QSFer Cari Z. has a new bi/demi/gay dystopian fantasy romance out: “Luckless.”
Evan Luck is a dragon rider with no dragon. Five years ago, his dragon gave her life defending the monster-ridden remnants of Marble, and ever since, his ability to connect empathically to another dragon had been as broken as his heart. Now he spends his days dodging his disappointed mayor, crafting arrows, fighting off the not-as-legendary-as-they-should-be beasts that’ve overrun America, and just trying to get by in the city of Forge.
But when he meets newcomer Lee Caldwell, Evan thinks his lonely luck might be changing. Lee is the only person in the city who doesn’t blame Evan for his dragon’s death, and he welcomes Evan into his own little family. There’s more to Lee than meets the eye, though, and between his refusal to talk about himself, pressure from the mayor to split them up, and a monster attacking the city’s foundations, Evan isn’t sure he’ll live long enough to learn the truth.
But not learning the truth will almost certainly be fatal, both to Evan and Lee’s budding relationship, and to the entire city.
“Incoming, one thousand feet!”
The gunner manning the corner turret wielded his megaphone like a whip, waving toward the edge of the wall. “Archers, move forward! Pikemen, get your asses ready to back them up!” Evan stepped up to his position, close enough to the edge to shoot over it but far enough back that he wouldn’t be vulnerable to the first thing with claws to crawl up there.
He glanced down and frowned. The crix were still about eight hundred feet away, but there were a lot of them—more than he’d ever seen before during a winter attack on the city. The dragons and their riders were already battling the bigger beasts farther out in the ruins that used to be Denver, but there weren’t enough of them anymore to keep the city completely clear. That was where Evan and the people like him came in.
The man to his left—a boy, really, probably no more than sixteen—shivered as he took his own peek over the wall. His hands were shaking so badly they could barely hold on to his bow, much less nock an arrow when the crix got close enough to shoot. His fear struck a chord in Evan, who still remembered the brutal chaos of his first battle almost twenty years ago. He smiled sympathetically. “First time on the wall?”
The boy gulped and nodded. “Uh-huh.” His posture was so stiff it seemed his back might break. “I thought—I thought there would be fewer of them. That’s why my dad chose now to bring me up here, so I could—I could get used to fighting them before the big waves come in the spring. But this is . . .”
“Unusual,” Evan supplied. “Around double what we’d see during a normal winter attack. That probably means they’re being driven.”
“Driven?” The boy turned wide eyes on Evan. “By what?”
Evan shrugged. “Lack of food, a bad weather front closing in, or more likely in this case? A bigger monster. Crix are tough, but they’re too small to put up much of a fight against a really big monster, and they don’t have the temperament for swarming for long. Too prone to cannibalism.”
“Oh. Right.” His voice sounded so small, already close to defeat without even seeing battle.
Evan moved a little closer to him. “Remember, aim for their heads—if you can crack the carapace, you’ll stun them, and then the other crix will take care of them for us. If you shoot them through the eye socket, you’ll kill them fast. Don’t bother going for the legs, they’ve got too many backups. Just breathe, nock, draw, and loose.”
“Breathe, nock, draw, and loose,” the boy repeated, sounding better already. “Breathe, nock, draw, and loose. Aim for the head.”
“You’ve got it.”
Evan patted the boy on the shoulder, then dropped his hand when the man stationed on the kid’s other side stalked over to them, pointing an accusing finger at Evan.
“You leave my boy alone, Luckless!”
“Dad, calm down.” The kid seemed embarrassed, but whether for his dad’s words or for responding to Evan’s attempt to comfort him, Evan didn’t know. “He was just telling me about how to take down crix.”
“You take down crix like you do any other monster—you shoot it,” his father said stiffly. “That’s what the damn bow is for. You don’t need Luckless to tell you that.” He focused on Evan again. “Ollie doesn’t need advice on killing beasts from a failed rider who couldn’t even keep his own dragon alive. I’ll tell you one last time—leave my boy alone.” He grabbed Ollie by the arm and hauled him a few feet farther to the left, away from Evan.
The kid seemed confused, but Evan just looked away. He’d gone through this same encounter so many times since coming to the massive fortress that was the city of Forge that the accusations had almost stopped stinging. There wasn’t much about what the man had said that wasn’t true, after all. Evan had lost his dragon, as well as everyone else left in Marble after that hellish summer five years ago.
Evan watched as the gunner swung his .50 caliber M2 machine gun toward an incoming flock of harpies—carrion feeders who only banded together when there was bigger prey in the offing. The gunner fired a short burst and half of the monsters fell, losing feathers and blood and shrieking almost intelligibly. This machine gun was one of only four in the city, and one of the very few firearms that they still managed to produce ammunition for. Even so, its store of brass casings would wear out eventually, and then they’d have little more than muskets to fire along with their arrows.
Some of the defenders cheered, but Evan simply tuned them out and glanced over the edge again. The first wave of crix was almost within range, their leg blades singing over the whistle of the icy wind, their armored bellies nearly scraping the chunks of pitted concrete and rebar that were all that remained of southbound I-25. Their front legs were shaped for climbing, short and stubby and tipped with thick, sharp claws, while their hind legs were long and built for propulsion. When they rubbed those blades together, they made a sound almost too beautiful to possibly herald death.
They were no more than a hundred feet away now, the bigger ones starting to jump in anticipation of bounding up the wall. It was an ugly, patchwork thing, made from the bones of skyscrapers and museums, the city it surrounded packed to the brim with the survivors, their herds, and their dragons. In most places, it was too steep to jump straight over, and the crix had to climb, but sometimes a few of them got lucky—especially the bigger ones, closer to mule-sized than dog-sized.
The gunner lifted his megaphone again. “Archers, fire at will!”
Cari Z is a Colorado girl who loves snow and sunshine. She writes award-winning LGBTQ fiction featuring aliens, supervillains, soothsayers, and even normal people sometimes