QSFer Kiran Oliver has a new FF fantasy book out:
Celosia Brennan was supposed to be a hero. After a spectacular failure that cost her people their freedom, she is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance at redemption. Together with a gifted team of rebels, she not only sets her sights on freedom, but defeating her personal demons along the way.
Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—except for Ianthe, a powerful Ice Elementalist who happens to believe in second chances.
With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not just their country, but the entire world.
Celosia Brennan hadn’t visited Caldova in years. Since she had gotten her promotion, she felt as though she’d seen most of Esonith in a week. Everywhere except for this branch of the Regime’s barracks, rivaling the size of many other outposts she had found herself visiting over the last few years. Her second-in-command was none other than her previous Commander, Riva Callum, their past tangled together into something beyond recognition. Seven years went by quickly—though, Celosia was the first to admit, she had spent the year following Daybreak wandering in a daze. She recalled all too well her orders that day, hurled at her in an accusatory manner. Celosia found arriving at the entrance to the barracks a relief after hours of avoiding conversation with Riva by any means possible.
“Are there any other Elementalists here? I can’t do much work with a Technology Elementalist, you know. Unless they can manipulate an energy field around themselves, I’d incinerate them in a heartbeat.” Celosia drew patterns in the condensation ring her mug left on the table, avoiding looking at Riva. Caldova was famous for its Technology Elementalists, along with a large number of Elementalists possessing Spirit-touched capabilities. It was the last place Celosia wanted to hone her skills.
“Could be. There’s probably a list a mile long of hot-headed new recruits wanting to take out their frustrations on you, Daybreak,” Riva said.
“I told you not to call me that.” Celosia sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Let them be mad, they have every right. I failed. Our first order of business is finding out who is actually worth talking with. People can sign up for the Operative all they want. Doesn’t mean they’ve got what it takes to join it.”
“Before you get ahead of yourself, let’s go see if anyone who’s not a Tech Elementalist actually signed up.”
They began walking down the hall, passing a large room full of holographic monitors alongside a sleek server infrastructure alternating through colors as it processed data. Datapads were perched precariously on tables, ranging from the size of Celosia’s palm to larger than a family portrait—Datapads could span over two feet if a designer was so inclined. Magic hummed throughout the room as Tech Elementalists practiced their craft. Celosia sighed. She was a Fire Elementalist. Her magic would melt anything they came up with, unless it was some sort of augmented defensive shield. That didn’t seem likely, though given the weapon enchantments the Council had—anything was possible.
The pair entered a training room outfitted with ropes attached to the ceiling, a variety of fitness equipment, and a vast assortment of free weights. A motley group of potential recruits awaited Celosia. It was her job to see if any of them were up to the task of joining the Operative. The reaction as she stepped into view was instantaneous. She kept a tight rein on her magic as the group regarded Celosia with accusation in their expressions. Celosia tried her best not to automatically go on the defensive, clenching and unclenching her hands into fists.
A recruit with the last name of Marshall, according to their paperwork, turned to Celosia so quickly their ponytail slapped them in the face. Accusation was clear in their expression, arms crossed over their chest as they glared at Celosia with contempt.
“I’m not working with her. She’s the reason we’re still in this barracks!”
Celosia’s control over her magic didn’t match her emotions as she spat, “Why did you sign up, then?”
“You’re not helping,” Riva muttered under their breath.
Marshall stepped closer to Celosia, short-circuiting her datapad.
“That’s destruction of Regime property, recruit—which will come out of your stipend,” Celosia said with as much authority as she could muster. Riva wasn’t getting involved, though Celosia understood why. This was her mission, after all. If she looked to Riva for advice, it would appear as though she were an ineffective leader. Which was the last thing she needed.
“So be it. I trained in this barracks for years, in hopes I could use my magic leading the Ember Operative. They didn’t tell us we’d be working with you.”
“Well, you are. Anyone who’s a part of the Ember Operative reports directly to me. I’m the Commander of this particular mission. If that’s not to your liking, I suggest taking it up with Callum here.” Celosia indicated Riva, who had yet to say anything.
“We wouldn’t need a mission set on overthrowing the Council if you hadn’t failed at the first one,” Marshall quipped.
Caldova’s Regime members grew up hearing about Daybreak, told of the importance of the Ember Operative. It was natural they would be resentful of being asked to lay their lives on the line for a mission with such a high chance of failure. Celosia hadn’t expected any recruits volunteering would still hold a grudge for her failures at Daybreak. She tried not to let it get to her.
Celosia knew the Ember Operative was her responsibility before it was anyone else’s. Riva had drilled it into her head since she had applied to lead the mission. If she wanted to obtain a small chance at redemption, this was the way to do so. Throughout her time in training, she had adjusted to people hating her.
“Do you all agree with Marshall?” Celosia asked, looking at each of the four recruits assembled one by one. Everyone dropped their gaze when she reached them. After a few moments of silent tension, punctuated by Riva’s datapad beeping, those assembled nodded. Celosia clenched her fists as small flames made their way up her arms.
“If you think you’re getting chosen for the Operative by complaining about who’s running it, you’ve got another thing coming, recruit,” Celosia said through clenched teeth.
Marshall laughed, before a chilly breeze whipping through the room cut them off.
“What’s this about?” A clear voice called from the open door. Its speaker, Ianthe Tavner, wore armor crafted of frost, which commanded attention as she walked into view.
Celosia stared without trying for subtlety as she examined her armor’s plated segments of solid ice.
Marshall scoffed, crossing their arms while looking between the two women.
“Not today, Tavner. Brennan here thinks she’s better than we are. We’re nothing but Tech Elementalists to her. You have an axe to grind with her, you can stand in line behind all of us. Hells, you can stand behind the rest of Esonith, at this rate. Today’s my day.” they snarled, a transparent shield springing around them in a semicircle.
“Right. Not today. I’ll come back later, I guess. Be careful, Marshall!” Tavner’s icy armor disappeared in a shower of snow, which Celosia couldn’t help staring at as she left. Marshall took her distraction as the advantage it was, sending a shockwave of energy toward her, knocking her off her feet. She hit the ground hard, hissing as she skinned her hands.
“Easy enough,” Marshall snickered, “Never seen a bit of snow, have you? Must be rough, I bet,” they jeered, the wall of energy vibrating with their laughter.
Celosia’s flames roared to life in an instant, pushing against Marshall’s tech-augmented barrier.
“Easy, Brennan. I don’t know how well that thing was made! It’s got decent code keeping the infrastructure of the shield secure, though there could be bugs,” Riva snapped from her left.
Celosia pulled back her flames with an agitated sigh.
“They want a fight, they’ll get a damn fight. Come on, then! No magic!” Celosia called, taunting them. Her fingers curled a beckoning gesture. Fistfights were uncouth. Stuff for lowly recruits; children, even. She was neither. Those assembled cast surprised glances at one another, waiting to see what Marshall would do.
Riva crossed their arms, glaring at Celosia as if to reprimand her.
“Oh, that’s a stretch. You think you can lay a hand on me? First punch, Daybreak. I’m all yours!” Marshall took the bait, rushing her without thinking it through.
Celosia sidestepped their rush, twisting their arm behind their back. Using their movement against them allowed Celosia to incapacitate Marshall without breaking anything. Yet.
Marshall crouched down low to the ground as Celosia stood behind them, grabbing her wrists before shifting their center of gravity so they were under Celosia. She realized this too late to adjust her footing, finding herself lifted over Marshall’s head. She hit the ground with a curse, taking a moment to collect herself. She took a more defensive stance then, waiting for Marshall to lash out at her. Marshall was stronger than they looked, which Celosia had not taken into account. She swept their feet from underneath them after a grapple resulted in them stumbling, catching them off balance. As Marshall hit the ground, Celosia pinned their arms behind their back.
“Never question my authority again. Are we clear?” Celosia snarled.
Marshall tried to hide their discomfort, a whimper escaping their lips as Celosia loosened her grip. She knew she shouldn’t have when she saw Marshall’s fist flying toward her face, too quickly to block it. Her lip split open, blood trickling down her chin. She spat on the concrete floor, cursing.
“Cheap shot!” Her magic flared, flames crackling over her hands.
Marshall was rubbing their knuckles, looking self-satisfied.
“Get out of here, all of you! I need recruits who want to be here, regardless of who is leading this mission.” She tried to avoid yelling, holding her hand against her split lip as blood oozed between her fingers.
Kiran Oliver is a Southern New Hampshire University graduate with a BA in Communications. He currently attends Free Code Camp in the hopes of earning a certificate in Full Stack Web Development. When not learning to program, he can be found writing fantasy novels, cooking, or gaming.
He resides in New Zealand with his wife Elizabeth, their two cats Ember and Alastor, and their dog Zephyr. Having originally hailed from a coastal Massachusetts town, Kiran took the ocean landscape as inspiration for Daybreak Rising’s Dakul. He credits his mother with his love of fantasy novels, having first been introduced to the genre through her impressive library of SFF classics by authors Mercedes Lackey, Barbara Hambly, Terry Goodkind, Kristen Britain, and more.