Free Fiction Friday: From the Night

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

POD From The Night Ebook Cover 04

Description:

Eashana knew, to the core of her being, that something was wrong. Her sisters were never this silent. But as she drifted towards the airlock, silence echoing in her ears, she also knew that they might not survive this disaster even if they worked together.

From the Night is a SF story of family, history and facing danger when your home becomes the greatest threat to your survival.

From the Night

By Meyari McFarland

Eashana licked her lips. Maalai’s green curry tingled on her tongue, mixing with the sweat and stink of fear that filled Eashana’s helmet. Static echoed in her ears. The faint rasp of the universe’s birth curdled its way down to her stomach, sending acid burning up Eashana’s throat.

Too quiet. Her sisters were far too quiet. The glory of the nebula around them, baby stars burning bright here and there, planetesimals forming as they slowly swept like giant mining ships through their orbits, gathering debris to their bosoms, lurked in the back of her mind. They were hidden here from rivals, yes, but they were also trapped if anything went wrong. Or she was. Would be. Could be. Why weren’t her sisters answering?

She tapped the jet, carefully reorienting herself to match the airlock, slowly drifting closer, closer. No quip about wasting her jet fuel came over the hissing comms. Eashana clenched her teeth while holding her limbs loose, easy. No flailing. No shouting. It would only spiral her out of control, away from her destination.

“Come on,” Eashana whispered. “Say something, Saashi.”

Silence. How many times had she prayed to their grandmother’s Hindu gods for silence while she worked? Eashana couldn’t count. She regretted every single instance now. Where was Maalai, complaining about work interrupting her precious cooking? There should be grumbles from the engine room as Saashi worked to fix the minor quirks of their old ship’s engine, the scratch of her nails against her perpetually buzzed hair echoing through the comms.

Even Yachana was silent and that was completely unnatural. Little Yachana wasn’t quiet even when she slept, kicking her sleep sack and muttering under her breath as she dreamed. None of her sisters were ever this quiet. Even when Grandmother had told stories of their long-dead mother and how each of them had been born from stored embryos created from her genetic data did her sisters stay this still.

Not clones, no, not like Tuwun and his clone-brothers, all as alike as peas in a pod. Grandmother had ensured each of them had unique genetic data, mixing their mother’s DNA with carefully chosen men’s to create embryos that would grow into brand new children. She never had thought that the quick and easy method of producing children by cloning was safe for people living permanently in space. Too much likelihood of a fatal trait being replicated, too little flexibility in a crew with clones.

“Saashi, report!” Eashana said much more firmly. “What’s going on in there?”

Nothing. Eashana jerked her right hand around the jet handle, sending herself spinning to the left. Another quick tap of the jets righted her but it sped her up as well. Too close, too fast, too bad. She hit the airlock door and grabbed for the handle, almost bouncing back out into space to drift free.

“Open up, Maalai,” Eashana said, heart pounding faster because by this point she didn’t expect a reply. Fortunate that, because she didn’t get one.

The airlock didn’t open when Eashana tapped the lock. She pressed a second time, harder, longer, heart pounding in her ears loudly enough that the static faded away to nothing. Nothing happened.

“Damn it, what happened in there?” Eashana shouted.
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 13

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

13. Bidding

“Sold!” the auctioneer shouted, waving her iron-wood club towards one of the locals at the far left end of the line. “Next, Lot three!”

The winner shouted, waving a fist up the line while grinning triumphantly. Raelin didn’t join in the general waving of fists or cursing in her direction. Sinead made one rude gesture but otherwise ignored it as well. They all shifted position as the winner wrestled her barrel of cinnamon branches off the platform and onto a small cart that her second pushed to the front.

Raelin frowned, turning to look over her shoulder at Cessair. “How big is your lot?”

“Not that big,” Cessair said, rolling her eyes as if Raelin was being dramatic. “Don’t need that much for the ship’s stores. Turn around, girl, do your job.”

When Raelin growled, Fallon smirked. That was good, anyway. It was a relief to know that Raelin wasn’t going to have to wrestle a barrel bigger than she was, too. Sinead snickered once Raelin faced front again, as did the bidder to Raelin’s right.

“You’ve never done this before,” Sinead commented quietly as the auctioneer brought on one heavy branch of cinnamon twice as long as Raelin was high and nearly as big around as Raelin’s bicep.

“Not even once,” Raelin agreed. “Teach me to complain about paperwork.”

Sinead swallowed a laugh that she didn’t cover with one hand as would be normal back in Aingeal. The auctioneer looked, made sure they were all in line, and then raised her club to start the bidding. Shouted bids echoed all up and down the line, startling Raelin badly enough that she jumped.

The bidding on this lot was much more furious than before, with every single woman other than Sinead and Raelin bellowing, waving their arms, and jumping up and down to make sure that their bid was the one heard by the auctioneer. Raelin stared, turned to Sinead, and jerked her chin towards the platform.

“They’re used for carving religious articles,” Sinead said just barely loud enough for Raelin to hear her. “It’s very rare for one that size to be offered for auction.”

“Oh,” Raelin said, nodding. “That makes sense then.”

They waited out the bidding war, Raelin with her hands firmly clasped behind her back. There was no possibility of her accidentally getting into a religious bidding war, especially given that the monitors had moved through the gap between the women bidding and their seconds, iron wood clubs at the ready.

When one woman stepped out of position, face red and hands in fists that she’d been counterbid, the monitors knocked her flat, one from either side of her head, and then dragged her away by her heels. Blood dripped down her cheek.

“I am so glad Gwen and Annie aren’t here,” Raelin murmured during the lull in the bidding process.

“They’d be dead,” Sinead agreed. “Aunt Fallon can’t bid either. She gets too… caught up.”

“Passion is good, just not all the time,” Raelin replied. “Some people can’t stop.”

The bidding picked up again, drowning out Sinead before she could say more than a word or two. It was louder, more fierce than before, with the prices bid going up in a spiral of cost that made Raelin stare and then wince every time a woman was outbid. Eventually, twenty-three bids later, silence fell.

Raelin waited, heart beating entirely too fast, as the woman on her right quivered.

“Sold!” The auctioneer shouted. “Next, Lot Four!”

A sudden hug enveloped Raelin. Her face pressed against the woman’s sweaty neck for an instant and then Raelin was loose as the woman sauntered up to the platform and took her branch with hands that shook. She pressed a kiss against the branch and then marched off out of the market with her second, both of them singing in a dialect that Raelin didn’t recognize.

“Huh,” Raelin said, rubbing her face with her hands. “Remind me to be very polite about religion here.”

Sinead laughed. “Always wise. Hm, good quality.”

She nodded towards a basket full of rolls of cinnamon bark about as big as Raelin’s head. It looked very much like the stuff that Father preferred to use when making spiced cider. Even from where Raelin stood she could smell the heady scent of the cinnamon over the background wash of spice that had nearly deadened her nose.

“Does look good,” Raelin said. “Not the lot I’m aiming for.”

Sinead glanced over her shoulder, raised an eyebrow and then snorted. When she spoke it was a bare murmur that Raelin could hardly hear over the bids, not shouted but definitely not spoken in a quiet tone of voice, form the other women.

“She’s Danica’s mother,” Sinead murmured.

“Oh,” Raelin breathed, not daring to look or smile or even twitch. “It’s personal.”

“Very,” Sinead agreed. “She considers the offers to sire Danica’s child outside of wedlock to be an insult. But then everything Dana is insulting to Aunt Fallon.”

“Great.” Raelin didn’t let herself groan though the temptation was so strong. “Gotta take the time to learn your family tree.”

“No, thank you,” Sinead said with a snort of amusement that the bidding on lot four had already died down to two women rather desultorily counterbidding by one coin increments. “Your family is too complicated for me.”

“Me, too,” Raelin replied, grinning at the way Sinead’s eyes shut and her lips pressed together so that she wouldn’t openly smile. “Should make yours easy to understand.”

They went silent as the Auctioneer awarded the lot to an older woman, hair gone iron grey at the temples. The woman passed the basket to her second and then stayed in place, unlike the previous winners. Raelin tensed. There was still so much more she needed to learn but this was the lot that she and Sinead had to battle over. Raelin needed to make it good and she needed to make sure that Sinead won, not one of the locals, if it was going to satisfy Fallon enough for further interaction to happen.

Sinead tensed too. A wave of murmurs went up and down the line of bidders as lot five, Cessair’s lot of cinnamon was brought out. It wasn’t terribly impressive, just another basket with rolls of cinnamon bark in it. The scent wasn’t as powerful, either, though there was a sort of muskiness to the scent that made Raelin rub her nose briefly.

Raelin’s heart pounded as she realized that she had no clue what to offer for the stuff. Cessair hadn’t said and the auctioneer didn’t offer an initial bid. When Raelin glanced Sinead’s way, Sinead frowned at her. A moment later her eyes lit up as she seemed to realize that Raelin was completely adrift now that it came down to it. Sinead shut her eyes, her lips pressed together to suppress the laughter that shook her shoulders.

“Shut up,” Raelin muttered as the auctioneer raised her club.

“Five!” Sinead shouted, her arm shaking with laughter as she waved to claim the first bit.

“Six!” Raelin countered.

Her cheeks went blazingly red as ‘seven’, ‘nine’ and ‘eleven’ echoed up the line. Maybe you were supposed to bid in odd numbers only? But no, Sinead countered with a fierce ‘twelve’ which prompted Raelin to counter with ‘thirteen’, jumping up and down so that she’d be noticed.

The auctioneer waved her club towards Raelin as a lull swept over them. Sinead frowned, licked her lips while fingering the purse.

“Thirteen,” Sinead said and no, that wasn’t a shout at all.

None of the other women bid. They looked at the basket of cinnamon, looked at the two of them. Raelin glanced over her shoulder at Cessair despite the threatening gesture from the monitor standing behind her. Cessair growled, glared at Fallon who smirked, and then nodded once.

“Fourteen,” Raelin said.

Sinead turned to stare over her shoulder for a moment only to turn back rolling her eyes. She shook her head sadly as she said “Fifteen.”

This time when Raelin glanced back Cessair crossed her arms over her chest and glowered at Fallon. There was no nod. Raelin put her hands behind her back, shaking her head when the auctioneer cocked her chin in Raelin’s direction.

“Sold!” the auctioneer shouted. “Lot six!”

“I have no idea why you wanted it so much,” Sinead murmured as she took the basket of cinnamon bark from the auctioneer’s assistant.

“No clue,” Raelin said. “I think Cessair wanted to one-up your cook.”

“Won’t do it with these,” Sinead said and then froze as Cessair hissed and tossed a second purse to Raelin.

“Get lot six, girl,” Cessair said. “Since you missed my lot.”

“Fine,” Raelin said with an appropriately dramatic roll of her eyes. “Lot six it is.”

This time Sinead just stood, still holding the basket of cinnamon bark. Raelin bid against four other women, all of whom seemed quite determined to deprive Raelin of that particular basket of cinnamon bark. It was even smaller than Sinead’s basket, the bark a finer texture with a paler orange color. Raelin had to bid all the way up to twenty-nine before the other women backed off. Even then she got a counter bid of thirty at the last second that Raelin countered with a defiant ‘thirty-two’.

That won her the lot. Raelin took the basket, stepped out of line with it, and then passed it to Cessair who grumbled while sorting through the coils of bark. When the clerk responsible for payment came to her, the lot’s price emptied the first purse plus half the second one that Cessair had tossed to her.

“It’ll do,” Cessair said. “You’re a piss poor bidder, though.”

“I’ve never done it before!” Raelin snapped at her. “Don’t blame me when you didn’t even tell me what to start bidding at or how the whole process works.”

“Eh,” Cessair said, stomping towards the exit of the market with her basket against her hip. “Bidding is bidding. It’s an auction. Not that hard to figure out.”

Raelin glared at her back, at least until Fallon walked past laughing. She held her basket of cinnamon as if it was the most precious thing ever. Sinead followed her, shaking her head. When Sinead looked sidelong at Raelin, holding back so that Captain Vevina could precede them, Raelin paused, too.

“It’s low quality cinnamon,” Sinead murmured to Raelin. “Not for eating. Scents, certainly, but not cooking.”

“Your lot?” Raelin asked.

“Mmm-hmm,” Sinead murmured. They followed the others more slowly, letting the adults get ahead of them. “Yours is… odd but a better quality than mine.”

“Then yes, she is playing a trick on Fallon and on your cook,” Raelin sighed. “Through me. Lovely. I’m sure your aunt will blame it all on me.”

Sinead nodded. They stepped from of the cinnamon tents into the heat of the sun outside. It was hotter but cooler at the same time because a wonderful breeze swept over them both. After the sweltering heat of the cinnamon tents Raelin felt as though she’d just jumped into the ocean. It was that much cooler.

“It’s not a plot,” Raelin murmured. She paused before heading down the stairs after Cessair and Captain Vevina. “She’s just out to make me look as bad as possible, isn’t she?”

“No,” Sinead said, her eyes on Fallon’s stiff back as she tried to outpace Cessair on the stairs down to the vegetable market.

She didn’t say anything until the moment she started down the stairs, too. Her face stayed the same. So did her shoulders which were tight but not obviously hunched. If anything, Sinead looked as though she was just overheated, not stressed by this entire situation.

“She doesn’t want to embarrass you,” Sinead murmured. “She wants you dead.”

Then she was gone, trotting down the stairs after her aunt. Raelin stared after her for a long moment. Mother always warned Raelin and her siblings not to trust the Delbhana. She couldn’t count how many times Mother had said that the Delbhana wanted nothing more than to kill every single Dana, to wipe them off the face of the planet.

But the warnings weren’t the same as hearing that someone actually wanted to kill Raelin, personally. She shuddered as she started down the stairs. This was bigger than she’d thought, bigger than even Captain Vevina thought.

There weren’t too many ways that Fallon could kill Raelin without facing consequences back in Aingeal but they did exist. And most of them were between Eguzki City and Minoo, the heart of the journey ahead of them.

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Free Fiction Friday: Center

POD Center Ebook Cover 03

Description:

When friendship is betrayed, there are always consequences. Riley knows this just as well as her former friend Torey did. Yet he wrote a book betraying everything Riley had shared, betraying magic and life itself. In a world where the magic that flows through your soul determines your gender, Riley uneasily exists between the witches and warlocks. Will vengeance open a path to a better life for Riley or destroy every future?

Center is a thought-provoking story of gender, magic and destiny that is sure to entice.

Center

By Meyari McFarland

1. Betrayal

Riley stared. Her eyes had slid out of focus a long while ago but she didn’t bother focusing again. The world seemed better when she couldn’t see it clearly, when the shimmer and fairy dust that filled life shifted until it was a blurry smear instead of distinct bits clashing and sparking against each other.

No one else in the café noticed the way their magic clashed and fought like roosters battling for dominance.

It helped that rain fell outside, washing the dust of August’s heat away for the moment, not that it would last. Rain always washed the distinctions away, muted the edges and made the world feel pleasantly in-definite, less set in stone. The little café tucked into the corner of the bookstore echoed with people’s voices, the sound of forks against plates, and wet shoes slipping on puddled tile. Here the magic was quiet, restrained, as suited a public place where witches and wizards mingled relatively freely.

Gray and brick red wall, hints of brown sifted past her eyes, seen and unseen at the same time. Her fingers shifted on the cover of the book she’d bought, writing callus on her middle finger catching on the embossed print spelling out ‘Dare!’

As if a mere dare could justify this betrayal.

Tea surged up Riley’s throat, acid hot as it burned its way back to her mouth. She flipped the book over, blinking her eyes repeatedly because tears weren’t going to happen. Not now. Not in public. Her raw, incoherent magic surged inside her chest, struggling against the constraints of ‘female’ and ‘male’. Lifelong training warned ‘consequences’ with answering ‘vengeance’, and ‘retribution’.

None of which Riley could let out right now.
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 12

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

12. Eguzki City

The city was bigger than Raelin had expected. She panted as she leaned against the rail along the trail up to Eguzki City. She’d made the climb with Cessair and Captain Vevina, panting the whole way. As always, Captain Vevina might as well have been strolling along the street outside the Dana Clanhouse back home. She didn’t sweat at all and her breath barely changed as they climbed the many switchbacks that took them higher and higher up the cliff.

Cessair cursed the entire trip up but she kept going despite the heat and the growing altitude and the steepness of the trail that Raelin though must have been carved by goats. Worse, she didn’t get winded as she climbed.

“You two,” Raelin whined at them.

“Need more exercise, girl,” Cessair declared. “Come on, get those tits moving. The market’s not going to wait for you to toddle up the stairs.”

“Stairs?” Raelin demanded even though Fallon (scowling and red-faced but not from exertion) and Sinead (sweaty but grimly determined) were at the switchback directly under her. “What stairs?”
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Free Fiction Friday: Bringing the Rains

POD Bringing the Rains Ebook Cover 02

Description:

Refugees from a drought that destroyed their homeland, Lesedi and her family settled in a new land with a whole new climate. Lesedi struggled to find her place not only in this new society but also in her family’s weather magic. One rainy day brought Lesedi despair and hope that she never expected to find.

Bringing the Rains is a poignant fantasy short story about gender identity and finding one’s path when everything changes.

Bringing the Rains

By Meyari McFarland

Black speckled with red, gold, green and blue in vivid stripes that zigzagged down the length of the cloth; Lesedi bit her lip until blood bloomed in her mouth as she ran her fingers through the precious stash of drapey soft fabric from Before. Before the rain stopped. Before their fields dried up, consumed by the sands. Before they’d been forced to flee to a new home in a too-wet country by the sea.

None of the fabric would do. Too dark with a black background, too bold with the lightning stripes. The one swathe of pale yellow and cream had been Masego’s swaddling cloth and that was too small. Lesedi couldn’t use that even if it felt perfect. There had to be something that would work in their stash of fabric.

Their little house, round to catch the God’s power raining down, short not to offend the spirits of the land, was cold, so very cold. Rain battered against the roof as if it wanted to wash Lesedi’s fears away in a flood of cold, harsh droplets that purified through everything except for her flawed soul. Grandmother Sethunya hummed as she carefully cut into one of the other pieces of fabric, chopping the warp and weft as casually as a woodsman chopped a tree down here. Mother Refilwe grumbled under her breath at the sacrilege of actually cutting fabric as she worked to weave a new piece of fabric from the thick wool thread that Masego had bought from their closest neighbor.

Wool. It wasn’t the wool that Lesedi knew, spun fine and thin, delicate as a spider’s web. This was thick, rough scratchy thread that would trap heat next to the body instead of letting it slip away into the slowly rising air, carrying your sweat up to the sky to join the clouds overhead. Lesedi shivered, her hands clenching in the green and blue striped fabric. Warmth, keeping it close, hoarding it against your skin against the cold rain and frigid wind that blew off the ocean made more sense in this new land, this new place with the people that had taken them in and given them homes.

“Do you want that one?” Grandmother Sethunya asked. “It would look lovely on you.”

“No,” Lesedi said. “It’s not right. I need something lighter.”

Silence echoed through their little house. Women didn’t wear pale colors. Men did. Women wore bright red and gold, blue and green, to attract the spirits and entice them to give aid to the family’s spells. Men, magicless beings destined for fighting battles and hauling loads rather than bringing the rains, wore pale yellow, cream, light tan.
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 11

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

11. Cinnamon Sticks

Eguzki Bay sat in a small river valley that had carved away the land until there was nothing but cliff, water and dark muddy water left. The river was a waterfall that plunged from the cliffs above into the water below. None of the original valley was left. Over eons, the water had worn the valley away until there were only thin strips of land at the outer edge of the port that marked the outer edges of the bay.

At least, that’s what Bahb claimed. Raelin wasn’t so sure. It looked more like the land where the valley had been had slumped down into the ocean, cutting away the walls of the cliffs and creating a crevice where the valley had been. This part of Idoya was prone to earthquakes and a good landslide coupled with a powerful waterfall could have carved the bay out without too much trouble.

Cessair had spent the whole approach filling Dallas’ ears with wild stories of an underwater volcano that had erupted generations ago, exploding a mountain and leaving nothing but the bay behind. That was ridiculous. Volcanos built mountains, not tore them down. Besides, Raelin was fairly certain that the Ladies wouldn’t have let something like that happen on one of their major travel routes. Just like humans, the Ladies traveled through this area on their way to and from Atalya. With all their power, Raelin was sure that the Ladies wouldn’t let a volcano destroy a mountain along the sea shore, especially one where so many people lived.

Eguzki City, not that it was big enough to call a city in Raelin’s mind, sat on top of the cliff. The port was built on a thin strip of gravely beach and a huge series of floating wharfs that extended out into the bay.

Fortunately for the Tourmaline Seas’ keel, the longest wharfs extended far enough out into the bay that there was no danger of running around even in the lowest tides. Their last two ports of call had been less forgiving of deep keels, requiring them to ferry everything to and from the Tourmaline Seas by row boat. It had been a challenge, especially since Raelin hadn’t been allowed to row the boat.

Eguzki at least allowed them to walk to the shore though the struggle of hauling things up and down the cliff was going to be miserable. Along with dealing with the Delbhana.

“Are we going to have to deal with them every single port of call?” Raelin demanded.
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 10

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

10. Near Brawl

The worst part of being the family representative as far as Raelin was concerned was that Captain Vevina seemed determined that she start handling the paperwork. As soon as they got back to the Tourmaline Seas, Captain Vevina grabbed Raelin’s shoulder and marched her straight into her office. Once there, she started lecturing about all the paperwork that Raelin was now responsible for.

There were manifests and charting logs, weather and wave observations, reports for Minoo that looked as though they were going to be inches thick by the time they were turned in. And that was leaving out all the family reports that Raelin had vaguely known about but hadn’t realized were actually important.

Mother wanted reports on how much food and water was consumed, week by week. Great Uncle Jarmon wanted to know how much cloth they went through and which articles wore out first. Father even had a report that she had to prepare, all about the various health practices on the ship and among the people they traded with. Raelin stared at the stacks and stacks of paper sealed up in oilskin folios before turning to Captain Vevina.

“You’ll survive,” Captain Vevina said before Raelin could even open her mouth. “It doesn’t take that long as long as you do it on a daily basis.”

“Why do I have to do this?” Raelin whined.

“Because you’re the only Dana on the ship and you have to fulfill your responsibilities to the crew,” Captain Vevina replied far too calmly for Raelin’s sense of impending doom. “Surely you didn’t complain this much about rebuilding the Tourmaline Seas.”

“Of course not!” Raelin huffed at her. “But all that had a purpose. This is just… paperwork!”

Captain Vevina smacked the back of Raelin’s head, hard enough to sting but not so hard as to knock her down. When Raelin rubbed the spot and glared Captain Vevina shook her head while picking up one of the folios.

“Minoo is horrible,” Captain Vevina said, thumping the inch-thick folio back onto Raelin’s desk. “Agreed. It’s also unavoidable and if we do not satisfy their requirements then we will not return home.”

“Granted,” Raelin said. “But the rest of it.”

“Your mother has to plan the food and water consumption for your family’s entire fleet,” Captain Vevina said. “Your great uncle ensures we have adequate clothing and shoes for the whole fleet. Every single one of these reports helps ensure that the Tourmaline Seas will set sail with what she needs, that we’ll live well while away of Aingeal, and that we’ll bring a profit to your family. None of them are pointless, other than Minoo’s pest report.”

“No, that one actually does make sense,” Raelin said, waving one hand. “They’re trying to keep certain pests from invading Minoo and eating their grain, killing their trees.”

Raelin’s cheeks went red as Captain Vevina’s eyebrow climbed ever higher. She sighed and nodded, organizing the stack of folios until they’d fit into the built-in desk’s storage cubbies. Once they were all in place Raelin checked that she had ink for the pen and new nibs for when she inevitably destroyed one.

She paused as she closed the cover over the desk, frowning. Captain Vevina straightened as well, both of them looking towards the porthole.

“Is that fighting?” Raelin asked.
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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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