QSFer D.N. Bryn has a new queer fantasy steampunk/mythpunk book out (bi/non-binary): Once Stolen.
No one with half a brain would rob the jungle’s most notorious energy cartel. The vibrations of their power-producing stones are the only thing that calms the mer-snake Cacao’s agonizing sensory condition though—and after being banished from his homeland swamps for similar thefts, he’s desperate.
When his attempt fails stunningly, a chaotic escape leaves him chained to a cartel prisoner: a self-proclaimed hero with a hidden stash of ignits so large, Cacao would never need to steal again. He’s determined to get his hands on it, even if it means guiding her home straight through the mist-laden and monster-filled swamp that exhaled him, with scheming poachers and a desperate cartel leader on their tail.
But the selfish and the self-righteous can only flee together for so long before something snaps…
Warnings: Cultural ableism, adolescent abandonment, two instances of animal injury and death, accidental house fire, kidnapping, secondary character drinking alcohol including non-violent drunkenness.
ALL THE SHADES OF GREED
Banishment isn’t a curse if it means escaping all of you.
THE THRUMMING POWER OF the ignits calls to me. Five small variants of the round stones lie in the gambler’s pot, their slight glow barely visible beneath the cartel boat’s canopy. From the shade of the nearby mangroves, I grip the blue ignit on my wire necklace of precious stones. Blue for thunder, like two of those in the pot. But the gamblers have a yellow and a pair of small reds as well.
The ignit beneath my fingers pulses into my scales, primed to soothe whatever skull-shattering nonsense my body decides to throw at me today. But one lonely stone can be easily lost, easily taken. With one stone, the pain still stalks just behind me, waiting to strike. Besides, I want the gamblers’ ignits.
Tightening my serpentine tail around the roots of the half-submerged tree, I lift my head a little farther out of the water. I flick out my tongue. The boat humans smell of oil and gunpowder, of arrogance and cowardice and anger, and a touch of fear.
Three of them sit on the boat’s main deck, huddled around a table. The vibrations of their voices tingle across the patterned ridges along my scaly scalp. I feel the tug the nearest gives to their beard as they anxiously put down their cards, the slight splash of the lizard dipping into the river down-stream, and the landing of the parrot in the tree branches far above.
But the fishers don’t know I crouch so still that the murky water blends with the brown and black patterns along my half-snake body. The boat humans won’t notice me like this—won’t try to kill me. But if I stay here, those ignits will never thrum in my hands or hang from my wire mesh necklace.
My banishers said this desire would latch inside me like claws through flesh, like my spiny retractable teeth digging into a freshly caught capybara, like a viper’s toxin eating me from the inside out. And it has. Oh, it fucking has.
It’s just so hard to care now that it’s caught me.
Danny Bryn is a queer, disabled, non-binary speculative fiction author of the liberal Jesus-freak variety. When not writing, they conduct infectious disease surveillance in their hometown of San Diego, where they enjoy basking in the Santa Ana winds, hiking the brush-heavy slopes, and eating too many tacos.