QSFer Lou Hoffman has a new queer YA Fantasy book out: Ciarrah’s Light.
Luccan, future Suth Chiell of the Ethran Sunlands, also known as Lucky, has reached the end of a months-long adventure and gained much. Now he wants nothing more than to relax and recover at home. His mother’s apparition has other ideas, and dark dreams drag Lucky further and further into unconsciousness until he’s nearly dead. With help from Lucky’s sentient obsidian blade, Ciarrah, he makes it back to the light, only to find his country is in deep distress, and it’s getting deeper.
The wizard Thurlock, Lucky’s dragon-kin uncle Han, and other friends help him muddle through as he becomes the channel for prophecy. War erupts in the Sunlands, and in a battle against wraiths created by the advanced science of a dying world, Lucky plays a key role. Physical weapons can’t stop the enemy, but Ciarrah’s light can, and only Lucky can wield it. With the help of his winged horse, his boyfriend, and Thurlock, Lucky sets out to prevent his mother’s shade from wreaking any more havoc. But will stopping her end the horrors facing his world?
The Sun Child Chronicles: Book Three
MY BROTHER Niamh and I were blamed for the storm that beat for four days against the homes and fields of the Drakha. Already many of the people had begun to fear us because, even though Naht’kah was the ancestor of all Drakha, none of the others had learned to don the dragon form and fly. On our twelfth birthday, Niamh and I had shared the meager sweets given us as gifts to mark our year, and then we fled the loneliness we always felt in the settlement. We ran for the hills and there, as dragons—Niamh as red as his flaming hair, me as black as my own unlikely locks—we flew for hours, reveling in the free skies, relishing the joy of it. We dipped and dove and soared, and spoke in our minds all the while, laughing at the people below making signs with their hands to ward off evil as we passed overhead.
But that night the storm came, its winds flinging destruction at the Drakha far surpassing anything seen before.
The people—our own cousins and aunts and uncles—came to our mother’s home and dragged us from our beds, where we, like all the others, had been shivering in fear of the sky’s wrath. They drove us out into the storm, believing this way they could appease the gods. We took what shelter we could find among the stones and waited out the fury, hungry and cold. Finally, after four days, the sun rose bright in the sky once more, and though we were afraid, we were still children, and we didn’t understand what the people had done. So we went home.
We found my mother collecting bruised fruits from the ground. When I greeted her, she let out a cry, gathered Niamh and I under her strong arms, and hurried us back to the house.
“They mustn’t see you,” she said. “They’ll send you away, if they don’t kill you. I’ve already grieved for you four days, thinking you dashed to pieces in the storm. I can’t bear to lose you again.”
For all the time it takes the moon to go from full to dark, she hid us inside the house day and night, gathering our food in secret, explaining away her covered windows and her absence from the community as signs of mourning. The others said they shared her sorrow, but none said they were sorry for casting us out into the storm, so she didn’t trust them. That was wise, but in the end it didn’t save us.
On the darkest night, we begged our mother to let us go out, and convinced her eventually that, with no moon above, we could go unseen into the cover of the pines by the lake in the center of the valley.
“We’ll return before the sun, Mama,” Niamh said, his adolescent voice cracking as he made the statement into a plea.
“We promise,” I added.
“All right. Take some bread and cheese in case your wanderings make you hungry. Niamh, you stay with your sister.” And then, because although he was born first, I was the fierce one—“Ciarrah, you keep your brother safe.”
I promised I would, and I let her kiss my cheek before we hurried away. I wish still, all these thousands of years later, that I’d lingered in her embrace. Niamh and I stayed in our human form that night, our dragon forms being far too large and showy for secrecy, but as luck would have it, my mother’s sister had gone to the lake for a tryst with one of the hunters, and as we were heading home in the dark before dawn, we stumbled over their sleeping forms.
Our aunt would have kept our secret, I think, if only because she didn’t want people to gossip about her romance, but the hunter, Kirahn, was bitter because his mother had died the first night of the storm. He was powerful among the Drakha. All told we numbered only hundreds then, and few among us had any magic at all. Kirahn had it in spades, though. He was feared for it, but also revered. He bound us, Niamh and I, in thick ropes so we couldn’t run and in spells we didn’t understand the purpose of. Perhaps he meant them to keep us from changing into dragon form, but if so, he needn’t have bothered. We had never changed except in a spirit of joy, and it didn’t even occur to us to use the ability to escape.
My mother promised she would find a way to curse the people if we were killed. Some people feared her promise, some feared us, some feared our foremother Naht’kah.
Our healer, Atara, put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. “Naht’kah’s a dragon, Kirahn. Won’t she be offended if we kill her descendants for being dragons?”
In the end, instead of killing us, they offered us to Naht’kah as gifts—or perhaps sacrifices. They draped my brother Niamh in amber and clothed me in obsidian and took us to the mouth of the cave where Naht’kah was rumored to dwell. She didn’t come for us by nightfall, and it was cold so high in the mountains, so we went into the cave and slept near the singing stream inside.
When she discovered us, Naht’kah blazed with anger at what they had done, and for days we were constantly jumping into the rainbow pools to keep out of the way of her suddenly flaming breaths. She calmed after a time and asked us to show her our dragon forms. We transformed, and she joined us, and we flew out under the sun over parts of the land we’d never seen before. When we returned, all of us were astounded to see the stones they had decorated Niamh and I with had become bound in our scales. We were quite beautiful, the two of us, Niamh glittering like the sun and I an obsidian mirror.
Generations of Drakha were born and died as we lived there with Naht’kah and her consort, Nahk’tesh. Naht’kah took a more active hand in guiding the affairs of the people—she was after all their foremother and she cared deeply that they should survive and live well. Only one family among the Drakha—the Drakhonic line—ever showed signs of the dragon within, and to prevent them from being exiled as I and my brother had been, she cast her magic over them, binding the dragon to the mind instead of the body.
Naht’kah and Nahk’tesh do not age, but Niamh and I were not immortal, and we aged and aged until we were but frail, wrinkled versions of our human selves. Still, the stones that had become part of us on that first flight with Naht’kah remained bound in our hides, shadows and lights under our human skins.
A day came when Nahk’tesh dove deep into his pool and came back up with a vision to share, a vision of evil sailing in on a distant horizon of human time. Naht’kah determined that the Drakha would not be defenseless when that time came, and she undertook to change them. They had been wanderers, but now she bound them to the Ol’Karrigh and their country—now called the Sunlands—that they would always have a home for which to fight. It was good, but it wasn’t enough, and she made up her mind to give them a secret power.
To do this, she asked a gift from Niamh and myself.
“I would bind you in stone, and you will serve the Drakha,” she said, rather cheerfully.
She bid us farewell on the night we would have breathed our last mortal breath, laid us in beds of mother of pearl and sang through the night, weaving shells around us. The egg that held Niamh she then ripened in her fire, that his brilliance could stand like the sun against cold darkness. My egg she handed to Nahk’tesh and bid him hold me deep in the depths of his pool where his liquid magenta flames perpetually burned, that I would be the living mirror to the empty lifelessness of Naught.
In time she took from our eggs a perfect smooth oval of amber and a jagged shard of obsidian and placed them in the keeping of a stone carver, Nat’Kori, a dragon of the Drakhonic line. Nat’Kori grew quite old before he worked us into our present forms. Every day for more than a hundred years he viewed us, held us, spoke to us, until one day he knew that if he was ever to complete our making before he died, he must begin. Day by day he chipped here and there, carving us into daggers, grinding our blades sharp. He slept one night and woke with a vision and, knowing he would be finished after this last task, he adorned our hilts with the twelve-rayed sun.
We came alive for him, and he smiled as he breathed his last.
Niamh is silent now, and lost perhaps.
But I am found and will be bonded, blood to light. I still sing, and my dark light shines.
Proud to be a bisexual woman, she’s seen the world change and change back and change more in dozens of ways, and she has great hope for the freedom to love in the world the youth of today will create in the future. Lou Hoffmann, a mother and grandmother now, has carried on her love affair with books for more than half a century, and she hasn’t even made a dent in the list of books she’d love to read—partly because the list keeps growing as more and more fascinating tales are told in written form.
She reads factual things—books about physics and stars and fractal chaos, but when she wants truth, she looks for it in quality fiction. Through all that time she’s written stories of her own, but she’s come to be a published author only as a johnnie-come-lately.