my mind.

I closed my eyes, breathing in through my nose, imagining the Twin Serpents who protected us and carried our gift, awakening in my belly and heart. I exhaled through my mouth, imagining the wings of the Night Bird, who crossed from the Dream into the Waking World, unfolding from within my chest. I felt the stirrings in my blood, imagining countless tiny spiders made of light unfurling from sleep to spin webs of protection in my body. I touched my hands to my mouth and mouthed the sacred words of Dreamers; we never spoke them aloud around anyone outside of our lineage. I felt the weight of my body drop, then the rush as my mind and knowing moved from the Waking World into the Dream. I was pulled through a tunnel of vibrating light and sound.

Shapes and shadows surged around me, the hum of the eternal pulsating. I looked for the entry point sacred to Dreamers, the place we could enter, be offered visions. But I couldn't find a safe way to enter the Dream. Instead, I saw the tree again. A terror rose in me. It wasn't in a swamp this time; instead, it was formed of countless points of moving light, shifting in color and shadow. Before I could approach the tree, it flowered suddenly, blossoms of every shape and size growing until they split apart, dissolving the tree. Before I could react, forms rose before me.

I had recognized Alcan immediately, nebulous as he was. He was older, but I saw the same angry look on his face I remembered from my early childhood. He was shadowed, turning this way and that. I saw another shape beneath him. He was standing on the back of another man, wisps of smoke rising from both of them. Alcan held a burning branch. He looked through me and screamed, pressing the burning end of the branch into the center of his chest. I smelled flesh burning and tried to turn away. A new shape rose up from the miasma and floated toward me, a sphere of water. At its center pulsed the Twin Serpents' bite mark, in a bloom of dappled red. Alcan flew past me, beating at the sphere with his burning branch. The shape he had been standing on rose and stepped between Alcan and the sphere. An ache started deep in my abdomen. A new shape appeared before me. It was me. I tried to cry out. The other me stared back, her surprise mirroring mine. As I reached out to touch her, the shape of Alcan surged forward; he held a knife in his hand. I stared at the stone blade as it entered my chest. I felt myself dying and tried to scream. The Dream trembled around us, the other me opened her mouth and everything around us poured into her, splitting apart as I dissolved into darkness.

***

I rose up sputtering from the water I'd swallowed.

"Indir?" King Anz was breathing hard. I made my way to him. His eyes were all questions. They were wide, pupils dilated. He was full of fear. No one should die in fear. I cradled his head, feeling his skin going cold despite the heat of the pool. I concentrated on my breathing, inhaling deeply, reminding myself I was safe. I hummed myself a Song of return, of safety, but it did little to soothe me.

"The Twin Serpents' mark?" He was struggling to keep his eyes open.

"I saw Alcan, but I didn't see the mark; he was standing on the shape of another man. Alcan burned the center of his own chest."

The king's eyes went wide, his fear punctuated by a groan of regret. I touched his face.

"I saw the mark of the Twin Serpents, floating in a sphere of water. Alcan tried to destroy it but couldn't; the man he was standing on was between them. I saw myself. I swallowed myself, the entire Dream," I told him. I didn't tell him I had seen Alcan killing me.

Dreaming was an imperfect gift, like all gifts, but we did what we could. The Dream showed us only what She wanted us to see. King Anz closed his eyes and pulled me close so that my ear was close to his mouth.

"Tell no one, Indir, promise me. Never speak of this Dream, not even to the other Dreamers. But keep it in your memory, until it is needed." He coughed. His breath smelled of sweet rot. Inside him, his blood was already dying.

"I promise."

King Anz closed his eyes, his chest barely rising and falling. He began to slip off the steps; I heard the death rattle in his breath.

"Come back!" I cried, wrapping my arms around him just as he slipped beneath the water. Voices shouted. I was barely aware of the others that splashed into the pool around me, pushing me aside. A woman began Singing, a keening that other voices took up. Arms went around me, pulling me out of the water. My mother and aunts were beside me, their voices rising and falling in Death Song. Naru and Nahi added their voices, gasping growls that reverberated through my bones. Our king had returned to the Dream. I sat on the steps, trembling at the secret he had left me to carry alone.

Courtesy of Macmillan Publishers

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