“Just stay on the main and the tops’l, Mage Zie.” Hennel put an encouraging hand on Zie’s shoulder. “That’s it. Ease down. Let the Cap’n do all the steering.”
While he prided himself on his wind control, Zie needed all his concentration to pull back on the magic when he’d been pushing so hard and in so many directions. This sail, now that, now the other. No wonder the captains offered passage for a sail impeller. Wind work on a ship this size was bloody hard. He’d still caught the captain’s strange order for anyone even part selak to gather at the stern, Essenin included. Not something he could worry about yet.
Except I am worried. What is she doing? Is this some strange human belief that selak are better fighters?
A quick glance over showed Davitts running in the opposite direction, toward their cabin, which confused Zie even more. Though that was cleared up quickly when Davitts returned a moment later, heavily armed, with Essenin’s bow and quiver tucked under one arm. Davs at least made sense when no one else did, though he kept his distance from the gathered selak-blooded at the rail, his jaw clenched. Ready for a fight if not eager for one, it seemed to Zie.
His focus trembled under the weight of distractions, but he could help turning his head for quick looks at the stern every few moments.
Their pursuers drew closer, each scarlet sail painted with darker red designs like blood running over river clay. The non-selak sailors, mostly human and one taur woman with hands that could crush Zie’s head, had armed themselves as well. Even Hennel had produced a wickedly curved knife from somewhere on his person. Tension vibrated through the deck and Zie resolved to do his best for them. There were parts of his arsenal he was still willing to use for defense.
And after such a long while, I have people to defend again. Don’t deny it. Even if they leave you when you reach shore, you want them both safe.
Oddly, none of the selak crew had drawn weapons yet, and Essenin waved Davitts off when he tried to hand over their bow. Perhaps the selak planned a collective water attack? Could they combine their magic into a whirlpool or a waterspout? He knew little of selak magic, but it felt possible.
The selak stood, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm in some cases, peering toward the oncoming pirate ship, leaning toward it, their nearest companions keeping some of them from falling over the rail. Then they did a curious thing. Sharp, high-pitched whistled notes began to issue from each selak, though none of them had pursed their lips. It took Zie a moment to puzzle out what he was seeing, and he had to keep his gaze fastened on Essenin to spot it.
They were whistling through their gills. As Zie slowed the summoned wind, he began to pick out individual notes, calls as varied as birdsong. Some trilled, some rose and fell, some repeated the same note in complex sequences. No two were the same, as far as he could determine. Essenin’s was a long, relatively low note followed by three sharp trills an octave higher. The resulting chaos of notes was both alarming and wildly beautiful.
It was also quite loud.
Because of this, it took Zie several minutes to discern that there were notes coming from two directions. There were selak on the pirate ship who were whistling back. Figures in the rigging and along the rail of the scarlet-sailed ship were waving now. Some of them jumped up and down excitedly.
“This is rather...odd.” He looked up at Hennel, whose expression was quickly turning from concern to amusement. “Isn’t it?”
“Isn’t what, Wind Mage?”
Hennel patted his shoulder. “Keep watching.”
The young officer, Rence, was the first of their crew to begin waving back, her enthusiasm bolstered by her bright smile. It seemed a signal, and now several more joined her, Essenin included. The whistling died down, replaced by calls of cousin and auntie and gran. The human crew sheathed weapons and even Davitts returned his impressive broadaxe to the holster on his back.
“That’s settled then. Better than I’d hoped.”
Zie startled, and turned to find the captain beside him. Her steps had been concealed under all the noise. “Ma’am?”
“Clan relatives. Quite a few of them. That ship can’t attack us now since we’ve family on board. Always best to check first with a selak ship.” Captain Unav shouted up to the crow’s nest. “Signal that we’re dropping anchor. Invite them aboard.”
A complicated exchange of flag signals passed between the ships and they slowed in tandem until the pirate ship could come alongside. The crew from both ships ran planks between and the invasion was a joyous rather than murderous one with squeals of recognition and enthusiastic hugs. Since he wasn’t needed any longer, Zie wove through the crowd to Davitts, partly to be near him and partly since there were far too many tall people rushing about. Being trampled was not on his itinerary for the day.
Davitts must have seen the alarm on Zie’s face since he slung an arm around him and pulled him close. That was better with Davs strong heart beating under his ear.
“Do you know any of them?”
“Not that I’d remember on sight.” Davitts let out a speculative rumble. “I think that’s an auntie of Ess’s, but I don’t recall her name.”
Zie patted the heavily muscled chest he was using as a support. “I’m not complaining that we’re safe, but why would the captain invite them onto the ship? They are pirates, yes?”
“Yes. Definitely still pirates.” Davitts gave him a squeeze. “Sea gossip. You have no idea how even captains crave sea gossip.”
“Ah. I suppose intelligence gathering is important out here.” Zie wrapped both arms around Davs and nestled closer. “We’ll just stay out of their way then?”
“Probably for the best.”
Happy Friday, everyone! A. L. Lester returns this week - and I get to read to you from her second installment in the Bradfield trilogy, The Quid Pro Quo! Post WWI historical, a touch of the paranormal and a mystery just for starters :D Come have a listen:
The Quid Pro Quo
Bradfield trilogy #2
by A.L. Lester
Universal Book Link
Village nurse Walter Kennett is content with his makeshift found-family in tiny Bradfield. However one midsummer morning a body is found floating in the village duck pond, dead by magical means.
Detective Simon Frost arrives in Bradfield to investigate a inexplicable murder. The evidence seems to point to Lucille Hall-Bridges, who lives with doctor Sylvia Marks and nurse Walter Kennett at Courtfield House. Simon isn’t happy—he doesn’t believe Lucy is a murderer but he’s sure the three of them are hiding something. In the meantime, the draw he feels toward Walter takes him by surprise.
Walter is in a dilemma, concealing Sylvia and Lucy’s relationship and not knowing how much to tell Frost about the paranormal possibilities of the murder. He isn’t interested in going to bed with anyone—he’s got a complicated life and has to know someone really well before he falls between the sheets. He’s taken aback by his own attraction to Detective Frost and angry when Frost appears to twist the spark between them to something transactional in nature.
Will Walter be satisfied to stay on the periphery of Lucy and Sylvia’s love affair, a welcome friend but never quite included? Or is it time for him to strike out and embark on a relationship of his own?
The second in the Bradfield trilogy, set in the Border Magic universe. With a transm/m couple.
About A. L. :
Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, mostly. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, some hens and the duckettes. Likes gardening but doesn't really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn't much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.
Facebook Group : Twitter : Newsletter (free story) : Website : Link-tree for everywhere else
Eeee! I'm flying out to Seattle on Monday for Emerald City Comic Con!
All the details:
Come say hi! Grab some stuff! I'm excited, so there are too many exclamation marks!!!
On the third morning of the Golden Runner’s voyage, Davitts woke with his heart racing and the sensation of something heavy sitting on his chest. He lifted his head for a quick look, even though he knew nothing would be there.
“Davs?” Zie yawned from where he was using Davitts shoulder as a pillow. “Bad dream?”
“No. Not...no.” Davitts struggled to sit up due to the intertwining of limbs and blankets. They’d tried various sleeping arrangements and taking turns with the two bunks, but somehow they always ended up in the same bed by morning.
Ess helped the process by rolling off the edge of the bunk and giving Zie room to maneuver. “Bad feeling, love?”
“Not a good feeling. Something is wrong with this day.”
Stark naked, Ess sprawled on the empty bunk while Zie finished fighting his way free of the blanket tangle. “Worse than the day we left?”
“What?” Davitts had to shake his head before he found his thoughts again since Ess was having a languid, exposing stretch. Far too distracting. “No. Not...like that. A smaller wrongness, I guess. Not as spikey.”
One purple eye peeked out from the tangle of Zie’s long hair. “That’s horribly vague, but I suppose it’s enough to not hide under the bunk for the day.”
“Would you do that to us?” Ess affected a wounded expression. “Hide and abandon us to deal with whatever bad things come along?”
“I suppose not. In any case, furniture tends to be a poor barricade against most things.”
Not the easiest thing to tell when Zie was joking, though it didn’t matter when he bent over the packs to retrieve clothes for the day. Davitts’ thoughts scattered before the lovely view of his beautifully rounded ass. He allowed himself a small pat of one tempting cheek—and got growled at for his efforts—before he turned away from distractions, pulled his pants from the end of the bunk, and started to dress.
The disconcerting wrongness persisted, a feeling he’d tried to explain to Ess once as if one’s fingers kept vanishing and reappearing until the correct number of fingers became uncertain. Ess said it sounded strange, but they didn’t try to say they understood. Davitts appreciated that. Though strange applied to all the days since Zie had appeared in Auntie Lana’s common room.
He and Ess had certainly taken a third person to bed before whom they both found attractive. Once or twice it had lasted more than a night. Three nights, maybe, at the longest. They’d never stayed with anyone this long. Nor had they both developed such a fierce protective streak for any of their bedmates before. They’d agreed that Zie shouldn’t go on alone and without much discussion, some deep-rooted instinct at play.
Of course it was the right thing, now that we know what he’s dealing with. He’s been facing those monsters alone all this time. He was at the end of his endurance and he needed us. Needs us. And I like him in all his soft-spoken, prickliness, even if I don’t entirely trust him yet.
“Davs?” Ess’s voice brought him, blinking, out of his thoughts. “You’ve been holding that boot for quite a while. Is there something going on between the two of you?”
“What? Oh. No. Just thinking.”
“Our Davs is so serious this morning,” Ess said in a whisper the dead could’ve heard.
Zie finished wrapping his ankle and pulled on his boot with a ghost of a smile. “Our Davs is very handsome being serious in nothing but his trousers.”
Face heating, Davs hurried through dressing. The morning had just begun and already the strangeness threatened to burst the day at the seams. Both of them calling him our Davs. Completely unexpected.
The deck already bustled with activity when they left their cabin with sail rats swarming the rigging and junior officers shouting commands. Davitts was no sailor, but even he could tell the wind had shifted.
Captain Unav had the wheel and called down the moment she spotted them. “Wind mage! I was about to send someone for you.”
“At your service, Captain.” Zie turned to face her, claws flexing and sheathing restlessly.
He’s nervous. He’s not done this before. Of course he hasn’t. This isn’t a sylvas boat.
“Go stand with Hennel.” She nodded to her helmsman posted before the mainmast. “We’re losing the wind. On my mark, fill the sails, but gently, mind you. Do not tear my ship apart.”
“The greatest care, Captain.”
Zie strode over to Hennel, only the slightest limp still visible in his steps. Hennel bent to speak in his ear and Zie kept his gaze on the sails, but nodded and slid out of his coat. Their nearness sent a sharp prickle up Davitts’ spine. Surprise number three of the morning. Jealousy was an infrequent visitor, one he always sent on its way as quickly as possible, and this was ridiculous. Zie needed assistance, instructions. All necessary for the safety of the ship and crew.
“Steady!” Captain Unav called out, and the crew froze at their tasks. “Full sail!”
The larger sails—Davitts couldn’t begin to name them all—had already been released, but now the youngsters in the rigging scrambled to unfurl the rest. Almost as if the captain somehow had known the precise moment, the wind abruptly died.
“Time to earn your keep, wind mage!” Captain Unav bellowed in the sudden silence. “Fill those sails!”
Zie raised both hands, much as he had when he’d called the light spell, his eyes squinted half shut. For a moment, nothing happened. Then he braced one foot back and leaned into his spell. A soft breath of air ruffled Davitts’ hair. The breath became a steady breeze, which grew into a wind just strong enough to move the sails.
Captain Unav was grinning as she called down, “That’s it, bucko! A bit more, if you please!”
Zie pulled in a breath and pushed with enough effort that Davitts could almost see his magic. The sails belled outward and the ship leaped forward through the waves. A little smile played at the corner of Zie’s mouth when the crew cheered, but otherwise he kept his concentration on his task.
“I hope this isn’t as exhausting as the light spell,” Davitts murmured in Ess’s ear.
“Don’t think so. Light felt like a…” Ess thought for a moment. “Not like it was unnatural, but like it was a stretch for him. The way you can use a bow if you have to, but it’s not pretty.”
Davitts gave him a shove for that. “I can shoot just fine. But I take your meaning. Wind may have been one of his early, ah...what did he call them?”
“Disciplines.” Ess’s grin grew as he waggled his eyebrows.
Ess laughed, but they both kept their attention firmly on Zie, alert for any sign of faltering. So far, he held up well, shifting his position from time to time as Hennel helped interpret orders barked from the helm for more wind in this sail or that.
Davitts started to believe his ominous feelings had been wrong this time. Always a mistake.
His thoughts shattered when a call issued from the crow’s nest, “Red sails off the stern, Captain! Three-master!”
Captain Unav engaged in some impressive swearing about what the gods should do with pirates before she shouted back, “Colors, girl! Are they flying colors?”
“Don’t know it, Cap’n!” the lookout responded. “But there’s coral on the flag!”
For a moment, the captain simply glared at the waves, but it wasn’t a long moment. “Zie, ease back half! Let them approach! I want every being with even a drop of selak blood at the stern! Move your arses!”
Happy Friday, everyone! This week, I get to revisit a bit of River City by J. Scott Coatsworth because it's just been released in audio! Hooray! The author's love letter to Sacramento, this multi-character story has a ton of queer rep and a touch of magic realism. :) And don't forget the give away at the end of the post! Come have a listen:
The River City Chronicles
by J. Scott Coatsworth
Now in Audio!
Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.
A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other's lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.
Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.
Scott lives with his husband Mark in a little yellow bungalow with two pink flamingoes in Sacramento. He inhabits the space between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.
He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
A Rainbow Award winning author, he runs Queer Sci Fi, QueeRomance Ink, and Other Worlds Ink with Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction reflecting their own reality. Scott is a full member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
Author Website: https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com
Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth
Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/
Author Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/jscoatsworth
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8392709.J_Scott_Coatsworth
Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/
Author Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/J.-Scott-Coatsworth/e/B011AFO4OQ
Hey all! Look what's now available in Italian! :D
Carrington's rather pleased. All the Offbeat Crimes books are in the translation process over at Pride Publishing - currently into Italian and French. Hooray!
I didn’t lie to them. I didn’t. There wasn’t need to tell them everything. Simply that.
Zie curled into a miserable ball in the corner of the bunk. Davitts and Essenin had gone up on deck, either to watch or to assist as the ship got underway, but Zie was too exhausted and shaken still to leave his blanket nest. Of course the omissions were as bad as lying, but did it really matter now?He was finally safe. Essenin and Davitts were safe. All beyond the shadows’ reach. That mattered. Not the details.
Coward, coward, coward.
He pulled the covers over his head and drifted into a restless sleep, knowledge of his failings warring with relief and fueling chaotic, anxious dreams. He woke in a panic, unable to pin down where he was or why the room was moving. Ship. Cabin. You’re fine...everything’s fine.
Sunlight puddled on the cabin floor, so several hours had passed. While he probably could’ve slept for a week—now that he was unreachable, his body reminded him just how long he’d been surviving on as little sleep as possible—he wasn’t a passenger on this voyage.
Best to make an appearance, at least.
He pulled dry clothes from his pack, dressed, wrapped his ankle, and took his coat up on deck to brush off the salt since it had already dried. His boots… Zie sighed. Those were only normal edlak hide and he would most likely need to find some leather soap for them. Ah, well. Most of the sailors went barefoot in any case and it wasn’t cold enough for him to need boots on deck.
Foot claws carefully retracted so he didn’t leave gouges in the planks, Zie paced toward the mainmast for a better view of the ship. By the rail, Essenin helped another sailor tie off a heavy sail rope. Davitts disappeared down the hold ladder with large sacks hoisted over his shoulder. Zie’s mouth quirked a bit. The crew had wasted no time putting them to work.
Up on the deck with the ship’s wheel—whatever southerners called the ilna deck—Captain Unav stood with her spyglass and a complicated instrument that was most likely for navigation. For now, the wind filled the sails and the oars had been shipped, but Zie had learned enough about the southern seas to know sudden calms could flatten those sails at any time.
Captain Unav lowered her spyglass and spotted him. “Ah, you’ve survived, I see! Remembered that you work for me, then?”
“Yes, Captain.” Zie raised his voice, hating the rasp in it when he had to shout. “Quite fit, thank you.”
“Exactly what I like to hear.” Captain Unav turned to the sailor at the helm. “I’ll take the wheel, Hennel. Show our sail impeller his charges, if you’d be so kind.”
“Aye, Cap.” The sailor, an enormous human one, lumbered down the steps and took Zie in hand. Figuratively, thank goodness. One of Hennel’s hands could have crushed both of his with room to spare.
The names of the sails were unfamiliar and there were more of them than Zie felt were strictly necessary, but what did he know? The Golden Runner was a far larger ship than a sylvas ice cat or river schooner. He asked Hennel to run through them several times until he could repeat them back and the human clapped him on the shoulder in a show of approval that nearly knocked him over.
“Not much to you, but you’re a smart little mite,” Hennel boomed at him. “Worst comes, and you don’t recollect in a bad spot, we’ll point to the right ones, eh?”
“In a bad spot, that will do quite well.” Zie managed a smile for him that wasn’t all teeth. “Thank you, Hennel.”
Otherwise, there wasn’t much more for him to know. Stay out of the way and wait for the captain’s summons. He turned to find Essenin leaning with graceful nonchalance on the railing, watching him.
Essenin grinned. “I see you and your coat are up and about. Why does it still look perfect after being half-drowned? Is that magic?”
“Ah, no.” Zie nestled beside them along the rail and Essenin didn’t pull back. That was a good sign that they weren’t angry about the things Zie hadn’t told both of them. “It’s vurda hide. They’re teat animals like us, but spend most of their lives in the water. Much better than edlak for repelling weather and keeping out the cold.”
“You were just giving your coat a taste of home, then, when you took your little swim.” Essenin cocked their head and regarded Zie with narrowed eyes. “You can swim, can’t you?”
“Yes. I’m not the best, but I manage. The light spell...was difficult to hold.”
Essenin curled down to kiss Zie’s forehead. “Overtaxed yourself. It’s all right to say it.” They ran a finger down the arm of Zie’s coat. “Are the vurda normally blue?”
“No, they range from gray to white. The blue dye comes from Fisk-na clan…” Zie faltered and cleared his throat. “Came from. They had...the most exquisite dyes.”
His eyes were welling up again. Ridiculous eyes. He dashed the tears away with the cuff of his coat.
“I’m sorry.” Essenin wrapped an arm around him. “I’ll leave off asking cavalier questions about back home. Of course it upsets you.”
He turned to hide his face and his renewed tears against Essenin’s shirt. Oh my dear, lovely friend. If you only knew...
Happy Friday, all! This week I have an excerpt from the new serial fiction from Dani Hermit and Curtis Star! On Kindle Vella now - come have a listen :)
The Black Devil Omegaverse
Hermit and Star
When the Black-fur Hades meets the no-fur Doll, he can just feel his comfortable life as a back-alley fixer slipping through his paw. Being contracted to take the no-fur away from trouble brewing with his mobster owners to a breeding farm upstate seems like a straightforward enough job. But when it comes to dealing with this particular no-fur, nothing is straightforward. Hermit & Star have created another steamy, dark world - this time with anthropomorphic feline Alphas and their no-fur Omegas!
About the authors:
Dani Hermit & Curtis Star are a married pair of writers who have been perfecting their craft even longer than they have been perfecting their marriage - over 20 years for both! It was a mutual love of slash fic and writing deep, angsty stories that lead to their love for each other.
It has been a rocky road full of pitfalls and potholes that has lead to the current format of writing boy's love serials that are becoming the bedrock of the Hermit & Star brand.
Find us online at www.hermitstarbooks.com, or on social media at @hermitstarbooks on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and now on TikTok as well.
“I thought he was a wind worker.” Essenin took Davs’ coat when he handed it over, tucking it around a semi-conscious, shivering Zie.
Davs gave a one-shouldered shrug as he went back to rowing. “Well, he is. But some of your family has more than one talent, even if you only do water work.”
“Davs.” Essenin shot him a flat glare. “That’s wind and water. Those...well, they go together. That? Back there? A powerful light spell like that?”
“He’s not selak. He’s not human.” Davs glanced over his shoulder, presumably to judge how much farther to the ship. “Magic must be different for sylvas.”
Essenin chewed on their bottom lip to stop the rest of their skittering thoughts from falling out. I’m sure it is different. But I’ll still have a hundred and seven questions as soon as he can speak to us sensibly.
The launch scraped as Davs brought them alongside the Golden Runner, his arms trembling. Essenin took pity on his exhaustion, hailing the ship in a voice mother would’ve said stirred bones from the sea bottom. Not genteel at all, but it worked and within minutes, sailors had manned winches to bring the launch aboard. Essenin cringed when the solid thunk-thunk-thunk of sturdy boots hurried toward them across the deck.
“I don’t recall asking you to drown my new sail impeller,” Captain Unav snapped as she joined them at the rail.
Essenin offered her an apologetic smile. “Tiny mishap rowing out. Apparently sylvas small craft have different hull shapes. Balance isn’t quite the same.”
At least part of that was true. Sylvas boats were an odd shape. Davs gave them a hard side glance, but kept his mouth shut and concentrated on lifting Zie out of the boat. Truth was all well and good. Trying to explain what they’d just seen when they didn’t understand it themself? No. Such a hillside of no.
She snorted and shouldered past him. “He is alive, I trust?”
A short bout of coughing answered her, then Zie sketched a salute from the cradle of Davitts’ arms. “Reporting as requested, Captain. Do you need me now?”
“No. Thank the mother for that. The oarsmen will get us past the shoals and we should catch a good wind this morning.” Captain Unav shook her head, but her thunderous expression had calmed. “Go below. Rence will take you. Get warm and dry before you contract a lung ailment. I most likely won’t need you for a day or two.”
Ah, Rence. I remember her. Another half-selak like Essenin, the last time they’d seen her, she’d been just another sailor, a young rigging rat. Now, by the uniform, she was a junior officer, though her webbed feet were still bare. Essenin tried not to be jealous that she’d gotten fin-feet as part of her selak inheritance since at least he could wear all manner of boots.
She gestured to them to follow and hurried them off the deck, apparently too busy to indulge in normal selak greetings. Fine. The how’s-your-mother-aunt-cousins-and-so-on could go on for a bit, Essenin had to admit. At least their quarters would be a cabin rather than bunking belowdecks with the crew, and it was a nice one with two roomy bunks and a chest for each.
Rence hurried off without a word and Davs deposited his sylvas burden on the nearer bunk, his movements gentle, but his expression full of thunder.
“You have questions,” Zie murmured as he pulled his knees up under his chin.
“Several dozen of them, starting with what in all blue hells was that?” Davs waved his arms expansively, as close to losing his temper as Essenin had ever seen him. “But no. First--before the ship gets underway and it’s too bloody late—are those things going to attack the town?”
“No.” Zie pulled himself into an even smaller ball. “Truly. No. They have no interest in or some odd aversion to humans. The town is safe.”
Davs started pacing, which in the small cabin became a threat to Essenin’s feet. “No interest in humans? Why were they calling to me?”
“Were they?” Zie hid his face in his arms, shuddering violently. “As I understand it, you’re not entirely human.”
“That’s… All right. True.” Davs whirled and smacked the back of his hand against Essenin’s chest. “Were they calling you?”
“Not, hmm, calling. No.” Essenin moved Davs so they could reach Zie and coax him out of his dripping shirt. “There was a moment where I couldn’t move. Like my limbs were suddenly full of sand.”
“They did?” Zie’s words barely made it through chattering teeth.
“Davs. My love, my own.” Essenin squinted at him. “Either help me get him warm or go stomp around somewhere else.”
Grumbling, Davs worked to unlace Zie’s boots and between the two of them, they soon had him stripped, wrapped in blankets, and propped up between them for extra warmth. Essenin did hope the blue leather coat would be all right after its dip in salt water. Time will tell, I suppose, and not the important thing here. Focus.
When the violent shivers had calmed to an occasional shudder, Essenin nudged Zie. “So now tell us. Everything you can. And why you didn’t warn us.”
“I didn’t think… I had hoped…” Zie sighed and leaned his head on Essenin’s shoulder, maybe because Davs had yelled at him. “They should have been a few days behind me. So I thought. It takes them time to cross running water since they need an actual way across. They’ve become better at it, which is disturbing. I thought I’d never need to tell you. That we would be gone.”
Davs’ fists were clenched in his thighs. “That’s a pretty terrible excuse for the last bit. But still doesn’t explain a storm cursed thing. What the fuck was that? Those? Whatever it was.”
“They’re shadows.” Zie cringed when Davs pulled in a sharp breath. “Truly. I have no better word for them other than what they are. Living, hungry summoned shadows. They are what devastated the north country and they are what has hunted me since.”
“Summoned?” Essenin put the terrible pieces together. “It was magic that got away from someone?”
Zie gave another hard shudder. “Yes. They killed my family. Everyone in my compound. Everyone in all the compounds, as far as I know.”
“Your brother. Hest.” Davs put a hand on Zie’s thigh, his voice gentler now.
“Yes. I don’t know how to stop them. Slow them, yes. Temporarily confound them like I did tonight. But not how to unmake them.”
Essenin wrapped both arms around him. “I’m so sorry. What a terrible thing.” A few moments of rocking Zie made another thought resurface. “And you think you should be able to. Because you… I don’t understand it, but you can reach into more than one sort of magic.”
“Your southern magic is, ah, I beg your pardon, limited.” Zie shifted back on the bed so he could face them, his hands peeking out from his blanket nest to gesticulate. “We call it the disciplines, the paired sets of magic every sylvan child learns from an early age. A child might be able to access, for instance, air and vacuum as a paired discipline early in life and learn another later. They may only have one. In certain families, though… Certain families tend to breed mahk.”
Davs’ forehead crinkled. “The what now?”
“Someone who can access and possibly master all five disciplines.”
“And that’s you,” Essenin guessed. “And you managed to hold them off just enough to escape, but you couldn’t stop them.”
Zie nodded miserably, his eyes glinting with tears waiting to fall.
“I know you’re scared. And I know tonight was rough.” Davs shook him by the knee. “But I have to ask. Was the goal just to get away or was there a plan?”
“It’s difficult to plan when all you’re doing is running.” Zie heaved a shuddering breath and wiped at his eyes. “But they can’t follow me now. There are no bridges across the sea. I hope that they’ll pace the shoreline forever in a futile search for me, but it’s more likely they’ll return north to search for any survivors. I have nothing as grand as a plan. It’s merely a thought.”
Essenin rolled a hand. “Which is?”
“I hear there are sylvas compounds across the waves. If there is an older mahk, someone with more experience, maybe even someone who has met something like the shadows… Well. Probably an empty hope. But better than none.”
Friday! And time to read to you. :D This week, I have an excerpt from Ellie Thomas' new m/m historical short, "A Tricky Situation" - late 18th c Bristol. Class divides and a young man having an inner crisis - come have a listen!
A Tricky Situation
by Ellie Thomas
Universal Book Link
Christopher Holloway lives a comfortable existence in 18th-century Bristol as the son of a wealthy merchant. Until, when on a night out with some aristocratic companions, he is set upon by thieves.
His grand friends don’t come to his rescue, but he is led to safety by a stranger, a working-class man of colour, Edmund Lowe. Although now physically safe, Kit’s sense of danger lingers due to his growing feelings for Edmund. Their mutual attraction forces Kit to question his previous values, causing an inner crisis as Halloween draws near.
Will Kit submit to the demands of family ties and social advancement? Or can he find the courage to follow his true path and choose Edmund?
Ellie Thomas lives by the sea. She comes from a teaching background and goes for long seaside walks where she daydreams about history. She is a voracious reader especially about anything historical. She mainly writes historical gay romance.
Ellie also writes historical erotic romance as L. E. Thomas.
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.