QSFer Lou Hoffmann has a new queer YA fantasy book out: Dragon’s Rise.
Sequel to Ciarrah’s Light
The Sun Child Chronicles: Book Four
Five days after his sixteenth birthday, Lucky—or Luccan, as he’s known in the Sunlands of Ethra—cut down a horde of wraiths with the help of his magical, living blade, Ciarrah. Then they ended the worst undead of all—Lucky’s mother, Liliana, or rather the evil creature she had become. Now he needs a chance to rest, but he can’t catch a break. The otherworld invaders want to take Ethra as their new home, and one defeat hasn’t even slowed them down.
Ancient wizard Thurlock continues to help Lucky learn about his unique magic as they travel together, but when they reach the capital city, they find few allies and too many Sunlandian traitors. They’re forced to flee, but their discouraged spirits lift when they’re joined on the road by an old wizard friend of Thurlock’s and some new young allies. Lucky has armies, friends, family, shifters, dragons, a faithful dog, a winged horse, and magical tools on his side. But when war comes like a great storm, hurling at him everything from zombies to hateful wizards to twisted drakes, can he hope to prevail—or even survive?
Chapter One: Snake Attack
THE LAST time Lucky had gone to Nedhra City with Thurlock, they’d been on foot. This time, they took horses. Lucky had considered summoning K’ormahk, but a winged horse seemed like overkill for a trip to town. Besides, K’ormahk was basically wild and self-determined—he did what he wanted. Lucky knew he would answer if he was needed, just like he’d done on the day of the Battle of Hoenholm. Calling him at a time when an ordinary horse would be sufficient felt like taking advantage of the great stallion’s generosity—and anyway Thurlock wouldn’t have been able to keep up—even on Sherah.
Fortunately, Lucky had become a much better rider after spending time at Morrow’s stables the previous year. They’d been on the road for half a morning already, and he hadn’t once come close to falling off or even looking silly. He sat his mount—a spirited dapple-gray mare named Zefrehl, descended from Lucky’s old friend Windy—with grace. He was even comfortable enough that when Thurlock struck up a conversation as they rode, he could give it most of his attention.
“We might as well get some things said, Luccan,” Thurlock said. “We’ve got time now and who knows when we will again. If you like, we can start with questions you may have.”
Instead of the heavily traveled East-West Way, Thurlock had chosen an older, secondary track as their road to the city. Its route cut straight through obstacles the main road avoided—went over hills and through the forest instead of around them. When Thurlock prompted him to ask questions, they were in the middle of a stand of young pines with rather stiff, sharp needles and sticky, though pleasantly aromatic, sap. Ducking under some low branches and going around a fallen tree provided a good excuse for Lucky to take a moment deciding what to ask. As often happened when it was the wizard he was speaking to, what came out of his mouth surprised him. “You know when we were doing Shahna’s Cup?”
“Surely that’s not the question you want to ask.”
“You sounded cheerful.”
Lucky suspected Thurlock was being deliberately obtuse. “But it’s a parting cup. We were saying goodbye, and you talked about going into battle.”
“Every day, we all go into battle one way or another. When those battles for which we are preparing seem likely to be significant, we sometimes take Shahna’s Cup. It’s for luck, you might say. And the battles we all move toward today could be significant—momentous even.”
Lucky heaved a sigh. “You’re missing the point and you’re doing it on purpose.”
“Am I? What is the point?”
Instead of answering, Lucky asked, “Does going into battle always make you cheerful?” He refrained from adding, “you stubborn old fart,” and he was glad Thurlock couldn’t hear his thoughts.
“No, Luccan. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t. But doing something rather than waiting for things to be done to us certainly improves my mood.”
They didn’t converse much after that—or rather Thurlock rambled quite a bit but Lucky stopped listening, instead drinking in the quiet countryside along the way, and reflecting on how appearances can deceive. At about half an hour before sundown, they found a small glade on one bank of a fair-sized stream where water bubbled crystal clear over rocks into a tiny waterfall. The day cooled as night clouds began to weave themselves across the sky, but there was enough dry wood scattered nearby for a nice fire. They’d brought bread and cheese and sausages from the Hold’s kitchens, and they ate that cold, but afterward, Thurlock produced a bag of Jet-Puffed marshmallows, and they roasted them over the coals with long sticks.
When the stars were humming overhead and crickets, frogs, and a couple of owls had come out to sing along, Thurlock asked Lucky to fetch some water in his little teapot and set it on a rock near the fire pit.
“Why don’t you just do your tea by magic in the morning, like you do coffee for Han?”
“If you recall, I told you once before: we only do things by magic, instead of the ordinary way, when we have a very good reason.”
“I forgot you said that,” Lucky said. “Probably because you just seem to do things whenever you want.”
“Well, when you’re as old as me, maybe ‘because I want to’ is sometimes a very good reason. Another consideration, though, tea just isn’t the same if you don’t make it the long way. Besides,” he added, tilting his head indignantly, “do you really mind doing this one little thing for me?”
Lucky’s mouth dropped open, and shame heated his face. How ungrateful he must seem! “I’m sorry, Thurlock. No, seriously, I don’t mind at all.” By the time he finished speaking he was already halfway to the creek with the little kettle.
Thurlock smiled when he brought it back and set it in place. “Thank you, young man.”
They laid out their saddle blankets beneath their bed rolls to keep the moisture down, and sat for a while under their cloaks, watching the fire cool. And that’s when Lucky decided it was time to ask another question.
“How far are we from the city?”
“Only about forty miles. We’ll be there tomorrow.”
Lucky snorted, which was slightly embarrassing because he hadn’t done it on purpose. “Thurlock, that would mean we traveled seventy miles today. Mostly at a walk. Horses can’t go that fast.”
“This route is a little shorter. And no, not on their own, they can’t.”
“Oh! So you did some magic? I didn’t notice.”
“You’ve been in a bit of a trance, I’m afraid, which is why you remember everything I said about the Charismata even though you thought you weren’t listening.”
Lucky started to say that he remembered no such thing, but the protest sort of strangled itself when he realized that yes, indeed he did remember what Thurlock had said about the Suth Chiell’s power called the Charismata. He breathed out roughly, for some reason quite disappointed in himself for not being able to ignore Thurlock when he wanted to.
“Never mind for tonight, Luccan. We’ll find time tomorrow to review the concepts, and perhaps you can practice a little. For now, sleep well, young man.”
Thurlock’s last words had sounded like some sort of benediction, and they fell over Lucky like a soft snowfall of peace and safety. He fell asleep, not expecting to dream at all.
THE STARS winked out as Lucky floated down into a desolate landscape. He came to rest on top of a broad plateau with a lake like a giant pothole in the middle of it. He walked to the edge of the cliff to see what he’d find below. He saw, as he had before in his dreams, black mist-shadows and crackling flashes of blue light. But Ciarrah rested in her sheath, the Key of Behliseth against his heart, and all around him shone a shield of light—Thurlock’s blessing, he thought.
He knew this dream was not like the others. He’d not been taken into it; he’d dropped in unannounced, of his own accord. He’d come to spy, and as yet he remained undiscovered.
He saw a dim figure in the distance, and thought first of his mother’s shade, but the voice he heard rumbled low-pitched with words he couldn’t make out. He saw pillars of mist grow up from the ground, and elsewhere puddles and pools of it so black and numerous that from above, in the dim unholy glow, the land looked pockmarked, its disease spreading like leprosy.
Then he realized that though the landscape may look ruined and foreign to him, it was, indeed, land. It was a place in the real world, and if only he could remember the landmarks, he’d know where the battle he was being warned of would be waged. Because that’s what this was, a warning. Preparation for a battle unlike any that had ever been fought.
Before he could begin to catalog the features of the land, though, a painfully brilliant blue light shone directly into his eyes, blinding him. It hurt as it stabbed into his brain, and he may have cried out—he wasn’t sure. Ciarrah answered that light with her own violet beam, shining forth from the emblem on her hilt. And the Key made its noise so high and piercing that whatever foul curse someone was trying to lay on him, its syllables were shattered before they could bring the magic into being.
Lucky fought panic down, closed his eyes against the cold blue glare, and commanded himself back to the glade where he slept near the fire.
Where the horses waited in the night.
Where fireflies flitted in the grasses mirroring the glitter of stars above.
Where Thurlock, the greatest wizard, had covered the ground with wards and hung the sky with a curtain of safety.
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.