Free Fiction Friday: Jade Claws

Every Friday I post a story for free. It stays up for one week and then I take it down and replace it with another. Enjoy this one while it lasts!

POD Jade Claws Ebook Cover 04
Description:
Madoka did not know what in the little village had compelled so much attention. Despite Madoka’s intention to spend no more than a matter of weeks, Madoka had been in the village for several years. It had been long enough for Madoka to watch little Hoshiko grow from a babbling toddler to a shy near-adult.

The quiet period ended when Hoshiko’s uncle decided that rape was an appropriate method of proposing marriage. Madoka abandoned the human disguise that had concealed Madoka’s true form to teach him and Hoshiko’s parents their mistake. Doing so sparked a change in Hoshiko that revealed exactly what had kept Madoka in the village for so long.

Jade Claws is a tale of dragons in ancient Japan and discovering that the mistakes of the past do not have to be transmitted to the future.

Jade Claws

By Meyari McFarland

“Thank you very much for the mushrooms,” Hoshiko said to Madoka.

She smiled shyly up at Madoka as she took the basket full of mushrooms that Madoka had harvested up on the mountain. The occupation gave Madoka reasons to be away from the village. That was always welcome. A single woman living on her own brought many strange looks and harsh comments in this culture. Madoka truly didn’t care but cultivating an air of oddness and unapproachability always mad life among humans easier.

Madoka smiled and patted Hoshiko’s head even though Madoka could smell Hoshiko’s uncle around the corner of the farmhouse. The child certainly wasn’t responsible for her family. She was just another victim like her mother. It was sad that all the brightness and joy Hoshiko displayed would be beaten out of her in only a couple of years. Human lives were so very short.

Paying attention to them was foolish. Madoka’s departure had already been put off long enough that she’d watched Hoshiko grow from a babbling toddler that clung to Madoka’s kimono into a coltish young girl who’d already learned not to speak any more than she had to. It was sad but it was the natural order of a human female’s life in this part of the world. Truly, Madoka wasn’t sure what had bound Madoka to this place for so long. Madoka rarely stayed among humans for more than a few weeks at a time.

Hoshiko hurried off with the basket of mushrooms, carrying them to the tiny root cellar the family had carved into the mountain. As soon as Hoshiko left, Kenta, Hoshiko’s uncle, slid around the corner of the farmhouse. He slouched and stared at Madoka, piggy eyes dull, lips twisted in a leer.

“You,” Kenta slurred. “Come here.”

It was a blatant order that Madoka raised one eyebrow at. The scruffy bearded man had eyed Madoka every time they encountered each other. No action had been taken thus Madoka had not found it necessary to rip the man’s head off.

“Come here!” Kenta snapped.

He strode over and grabbed Madoka’s arm, twisting it in a move that was clearly intended to be intensely painful. It didn’t hurt. Madoka’s human form was considerably weaker than the true form, the scales hidden under the skin and tail but a narrow hidden whip under the drape of Madoka’s kimono. Still, Madoka was too tough to be harmed by a man like Kenta.

“Mine,” Kenta growled. He stank of cheap sake.

“No,” Madoka said, chuckling at the sheer thought of it. “I am not yours.”

“You need a husband,” Kenta snapped. “Impertinent woman!”

He shoved Madoka towards the wall of the farmhouse. His brother Daiki appeared, one hand wrapped around Aiko’s, Hoshiko’s mother, neck as if he intended to snap her spine if Madoka didn’t accept Kenta’s ‘proposal’. Aiko bit her lip and looked away, shaking in her sandals.

Madoka went with the shove, looking towards the horizon. A smile stretched Madoka’s lips a bit too far for humanity but nowhere near as far as her mouth would stretch soon. The sun was setting over the mountains. In minutes the entire farmhouse would be sheathed in darkness. Kenta slammed his hands into Madoka’s shoulders, pinning Madoka to the wall.
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 9

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

9. Travel Pass

Raelin licked her lips as she followed Captain Vevina up a steep street that looked as though it was actually just a path for rain to run off people’s buildings down into the bay. Even though they’d only been in Gazelu for a few minutes, she already tasted cinnamon and lelurin powder on her lips. Coils of cinnamon bark stood in baskets in one of the many open-sided enclosures that filled Gazelu. A pair of young men with multicolored strips of fabric wrapped around their heads pounded lelurin leaves to produce the pungent spice that flavored every Idoya dish.

She rubbed her hand across her sweaty lips, trying to get rid of the taste. Lelurin had to be her least favorite spice in the whole world. The fleshy leaves released a toxic slime when they were alive. Dried, the leaves weren’t dangerous. They just stank. And then, after they were roasted and pounded into powder, they made everything taste like the mud that stuck to your boots on the docks back home, thick and black, so sticky that you could track it all the way from the door up to the very top floor of the Dana Clanhouse if you weren’t careful.

“We’re not eating here are we?” Raelin asked.

“No,” Captain Vevina said, snorting. “Do attempt to be serious, Dana.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Raelin said without letting herself sigh.

Despite wearing her coat, waistcoat and hat in the steamy heat of Gazelu’s back streets, main streets? No, back streets. Gazelu’s one main street was behind them. Despite the heat and her clothes, Captain Vevina looked as though she wasn’t sweating at all.

Raelin, by contrast, had already sweated through her shirt and was working on creating sweat patches on the backs of her best pants at the knees. If this climbing kept up she’d end up with sweaty patched under her breasts, at the small of her back and, embarrassingly, at the groin so that she looked like she’d lost bladder control.

That was probably why the women they passed went shirtless and wore only short wrap skirts around their hips. Even the men pounding the lelurin were half naked though their skirts were knee-length instead of mid-thigh.

“Here we are,” Captain Vevina said.

The permit building wasn’t actually a building. It was a tent about as big as nine crates tied together, maybe four and a half yards square. Maybe because of the mid-morning heat, the occupants had tied up the sides so Raelin could see the women inside. Each of them sat at a low desk perched over reed mat cushions. They had thin strips of wood, bark really, that they carefully wrote on with tiny pens carved from horse feathers.

Captain Vevina paused at the edge of the tent, waiting for the women inside to notice her. It took a moment. Raelin peered past her and got several nasty glares from the women closest to the ‘door’. She bowed apologetically, raising one hand to wave it in front of her face in the gesture she’d been told meant ‘still learning’. The woman closest to them, an old woman with dark skin carved deep with wrinkles and graying dreadlocks that she’d bundled up into a hugely complicated knot on the back of her head waved back ‘wait your turn, child’.

Which, yes, Raelin could do that. Especially when she hadn’t realized that there were protocols for getting the travel pass they needed. Not that Raelin was sure why they needed the travel pass other than it would make things easier. She’d have to ask Captain Vevina when they got back to the ship.

The women writing on sticks paused. One woman who was kneeling on a cushion in the middle of the room stood, went to each of the others and gathered up the sticks. She held them carefully so that she wouldn’t smudge the ink and then left without saying a word. Raelin wished someone would say something so she’d know exactly what was going on.

“In you go,” Captain Vevina said, gesturing for Raelin to go into the tent.

“Me?” Raelin asked and didn’t feel at all ashamed of the fact that her voice went squeaky as a snake caught by the tip of its tail.

“Yes, you,” Captain Vevina said. This time she firmly pushed Raelin into the center of the room where the cushion was. “You’re the family representative.”

“But I don’t know what I’m doing!” Raelin hissed as she stumbled, tripped and then had to kneel on the cushion or fall flat on her face in the middle of the closest woman’s desk.
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 8

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

8. Family Representative

Raelin stared, her mouth open to protest even though her throat had sealed shut, preventing any words from escaping. While she could protect herself pretty well, Raelin understood Mother’s worries about the Delbhana targeting her. She’d foiled them twice before. Lady Etain, head of the Delbhana Clan, certainly hated Raelin as much as she hated Anwyn, though for entirely different reasons.

Anwyn was trouble because she hated Siobhan, Lady Etain’s daughter. The two were at each other’s throats the instant they encountered each other, every single time. On the other hand, Raelin was trouble specifically because she didn’t lose her temper. Raelin stayed calm, fought with words and logic and destroyed the Delbhana’s normally highly emotional plots.

Kids bullying each other would have made a lovely shield for stealing the records the court had required. Raelin had ruined that by staying calm and then fighting her way free. The entire plot to steal all the Dana kids had fallen apart specifically because Raelin took charge, stayed polite and took a beating from a grown Delbhana woman that left her with a cracked skull.

Raelin’s ability to stay calm no matter what was exactly what threatened Lady Etain’s plots so yes, it made sense that she’d target Raelin even though she served on the Tourmaline Seas. That didn’t make it any easier to cope with the terror of losing her dreamed-of future, but it did calm Raelin just enough that the knot in her throat dissipated.

“What do you mean, I can’t keep my position?” Raelin asked.

“I mean,” Captain Vevina said, turning to meet Raelin’s eyes with that same grave frown she always wore when looking at Raelin, “that we require an official representative of the Dana Clan. We do not have one. Your aunts were busy fighting legal battles and could not be spared prior to our departure. So be it. It is the will of the Goddesses. But the action in Jaffa show that we must have a representative, Dana Raelin. It was only your statement that your mother owned the ship that saved us from search and seizure.”

“Damn, I missed that,” Raelin said, wincing. “I mean, I knew it helped but I didn’t realize that was what they were aiming at. It felt more like Sinead was trying to implicate just me.”

Captain Vevina nodded, sitting in her heavy chair that was bolted to the floor behind her massive, also bolted to the floor, desk. It doubled as their map table so it took most of the room.

“That was quite odd,” Captain Vevina observed, her eyes on the map currently laid out. She caressed one corner’s brass clip, smoothing the paper tucked into it. “I would have thought that her intent was to sabotage her aunt’s ploy.”

Raelin nodded slowly at that. It was possible, though Captain Vevina probably didn’t know it. Most of the Delbhana Clan was on board with Lady Etain’s efforts to destroy the Dana Clan but not all of them. Gavin’s engagement to Affrica Mari had revealed that there were a few Delbhana who thought the entire feud was pointless and a waste of effort and resources.

“Great Uncle Jarmon said that there are some Delbhana who want to end the feud,” Raelin said very, very softly. This wasn’t a conversation that she wanted the crew to overhear. Conflicted loyalties would be bad. Them thinking that Raelin or Captain Vevina had conflicted loyalties would be disastrous for morale.

“I find that hard to believe,” Captain Vevina huffed.

“Delbhana Vevina has tried to end it since it began,” Raelin said. “Delbhana Danica was perfectly reasonable about Gavin getting engaged to Affrica Mari before we left port. Danica said that there are a handful of Delbhana who want it to end but they don’t have power inside the Clan. Maybe Sinead is one of them. She has matured a lot since five years ago.”

Captain Vevina shook her head but her expression was thoughtful. It wasn’t terribly likely that Sinead had turned on her family. Or, more accurately, it wasn’t likely that Sinead would directly oppose her aunts. They were known to beat their children for disobedience and as far as Raelin could tell not one of their husbands seemed happy to have married into the Clan. The prince openly scorned Siobhan despite their very public marriage.

If Raelin was right, though, there was more going on than Captain Vevina thought.

“I will admit to the possibility,” Captain Vevina said, waving her hand over the map, “but we have months of sailing before we reach home. The stops scheduled for Una and Azar are long ones; weeks. Both are places heavily traded by the Delbhana. We require a family representative and you are the only option.”

Raelin gulped, sternly forbidding her knees from shaking. “Captain, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be a sailor. First Mate eventually, someday Captain when I’m older. I’ve never studied all the trade deals and legal requirements that my aunts handle.”

“I know,” Captain Vevina said.

The words shoved into the room like Anwyn and Gwen spoiling for a brawl as they forced their way through a crowd. Captain Vevina stared into Raelin’s eyes, her face perfectly blank though her eyes were far too bright.
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Patreon is live!

Finally. I wibbled way too long but my Patreon is now live.

Go on over to get on the party and to get a free ebook in the first post.

*hyperventilates*

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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 7

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

7. Idoya Landfall

Raelin stared back towards the north. Something was there. The day was hazy and bright, so much so that Raelin’s eyes ached whenever she stared out over the sea. Especially when she looked to the stern where the early morning sun had set the waves to glittering like transplanted fragments of the sun’s brilliance. Picking out objects against the shimmering sea wasn’t easy. Still, Raelin would swear on the Goddesses that some other ship was trailing behind them.

There was only one ship that would worry her: the Graceful Wind.

And frankly, the Graceful Wind was the only ship in this area that had a chance of keeping up with them. The local ships were small, flat-bottomed fishing boats designed for short hauls. Their single mast and square sails weren’t designed to move quickly over the waves. What she thought she saw to the stern was the flicker of multiple white sails so it had to be the Graceful Wind, pursuing them as if the Tourmaline Seas was the rabbit to the Graceful Wind’s hawk.

They’d left Jaffa behind three days ago, their load delivered and paid for with a very nice bonus of wine that the entire crew was enjoying drinking on their way south towards home. Captain Vevina had set strict limits on how much they could have at each meal but she’d given them the liberty to take their single glass of wine straight, not watered down other than little Dallas who was forbidden the wine entirely.

Despite the restrictions, the wine was going quickly. It wouldn’t last long enough for them to round Idoya’s tip and turn south-west towards Una’s long northern coast, much less the passage through the Outer Islands to Azar.

Sad, but that was life at sea. You had what you had until it was gone and then you bought or bartered for something else at the next port of call.

The wind flowing off the coast of Idoya smelled of cinnamon trees and the lush heat of the Idoya thick rain forests. At this time of year they had to tack constantly to make any progress, zig-zagging across the sea as they worked to make Idoya landfall. The trade winds were headed north-east towards Yaffa, not south the way they needed. By the time they finished their business in Idoya, the summer storms driving the trade winds would have shifted eastward, giving them better winds for sailing west.

Still, despite the constant tacking Captain Vevina seemed confident that they’d make the Great Bay of Idoya without trouble today. Raelin wasn’t as sure but she didn’t know these seas well enough to understand how the wind patterns and sea currents changed once you passed the outermost edge of the Great Bay.

Larger than the entire southern island of Nasrin, the Great Bay had its own weather patterns that switched in a moment and currents that could smash a ship against hidden shoals before you realized that there was a problem. It would be years before Raelin was ready to navigate these waters, thus her post up in shrouds, waiting to reef the main topsail for their next tack towards Idoya’s shore.

“Pay attention,” Bahb called to Raelin.

“Swear we’re being followed,” Raelin called back.
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Free Fiction Friday: Ghosts of the Dead

Every Friday I post a short story for free. It stays up for one week and then I take it down so I can post something else. So enjoy this story while it lasts!

POD Ghosts of the Dead Ebook Cover 05

Description:

Survival was hard enough but when your space station was half destroyed and the population was slowly trickling away it became even harder. Paulina lived with the scars of the accident that had nearly killed their station. She wasn’t sure if she could live with the plan her lover Tina and their friends had come up with to revive the station’s failing future.

It was hard enough to live with the ghosts of the dead in her heart. Paulina wasn’t sure she could stand to be surrounded by them all the time.

Ghosts of the Dead is a near future SF story of recovery from disaster, regaining your strength and moving into the future.

Ghosts of the Dead

By Meyari McFarland

1. Water Damage

“Ugh,” Paulina complained. “It stinks.”

“The whole station stinks,” Tina said with a shrug that was anything but casual. “Will until the filters are all replaced.”

That was true enough that Paulina didn’t reply. The smell of smoke and melted plastic had almost gotten familiar in the last couple of months. It lingered on Paulina’s tongue, stained the back of her nose until the burning seemed normal.

Nothing was normal, not anymore. Too many people were dead. Too many had fled the station with what little they could salvage. Paulina had a moment of vertigo as she remembered the burnt and twisted wreckage of the other half the station drifting away with Keiko Lewis still chattering away about keeping people safe.

She’d died. Her body was still in the wreckage a few thousand klicks away. She wasn’t the only one ‘buried’ in vacuum. Paulina shut her eyes against the rush of faces she’d never see again. So many people had died but Paulina had been left behind to struggle on through life. The too-familiar sourness of vomit rose at the back of her throat, threatening to spill Paulina’s meager mushroom and spinach piroshky out onto the stained carpet covering the floor.

“It smells like mold,” Paulina said once she’d pushed the nausea down again. “We can’t buy a place that’s full of mold, Tina.”

“We can fix it,” Tina replied as she pushed the theatre’s double doors open so that they could see the stage and seats.

“Sure’n it’s a beautiful sight,” Boss Johnson said in the back of Paulina’s head. His accent was as off in memory as it had been in real life. “Perfect place to take a lovely lady fer a night of fun.”

Paulina cringed away from the flashback. She didn’t want to remember. Her first date with Tina had been to see an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in this theatre. Tina had grinned when Paulina marched up and asked if she wanted to go. She’d been so nervous that she’d almost shouted it, much to the amusement of her and Tina’s coworkers out on the Docks.

The smell of mold fought with Paulina’s memory of popcorn and laughing kisses as they watched the play from the back of the theatre. It had been perfect, a perfect shining moment that was completely destroyed by seeing the condition of the station now. When she tried to remember what Tina’s expression had been, Paulina couldn’t.

Faces didn’t make sense anymore. She could see eyes, a nose, mouths, even hairstyles but none of it made any sense. It didn’t coalesce into ‘Tina’s happy’, ‘Tina’s angry’ or ‘Tina’s sad’. Instead Paulina had to piece the separate elements together against a mental register of remembered explanations and hypothetical assumptions. She’d gotten better at figuring out what people’s expressions meant about their emotional state but the doctors had said that Paulina would never regain the skill for facial recognition and emotional comprehension. It was gone just like everything she’d loved about their space station.

Paulina slowly drifted towards the stage. Her fingers brushed against one of the seats. The once-soft velvet was sticky with fire suppression foam residue. She snatched her hand back, fisting it. Everything was ruined, completely ruined. Well, Paulina thought as she stomped up the stairs to the stage, that didn’t mean that they couldn’t make new memories. That was what Tina kept saying, not that Paulina thought they could make something out of this place.

It was a disaster. Boards lifting up, nails coming loose and that didn’t even touch the condition of the drapes; she’d never seen a stage in such horrible condition. The rest of the theatre was in equally bad shape.

The walls looked as though a thunderstorm had poured through the roof, staining the walls. She could smell mold everywhere in the theatre, a truly horrifying thought given that the space station was supposed to be ‘fully refurbished’. It obviously wasn’t but Paulina already knew that. Everyone who lived on the station knew just how much was left to be done. The station management’s advertising only applied to specific public areas. Any privately owned spaces were officially the responsibility of the owners.

“You can’t be serious,” Paulina complained to Tina without meeting her eyes. “This place is a dump.”
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 6

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

6. Rival Ship

Raelin’s hammock jerked sharply. She gasped and flailed an arm out, hitting the beam over her head and then the wall to her left. The pain woke her entirely, leaving Raelin blinking into Bahb’s face as her heart pounded.

“Good,” Bahb said. “You’ve slept for a full day and a half, Rae. Captain wants you up. We’ve got a Delbhana ship sailing into port.”

“Keelhaul me,” Raelin groaned.

“Too much work,” Bahb replied, tipping Raelin’s hammock so that she either had to get up or kick Bahb in the face.

Raelin got up, tucking her knees and rolling with the hammock so that her bare feet hit the deck with a solid thump. Everyone else was awake, apparently. None of the other hammocks had sailors in them. The four bunks by the ladder up to the mid-deck were empty.

“I really did sleep,” Raelin said as she pulled clothes out of her sea chest tucked along the wall under the lowest hammock.

“Hard,” Bahb said. “You didn’t even stir when I picked you up. Getting you into your hammock was like wrestling an eel. One coated with oil.”

“Sorry,” Raelin said, grinning at the image. “That wasn’t fun.”

“Prayers weren’t that bad,” Bahb said thoughtfully. “Kind of peaceful and I like that they have you wish for good things for yourself as well as for others.”

Raelin paused, one hand full of hair oil, staring at Bahb. That was different. Most every religion she’d studied thought you should be selfless and not ask the Goddess for things for yourself. Never had made much sense to Raelin. Why wouldn’t you ask for yourself?

Not that it mattered right now. Raelin smoothed the oil over her hair, carefully combing it until the unruly curls relaxed into something less obnoxious. Waves were bad, too, but not as bad. She really didn’t have the time to settle her hair properly so waves would have to do today.

“Should just shave it off,” Bahb commented as Raelin wiped her hands on the little rag she kept for that purpose.

“I’ve thought about it,” Raelin said. She scrambled into her uniform as quickly as she could. “But I’ve got this weird lump and hollow spot on the back of my head so it looks bad. Tried it once when I was little. Didn’t look good at all. People kept asking when I broke my skull.”

Bahb snorted and then laughed, heading up the ladder to the middeck. Raelin banged her trunk shut, pushed it back into place and then ran after Bahb. Cessair passed her a meat bun as Raelin ran past. She ate it one handed while running up the ladder to the main deck.

Outside, the thin clouds of yesterday – the day before? – had thickened into a gray blanket that draped across the sky from horizon to horizon. The air smelled of rain and a brisk wind had picked up. The Dana flag on the bowsprit snapped in the wind, pointing towards the tent city and the salt marsh beyond it.

Captain Vevina stood on the poop deck by the wheel, staring out to sea where a tall-masted ship with white sails approached the port. Raelin ran up the stairs and snapped a salute despite the meat but only half eaten in her hand. She was much too hungry to set it aside and instead ate in as big of bites as possible.

“Delbhana,” Captain Vevina murmured, snapping her eyeglass shut. “Looks like a flagship. I have no idea why they’d be here. They don’t trade these waters in flagships.”
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Free Fiction Friday: Cloud Cover

Every Friday I post a short story here for free. It stays up for one week and then I take it down so that I can post something else. Enjoy this one while it lasts!

Description:

The mission went wrong from the beginning. Leto and her messenger dragon Cloud Song were left scrambling to make sure that the plans they’d stolen from the enemy camp made it home to their commanders. At first, Leto thought that their team would be able to get out together.

Then a patrol found them and Leto had to flee on Cloud Song’s back. If they could just distract the enemy dragons then their team might survive. Leto directed Cloud Song ever higher into the sky in hopes that they could lure the pursuit away.

Cloud Cover is a tense fantasy adventure set in an alternate ancient Greece with dragons.

Cloud Cover

By Meyari McFarland

1. Fight

Sweat dripped down Leto’s upper lip, pooling and then sliding onto her lips. The night smelled of crushed fern and brimstone from the dragons waiting on the rocky outcrop to their rear. It was hot enough, even this late at night, that Leto felt as though she lay in a warm bath. Underneath her, the grass had long since wilted. It had been cool, faintly scratchy, when she first lay down to scan for warriors following them up the pass but now it was flattened into the dirt.

This had turned into a disaster sometime around the point that Leto was spotted sneaking out of the enemy camp with their new fortification plans. Running for her dragon’s back had only led to their whole group being discovered. They’d barely escaped twice now. Another round might lead to their deaths.

She licked the sweat off her lip. The salt made her throat hurt. Water would be so nice right now. It’d been hours since she’d gotten a drink of water and would be hours more before they made it home. Yes, there was a water skin hanging on Leto’s saddle but Cloud Song had flitted up to sit with the other dragons. Leto would just have to wait until they were home for a drink.

If they made it home.

Sotiria had been curt when she’d told them the risks that evening. Going out at night was bad enough but their mission was twice as dangerous as any normal mission. That was why Kalypso and Ismeme were along. Their dragons were huge compared to Leto’s, hardened battle dragons with dense scales and long horns scared by combat. Leto’s dragon Cloud Song looked like a hatchling next to them but then she was a messenger who was built for speed.

Even Medeia’s dragon Shadow Spear was bigger than Cloud Song. She was outgrowing the legginess of youth and filling out into the sort of dragon who worked best at building nests and raising children. Medeia had said that this was her last field mission. Both Medeia and Shadow Spear were looking forward to having babies to raise in the near future.

All of them were larger and more mature than Leto, just as their dragons were larger and older than Cloud Song. They were the weak links of the mission, the two most likely to make mistakes, the two most likely to get them all killed. Leto curled inwards as she vowed not to make another mistake like the one that had gotten her spotted. She wouldn’t be the cause of the others’ deaths. She couldn’t bear that.

“Can’t see anything,” Kalypso whispered to Leto. “You?”

“Nothing,” Leto replied equally quietly. “The cloud cover is too thick. No moon light.”

“Should we move further out?” Ismeme asked.

Even in the darkness Leto could see Ismeme gnawing on her lip. She touched Ismeme’s forearm, sweat coating her fingertips, to calm her. Ismeme’s teeth flashed in a momentary grin. It was too dark to see if the smile was pleased, sheepish or cocky.

They all froze as the smell of blood and urine wafted through the air. Medeia shifted forward so quietly that Leto was only aware of it because they lay side by side. Leto held her breath. Let it be an animal. Let it be a wild dragon, one who had chosen to reject human companionship to live in the ways of its ancestors. Let it be anything other than a patrol finding them despite all their efforts to hide on this little rise at the edge of the tiny valley.

“Go,” Medeia abruptly hissed to Leto. “Go now!”
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I… am finally creating a Patreon for my writing. I’ve thought about it for ages and today I sat down and did it. *meep!*

Anyone want to head over and give me some feedback on it? And, you know, let me know if I have any horrible, terrible, no-good spelling errors I didn’t see?

Find the Preview here.

O.O;

Man, I’m entirely too nervous about this…

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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 5

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

5. Refused Gift

Raelin panted, her eyes wide even though she couldn’t see anything. The things she saw didn’t make sense, not grass and water and flame-tinted sky but ripples and tiny things flitting in front of her eyes while soft, long things that felt like limbs but lacked bones gently waved on front of her. She swallowed down a heave of her stomach that threatened to tip her right over into the grass-not-grass.

Her head throbbed, the temples stabbing her as if someone had shoved twin ice picks into her brain. It sent spikes down her spine, curled the scalp up at the back of her neck and shoved dull butter knives in at the joint between skull and spine. Her jaw ached. So did her teeth. Her hands, her knuckles, her knees, her chest that couldn’t quite move because something so heavy pressed on her chest that she could breathe.

Under her hands the grass was cool and damp. She dug her fingers into the earth, mud collecting under her short-clipped nails. That was real. It was. Raelin could tell, somehow, someway, that the grass was her, was different from the ripples and the scent of salt, the chatter of babies with bright-hot thoughts in the distance.

It hurt. Hurt so badly but Raelin didn’t think there was any real malice in the Lady’s fierce focus on her. It felt more as though she was trying to understand, to communicate as clearly as possible, but Raelin’s brain just couldn’t do what it needed to.

“Anwyn,” Raelin gasped, picturing Anwyn in the days and weeks after her visit to the City of the Ladies in Aingeal. “Punishment. Family. Brawls!”

Anwyn had been troublesome before the visit, always prone to arguing with people but afterwards it had been so much worse. Everything was a reason to argue, to fight, for Anwyn. She’d picked fights over every little thing, even which socks to wear. Mother had shouted and punished. Father had scolded, used the ‘so disappointed in you’ face, pleaded and finally flatly told Anwyn she wouldn’t get her way, no matter what it was Anwyn wanted to do.

The Delbhana had punished their whole Clan. They were still punishing the Dana. Day after day after week after month after year, the Delbhana targeted Raelin and her family just because everyone knew of Anwyn’s visit to the Ladies, knew that she’d gotten some sort of gift from them. None of them could relax. Not Raelin. Not Mother. Definitely not Anwyn who’d gotten quieter over the years, though never less prone to picking fights.

Every visit to the Ladies, every encounter, every Gift, had a price.
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