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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Story excerpt: Dauntless (dragonrider sequel)

 Hi friends!

It's busy busy bee time here, so today I've got something different and, I think, pretty special for you. It's the beginning of the sequel to my UF novella Luckless, tentatively titled Dauntless. It's got walled cities, monsters, dragons and the people who ride them...it's got it all!

I hope you enjoy :) More Rivalries next time!



The sun hung like a ball of steaming sulphur in the sky, edged by a corona of sickly yellow and brown. The last dust storm was still making its presence felt by obscuring visibility in all directions. Evan Luck’s eyes stung from the particles, and even with the mask over the lower half of his face, his lips and tongue felt coated with residue. He wanted to spit but forced himself to swallow instead, leaning forward so he could get a better look over Ladon’s shoulder.

They were the lowest unit to the ground, circling and hovering as close as they could to the caravan from Cheyenne while maintaining just enough distance to keep the livestock from spooking. It was a slow, tedious task, but a vitally important one as well. People from all over the Rocky Mountain region had been making the dangerous voyage to Forge—the fortress city built from Denver’s remains—over the past year, ever since it had become clear that Forge was not only surviving in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, it was thriving.

The reason for that was the dragon that Evan was currently sitting astride, and Ladon—Lee Caldwell when he shifted into his human form, the rarest of dragonkind—had as strong a sense of responsibility as Evan did. One of the horses below bucked as Ladon’s shadow passed over it, and before Evan could say anything, the dragon was moving up again, letting the steady wind propel him higher into the air.

You were fine, Evan expressed to Ladon. As an empath, he was one of a select group of people who could communicate and bond with dragons. With his first dragon, Juree, it had been different—they hadn’t spoken in words so much as in feelings and impressions. When Lee was Ladon, though, words seemed to pass across their bond with ease. The rider had his mount under control again quick.

There’s no need to stress them if I don’t have to, Ladon replied. His voice was like a distant roll of thunder in Evan’s mind, booming and heavy but not overwhelming. It was completely different from how he sounded as Lee, which was good, because as much as Evan loved Ladon, his relationship with the dragon was completely different from the relationship he had with the man. Besides, we’re getting close. Only five miles to go.

Finally. Cheyenne was about a hundred miles north of Denver, and traveling by the old highway I-25—which was still the best bet despite the broken bridges and hiding spots for monsters for a party of this size—was slow going. They were on day five of escort duty, and Evan felt like he hadn’t slept for more than four hours at any one time since they’d started. He didn’t like being away from their home so long, and he hated leaving Jason under someone else’s care.

Especially right now.

Reflective worry flared across their bond from Ladon, and Evan reached out to soothe him with his mind even as he stroked a hand down the side of his neck. He’s all right, he said, almost believing it himself. You know he loves Charlie, and she’d never let anything bad happen to him. If things had gotten really rough, she’d have sent us a message. Forge now had a dragon to spare for that—its youngest bonded dragon, the slender, black-scaled beauty who had bonded with a sylph-like teenage girl named Vanessa two years ago. They weren’t built for aggression, but for speed, and had taken to their role with alacrity.

It was a blessing, a city with so many dragons, but also a burden. Dragons needed to be fed, and as monsters dried up in close proximity to the city, they had to feed on livestock instead. The cattle, sheep, and goats Forge already had wasn’t enough to sate the appetites of five adult dragons and the mated pair’s numerous hatchlings. Even with Ladon taking most of his nourishment in human form, to spare the herds, it was still a lot of meat. That was where the trade with Cheyenne came in.

They had lost their last dragon, an old, grizzled brawler named Friya, in a battle against a horde of rougarans this past winter. Without a dragon, Cheyenne was both too big and too small to survive on its own—packed with people who’d streamed in from the countryside as times got tougher, but without the massive fighting beasts or weaponry necessary to hold off the monsters who had made Earth their home and seemed to be steadily swallowing it, mile by mile.

The rifts between dimensions, the rifts that had opened out of nowhere and released Armageddon on the world, had been closed for nearly a hundred years now. Humanity had been devastated, by beasts and then by its own weapons as it turned its nukes on the biggest of the newcomers, wrecking the climate. That devastation was still going on most places, only getting harder and harder to combat.

Without the bonds that had spontaneously formed between dragons and humans, they would all have been dead long ago. As it was, the smaller outposts were still being overwhelmed, not enough dragons around to defend them, or the dragons that were there unable to find a human empath to bond with and taking off, wild and free and dangerous, for new horizons.

Ladon sent a stream of warm, soothing affection through their bond. Don’t worry, Evan. I’ll never leave you.

Evan rested his head against Ladon’s warm, scaly skin for a moment. I know. He was grateful for it every day, for the dragon who had chosen him after Evan had thought he’d lost his chance at another bond forever. He’d wanted to die, after Juree’s death. Ladon was his second chance at life, and he would do anything to keep him.

A bright red flare shot up from one of the outriders on the ground, startling Evan out of his contemplation. He looked down at the woman who’d fired it, sitting astride a steady gray mare who didn’t flinch even as Ladon’s shadow enveloped her.

“Bolters!” she shouted, and even though she was too far away for Evan to hear, he could read her lips just fine. She flung out the hand holding a pair of binoculars toward the mountains. “Bolters coming in from the west!”

Bolters. Shit.

Bolters were one of the strange, semi-historical cryptids that had flourished ever since the opening of the rifts. That some of them must have gotten through in the past was undoubtable—Rock Slide Bolters were mentioned in bestiaries from centuries ago. They had been treated like a joke back then, but they were very real and very dangerous now.

They were supposed to keep to the mountains, clinging to rocky clifftops and sliding down scree fields to catch their prey, but since so many people and their animals had abandoned the higher elevations, the monsters had followed the food. The bolters were bigger than the leeches that had attacked Forge two years ago, with four-part jaws that split open like the petals of a flower, revealing rows of teeth capable of crushing both rock and bone. They weren’t as numerous as the leeches had been, though, and their tiny limbs meant they could be outmaneuvered fairly easily.

Their tails, though—up to thirty feet long, practically impenetrable, and flexible and strong—were the real danger. If a bolter caught up to the caravan, it wouldn’t need to run into people with its immense jaws, it would just wrap them up with its tail and crush them to death, then feed itself at its leisure.

Bolters were a problem, but he and Ladon could deal with it. They had to—if the monsters made it into the caravan, it would be a massacre. A bolter’s rocky hide was too thick for fire to stop them quickly, even dragonfire. That meant they’d have to get low and crush them.

Check their numbers. Ladon swung west, and Evan peered through the dust for any signs of the big but slow-moving carnivores.

There. One, two…three…four. That seemed like an awful lot for a supposedly solitary species. Shit, this was too many for just Evan and Ladon.

You want me to signal Gorot and Grenia? he thought to his dragon. Gorot and Kisthe were the mated pair of mature dragons housed in Forge. Kisthe and her rider Jack, however, had opted to stay home, protect the city, and prepare her next pair of mature hatchlings for the upcoming Choosing while Grenia, the largest of their growing brood, flew with them.

Please do so. I’ll make the first pass. The wind is with us—a wall of flames will at least slow them down, and not inconvenience the caravan.

Got it. Evan pulled a blue flare out of his saddlebag even as Ladon went into a dive, tucking his wings back and blowing a long, white-hot line of flame across the bolters, searing the head of the one leading the way. It writhed, snapping its whiplike tail in a wide, twitching arc, but its scream was more angry than pained. Its tiny eyes, no larger than marbles, were practically vestigial—bolters followed scent, not sight. The dragonfire was nothing more than an inconvenience to it.

Pssshhhtt! Evan fired the flare as Ladon came out of the dive. In the distance, ponderous green Gorot and his strong, snakelike daughter Grenia changed direction. Their riders weren’t yet close enough for Evan to sign to, but it didn’t matter—dragons could communicate with each other the same way they could speak to their bonded empaths.

Gorot will take the one on the far left, Grenia the one on the right. Their riders will assist as they can. I will handle the middle pair. The ones that were farthest along. Ladon was half again bigger than Gorot, who was as tall as a lodgepole pine, so it made sense for him to handle the worst of it. Still…

Be careful. Tell me what I can do to help you.

He felt Ladon’s smile in his mind. Guard yourself carefully, beloved. Ladon turned again, banking hard so he could get a good approach for his landing.

Fighting on the ground was dangerous, so dangerous, even for the biggest and most powerful of dragons. Evan’s heart was in his throat as Ladon bared his claws, swooping in and coming down with a crunch right on top of the closest bolter’s head. He clenched it tightly in his forelegs, trying to rend it in two, but the bolter was too armored for the assault to break it. Its whippy tail snapped over its had, whip-crack!, striking at Ladon however it could.

Evan hunkered down against his dragon’s neck, doing his best to stay out of the path of that deadly tail. In many ways, dragons would be a more formidable force if they didn’t have to protect their human riders during a fight. Evan had already been the cause of one dragon’s death, and if his weakness brought harm to Ladon…

You aren’t weak.

Concentrate on the bolter, Evan chided him even as his chest filled with warmth at his dragon’s reassurance.

Our kind would be just as savage as the rest of these monsters without our connections to you. We need you just as much as you need us.

Right now I need you to focus. The tail had gotten dangerously close to Ladon’s eyes several times. Fifty yards away, Evan could see the next one crawling steadily, relentlessly toward them. Bolters never ran from a fight—once they had scented their prey, they would go through whatever they had to to get it.

I…almost… Ladon roared and dug his claws in deep, finally penetrating the bolter’s hide and twisting his body so hard that he wrenched its head out. A gout of foul-smelling blood erupted from the bolter’s corpse, and its tail fell to the ground with finality.

Good job. Now they could focus on the one coming at them from due west, and then—

A high-pitched dragon’s scream erupted from their right. Evan’s head snapped around and he stared in dismay at Grenia and her rider Tommy. The dragon had come down in front of the bolter instead of behind it, and before she could change position, it had clamped its immense jaws around one of her forelimbs. She screamed again and again in rage and agony, blowing her furious flames over the bolter, but it barely slowed the gnawing down. Blood poured down her limb, and as he watched in horror Evan could just make out her rider jumping from her back.

Oh, fuck. The pain must have driven their connection out of her mind, and Tommy didn’t have the training to force his way back in. Grenia had become wild, savage—she probably didn’t even remember that she had a rider right now, much less that she was endangering him with the heat of her flames and her thrashing body. If he died…if she killed him…