I’m very excited to be taking part in the Fire Kissed anthology of 13 entirely new novellas featuring dragon shifters. My contribution is in the Dragon Mage universe and follows two characters you haven’t met before. Here’s chapter 1 so you can get to know Fee…
When life gets tough, you’re left with two choices. Surrender to the pain…or become a pyromaniac. Fee chose the latter.
“Burn, baby, burn,” she chanted, fingers tingling with the force of fire magic exiting her skin. All around, dormant trees woke, stretched, sought her spark of life…then went up in flames as the superheated air ignited loose bark, crunchy lichen, and eventually even the sap-sodden Green itself.
Take that, suckers!
The beech was the first to go. Ghost leaves dangling from smooth gray twigs were perfect tinder for an incipient blaze. Not quite as satisfying as the pines up on the ridge, though, which seemed to thrive on fire, popping and spewing seeds of destruction in their wake. Still…. “Not bad,” she muttered as she spun, sending tendrils of fire licking up the hillside in her wake. “Not bad at all.”
“Focus, Bug.” As always, the male voice made Fee startle with combined fear and anticipation. Never mind that this time around the words emanated from the magic-infused cell phone at her hip rather than from a flesh-and-blood human. Never mind that Malachi—never Dad, never Father—was presently too far away to lash out with fists or fire.
Regardless, the partially healed burns dotting her pale skin ached with the pain of recent memories. The scars along her spine puckered at the mere sound of her father’s voice. And the joy of fire-starting abruptly vanished.
“Yes, sir,” she said, hating the way her voice quavered, hoping the distance between face and hip was sufficient to block out the intensity of her fear…and longing.
It wasn’t. Malachi’s voice was smug when he answered. “I know you’ll try your best, Bug. I just hope your best is good enough this time.”
And there was the familiar disappointment creeping into his tone. The disappointment that led to the rages, to the infernos of agony that built slowly until Fee blacked out and dreamed of self immolation. She tried so hard to evade her father’s displeasure…and yet, she never quite managed to sidestep in time.
Smoke whipped down out of the conflagration, teasing tears out of Fee’s eyes. Gritting her teeth, the fire mage smeared the liquid away with the back of one soot-covered hand then pushed the full force of her own frustration into the surrounding forest.
I’m just like my father, venting my rage on the weak, she realized as a standing snag exploded, splinters of flaming wood shooting off in every direction. Would she one day create a daughter of her own to terrorize? A daughter to turn into a certified firebug bent upon devastation?
“Not likely,” she murmured even as she obeyed Malachi’s instructions to the letter, pushing fire downwind and up the slope she’d turned to face. The Aerie lay just over that hill, close enough for dragons to smell smoke and come hunting the culprit. Close enough so she’d have no time to flee back to the hidden settlement of fire mages that Malachi ruled with an iron fist.
But running away had never been in the cards. This was a suicide mission, and that concept Fee could fully get behind.
“What did you say?” demanded the voice at her hip.
It took Fee a moment to realize her father was responding to the muttered “Not likely” rather than to the thoughts that had been whirling through her mind. A moment during which she was unable to breathe…and not just because the wall of flames had superheated the surrounding air and threatened to blister the interior of her lungs.
“I was talking to the Green,” Fee prevaricated once she pulled equilibrium back around her like the quilt her mother had sewn six months before she died.
Okay, I won’t lie to myself. Before Malachi killed Mama for trying to escape.
The mere memory of Mama’s quilt gave Fee the spine she so often lacked in the presence of her ever-volatile father. So she elaborated on her fib even as she kicked at charred tangles of what had once been semi-sentient plants. “The vines are waking up,” she said. “They’re less dormant than we thought.”
And it was true that the Green did hunt every spark of electricity and fire magic it could get its grubby little tendrils on. During the Change twenty-nine years earlier, the Green had swallowed everything from cities to farms, sending the remnants of humanity scurrying to the few regions too dry, too wet, or too high for plants to survive. Fee hadn’t been alive back then, but she’d heard the stories.
So it wasn’t a stretch to believe the Green would now be fighting back against the destruction a lone fire mage could wreak. Despite the danger, though, Fee had worked fast and the plants had lacked time to transition from winter slumber to active retaliation.
Malachi hummed something that could have been complaint or possibly encouragement. Whatever it was, Fee could tell he didn’t quite believe her. Still, her father was too far away to know for sure whether she told the truth.
“They’re homing in on the electrical signature,” she said quickly, stepping closer to the flames in an effort to strengthen her resolve. It didn’t matter that soot clogged her nostrils and burned her eyes. She always felt stronger in the proximity of fire. “I’m gonna turn off the cell phone to give myself space to work. Don’t worry, though. I know what I’m doing.”
Not that Malachi ever worried. He wouldn’t worry now either, not even when she powered the device down without giving him time for a reply. Not even when she was the only pawn presently on the board in the face of an enemy so much more powerful than the Green itself.
Malachi wouldn’t worry because he knew that Fee would obey him without question. Minor rebellions like dropping his call were one thing. A major rebellion like taking advantage of this wall of flames and using the distraction to disappear into the wilderness? No daughter of Malachi’s would be so stupid as to try to evade his grasp.
Fee tried to talk herself into proving her father wrong. Into walking away from this battle she’d been enrolled in since birth. She yearned to escape the father who manipulated her and hurt her and—she suspected—didn’t even know how to begin loving her.
But she couldn’t. Instead, running across the charred earth in the wake of the flames, she chased her personal inferno up onto the hilltop. There, ultra-flammable pines were already sizzling into life…but not the kind of life the Green preferred. Instead, this was a plant’s afterlife, one flaming pillar of catharsis reaching toward the pure blue sky, grasping at the smoke, clinging onto the skyline.
Beyond the flames, a city that had once been Knoxville stretched out across the valley below. Down there, the jungle was unseasonably active, vibrant leaves shielding most of the original human habitations from view. Because the Green didn’t sleep so close to the dragons’ Aerie. No, the plants reached upwards toward the high rises where dragons and humans still lived in all of the luxury of Before. Where they lived in all the luxury Fee had heard about but had never really been able to imagine.
The dragons refused to share that luxury with fire mages like her father. So Malachi had resolved to take it by force…or at least to ensure the dragon cities couldn’t be used against him when he constructed high rises of his own.
As she watched, a black speck took off from the top of the golden globe just west of the Aerie proper. Winged beast dipped, rose, then arrowed directly toward her location. The fire had been spotted and a dragon was on its way.
“I did everything you asked, Papa Bug,” Fee murmured, using the childhood endearment with a sad smile on her lips. Because even though she’d obeyed Malachi’s instructions to the letter, she knew his plans would fail. After all, the rebellion depended upon her reaching the Aerie safely…
…And the flames had eluded her grasp, growing a mind of their own while their maker was peering out across the valley below. Now they encircled her body in a wall of overwhelming heat, dense smoke not only tearing her eyes but also rasping her breath. Her head was already growing muzzy, her thoughts slowing to a snail’s pace.
“The fire,” she muttered. “I can still guide the fire.”
So she did. But not the way Malachi would have wished. No, rather than asking the flames to move along and leave the closest trees untouched, she pushed the heat deeper into the leaf mold at her feet. Deeper even than that until the earth itself ignited.
“I always knew I’d go up in flames,” Fee whispered. Then, with a smile on her face, she slid away into darkness.
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