QSFer J. Marshall Freeman has a new MM YA fantasy romance out: “The Dubious Gift of Dragon Blood.”
High schooler Crispin Haugen already has so many identities to sort through―Asian, Scandinavian, not to mention gay. Then a messenger from another world arrives to tell him he also carries the blood of dragons in his veins.
Transported to the Realm of Fire, where dragons and humans live in harmony, Crispin falls for Davix, a brooding, nerdy scholar. But dark mysteries threaten the peace of Crispin’s new world. Without warning, dragons from the Realm of Air unleash a bloody war.
With everything he cares about on the line, Crispin must find the courage to fight…for justice and for love.
The writing of this book was supported by the Toronto Arts Council with funding from the City of Toronto.
Davix told himself it wasn’t a scream; it was only the wind howling outside the Atmospherics Tower. But the windy season was not yet upon them, and the seasonal fog was thick and still. Shaking off his worries, Davix lowered his head and continued filling the rows and columns of the workbook with meticulous notations. All the other apprentices had headed home for the night, but Davix had been busy with the Prime Magistrate for the past four days, helping to prepare for the upcoming festival of Sarensikar. Now he had almost a week’s worth of weather data to enter in the log before he could go to sleep.
“Why is the sheep fog so heavy this cycle?” he had asked the Atmospherics Master. “Could it be spinward wind off the lava pools?”
The old man had grunted sourly in response. “These days, nothing is as it should be.”
It couldn’t have been a scream, could it? Davix rose to his feet, listening, every muscle taut. He tried to tune out the noises around him: the rattle of the spinning wheels that recorded wind velocity; the trickle and drip of graduated cylinders filling with rain water; the flaps and coos of the kingsolvers in their cages. Davix knew his ears had not fooled him; there was no wind. It had been a scream.
He stepped from the measurements room into the stairwell, closing the heavy door behind him to preserve the stove’s warmth. Descending one level, he stood on the landing outside the charting room. The sturdy chair where Lraga, the chaperone, had been sitting all evening was empty. Odd.
He leaned against the door of the charting room and called. “Rinby?” The Lead Apprentice did not answer. “Rinby! I’m coming in, all right?” Looking around to make sure he wasn’t observed, he pushed open the door. Notebooks like the one he had been filling were open on her desk. Drawing tools lay scattered around a half-finished chart. Rinby’s cloak was hung on a wall peg, and her pack lay by her chair. But she was gone.
Davix peered down into the stairwell. The younger apprentices had forgotten to carry their lanterns with them when they left, so while it was bright on the landing, the steps spiralled down into shadow. A finger of dread rose with the cold from below. He took a lantern off the wall, the large torchstone within glowing bright, and made the circular descent in superstitious silence.
Halfway down, his light illuminated four parallel scratches in the stone wall, dark spots at their leading edges. He touched a finger to one of the spots and brought it back with a drop of blood on the tip. A terrible certainty grew in his chest. He ran down the stairs two at a time, as if Rinby was still arcing through the air in mid-fall and a swift enough boy might still catch her.
She lay twisted at the bottom of the stairwell, legs sprawled on the last steps, blood pooled beneath her head, soaking into her braids. Davix kneeled beside the body and listened. No breath, no pulse.
He knew what he had to do. He had to speak her full name aloud so her spirit would know who it was as it crossed into the Vale of Memory. But Davix wasn’t ready to accept the finality of the act. Not yet. Not like this.
“Rinby,” he coaxed, touching her shoulder as if she had just fallen asleep at her desk, running formulas on wind speeds and temperature differentials. He had been jealous of her being chosen Lead Apprentice instead of him. But she never acted superior. Davix had hoped someday the Arbiter of Blood would allow her to pair with G’sander. Anyone could see how tangled they were. That would never happen now.
He was shivering. Just below him was the tower’s vestibule, and he saw the main door was open, cold fog pouring in. At that moment, Lraga stepped inside, shoulders hunched against the damp. The chaperone screamed when she saw Rinby’s broken body.
“What happened?” moaned Lraga. “Poor girl, poor thing!”
“She fell…” Davix heard himself saying as the chaperone began to sob. It was time to speak Rinby’s full name and let her go. “T’lexdar-inby-thon,” he said, his voice choking on the last syllable, her discipline name, the same as his. The tears he had been holding back began to fall.
Through the pull of emotion, Davix tried to rein in his mind. Twisting around to peer up the stairwell, he could clearly imagine Rinby slipping on the steps, braids flying, fingers scratching at the stone as she scrambled for a handhold. But Rinby was a nail biter, chewing them ever shorter when concentrating on her work. And even if they had been long, he thought, how could they have made those scratches in the ancient stone? He examined her hands and found no blood on the fingertips.
The chaperone was babbling through her sobs. “I was only gone a moment. I had to relieve myself! Please, Davix, you are close to the Prime Magistrate. Tell him I’m not to blame!”
He ignored her. In his head, Davix heard the voice of the Atmospherics Master. “These days, nothing is as it should be.”
J. Marshall Freeman is a writer of fiction and poetry, a musician, and a graphic designer. He is a two-time winner of the Saints+Sinners fiction contest (2017 and 2019). Upcoming work includes the young adult adventure novel Barnabas Bopwright Saves the City and the climate change science fiction novel Cicada Climbs from the Earth. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his husband and dog.