QSFer Nikolai Bryant has a new sapphic grimdark fantasy romance out (gay, lesbian, non-binary): The Tax of Teeth.
Only one thing stands between Cassia inheriting a conqueror’s empire.
A tax, one that can only be paid in blood.
Cassia Domitia is the daughter of the great conqueror Reys Domitia, who captured lands far and wide on the backs of great powerful dragons, raining fire upon all who stood in his way.
All of her life has been for the good of the Empire that she’d inherit someday. She’s been on the battlefield for years, praying to the Great Four Dragon Gods that she’d go home, take her glory and gold, and spend the rest of her days with the one she loves most.
But before she gets everything she’s ever wanted, the Capital is attacked, and she loses everything she’s ever had. Her home, her family, her dragon, and the woman she loves.
And while she’s got nothing to lose…
Cassia is thrown into a harsh foreign world, one teeming with eldritch horrors and monsters and magic, all the while at the mercy of a princess with a grudge.
To make things worse, her father seemed to have accrued some debts from dark, unspeakable forces…and now that they have a hold on his heir, they will collect what is due.
The old Lord Valentias made his way up the path, a wrinkled hand leaning against the beast’s side. His white hair was tied in an untidy bun at the nape of his neck; hanging just above waist-height.
A thick woolen cloak covered him from chin to knees, swallowing up his short stature. He had been walking for some time now. Every now and then, he still shivered with cold, despite being dressed warmly enough that one could hardly see where skin ended and cloth began.
The bottles on his belt, still stained tar-black and reeking of rot, jingled together like a hollow haunting melody.
But the wind grew harsher with every step closer, blowing through every fold of cloth like razors. There were no leaves on any trees nearby- only bare branches waving back and forth as if they too wished themselves elsewhere.
They creaked and moaned; the early autumn winds had already destroyed the landscape around Montiporum’s citadel. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, given the beast’s method of travel.
Blood caked onto his fragile fingers, beneath his nails, into his thin, graying hair, and soaked deep into the wool.
Not his, though. No blood here belonged to him or anyone else who lived within the castle walls. The blood belonged to someone a continent away…
He didn’t want to think about it anymore; he didn’t want to think of what would happen to the poor mage- just a kid, barely seventeen- would happen when the Domitia’s found their heir…
He forced himself to keep going, one foot in front of the other. But he couldn’t stop the images of what he’d done, flashing over and over and over…
This was not how things should have turned out…
How far should one go for the Gods…?
Will they forgive me?
“What are you doing?” A voice came from behind him. “Hey! I was looking for you!”
Valentias glanced backward and found himself staring straight at Arisa. His daughter’s innocent blue eyes scanned him, and then looked to the dead-eyed beast to his right. She took a step back and lowered her head.
“Forgive my manners, father,” She said in a guilt-ridden voice. “I did not mean disrespect.”
“None taken, my dear,” He forced a smile, giving her a look of warmth and love. “I should be apologizing to you. I missed our prayer last night.”
“Is it..?” She leveled her eyes at him- they were almost the same height now, after her eighteenth birthday. She bit down on her cherry red lip, pulling her black silk shawl tighter, seemingly unable to find the words she meant. “..um, war things?”
“War things,” He affirmed, reaching out to touch her long, straightened black hair. The cold already nipped at her pale skin, reddening her nose and cheeks. “It’s too cold for you here. Say, why don’t you get back to your mother’s castle. I’ll put the Depthstrider in his cage and then, how about we make good on that prayer?”
The beast hummed, lowering his head to her. Her shoulders tensed as he got close, but she still dared not look directly at it.
“I think I’d like that,” She murmured, although her voice was nearly drowned out by the howl of the autumn wind.
“Good, get back now,” His face was nearly numb from smiling at her. “It’s been a hard day, dear. Get on back.”
Her face reddening further, she pulled away and gave him another timid glance before turning around again.
She walked off, leaving the old man under the bleak sky. With a sigh, he continued toward his destination.
There were many paths leading to the center of town, all well-worn from generations past when people traveled about freely without fear of attack.
Most of those people had joined the Undergrounders by now. Some of their children still stayed on the surface- tending the fields, trading what little they could produce or hunt, or protecting everyone else from skybound threats.
Valentias followed the road to its end, passing by a few scattered houses along the way. There were a few people here and there.
Not many with the weather, but it mattered not- the streets emptied the moment light shone upon the creature anyways.
He gripped the reins tightly, pulling the fearsome beast along. The sooner he was locked up, the better.
As Valentias approached the gate, he saw a tall iron door set into the ground, flanked by two guards standing motionless.
One wore a helmet decorated with House Valentias’ crest- a green serpent-like drake, its maw open and displaying its curved fangs- while the other sported a silver eagle emblem.
They bowed their heads.
None dared look into the beast’s eyes. Into the hundreds of them that covered the entire body of the creature, who reeked of blood and gore. It picked at its teeth with a long, bony finger-like claw, its movements all too human-like.
Each of them- like staring into the pits of hell itself, like looking into a cauldron of forbidden magic- each of them seemed to bore into the skulls of the men. It let out a breath, like a small cloud in the cold air, swirling something with its tongue.
The eagle-crested guard made the mistake of following its movements…
It swirled something in its maw, toying with it, licking it clean over and over.
He squinted to try and get a look.
And he found the object looking back at him.
A human eye with a beautifully violet iris, freshly severed from its owner.
He couldn’t stop the bile, and immediately fell to his knees, relinquishing his last meal to the earth. He could’ve sworn that, in the corner of his eye, the beast’s lips curved into a smile.
“I’ve come to return the Depthstrider to his cage,” The old Lord said, handing the reins over with shaky hands. “He…he did well. He’s done the work of the Mother and Father with great success.”
I’m an FTM transgender author living just outside of Philadelphia, PA. I began writing on Wattpad while I was living at home in the closet. Now that I got out of my situation, I’ve been on HRT for around 2.5 years now, and now have three published LGBTQ books under my belt! My goal has been to support other indie authors, especially those in the community because I know it’s harder to get our voices heard.