QSFer Vanessa Ricci-Thode has a new queer Fantasy book out (bisexual): Trueflame.
Despite being the daughter of a famous dragon whisperer, Neesha doesn’t care about the affairs of dragons. All she wants is to cultivate her unprecedented pyromantic power, but chafes against her mother’s reputation as a ground-breaking dragon whisperer and against a regressive society that expects her to marry.
Escaping not only her mother’s judgement but the attention of family-approved suitors proves difficult, especially when an unplanned pregnancy drastically narrows Neesha’s options and sets a tight deadline for fulfilling her dream of being accepted to the Wizards Guild before motherhood sidelines her.
Just when she thinks she can take no more, her mother’s old foe returns for revenge against her entire family, bringing river monsters, a threat to the dragon city, and tough choices that hold the fate of her city—especially her unborn child—in jeopardy.
She’s going to have to start caring about the dragons and earn their trust in order to succeed.
A warm rush filled Neesha, her pulse quickening and her skin tingling as she called up her power. She leaned forward, intent on Nandara, waiting for instruction.
The pair of dragonesses blasted the stack of wood into a massive bonfire as the storm moved their way, the wall of water shifting and growing as it approached them. Cold fear froze Neesha’s veins. But she maintained her focus on Nandara and the fire.
“Neesha, we will certainly need your aid,” Nandara said.
Neesha met Nandara’s gaze, her eyes widening. Already? They needed her already? She nodded and turned her full attention on the fire.
“We need demons in the dragons immediately,” Nandara instructed. “Then we need to do as much as we can with the fire we’ve got. We’ve got to stop their advance, gather more fire energy, and unleash an assault on the storm.”
Demons in dragons. Stop the advance.
Neesha moved closer to the bonfire, cool and numb despite its heat, and pulled her cloak tighter to protect her clothing. She held out her hand, physically pulling flames from the fire and cupping a tiny blaze.
Her mother and Nandara moved closer, Nandara cringing against the heat. All three of them summoned fire demons, Neesha doing it from the fire in her hands, one that had grown to nearly her own size. It grew bigger, flaring in brightness as a demon appeared before her.
A spike of heat throbbed down her spine.
She wouldn’t keep this demon for herself. The instant it appeared, she grinned but released it, using her will to push it out to the dragons who circled tightly overhead.
With the three women working, three voices in unison, they quickly had three demons, and then three more. It took barely a heartbeat to fill the eight dragons with fire. The demons responded not only to the pyromancers, who were like kin to them, but also to the summons inviting them to battle other elements.
Neesha smiled, smug and satisfied, but refrained from looking at the Guild wizards. It was hard not to grin like a fool, she felt so light. If they noticed how well she’d done, they’d have to change their minds about the temporary nature of her admittance to the Guild.
She looked out over the valley where the possessed dragons circled high above the clouds, beyond the influence of the water. They rained fire down on the storm, a terrifying blaze cascading against the water and boiling it away. The aeromancers channelled great gusts of wind, funnelling the scalding steam northward out of the valley and toward Draxli’s position.
A wicked smile spread across Neesha’s face.
She pulled at the flame, tremendous heat pouring through her body. With a gesture, she cast the fire away from her, through a gap in the line of wizards, so that it cascaded down the mountain. A firefall.
More demons appeared as Nandara and Dionelle summoned them. Neesha drew on their influence and coupled it with her own skills.
The fire cascading down the hillside tumbled over itself, growing more intense. It burned nearly white hot, heating the air until the water could no longer be sustained. A great roar rose up around her as so much water vaporized. The fire consumed the trees and shrubs along the slope as it moved, compounding the power Neesha poured into it.
Nandara and Dionelle worked with her, pushing the fire to rapidly consume what lay before it and stopping the wall of water a mere half-league from where they worked, boiling it away. With the aid of the aeromancers’ gale, they pushed the fire northward at an impossible pace.
Neesha grinned as the fire circled the valley to cut the storm off from its supply—the river flowing to the northern mountains. The river was dammed where it entered the valley in the south, and the dragons had already taken a team of Lady Zyx’s people out there to begin cutting off the flow of water.
Now the fire raged toward the dam, as unnaturally quick as the storm had moved, to make a barrier of heat too great for the water to penetrate. Neesha’s breath quickened. It was working!
“It’s not enough!” Nandara called, somewhere on the other side of the firefall Neesha poured down the mountainside.
What did she mean? The storm was cut off.
And then she saw.
The storm was shrinking, but intensifying, its fury concentrated directly over Pasdale. The deluge worsened. Neesha thought she saw steam rising from the city.
“Oh gods,” she muttered. There wasn’t enough fire to vaporize it instantly, not enough wind to move it off the city.
The dragons worked in unison, concentrating their fire where it mattered. Still, it wasn’t enough. That was her city, dammit. She’d be charred before she’d let anyone drown it.
Numbing heat coursed through her as Neesha dug deep into herself, deep into the fire, no doubt reaching all the way into the fire realm, and threw all of her might into sending power to the flames. The response was immediate. She felt nothing but the rushing flame and could barely see through the brightness.
Still she grinned. She was powerful woman who deserved a place in the Guild.
Her body barely held itself up. But the fire did the job for her. Was she inside the fire? It was so bright she couldn’t tell.
She squinted into the valley, focusing on where she needed to drive the flames. She pulled from the once tiny bonfire, pulled directly from the dragons themselves. With a determined push of will, she drove bonfire and dragonflame alike out over the valley.
A great conflagration of dragonflame and demonfire grew into a rolling fireball consuming all the sky and boiling away the rain.
Neesha set her jaw against fatigue, squinting against the growing brightness, pulling more flame. She was a goddess burning like the sun itself, her exhausted body buoyed by the warmth.
Vanessa is a fantasy author whose life seldom strays from the world of books, especially during winter hibernation. Even her volunteer work revolves around the literary world, with involvement in National Novel Writing Month as long-time municipal liaison to her region, and as co-founder of KW Writers Alliance. She is also a member of SFWA and TWUC.
When she’s not being bookish, she’s into astronomy, hiking, gardening, and has a personal goal to visit all the national parks. Don’t ask her about her love of trees unless you’ve got some time. She loves Halloween and hates to be cold. Vanessa lives in Waterloo (no, the other one) with her husband, daughter, and dogs, where she can be found in her butterfly garden, achieving her final form as a forest witch.