Turn for me just a smidge…turn…perfect. Essenin sipped their tea to hide the sigh of admiration as he occupied the window seat and watched Davitts split wood in the courtyard below. They had a spectacular view of Davitt’s back muscles as he swung and split a log in one sure stroke.
“Has he taken his shirt off?”
Zie’s voice came in a hoarse whisper from the bed and Essenin’s heart twinged. They’d tried so hard to let him sleep since the nightmares had been bad. All of them had nightmares. Zie’s were particularly distressing. At least his speech had regained its normal cadence and he was able to sit up on his own again. Small steps.
“Oh, yes. He most certainly has. Those glistening shoulders.”
Essenin turned in time to witness Zie’s plaintive sigh and they took pity. They put down their tea, strode to the bed to gather Zie up in their arms, and carried him to the window seat where they could admire Davs together. Zie’s injured eye was covered by a blue scarf to protect it from the light. Perhaps it might heal, though the selak healer who came in the afternoons was less optimistic about the eye than she was Zie’s already twitching left arm. But his uncovered eye devoured the sight of Davs splitting logs.
“He, ah, does that so well.” Zie swallowed audibly and his soft sleep pants didn’t hide the growing bulge at all.
“Mmm.” Essenin sipped their retrieved tea. “The axe is his accessory of choice, after all.”
They sighed in tandem longing as Davs stacked up the wood, as promised to the innkeeper to help defray the cost of three rooms, and head to the bathhouse. The three of them shared, of course, but Rolli had his own little convalescent room under the eaves where he was all too pleased to be fussed over by the innkeeper’s son and daughter, and Ke had a room down the hall.
That Davs might have been doing extra work out of guilt? Well, no one was unkind enough to mention it.
When Davs emerged from the bathhouse wrapped only in a sheet, drops still fell from his water-dark hair, and it made Essenin oddly pleased somehow that they’d undone all the braids and washed their own hair that morning. Washing the last of the Shadows from them, perhaps.
Essenin turned to Zie and caught the moment of miserable yearning before he shut his expression down. Oh no, we can’t have that. And we should’ve talked about it before now.
“Davs told you before not to think it,” Essenin said gently. “And here you are, still thinking it.”
“What is it I am supposed to be thinking?” The sardonic drawl wasn’t quite back yet, but the ghost of it colored Zie’s words.
“That we don’t want you anymore. Won’t desire you anymore.”
Zie was silent for almost too long, staring out the window at nothing. “You’re both so beautiful and I am broken. How could you still love and desire something so broken?”
“You’re changed, love.” Essenin took both his hands, the one that could hold back and the one that couldn’t. “You made a hero’s choice and in return, you got all that comes with those sorts of choices. But changed isn’t broken, and how can we look on the consequences of a hero’s choice and not love you more?”
“Don’t make me cry.” Zie sniffled and wiped at his good eye with his sleeve. “Not with Davs coming up the stairs.”
Ah, yes. Now Essenin heard those beloved footsteps, too. There had been absolutely no change in Zie’s excellent hearing. They both turned as Davs came into the room and shut the door behind him.
“What?” Davs gaze darted from one to the other. “I’ll comb my hair. Promise.”
The words got away from Essenin. “Zie thinks we can’t love him anymore.”
“I see.” Davs dropped the bath sheet and Zie’s eyes widened as he came to one knee in front of them both. “Because you did something heroic and you think we’ll feel inferior?”
Zie squirmed. “No…I…”
“Oh, well, then it must be because you were wounded during these heroic actions and believe we feel too guilty for not preventing that?” Davs put his hand on Zie’s knee and looked up into his face, his earnest gaze unpinned with a definite smolder. “No? Not that either?”
“Don’t make fun, Davs. Please,” Zie choked out.
“I’m not. Sweetheart, I’m not.” Davs set his head in Zie’s lap with a sigh. “I do feel guilty that I couldn’t help you. That’s just how I’m made. But it’s not as if Ess has never been injured. It’s not as if I haven’t sat by their bedside wondering if they’d wake, if they’d be able to walk or pull a bow again. It’s never, ever made me love them less.”
The wounded, strangled sound that came from Zie had them both lunging for him, and they ended up a mess of limbs and tears on the carpet. Ever the protector, Davs had managed to be mostly on the bottom, though, with Zie draped across his chest. Apologies, reassurances, and soft words of comforting nonsense all melded together in tender counterpoint.
Zie’s lips found Essenin’s even as Davs tugged at laces swearing softly at being the only one naked. Contorting themself so as not to hurt anyone, Essenin disentangled quickly to shuck their own clothes, leaving Davs to help more gently with Zie’s.
He stopped with a hand on the drawstring of Zie’s pants. “Only if you want this.”
Another one of those sounds escaped Zie. “I do. Want. But I can’t…I can’t…”
Now completely naked, eager erection on full display, Essenin lay on the carpet on their side facing their loves. “I do appreciate your bossy assertiveness in the bedroom. Usually. But just now, just for today, you don’t have to do anything but feel.”
Davs sat up and moved Zie between his thighs, becoming a chair to support him. “And tell us if anything doesn’t feel good.”
For a moment, Essenin simply lay with their head propped on their hand, drinking in the lovely view—Zie’s dark hair spread along Davs’ chest, his pale skin setting off Davs’ sand-copper. That lasted only until Essenin couldn’t stand the anticipation of touching any longer and they reached out to stroke Zie’s left thigh.
“Could you…? Ess? The other side, perhaps?” Zie whispered, his purple eye three shades darker with desire.
“You see? Still bossy.” Essenin grinned and scooted around to the right side and laid their head on Davs’ knee where they could reach all the immediately important things. “Davs, maybe nudge back just a bit so I can get my hand…”
Davs let out a satisfying, rumbling moan as Essenin closed their fingers around his cock where it lay trapped between his belly and Zie’s back. The mingled scents of freshly washed Davs and recently woken Zie were intoxicating from this angle, all musk and soap and the enticing spice of Zie’s arousal.
“Curl closer, Ess.” Davs patted their ass to underscore his demand. “You’re too far away.”
While this puzzled Essenin at first since Davs’ reach was more than adequate, they soon understood when Davs took Zie’s hand and wrapped them both around Essenin’s prick. And oh, that felt good, larger fingers cradling smaller ones caressing up and down in leisurely strokes.
But they couldn’t just lie there drinking in the attention. This was about Zie. Essenin hitched a shoulder back and found the perfect position to lick up the underside of Zie’s cock. Even though the hands on them were distracting, only made deliciously worse when Davs tangled strong fingers in their hair, Essenin fought to concentrate on what their own hands and mouth, stroking Davs and taking Zie down to the base, swallowing around him until he swore and moaned.
Zie’s desperate squirming speared right to Essenin’s core and when he cried out and thrust hard into Essenin’s throat, they struggled to swallow, dribbles of spend leaking from their lips as they groaned around Zie’s cock and came seconds after.
Not wanting to be left out, Davs shoved his hand, now coated with Essenin’s orgasm, between himself and Zie and wrapped it around Essenin’s, squeezing harder and encouraging them to stroke faster, until he was huffing like a bellows and buried his face in the crook of Zie’s shoulder to muffle his bellow of release.
They all ended up in a panting, boneless pile again when Davs collapsed onto the carpet and Essenin couldn’t help a little laugh.
“Sorry, love. We got you all dirty again.”
“Mmm. Small price to pay.” Davs lifted his head far enough to kiss Zie’s temple. “There. You could. You did. It was glorious, as always.”
Zie growled and nipped at him with his sharp teeth, which most likely meant, yes, yes, you were right, now shut up. Wisely, Davs shut up.
They lay on the rug in sun-soaked indolence until Zie said, “I have to go home.”
Essenin rolled off and sat up. “Very soon. Though I thought you’d want to train with Ke first. But when you’re ready, we’ll find a ship and go back. My family’s going to start wondering what happened to us.”
“Ess. I think our Zie means that he had to go back to his home.” Davs readjusted them so Zie could recline comfortably in his lap again. “Yes?”
Zie gave them a slow nod. “I need to go home. To…face things. To see if the bard was right. To face judgment if there are those left to pronounce it.”
“They won’t…” Essenin trailed off and swallowed hard before they could continue. “They won’t execute you, will they?”
One of Zie’s eyebrows clambered up his forehead. “Ah, no. Sylvas believe that someone who has done terrible wrong should live with that knowledge and be shamed for it. There are other possibilities besides execution.”
“Oh.” Essenin took both Zie’s hands. “But—”
“Ess, stop,” Davs spoke gently, but there was steel behind the words. “If this is what Zie has to do to be whole, we support him. And we go with him.”
“You would do that?” Zie’s uncovered eye misted. “Stand with me?”
“At the very least, we’re witnesses, right?” Essenin leaned in to plant a kiss on Zie’s lips. “And we wouldn’t desert you now, of all times.”
No one mentioned Zie’s tears as they held each other tight. Apparently, adventuring wasn’t done with them quite yet.
The sea breeze revived Zie considerably after what he considered the excessive warmth of the interior. He sat in a cart by the gangplank of the ship they would take home, waiting for Essenin and Davs to say their goodbyes to Rolli. Ke had not come to see them off and he was a little surprised by how much that stung.
“It was good to see you again,” Rolli was saying as he embraced Ess hard. “I suppose you won’t be back any time soon.”
Essenin squinted at him. “You could come to Pellienport, you know. You don’t have to wait for us to have another job out this way.”
“Maybe if I ever find myself with funds again, I’ll take you up on it.” Rolli offered Davs a hand, the one with the unbroken wrist. “Davitts, take care of them. It was good to see you, too. In spite of all the everything.”
Davs frowned and pulled Rolli into a huge hug. “Sorry about all the everything. And the wrist. Goddesses. I hope you can play again soon.”
“That will happen eventually.” Rolli pulled back with a grin. “I’ve found a handsome blacksmith in town who would like sewa lessons. That should keep me for a bit.”
It looked like Ess has something arch to say to that, but they were interrupted by a hail from down the dock. Ke strode toward them with a pack slung over one shoulder.
“Well, youngsters, are we about ready?”
Zie stared at her, trying to find something intelligent to say, but all he managed was, “You’re coming?”
“Of course I’m coming.” Ke snorted and gazed up at the ship. “Now that I’ve begun teaching you, I can’t let you run about the world without guidance. How irresponsible.”
With final hugs for Rolli, Davs scooped Zie out of the cart and they all made their way onboard.
Home. I’m going home. Those weren’t words Zie ever thought he would consider again, and the ache in his chest was part longing and part anxiety for what awaited. But it was still a good thing. The only thing. And with what seemed undeserved goddess blessings, he wasn’t doing it alone.
Hello, Friday listeners! This week, I'm excited to bring you a brand new high fantasy humor piece from Evelyn Benvie - I Am Not Your Chosen One. The title alone says we're going on a trope subversion journey. :D Up for pre-order now, releasing June 14. Come have a listen:
I Am Not Your Chosen One
Not Your Chosen 1
by Evelyn Benvie
Kell Hồ Sinh Porter is twenty-six years old and desperate to leave his unhappy life and his dead-end town.
One night his wish is granted by a mysterious voice—though not in any way he would've imagined—and he finds himself in the semi-magical land of Allune where everyone thinks he’s the “Chosen One.” Kell politely disagrees, and absconds from his duties. On the search for an adventure that doesn’t come with world-saving responsibility attached, he’s joined by companions. Every adventurer needs them, but his turn out to be Ansel, a sheltered fallen angel, and Fre, a half-orlk who wants to be a hero.
Destiny, bad luck, and the gods conspire against him. The Dawn Goddess wants him to take up his Chosen One mantle, which Kell is sure means becoming cannon fodder in an ancient divine war. The Lich King’s demonic minions carry out sporadic attacks in an attempt to kill him and prove he is not the Chosen One. Temperamental elves, talking stars that aren't all that helpful, image-conscious demons, maddening pieces of prophecy that everyone thinks Kell should already know, and his growing feelings for Ansel all mix in a frustrating stew as Kell tries to juggle his feelings, his duties, and all the things trying to kill him. No one asked him if he wanted to be anyone's Chosen One, and he can't begin to understand why he was chosen.
Kell needs to figure out who to trust and how to forge his own path before it's too late for Allune and for him.
Evelyn Benvie is a wooly jumper from a family of black sheep and has always wanted to be a writer. She was raised on a steady diet of classic fantasy and science fiction but grew dissatisfied with the way people and relationships were often portrayed in mainstream books.
Like, why does the princess have to get married at all? Why are aliens gender-coded? Why is every single person straight?
So she dreamed of writing sensible books with sensible characters who better reflected her own experiences as a queer woman. It’s taken a while, and fiction has gotten a lot more diverse since then (even as her own characters have gotten a whole lot less sensible), but it’s all good.
This is not a drill! Pre-order is up!
You can pre-order Rarely Pure and Never Simple at:
Barnes & Noble
Release date is June 28!
Rarely Pure and Never Simple
Variant Configurations 1
Variant children are vanishing at an alarming rate. It will take a uniquely mismatched pair of trackers to untangle a web of conspiracy and misdirection to find them.
In his isolated cabin, variant Damien Hazelwood avoids human contact as much as possible to prevent attacks of blind berserker panic. But his rare talent as a locator makes him the go-to contractor for tricky missing person's cases and when agents bring him a troubling contract involving missing variant children, he finds it impossible to refuse.
Licensed tracker Blaze Emerson can't help being irritated when he's expected to follow the strange, twitchy locator's lead on his latest case. He works alone, he's damn good, and as a variant sparker, he has both the fire and the firepower to take on anything out there. Though he has to admit there's something intriguing about a man who can find people with his brain.
With vastly different temperaments and backgrounds, Damien and Blaze need to negotiate quickly how to work together if they're going to crack this case. Add in the sudden appearance of Blaze's outlaw ex, the perils of tracking in the wilds, and a maddening lack of discernible motive or method, and they soon find themselves in as much danger as the kids they're trying to rescue.
Variant Configurations takes place in a future Earth where humanity is reclaiming its spot in a gradually healing world. This book contains mentions of past abuse, action-adventure style mayhem, and the beginning sparks of a slow burn, series-spanning relationship.
Inside the cage, the light was blinding. Zie had to squint, but the Shadows stood out clearly enough, a blot of restless darkness against the glare. These were his, these horrific, genocidal monsters. They were him. His rage and hate and grief. Every nerve in his body screamed to go to them even as every fiber of him was repulsed to the point of nausea. His Shadows. They ceased shrieking and began to hiss as they recognized him.
Maker. Maker. Come to us. Come…come…
The light seemed to confuse them, as if they couldn’t be sure where he was, just that he was close. Otherwise, Zie was certain they would have already engulfed him. Listening to them would only drive him mad, and his fear was already doing that quite well, thank you.
Reverse what you did to call them. Quickly. Think. Darkness, wind, blood, rage.
The light, Ke had provided. The opposing half of wind was vacuum. Blood was a water magic, after all, and that discipline's other half was drought. Rage…fear, panic, flight…
The Shadows sent an arm of darkness toward him that he barely evaded, ducking low and grabbing onto the moisture in the air. Each breath burned harder than the last as he banished every drop of water from inside the cage, leaving the air desiccated. This didn’t please the Shadows at all since they whipped about like a snake in its death throes, their furious shrieks tinny in their arid prison.
Zie’s next move would be to remove the air inside the cage, which might well kill him before it destroyed the Shadows. He had to do this all at once. Commit. But pouring love and peace into them seemed to him unlikely to work.
He dodged an inky tentacle, then rolled under another. I’m unlikely to be able to concentrate on peace in here, either.
Concentrating was the issue here, while trying to avoid being devoured. Zie spun away from a reaching tendril, the flying tails of his coat nearly caught before he yanked them away. His heart slammed against his ribs at yet another close escape in all the months of them. Nothing’s changed. Still running.
The thought hit him so hard, it nearly dropped him to the ground. Still running. That had been his solution all this time, and had worked as well as it could while he was alone, friendless, without family, believing himself the last of his community.
But I’m not alone. The bard had reminded Zie that the Shadows had followed him, and that there might yet be survivors in the north country. A whole community of sylvas on this continent were relying on him to keep them from harm. And this most extraordinary thing had grown from what he’d intended to be a night of comfort sex.
Essenin sprawled in naked, languid grace across the bunk, the sunlight reflected off water shimmering over his skin. Davitts with his feet planted and axe gripped tight in his strong hands, ready, without question, to defend. The two of them wrapped around Zie with the heady scents of sex and sweat surrounding him, safe, so safe in their arms. He loved them so, but even more astounding…
I am loved. And from the shelter of that love, I have learned. You stay, you turn, you stand fast to defend those you love. You do not run.
Though his heart felt as if it would claw its way up his throat, he stood, and turned to face the Shadows. His Shadows.
They stilled, only their wind twisting at the tails of Zie’s coat, perhaps curious as to what he intended.
“You are mine,” he snarled at them. This is it. I do this all at once, or not at all. “Your hate and your rage are mine. You have taken part of me. Give it back!”
He raised his hands and stepped forward. The Shadows rushed to meet him, rearing above him and swooping in to surround him. Zie pulled in a deep breath, reached deep into his magic, expelled the air from inside the light cage and yanked the Shadows toward him.
Agony ripped through him, his every nerve ablaze, unable to scream in vacuum. The Shadows merged with him and the blackness consumed him.
“Are they gone?” Rolli’s broken whisper came from within the shelter of his arms.
Davitts knew they weren’t. He could still feel their pull. But when he answered, Not yet, Ess and Ke echoed him in unison.
Rolli made a pained sound. “Oh, that wasn’t scary. Not at all.”
“Are you all right, Rolls?” Ess didn’t bother getting up, just crawling over to where Rolli was still curled up tight.
I don’t feel guilty. That wasn’t me. Aaand I’m lying to myself. Davitts cleared his throat, not sure it was quite the time to apologize yet. “I can still feel them in there. I’m sure Ess can, too, since they were possessed.”
Ke straightened from shoring up one of the light spells, her expression set in a deep frown. “I feel them both, still. The shaktz and Zie. His magic is active.”
He’s alive. He’s in there fighting. Come on, Zie. Don’t let them win.
“Davs, I think you cracked a rib.” Ess broke into Davitts’ thoughts. “Possibly broke a wrist. But, Mother’s miracles, I think that’s the worst of it.”
Still there. Shadows are still there… “Rolls, I’m sorry. I know I’ve told you I’d flatten you once or twice, but I wouldn’t—”
Ke gasped and straightened from the nearest stone. “No. No! You little idiot!”
The sudden pain in Davitts’ dropped him to his knees, clutching the sharp stabbing around his heart. Ess cried out at the same time, an anguished wail. Oh goddess. He’s dead. Is that what this pain means?
As suddenly as it began, the pain lifted. The pain…and something else. Davitts raised his head, barely daring to hope. “They’re gone? I think they’re gone. I don’t feel them anymore.”
“We have to bring the light cage down.” Ke matched words with actions and started to tap out the light rocks, Essenin scurrying to assist. “The Shadows are gone, by all goddesses holy wombs, they’re gone, but I don’t feel Zie, either.”
With the first light rock dimmed, a panel of the cage vanished and air rushed in with a pop and a brief roar. Then with half the light cage down, Davitts could make out a Zie-sized shape on the ground. He started to rush in, but Ke halted him with a palm on his chest.
“Wait. Let me be certain first.”
Davitts swallowed against the lump in his throat, since he knew just what she meant. Certain the Shadows were truly gone. Certain that Zie was actually Zie. Maybe even certain that he still breathed. Davitts squinted against the remains of the light cage, but with Zie’s hat over his face and his long coat draped around him, it was impossible to tell.
Essenin whispered a continual streak of swearing and took Davitts’ hand as they watched Ke approach the crumpled form lying in an uneven ring of dead grass and wildflowers. She bent toward him, careful not to touch, and ran a hand over his body. After a moment, she straightened, her frown deepening.
“The Shadows are gone. I don’t know what the youngling’s done, but they’re gone.”
“Ke,” Davitts held onto Ess tighter to keep from shouting. “Is he…alive?”
“He breathes. His heart beats rapidly, but steadily. What condition he’s survived in will have to wait until he wakes.”
That was enough waiting for Davitts, and Essenin, too, as they both rushed over, hands hovering, afraid to touch, terrified not to. Ess gently removed Zie’s hat and placed it on the grass that looked as if it had suffered through a drought. Davitts stroked the dark hair back from Zie’s face. His lids twitched, his eyes blinking open.
“Zie? Sweetheart?” Davitts leaned in to kiss the tip of his ear. “Are you with us?”
“Thirsty.” The single word was a spare, broken croak.
“You took all the water out of the air. Of course you are.” Ke handed her waterskin to Ess. “You’re lucky you didn’t pull all of it out of your body, too.”
Ess supported him and helped him drink, his voice bright despite the deep concern in his eyes. “You’ve done it, love. You’re amazing. I knew you would.”
“How did you do it?” Davitts stroked his hair, reassuring himself that Zie was still there, still whole. “I follow taking away the air, and the water, sort of, but what then?”
Zie let out a wheezing cough. “I…consumed them.”
“You ate the Shadows?” Ess asked in wide-eyed horror.
“In a…manner…of speaking.” Zie tried and failed to sit up, his left arm flopping rather than assisting and now that he had turned, Davitt’s had a view of his left eye, the white veined heavily with red. “Something’s…wrong.”
Ke put a finger under his chin while Davitts helped to hold him upright. “Look at me. Do you see me with both eyes?”
“Yes,” Zie answered uncertainly, then when Ke held a hand over his right eye, “No.”
“You can’t move your left arm, can you? And the leg?”
Zie’s forehead creased as he concentrated, but there was no movement. He grimaced, still speaking slowly, “No. No…I…no.”
“You’ve had a brain injury, child,” Ke spoke more gently than Davitts had heard before. “Taking away your own air might have done it. Consuming Shadows…” She shook her head. “Consequences could’ve been worse, of course.”
The desolation in Zie’s eyes was all too easy to read. Davitts gripped his good hand and gave it a shake. “Don’t you even consider it. This doesn’t make a sliver of difference in how we feel, and shame on you for thinking it.”
“But it’s your choice if you stay with us,” Ess hurried to add. “Everything’s your choice now. It’s done. You’re free, love.”
“I’m…free,” Zie whispered in answer, turned his face into Ess’s naked chest, and began to sob.
Whether they were tears of joy, relief, or merely the release of too much held close didn’t matter. Davitts wrapped his arms around both his loves and held them tight, letting their tears mingle as they fell.
Hello, lovely people! We've had a lot of paranormals visit with us for Friday Reading Day, but this is a first - a vegan werewolf. Karenna Colcroft brings us the first in her Real Werewolves Don't Eat Meat series - Salad On The Side. Come have a listen! :) (And don't forget the giveaway at the bottom of the post!)
Salad On The Side
Real Werewolves Don't Eat Meat #1
by Karenna Colcroft
Amazon - KU
Since moving to Boston, Kyle Slidell has met only a few of his neighbors, including Tobias Rogan. Kyle is very interested in Tobias, and is ecstatic to learn that Tobias wants him, too.
But his neighbors have a secret: They're a werewolf pack, and Tobias is their Alpha. When one of the wolves attacks Kyle, he learns the truth in a hurry--and in the most painful way. Now he's a werewolf too, and as a vegan is at war with his wolf aspect, who craves meat.
With Tobias's help and love, Kyle must adjust to his new life. But can he protect the pack and his lover from a werewolf seeking revenge against Tobias?
Karenna Colcroft lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts, and has been in love with the city since childhood, though she has yet to encounter any werewolves, vampires, or other paranormal beings in her travels. At least none that she knows of. Though since in her non-writing life, under another name, she offers services as a channel and energy healing practitioner, it could be said that she herself is a paranormal being. The jury’s still out on that.
Karenna is a polyamorous, nonbinary human who splits time between the home she shares with her husband and the one she shares with her committed partner. She also has two adult children and a bonus son, three grandchildren, and two and a half cats. (Half in terms of time the cat lives with her, not in terms of the cat itself…)
Author Website: http://www.karennacolcroft.com
Author Facebook (Personal): http://www.facebook.com/riverlightbearer
Author Facebook (Author Page): http://www.facebook.com/KarennaColcroft
Author Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Karenna-Colcroft/e/B0031HAOUK
It shouldn’t have been endearing and Essenin should’ve been Very Angry still, but Zie’s earnest, continually failed attempts to help Ke with the light rocks tugged hard at their heart.
He set the latest glowing rock beside the other three with a heavy sigh. “I can’t seem to force the light inside. I don’t know what else to do.”
“You can’t force it, youngling.” Ke snorted and set aside her third light-infused rock. “Do you think this is the sort of thing one learns in a double handful of minutes?”
“No, mishu.” Sitting cross-legged on the sand, Zie spoke to his boots. “I…beyond very early things, I’ve never…”
“You’ve never had a teacher. It shows. What was your mother thinking?”
“She…there was never time. She was in negotiations, but…” Zie waved a hand in a helpless gesture.
Ke huffed, though presumably not at Zie. “The old ways. That’s what comes of them. See here, then. A quick lesson. Think of the smallest pieces you can break a stone into. Then break them smaller still.” She picked up a handful of sand and let it run through her fingers. “Smaller than the finest grains. And now remember that there is still space between the smallest smallest pieces. This is where we urge the light to store itself. Not in the stone itself, but woven into the in-between.”
“Oh.” Zie picked up another stone from his pile, and though it looked to Essenin that all he was doing was staring at a rock, apparently he managed something. A tiny smile crept out, his eyes full of wonder, and Essenin’s heart wanted to break at this glimpse of how Zie must have been before his world shattered, this inquisitive, earnest soul. “I think I have it.”
Zie set the rock down, still watching it closely. Then it exploded in a shower of sparks and sand.
“Real learning takes time.” Ke’s too expressionless face suggested she was trying not to laugh. “For anything other than guesswork and reading the half-boiled explanations of some ancient ancestor. In the meantime, you’re a walking keg of disaster. Please stop helping.”
Rolli did snicker at that, but quickly stifled it when Davitts’ glare promised certain violence. The rest of their planning time, Essenin concentrated on battening down their panic. Sending Davs over to help set a trap was one thing. Letting Zie walk up to the monsters that had devoured his family was another level of madness entirely. But Ke was talking him through it, coaching him through recalling everything he’d done to summon the Shadows so he could do them in reverse. It sounded…possible? More or less? Since the light would distract them?
For his part, Essenin was only allowed to swim Rolli, Davitts and the rocks in their pockets on a log most of the way across the lake. Then Essenin would be condemned to wait and hope the people they loved managed to survive.
While they were all standing on the bank, waiting for Ke’s go ahead, it didn’t help at all that Zie kept whispering to himself, It’s fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.
“It’s most certainly not fine,” Essenin whispered back as they wrapped Zie in a fierce hug. “But we believe in you.”
Zie clung tight for one trembling moment, then nodded and stepped back.
A few strides away, Davitts had single-handedly shoved an enormous log into the water, one that would’ve taken five, possibly six, Rollis to budge. Rolli had helped by watching appreciatively.
“Ready for this, dunderhead?” Davitts clapped Rolli on the shoulder. “Not that it matters.”
“I’m risking my life here!”
“Still, you could be nicer.” Rolli held up both hands when Davitts growled. “I’m ready. I have it. Place the stones, do the tap rhythm, and if I can’t get them to glow, leave them and you’ll come around.”
Davitts grunted at him and turned to Essenin, who had stripped to their drawers this time. No need to take all their clothes for another bath. They stopped for a kiss on Davs’ cheek before wading in. “Let’s go, love. Sooner started, sooner done.”
“You sound like your mother.”
“Very sensible woman, my mother.” Essenin patted the log. “Hop on, or I leave without you.”
This at least was familiar, the teasing, the picking at each other before battle. Though usually, those came with weapons and considerably more clothes. Essenin heaved a steadying breath before he took hold of the log and shoved off the murky lake bottom to get it moving. They’d all decided this was the best and safest way to get their light rock bearers across. Rolli was a terrible swimmer and while Davs could’ve made the swim, he would’ve been dangerously tired after.
Rolli clung to the log with both hands, eyes closed, while Davs went into this straight-backed and clear eyed. Courage might not have been Rolli’s best feature, but give him his due, he was trying.
Once Essenin felt the shallows rise beneath them, they stopped swimming and gave the log a last push toward shore. “This is as far as I go. Mother of storms watch over you both.”
Davs didn’t wait for the log to stop drifting and slid off into the water to swim the double handful of strokes needed to reach a place he could stand. Rolli hesitated a little longer, then splashed gracelessly into the water, floundering and flailing to where Davs could seize him by the shirtfront and haul him to shore.
It was a good plan. A fairly simple plan. Up until Zie’s part, Essenin felt it had a good chance for success. Davitts approached where the Shadows had coalesced into a seething, raging mass, speaking low in Rolli’s ear to be heard over their shrieking and pointing to three spots. Rolli nodded and jogged off to start placing his rocks. Three rocks on one side, three on the other, forming a hexagon around the Shadows, and so far, the Shadows didn’t react to them at all.
At Davs’ nod, they began their rock awakening simultaneously, three quick taps followed by two slow ones. Davs’ first rock sent out a curtain of light immediately, and now, unfortunately, he had the Shadows’ attention. They surged toward him, but now Rolli managed to wake his first one, confusing and distracting them.
They both continued around, Rolli just a few beats slower than Davs, since it took the bard more than one try to wake his rocks. After his second rock, Davs stopped and shook his head, stumbling as he rose from his crouch. He staggered to his third rock and woke it, too, but then clutched his head, mouthing words Essenin couldn’t hear.
Oh no. No, no, no. “Rolls, get clear!” Essenin tried to warn him. “They’ve gotten into Davs head!”
“What?” Rolli called back, obviously confused or possibly unable to hear since the Shadows’ furious screaming had only increased as the light cage closed around them, each light curtain bending toward the others to join together and rise overhead to form a dome.
Oblivious, Rolli worked on his last rock, the one that would close the cage, but Davs, face contorted with rage, charged and tackled him, hurling them both away from the final light stone. He pummeled Rolli with both powerful fists while poor Rolls could only curl into a ball to protect what he could.
Essenin had been moving the moment they’d realized the Shadows were whispering to Davs. They just couldn’t let the cursed Shadows couldn’t escape now. They shot out of the water and dashed up the beach to that final rock. Every muscle in their body strained to go to Davs but priorities, they told themself sternly. Shadows first.
The Shadows sensed them, surging toward them as they reached the light cage, a sickening pull starting in Essenin’s chest as they tried to reestablish possession of Essenin’s body.
“No, no and more no.” Essenin muttered as he tapped the rock. Taptaptap…tap…tap. Again, as the Shadows raced closer. Taptaptap…tap..tap. The second time, the sequence took and light flared from the last rock to join its brethren, and Essenin felt it as a physical jolt when the Shadows slammed into that final light barrier and recoiled back.
Essenin scuttled back from the now-completed light cage, chest on fire as they tried to breathe through the panic, and stumbled over to where Davs was trying to turn Rolli into bean paste.
“Davs, stop! Stop it!” They got Davs in a headlock and managed to heave them both over onto their backs to give Rolli a reprieve. But once interrupted, Davs stopped fighting and lay still, his barrel chest rising and falling like a forge bellows.
“Whispered to me,” he choked out. “They called my name.”
“I know, love. I know. We’re all right now.”
Something of an overstatement, perhaps. Rolli was probably not all right and none of this was over.
The tip tip tip of wave running reached Essenin’s ears as Zie and Ke raced to them across the lake. Ke would stay outside the cage, shoring up the light spells as they wavered. Zie…
Zie stood in front of the cage staring straight into the light, perhaps afraid he might lose his nerve if he looked at any of them. With a deep breath, he pulled the brim of his hat down to shade his eyes, and stepped inside.
Happy Friday, everyone! Time for me to read to you from a new story from Katherine McIntyre! Fake relationship, best friend's sibling, gosh-I-thought-you-were-straight - it's all there in this lesbian contemporary romance with a bit of kink and don't forget the giveaway at the bottom of the post!
Come have a listen. :)
by Katherine McIntyre
One rule: don’t fall for your best friend’s straight sister. Especially not when she’s pretending to be your fake girlfriend.
Chelsea Moore is officially divorced from her asshole husband, and after wasting her early twenties putting up with his shit, she’s burning to get out there and play the field—especially a certain kinkier side he made her feel like garbage about.
Kyle Walker’s terrified to put herself out there. According to her mother, she doesn’t have the looks to hook anyone, but what makes it worse is that her dating history falls in line. However, when her family tries to claim she’s not really a lesbian, she tells them she’s bringing her girlfriend to Christmas. Only problem? She doesn’t have one.
In comes sexy, newly divorced, and straight Chelsea Moore to the rescue—her best friend Aubrey’s little sister. She’s doing Kyle a favor—like any friend would—except Kyle’s half in love with her from the moment they start hanging out. All too soon those lines begin to blur—lingering touches, flirting, kissing…. And when they connect on kink and begin hooking up, that’s when Kyle knows she’s screwed.
Chelsea might have Aubrey to protect her heart, but Kyle could lose both her best friend and the only woman who’s made her feel like she's worth more.
Katherine McIntyre is a feisty chick with a big attitude despite her short stature. She writes stories featuring snarky women, ragtag crews, and men with bad attitudes—and there's an equally high chance for a passionate speech thrown into the mix. As an eternal geek and tomboy who’s always stepped to her own beat, she’s made it her mission to write stories that represent the broad spectrum of people out there, from different cultures and races to all varieties of men and women.
Author Website: http://www.katherine-mcintyre.com
Author Facebook (Author Page): http://www.facebook.com/kmcintyreauthor
Author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/pixierants
Author Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/authorkmcintyre
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6473654.Katherine_McIntyre
Author Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Katherine-McIntyre/e/B00J8U4VNU
So very soon! I have seen the concept for the Rarely Pure and Never Simple cover and it is glorious!
Natasha Snow is working her magic and I'll have something to show you so very soon!
Too excited! Exclamation marks multiplying!
Davitts expected Zie to break down at the pronouncement that the sole way to destroy the Shadows was with his own death. But no. Zie had gone as still as stone, only his claws flexing and releasing, flexing and releasing.
That bastard son of a moon pup. He knew. He already figured it out from what the ghost told him. He knows. And he didn’t say a blasted thing.
“I…” Zie nodded slowly. “Of course.”
He turned and walked past the little fire they’d made on the beach, and though the night was warm, pulled on his leather coat of deep blue and jammed his broad-brimmed hat on his head.
Gaze firmly fixed on the sand, he turned to Davitts and Essenin and whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I would have loved you both…I do love you both. You deserve so much better.”
“Zie, wait—no!” Davitts dumped Essenin out of his lap in his scramble to his feet. “Stop!”
He lunged, but too late. Zie had already sped out onto the water. But Essenin was faster still. Despite languishing on the ground a moment before, Ess hurled themself into the water, a spear flung through the waves. Zie hadn’t managed eight steps before Ess breached like a sailfish and tackled Zie, taking them both underwater.
“I thought Ess said the little guy can’t swim,” Rolli called out as they all rushed to the water’s edge.
“Not well. Not his best element.” Though his lungs constricted, Davitts tried to concentrate on breathing, counting, in and out. They had to surface soon, didn’t they? “He should be safe with Ess.”
Rolli was muttering something about should being about as useful as a knife made of jelly when Ess surfaced with a gasping, flailing Zie under their arm. Grim-faced, Essenin swam back and dragged a coughing, wheezing Zie onto the sand where they dropped him in a heap.
“Wonderful. Now that you look like a drowned chocka fledgling…” Ess plopped down next to Zie and grabbed hold of one of his ankles to prevent a second flight. “Would you like to explain what in all Mother Ocean’s sixteen hells you thought you were doing?”
“What I…” Zie glanced between Davitts and Essenin, his eyes huge and wet. “What I have to. To end this. All of this. To stop the killing. To keep you safe. To keep everyone safe.”
“To keep us safe.” Ess’s tone was sharp enough that even Ke cringed. “While we sit here on our hands and watch you commit suicide?”
“There’s no other way. And you can’t be sad to see me go. I slaughtered an entire continent of sylvas. I’m a murderer. Worse than. A murderer and a coward who ran instead of stopping it right where it began.”
“First of all, you didn’t know,” Davitts pointed out. “You had no way to know the key to stopping them. And somewhere in this disaster of an evening, you’ve decided that me finding out what really happened changes how I feel about you.”
“How we feel about you,” Essenin broke in.
“Yes. I’m angry you didn’t tell us. I’m sure Ess is angry, too, that you kept things from us. Important things. But you can be furious with someone and still love them. It doesn’t erase that. Not to the point of wanting to watch you die.”
“How do you know they’re all dead?” Rolli blurted out.
A headache was starting behind Davitts’ right eye. “Don’t be an ass, Rolli.”
“Hold on. Hear me out, please.” Rolli raised both hands, palms out. “But Zie, did you go to every clan compound in the north country? Before you fled south?”
“Of course not.” Zie tried to pull his leg free, but Essenin held stubbornly fast. “I didn’t purposefully put more people at risk after realizing there was no help to be had.”
“Right. So again, how do you know?”
Zie’s eyes sparked, an angry retort obviously ready, then he stopped and his expression became perplexed. “But the rumors ran ahead of me. No one has seen sylvas since then. The northlands are empty. I heard it everywhere I went.”
“That’s the thing about rumor. I should know. Bards are very good at it. Sometimes too good.” Was Rolli being self-deprecating? Introspective? The world was ending. “Once a good one takes hold, one that people are willing to accept and not investigate themselves, it takes on a coating of truth. And when enough people believe, it becomes truth.”
“What…? I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Zie shook his head, finally giving up trying to break Ess’s grip.
“Until a traveler or merchant caravan gets up the nerve to go look for themselves, none of us know what happened or whether there are survivors.” Essenin shook the ankle he held. “That’s what he’s saying.”
“Does the exact accounting of how many people I’ve murdered truly matter?” Some of Zie’s normally dry tone had returned. At least he was thinking now instead of simply reacting.
“I’d say it matters if you didn’t wipe out the entire sylvas homeland, yes,” Ke arched a dark brow, her tone surpassing Zie’s by several degrees of dryness. “I didn’t mean for you to fling yourself directly at the shaktz, youngling. You do have a problem with jumping in face first.”
Zie hung his head. “Yes, mishu.”
“A plan then.” Davitts retrieved Zie’s hat from where it had floated up on shore and shook out the worst of the water. “Obviously Zie still needs to send the Shadows back himself. But is there a way to control them? Contain them while he undoes his summoning rather than letting them devour him?”
“I wish we could just shove them in the water,” Essenin muttered as they dragged Zie close to wrap him in their arms. Zie squirmed, but quickly subsided when he couldn’t get free.
“We’ve tried that twice now. They’re too clever about it.” Davitts got up to pace. “They fear water. They ignore humans, as far as we know. They’re repelled by light.”
“But no one can hold a light spell for long, and it’s only as a wall, not a cage,” Essenin added.
“I like these two. They think.” Ke squinted across the water and Davitts was sure he saw the moment a thought hit her. “There is a way to store elements. I haven’t done so in years…but it can be done.”
“Store light? To sustain it for a longer time?” Zie sat up, suddenly interested.
“Yes.” She nodded slowly. “Yes, and in this case, to create a cage. One person couldn’t do it. Even two could only hold so much ground for so long. But prepared beforehand…”
“Four, or even six objects. Stored light. So one could concentrate on other things.” Zie tapped his claws together in agitation. “But no one could get close enough to set a trap like that.”
Rolli got to his knees and waved one hand over the other. “Excuse me. Human available right here,”
“Rolls, what are you on about?” Ess asked with more patience than Davitts would have.
“You all said that the Shadows ignore humans. I’m a bard. I do listen. So here I am. One human who can set the whatever the things are while being ignored.”
Davitts whipped his head around to stare at Rolli. “You’re scared of everything. Absolutely everything.”
“Well, no. Not everything. I’m not scared of an audience.” Rolli swallowed hard, clutching his instrument. “Ess has been a good friend. If I can help… I, ah, I should help. So this is me, a human, offering to help.”
“Huh. Who would’ve thought,” Davitts muttered, then turned back to Ke. “Two humans.”
“Davs, no!” Ess grabbed his arm. “You’re not fully human and those things called to you before.”
Ke considered him. “Part taur, aren’t you? At least one grandparent. Do we know how they react to taurs?”
“We really don’t.” Davitts patted Ess’s hand. “They called my name the first time we encountered them. I didn’t listen then. I won’t now. And I have a tiny bit of magic. If the objects have to be…activated, I suppose? Rolli might not be able to.”
“Two humans, six light-infused objects, and the mahk that summoned the shaktz.” Ke nodded in satisfaction. “We might be able to survive this after all."
It's Friday!! Huzzah! This week, I'm reading to you from Dan Ackerman's brand new fantasy novel, The Parsley Knight (releases July 1) - into the fae court we go! Come have a listen:
The Parsley Knight
by Dan Ackerman
Barnes & Noble
Newly knighted and green as anything, Ainsley looks forward to his first quest, not just for the independence it will bring but for the coin as well. He's not sure what he'll find on his journey but he didn't anticipate friendly witches, baby dragons, or a curious crow that brings him trinkets.
Not sure if the crow is an ill omen, Ainsley tries to keep his distance but can't resist tossing the bird a few crumbs. The crow returns the favor one day when Ainsley is in danger, revealing his true nature as Rue, a semi-exiled member of the dazzling and dangerous fairy court.
After an attack, Rue brings him to Otherworld to recover and as Ainsley regains his health, their attraction grows. Being home is no easy feat and Rue is dragged back into court life as Ainsley longs for home. The men have to make a choice between two worlds when neither of those worlds feels exactly like home.
Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They wrote their Master's thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema.
In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.