Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Story Excerpt: A Monstrous Light

 Notes: Hi darlins! I've got *looks at calendar* a huge homework packet AND novel revisions due this week, so today I'm going to give you an excerpt of A Monstrous Light. This is the dark fantasy story I'm starting for my peeps over on Patreon, and it's going to be delicious. It's the kind of gritty, grimy stuff I don't write often, and I'm planning to publish it in four big chunks, each one with a commissioned drawing. Never fear--eventually I'll get it out there for everyone else too!

Title: A Monstrous Light

***



A Monstrous Light

 

Three months after…

 

Beniel Tallance woke up to the hoarse sound of a mountain drake’s morning caw, with the smell of mildew in his nose and the taste of the evening’s wine sour in his mouth. He cursed his drunken last night self’s decision to get drunk and take shelter in this dank old barn, full of nothing but ancient horse shit and rotting straw. Fuck, it would have been better to set up camp in the rain than to fall asleep on a pile of bug-ridden old grain sacks that had, it seemed, disintegrated into a solid, soggy lump on the floor beneath him.

“You wouldn’t even recognize yourself if you didn’t do at least one stupid thing a day,” he grumbled, annoyed by the truth of it. The fact that he was in the abandoned village of Emmen Bar searching for a creature that might not even exist six months after gaining his freedom was proof of that.

Freedom. Ha. What freedom did he have now? The freedom to make all the decisions for himself he’d never wanted to anyway. The freedom to fuck whomever he pleased when no one was pleasing to him, to eat whatever he willed when nothing was tempting to him, when go where he wished when the only place he wished to be was with the ghost he was searching for.

It helped that he knew the alternative to his wanderings. Beniel would sooner pull out all his own teeth than return to the palace and be shackled to the new king. He trusted Fandir more than most, which was still less than nothing, but he would not bind himself to another royal. He couldn’t.

Not when the one he had been meant to spend his life with was gone.

Enough morose thoughts, idiot. On your feet.

Shit, if he kept this up he’d lose the will to move and just lie on the bunch of mildewed sacks until rising, implacable rage tore him out of his deep despondence, and it hurt to push himself that far. He’d done it twice since the massacre, and while he hadn’t regretted not being able to let himself lie down and die, it nearly fucking broke him to be forced back to a place where he had to feel.

Up, fool. Up.

Beniel rolled off his back and onto his side with a groan, then slowly got his hands under him and pressed up until he could lean against the wall of the barn. Gods, he felt like shit. His head pounded and his stomach roiled, soured on a dinner of wine and nothing else. His hands trembled so badly he would barely be able to grip his sword if he needed to.

Disgraceful. What would Konnar say if he could see this pathetic display now?

No, it was no good for Beniel to try and shame himself with the memory of Konnar, not when he knew full well that the other man would have brought him water mixed with milkroot, to settle his stomach and ease the pain. When he knew Konnar would tease him for it, but not shame him, and stroke those long fingers across his scalp until his headache went away at last.

The hands of an artist. A musician. A scholar. Not a killer. That Konnar had been destined to be the greatest killer the Empire had ever known was the cruelest of ironies.

Beniel coughed once, to clear the dust from his lungs, then forced himself onto his feet. He staggered out into the damp morning air, wincing as a particularly rotten hunk of bag sloughed off the back of his jerkin, and headed for Flower.

Flower glared at him with her beady orange eyes, jaws straining at the bridle that bound them nearly closed. Shit, he’d forgotten to take it off last night. She hadn’t been able to forage at all. “Fuck,” he said, reaching for her head. “I’m sorry, let me—”

One of Flower’s forelimbs rose up and slashed the back of his forearm so fast he couldn’t dodge. Four long clawmarks bled through the filthy cloth of his shirt, and Beniel winced and began to swear as the pain finally broke through the haze of his morning.

“Godsdamn fucking waste of a fucking egg, you piece of dragon shit,” he cursed through gritted teeth. Flower didn’t look sorry. She just looked satisfied. “I should take you to the edge of the Waste and feed you to your ancestors,” Beniel growled. “We’re close, you know. Less than five miles from here is the southern edge of the fucking Waste, and you’d make a nice meal for the Great Ones, you utter bitch.”

Flower glared at him. He glared right back, cradling his wounded arm against his chest. A moment later, her long, sticky tongue lolled out from between her close-clamped jaws, licking over the deep scratches. Almost immediately, they stopped bleeding. A moment later, they began to scab over, and the pain eased.

Drake spit was almost as good at treating pain as milkroot, but a lot harder to get. Drakes were smart creatures, too close a cousin to dragons not to be clever as fuck, and they knew their own worth. No wonder Flower was angry with him, after Beniel had abandoned her with her bridle and saddle still on while he collapsed in a drunken stupor.

“Sorry,” he said, ducking his head to emphasize his apology while scratching just behind her dark green eye ridges to show that he forgave her as well. “I’ve been a shitty companion lately, haven’t I?” He undid the buckles on the bridle and eased it off her long, boxy head, then removed the saddle and the rest of his supplies.

“Go hunt,” he told her, and she vanished into the forest with ease. It would mean a later start for them today, but then…where were they even going to go next? Emmen Bar had been his last solid lead, a town whose people had vanished seemingly overnight. Surely a terrible wrong had been done here, something to warrant the attention of the newest of the Great Ones. He had come here full of hope, desperate for answers, and found…

Abandonment, yes. Likely because of crop rot, which happened often when people settled so close to the Waste. A town that had been carefully evacuated, not destroyed, not wronged. Just…stupid people moving to correct their stupidity. An utter and complete waste of time.

Every move he’d made, every rumor he’d chased, every mile he’d trod for the past six months had been a fucking waste of time. The only good to come from it was getting more distance from his own memories, and Beniel was beginning to think that he could have done that in a warm tavern somewhere instead of driving himself to the edges of the goddamn continent staring the worst of humanity in the face. He’d been tracking down tragedy after heresy after horror, and for all that Fandir was convinced that the rumors about the revivals were truth, Beniel was beginning to lose hope.

Ugh. No more philosophy this early in the…he squinted up at the sky…eh, sure, it was still morning, or close enough. He needed to eat, drink, and bathe, not necessarily in that order. He reached for the waterskin attached to the outside of his pack and downed every drop of it in one long pull, then set it aside and pulled out his pots. Finding wood was easy enough—finding wood that was dry enough to use was another issue entirely.

Shit, but this was going to make his head hurt. Working minor weavings had become so much harder since Konnar…left, was the easiest way to think about it, he’d found. Without the prince’s innate powers to draw upon, Beniel was left to rely solely on his training and the strength of his will, and he hadn’t been the most dedicated student. A village charmweaver could probably run circles around him right now, but…he needed a fire, damn it. Beniel took off the glove covering his left hand, closed his eyes, and began to visualize what he needed.

Threads for heat, not flame…dimmer…dimmer, or you might set the whole godsdamn forest on fire, you fool. Weave them into the shape you need, pull them tight in your mind, draw them through your own soul to power the web, and then… He hissed an exhalation, extending the fingers of his sacred left hand toward the pile of wood. A rush of heat arose from the wood, dampness sizzling to the surface and evaporating into the sky as the weaving did its work. A little bit more and—

Beniel’s stomach suddenly rebelled, and he belched foully into the air, disrupting the power’s flow. The weaving vanished, and so did the steam. A second later, most of the water he’d thrown back made its way onto the bare dirt—not onto the pile of wood, at least.

“Fuck,” Beniel gasped, hands on his knees as he strived to catch his breath. “Fuck.” He couldn’t remember the last time a simple weaving had strained him so much. Had he really let himself fall so far in so little time? What would Konnar say?

“Nothing,” he gritted out, willing himself to believe it. Konnar was gone, gone, vanished in a monstrous light. Nothing Beniel did would bring him back, and chasing tales of death magic was like chasing down a debt—everyone was good for it until the time came to pay up, and then all of a sudden they were good for nothing at all.

Well, fuck it. He needed to get clean anyway. He got out his firestarter kit and set a small flame to burning, praying that it would catch, catch, damn you catch—

The flames spread. Smoke rose, and the wood began to burn in earnest.

Thank the Great Ones for small favors. Beniel poured the contents of his other waterskin into his single pot and set it in the flame, then began to pull his glove back on. The filthy appearance of his hand stayed him. He should bathe. It had been over a week since his last one, easily. Even if there had been people here, they would have been right to turn their noses up at him before he slept in their old, nasty barn.

Fine. Time for a cold bath. Beniel grabbed his bag and headed in the direction of the stream he could hear burbling a little ways off.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Surviving the Change and a writing update!

 Hey darlins!

I've got a new (re-) release out today! Surviving The Change is back, with updated edits and a new cover. If you like my shifter stuff, you'll probably like this too ;)

Also, real quick--A Monstrous Light is coming to my Patreon. This is a new story, posting in long pieces (around 10k) every month and exclusive to Patreon until I'm done with the first draft. If you're interested in reading, you could sign up (wink-wink). I'll probably post an excerpt here tomorrow since I've got a zillion words to write today and a homework packet due. ANYWAY! I'm on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/Cari_Z

 


A shifter without a mate—a man who's afraid to trust. Time is against them and even love might not be enough to survive the change.

Dan Bailey is a loner, a shifter without a pack that no pack will accept unless he has a mate. He's only looking for work and a few beers with friends when he meets Blythe Kenner, and suddenly his priorities change.

Blythe doesn't trust anyone—especially shifters. All he wants to do is bide his time working behind the bar while getting his law degree. That is until Dan walks in and makes it his sole vocation to get under Blythe's skin…and his covers. Blythe never counted on having a shifter as a lover, and complicated doesn't begin to describe how he feels.

Dan knows how he feels and he's not going to let Blythe go without a fight. But time is running out. A rival pack isn't happy with Dan's living arrangements, and if Dan can't win Blythe's trust soon, their very lives will be at stake.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Fifteen, Part Two

 Notes: Hey darlins! More Rivalries today, and just an FYI...I commissioned art for the story I'm going to be posting to my Patreon, and it' GORGEOUS! I can't wait to share it there, and eventually elsewhere too once the story is done. It's a dark fantasy tale, and if you're following along, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Fifteen, Part Two

***

Chapter Fifteen, Part Two


 

“So,” Johnny began as he drove them toward Charlie’s place that evening. “I hear you just about gave Principal Cross a heart attack in your senior class today.”

“I took her to church, more like.” And he didn’t regret a damn minute of it, either. “I don’t understand where she gets this intense need to look down on the Stheno kids, but—no, it’s not even just that she’s looking down on them, she’s actively trying to sabotage them, and I don’t get it. I just…” He shook his head. “They’re kids. They’re not her school’s kids, but they’re kids with knacks, exactly like the ones she takes care of every day. I don’t understand why she’s so hard on them.”

“It’s the subject of a lot of watercooler conversations,” Johnny said, his thin face contemplative. “I’ve only been working for the district for five years, so I’ve never known her to be any other way, but some of the older teachers remember the ‘back in the day’ times when she apparently wasn’t so much of a bitch.”

“And what’s their theory?”

“Oh, there are several. One revolves around a teacher she may or may not have had an affair with who eventually got canned from Euryale and worked at Stheno for a year after that. Another one centers around the fact that she doesn’t have a knack herself, and so while she’s got to help out the Euryale kids because she’s paid a lot of money to do so, she’s got no such encouragement when it comes to the rest of us.”

“No knack, really?” Charlie was surprised. He’d figured her knack was something small, not particularly flashy or useful, but not nonexistent. “Nothing at all?”

Johnny shook his head. “Nope. The other big theory has to do with her son’s death, but apart from it being tragic we’re not really sure what to make of it.”

Charlie frowned. “What son?”

“She had a son with a knack,” Johnny replied. “He was a few years ahead of us in school, at Euryale of course. I think he went into the army.” He shook his head. “He died a year after enlistment, it was in the news. Some kind of friendly fire thing. Tragic, but not really a reason for her to hate kids with knacks, you know? And she can obviously tolerate them well enough to be the principal of a school full of them, so…”

“Yeah.” Charlie sighed, then did his best to let it go. Lots of them had died over the years. Kids with knacks, more than anyone else, were pushed to the limits of human endurance in the name of science, of glory, of patriotism. He was a little surprised there were any people with knacks left, the way their numbers kept getting whittled down over the generations. Then again, most parents whose kids were born with knacks had none themselves. “You ever wonder why knacks exist?”

“Like, religion-wise? Or evolution-wise?” Johnny turned into Charlie’s apartment complex and parked the car. “Because neither of those answers is simple.”

“Just…eh, don’t listen to me.” Charlie got out and wrangled his briefcase out with him. He put it on top of the car and went for his coffee mug next, but Johnny already had it in hand. “You don’t have to carry that for me.”

“I know. I want to.”

Charlie rolled his eyes, turning around so Johnny couldn’t see his smile as he headed for the entrance. “Since when have you been such a sweet talker?”

“Since I figured it might help me get laid,” Johnny replied, batting his eyelashes shamelessly. “Is it working?”

“Yes.” Charlie laughed when Johnny blushed—he could dish it out when it came to flirting, but being blatantly appreciated wasn’t quite comfortable for him yet.

Good. Charlie liked seeing him blush.

“Seriously, though,” Johnny said as they got out of the elevator on Charlie’s floor. “Why did you ask about the knacks? Just because a question is complicated doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh.” Well, that was kind of a surprise. In retrospect it shouldn’t have been—Johnny hadn’t given any indication that he was only in this for the physical stuff, and he was actually a good resource when it came to knacks. He’d probably seen a lot more of them than Charlie had since he started working with the military researchers. “I was actually wondering why knacks like Ari’s came about.”

“The kid with the dependency issues,” Johnny said thoughtfully. “Yeah, that’s a good question. I assume that something went wrong with the expression of it, to make it turn on him so hard, but maybe it didn’t? What could be the reason for binding yourself to another person so strongly?”

“I don’t even know,” Charlie replied. He couldn’t quite keep the frustration out of his voice—he’d thought about this a lot. “Or, like, a physical knack that weakens you instead of strengthening you. Or a mental knack that makes you see things instead of other people.” Those were all things he’d run into over the years, and they’d given the people who manifested them hell. “They just don’t make sense.”

“A lot of traits in humanity don’t make sense,” Johnny agreed. “It’s evolution’s way of hedging its bets. Like how sickle cell trait gives you resistance to malaria, but sickle cell anemia can be deadly. Same with these knacks. Something goes wrong in the expression of them, and…” He shrugged.

“But knacks don’t have a clear, singular genetic component,” Charlie argued. “People with mental knacks can have a child with a physical one, people with no knacks can have a kid with an elemental ability. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to it.”

“Not that we know of, yet,” Johnny clarified. “Unless you’re religious, in which case…”

“Yeah. Not helpful.” Knacks had led plenty of unqualified people into positions of authority, and they’d also doomed a lot of otherwise normal people to hideous deaths at the hands of angry mobs. It varied from time to time and society to society, but when it came to knacks, the only thing that was certain was the uncertainty of them.

“I’ll keep looking into helping Ari,” Johnny said into the momentary silence. “In fact, I’ll do some of that tonight…if you don’t mind sharing your space for another evening.”

Did he mind not having to face his nightmares by himself for another night? “That would be great,” Charlie said. “Thanks.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

Charlie’s alarm began to go off—five minutes to Ari time. “I’ve got to…”

“Yeah, go,” Johnny said, already pulling out his laptop. “I’ll work in here, and maybe start some dinner too, if you don’t mind.”

Charlie didn’t mind in the slightest. “Anything you want.”

Johnny winked. “I’ll hold you to that.”


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Upcoming release and ARC interest

Hey darlins!

I've got a re-release coming at the very beginning of next month, yay! If you like shifters and reluctant romance and danger and, y'know, a lot of the stuff you associate with my writing (bodily injury, mostly--I do like my whump) then Surviving the Change might be just the book for you ;)

New cover too, courtesy of Danielle at Doelle Designs!

 
Also, I put an ask up about this on my Patreon, but I thought I'd throw it out here too--are any of you interested in ARCs in exchange for an honest early review? I'm looking to boost my stories' visibility, and I figure my blog-following stalwarts are one of the best places to as about reviews. Please leave a comment or email me at carizabeth@hotmail.com to let me know!

Stay warm, stay safe!


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Fifteen, Part One

 Notes: More Rivalries, yay! We're getting into the dueling clubs at last, and I think we're going to have some very exciting moments in the next few installments, so...hitch your wagon up and stay tuned! (How's that for mixed metaphors?) Also, omigosh, if you're in a place that's unseasonably cold right now, I wish you all the warmth and electricity you need to get by. Keeping you in my thoughts, Southern friends.

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Fifteen, Part One


***


Chapter Fifteen, Part One

 


 

It was with a certain vindictive glee on Monday when Principal Cross stopped in during Charlie’s class with the seniors for her daily checkup—something she did to everyone, apparently—that Charlie mentioned to her, “By the way, ma’am, Ms. Jones and I will be running the introductory dueling club meeting for Stheno kids in the gym after school.”

Principal Cross paused on her way out of the classroom, her spine as straight as a ruler. “You will not,” she replied crisply. “Not without—”

“Our own equipment. Yes. It arrived this morning.” And hadn’t all of that been a bitch to load up and get to the school. It would have been next to impossible without Johnny’s help tying most of it to the top of the car.

Which they’d done together.

Because they spent the weekend together.

Focus, man.

Principal Cross turned to face him more fully. “Indeed? I hope you didn’t attempt to use any PTA funds or pursue a grant through one of our parents. That would be—”

“Against the school’s bylaws, I know,” Charlie said. “And no, I didn’t.”

“Hmm.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “I didn’t expect you to barter with your tarnished valor, Sergeant.”

Well, that was particularly blatant, even for her. Charlie knew she didn’t like him, but he hadn’t thought her opinion was quite this low. “Nope,” he said, popping the “p” a little bit. “I wouldn’t do that.” The students were staring between them like they were watching a boxing match, waiting breathlessly to see who would land the next blow.

“Then how—"

“Technically, you can’t ask me that question without filing a written report to be discussed at the next PTA meeting,” Charlie interjected. “Which is fine. I’m happy to discuss with the parents of this school why it was necessary for me to go to the lengths that I did to get equipment for the students of their sister school, which is going through a hard time right now, rather than…borrowing yours.” Using the gear you had stuffed in the closet, you meddling bitch.

Principal Cross wasn’t done. “Your access to the gym ends when the final bell rings.”

“You signed a form allowing Ms. Jones use of the gym until five three days a week.”

“For her only, for tutoring.”

“This is tutoring,” Charlie said firmly. “And she’s allowed to bring in any co-instructors she wants. At this point the tutoring is practically remedial, since these kids are starting practical application use later than their peers.” He nodded at the Euryale students. “Or are you going to tell me that the seniors who’ve been attending the regular dueling club aren’t ahead of the game?”

He smiled at her. “It’s all in the name of equal access for our students. And as you’ve been so gracious with the transfers so far, I’m sure this won’t be a problem for you.”

Her smile was so crisp it could have burnt bread. “Not at all. Good day.” She left with a brisk click-click of her heels, and Charlie sighed internally with relief.

“Damn.” Charlie looked toward the student who’d just spoken up. It was ‘Nanda, the girl with the powerful elemental knack. “I should make her some ice for that burn.”

“She’s not going to let you keep the gym,” Willard said confidently. “Sometimes we need it, when it’s raining outside or something.”

“Then your club can work next to ours,” Charlie replied. “You could practically play a football game in that gym, it’s big enough for fewer than a dozen students at a time.”

“Do you have the equipment for handling mental knacks?” Eloise—the emotional manipulator—asked suddenly.

“Yes. Why?”

She frowned. “Because Colonel Applegate only ever wants to work on physical and elemental knacks. He doesn’t give the ornamental or mental ones any attention, and I want to test if I can interrupt someone with my knack while they’re in the middle of using theirs.”

“You should be able to learn that,” Charlie said. It was a lot harder to intercede when someone was concentrating, but he’d seen other people do it. “You should also ask for a chance to work against other mental knacks. And he should be introducing all of you to some form of meditation, if he hasn’t already.”

“We’re not Jedi,” Willard said. He sounded bored. “This is the real world, not some imaginary place where we’re going to need meditate to ‘feel the Force.’”

Charlie shrugged. “I’ll be discussing theory around mental focus as it relates to knacks a little later in the semester, but for now let me just say that in the worst moments in my life, where I was inches away from dying, it was my ability to focus—that I practiced via meditating—that saved my ass. Meditation proficiency is mandated for people with knacks in every branch of the military and the CIA, FBI, all the alphabet agencies, so if you don’t start now, you can bet you’ll be getting a lot of it later on.”

In fact…there was no time like the present. “Let’s do an intro now,” he said, standing up and grabbing one of the markers from beside the whiteboard, “and we can make this another optional topic for your mid-term research paper.”

Yes,” one of the kids whispered behind him, and Charlie smiled…but only where he could see it.

 

“Wow,” he said an hour later as he stared at the Stheno seniors sitting on the lowest level of bleachers in the gym. “You said it would be popular, but I didn’t think it would be this popular.”

Every single senior from Stheno High was there. There were sixteen total, which far outstripped the amount of equipment Charlie had gotten from Lisa.

Debra chuckled. “Don’t get too concerned,” she consoled him. “I told them all the first meeting was mandatory, then said we’d do one day a week focusing on physical and elemental, one a week on mental and ornamental, and one a week on crossover knacks and inter-discipline tactics. I figure we’ll get half this number on the average day. Some kids will come all the time regardless, but some will only come when it really fits their knack or their interest.”

Charlie nodded, gauging the group’s enthusiasm. They all seemed pretty perky…even Roland, who was sitting off in the corner by himself. Technically he wasn’t allowed to be a member of the dueling club, since he was a sophomore, but if he was going to be here anyway… “Scoot closer,” Charlie said to him, and Roland did so with a little smile.

“Okay, everyone. I’m Mr. Verlaine, but you can call me Charlie,” he said. “Ms. Jones and I will be teaching this club together. Has she already been over the ground rules?”

“No using your knack on someone without permission, no testing something you’ve never done before on another student instead of a teacher, and no sassing us or you’re out of the club for a week,” Debra reiterated firmly, and all the kids nodded.

“Perfect. I’ll add a few more as we go, but for now, welcome.” He smiled, and was gratified when some of them smiled back. “So, let’s jump in with a quick lesson on meditation.”

Because fuck if his kids weren’t going to know how to use their ability to focus to their advantage.