While I’m currently gearing up for the big promo for The Dreaming Land II next week (the eBook will be free then on Kindle; it’s currently free to read on KU if you’re in the mood, or you can grab a copy of the paperback), I also have a joint release coming up on October 31, one with a completely new world and storyline!
The Magical Book of Wands is available for preorder now!
A group of us got together and each contributed a story that in some way has something to do with a magic wand. The result is The Magical Book of Wands, which is currently available for preorder. It will be released October 31, and will be on KU, and thus available to read for free to KU subscribers, for 90 days. All proceeds from the book will go to the ALA (American Library Association). For $3.99 you’ll not only get an anthology packed to bursting with all kinds of fantasy stories, but you’ll be supporting a good cause!
My own story, “The Dragonbone Wand,” is a foray into a new fantasy world I’ve been thinking about for oh, more than 15 years, but which is appearing in print for the first time here. It’s changed a lot as I’ve mulled it over, and I still don’t have all the details ironed out–that can only happen in the writing–but getting this first story down on paper, even if virtually, has been very exciting.
An excerpt is below. I’m still in the process of envisioning my world, but as it stands at the moment it’s sort of Scandinavia-meets-Asia. Why not? I knew there had to be mountains in this world, so I thought about setting it in someplace Norwegian-ish, and then I thought about making it something like Kamchatka or the Altai region of Siberia, and then I decided to go with both. There are two ethnic groups in this part of the world: a Nordic-esque one, which, since I don’t actually know very much Norwegian, is essentially Finnish (e.g., Joki means “River” in Finnish); and a Korean-esque one, to which my heroine belongs. Why Korean-esque? Because I’ve had various Korean friends over the years, so I thought it would be fun to have a fantasy heroine who looks Korean, although the culture will if anything be more Siberian, with a large dose of my own original fantasy.
The magical system is based around dragon blood. Dragons and humans once intermingled, and certain humans still have an affinity for dragon blood. If they are drained of their own blood and fed dragon blood in a very vampire-y process, they will gain various magical powers, along with the ability to transform into dragons. I’m still refining that too, but it’s essentially a mash-up of the vampire transformation process, and the legends surrounding dragons and the magical properties of dragon blood. And of course “Dracula” was considered to be a dragon, wasn’t he?
There’s a lot more I could say about my inspiration for this and where I think it’s going and how my experiences of being severely ill with Lyme disease and undergoing treatment for that have shaped my idea of the story, but I’ll save that for later. So without further ado, here’s the story art and an excerpt:
The cover has dragons, mountains, fire, and the heroine’s long black hair, all of which are important motifs in the story.
Excerpt of “The Dragonbone Wand”:
It was just a piece of bone.
Dull white, the width of my finger and twice as long as my hand, it lay on a faded piece of velvet. Young men and the occasional young woman gathered around it, laughing nervously and pushing each other with their elbows to be the first to touch it.
“Are you finally going to try this year, Laela?” one of them called out to me.
“No,” I said. But I walked over and joined the crowd anyway.
I was the oldest amongst them by a good ten years. Back in the foolish first flush of youth, when young men run off to war and young women run after young men, I had stayed at home and apprenticed to the village healer, and then to the village scribe. Now I was both. While my age-mates chased after their growing families, shouting at their children and nagging their husbands in order to feel loved and needed, I sat in my quiet cottage, copying out wills and tending to those whom others could not help. Loved I was not, but needed I certainly was. It would be wrong to walk away from that. No one else in our village could so much as set a broken bone, let alone write a letter. I couldn’t leave them to go chasing after adventure, and, I’d always told myself, I’d never really wanted to anyway. The mountains on the edge of the horizon that pulled at others so strongly had never provoked any feeling in me other than a vague but nauseating fear.
Red-haired Arne, whose right arm was still in a sling of my fashioning after yet another ill-advised climb up a tree, stepped forward and stretched out his left hand towards the piece of bone. The others laughed when he stopped, his hand hovering a foot away from the wand, and then cheered when he suddenly made to snatch it off the velvet. The cheers turned to laughter again when he yelped and jumped back, sucking on his fingers.
One by one, the other young men tried to touch the piece of dragonbone. Some got closer than others, but none were able to get within a hand’s breadth of it.
“Come on, girls,” said the man who was running the show. He was puffy-faced and unshaven, in robes that might have once been rich but were now mainly dirty, and he was obviously bored. If I had to imagine a dragon-sorcerer, he would be the opposite of the picture my mind would form. But he had been coming through our village every year ever since I could remember, growing shabbier and shabbier and more and more bored as he exhorted us to test ourselves for the talent and maybe, just maybe, prove ourselves to be the possessors of that most precious prize: dragon magic.
“Come on, girls,” he said again, staring off at the sky as he spoke, as if too bored to even bother looking at his potential future acolytes. “Don’t you want to try? Wealth and health, knowledge and power beyond your wildest dreams, could all be yours. And for you it would come easy. You know we need more women.”
He told us that every year. Dragon magic was more common in men, he told us, and most women who had the talent couldn’t learn to do much with it, but they still needed them.
“Why do you need us?” I had asked, the first time he had told me to test myself. “Why do you need women, if we can’t use the magic?”
“In women the talent always breeds true,” he had told me, and then quickly cut his eyes away, embarrassed. I hadn’t had to ask any more, and I hadn’t tested myself either. I hadn’t wanted to become an ordinary broodmare of ordinary children here at home, and my desire to be dragged off to the mountains and turned into a broodmare for dragon-children was no greater. At least let them court me properly if that was what they wanted from me. But instead I was expected to prove myself to them as worthy of exploitation, and thank them for the privilege. I was glad that most of the other girls seemed to feel the same way, and didn’t even bother to present themselves for testing.
A couple of raindrops fell down from the gray sky, spotting the faded velvet but not touching the bone itself. Giggling, the girls who had come all quickly tried to put their hands on the wand. Two could not get within a foot of it and retreated with sulky faces. The third brought her hand down to hover no more than an inch from the wand, but when she tried to close her fingers around it, she shrieked and jumped back as if burned.
“Hard luck,” said the man, not sounding as if he cared one way or another. “You must have half a drop of the blood, though. When the time comes, be sure to send your children to us for testing.”
The third girl retreated to join the others, who were all shaking their hands and saying in loud voices that they were glad not to be chosen, glad not to have their lives overturned and turned over to others.
“And what about you, Laela?” asked the man. “Is this finally to be the year? Will you finally see if you can come join us at our forge in the mountains?” He waved his hand in the air, vaguely in the direction of the mountains that could be seen on clearer days. There was a rumble, whether of thunder or a fresh eruption of fire, I couldn’t say.
“Why do you know my name?” I asked him. “You don’t remember anyone else’s name.”
He smiled a tired smile. At one point, probably before I was born, he must have been handsome. I imagined him as he would have been when he was the same age as the boys he had just turned away, fresh and eager, catching the eye of every girl who saw him with his good looks and the air of power and good fortune that must have suffused him as soon as he was chosen. Now the air that hovered around him was mainly suffused with disappointment and too much drink. A good advertisement for dragon magic he was not. But maybe he was the best they had. Maybe the bad things they said about the mountain and the forge and the order and the training were all true.
“Every year you come here and stare at the wand, and every year you refuse the test,” he told me. He looked me up and down. “And you’re easy to remember,” he added. “A head taller than everyone else, and hair like a curtain of midnight.” His lips twitched. “You didn’t think I was a poet, did you? Come on, Laela. Let this year be the year. What are you afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid,” I told him.
He looked me up and down again, but this time, for the first time, with the shrewd eyes of someone who did know things that other, ordinary, mortals did not. “Yes, you are,” he said. “You want to be chosen, and you’re afraid you won’t be, isn’t that right?”
“I don’t want to be chosen,” I said.
“Everyone wants to be chosen, Laela. Wealth and health, knowledge and power, remember? Who doesn’t want that?”
“So prove it.”
“I already have. By not taking the test.”
“You can’t prove yourself by not taking a test.” I thought he might be trying to hide a smile. Perhaps he was cleverer than I had always thought. “You can only prove yourself by taking it, and seeing whether you pass or fail. Take the test, Laela. And then you can tell me which of the riches we offer don’t appeal to you.”
Somehow I had ended up standing right in front of the rickety folding table he always set up on the edge of the market square, which held the faded square of velvet and the unassuming little piece of bone.
“I don’t need to take the test to know the result,” I told him. “I’ll fail, just like everyone else.”
“And since you don’t want to be chosen, you have nothing to fear,” he said. “Take the test, Laela. Get it over with and stop hovering on the edge of the crowd whenever I come through, looking like a raw recruit at a whorehouse.”
“How charming,” I told him. “You make me want to join you even more.” But my hand reached out of its own accord anyway. He was right: I needed to put an end to this. And maybe, just maybe…
My hand seemed to separate from my body and float downwards on its own. Surely this couldn’t be happening, surely it couldn’t be me who was doing this. I had always said I would never take the test. I had always broken out in a cold sweat of fear at the thought.
My hand continued to float down towards the wand of bone. I had heard from many others what it felt like when the bone rejected you, and sometimes treated their wounds. A slap, a bee sting, a scorching burn…for some it was more painful than for others, but for everyone it was more pain than they cared to withstand. Failing the test was its own rite of passage.
The air felt damp and strangely warm as my hand passed through it, but there was no pain, no sudden sharp attack as the dragon magic repelled those for whom it felt no kinship. My hand came down smoothly to rest on the bone.
“Well,” said the man. “What about that? What does it feel like?”
“It feels warm,” I told him. “Like it’s still alive.”
“Pick it up,” he told me.
My head told me not to, but my fingers closed around the wand on their own, lifting it off the velvet. It was surprisingly light, like the bone of a bird, and as warm as blood.
“That doesn’t hurt?” asked the man.
I shook my head.
“Hand it over.”
I tried to, but my fingers clutched instinctively at the wand, refusing to give it up.
“That’s how it is, is it?” said the man. His voice was unexpectedly gentle. “Then hold onto it for the moment. Come on, let’s go.”
“Go where?” I whispered, my throat as dry as if I had suddenly awoken in the middle of the night from a bad fever.
“To take the second part of the test,” he told me, still speaking gently. “Come, Laela. You can hold onto the wand for now. But you have to take the second part of the test, and it’s best to do that in private.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because sometimes it makes you vomit,” he told me, and with those heartening words, folding up his rickety table and began walking away from the market square.
I trailed after him, still clutching the piece of bone. I was now holding it in both hands, I noted, and pressing it to my heart, where it felt like the rightest thing that had ever happened to me. Sometimes when I held newborn babes and they fell asleep against my chest I had the same feeling, but this was stronger. This must be what it is like to hold your own child, not someone else’s. Only this was not my own flesh and blood, but the bone of someone else who was not even human, and long dead.
“What do you know of the training?” the man asked abruptly, as we turned down a narrow street and headed towards the one inn in the village. “The training to become a dragon sorcerer? Or sorceress, in your case.”
“I know that it takes place in the mountains,” I said. “I know that it is hard. I know that not everyone who is chosen makes it through.”
He sighed. “All true,” he said. “Everyone thinks it will be wonderful, to become a sorcerer and learn the secrets of magic, but much of it is not wonderful. Much of it is the same as anything else, only harder. They take naïve and foolish youths—well, not so young in your case—and forge them into dragons. Most do not enjoy the process, and many do not enjoy what they become, either. But still none can say no.”
I wanted to stop. I even told myself to stop, to throw the bone down and run away, but I didn’t. Instead I kept walking behind him, still clutching the bone wand to my chest.
“What does the bone do?” I asked, in order to keep myself from thinking of my failure to escape. “Why is it special?”
“All things that are infused with the essence of dragons are filled with power, Laela,” he told me. “Including, it seems, you. We use wands of bone to give us strength and help focus our power.”
“How did you get it?” I asked. “You can’t just hunt down a dragon.”
“No, you can’t. Not that we would. Especially since no one has seen any dragons for generations. But there are many graves in the mountains.”
I looked down at the wand. I didn’t like the thought that it was the result of grave-robbing. But I couldn’t let go of it even so.
We came to the inn. The thunder—or was it the mountains spitting fire?—was getting louder. When we ducked inside, the innkeeper and the half-dozen people who had come in to take shelter from the storm stared at us.
“This way,” said the man. I followed him down the corridor to his room. I realized I had never gone into a strange man’s room, and I suddenly wondered if my unusual act of recklessness was about to be repaid by a very ordinary and banal punishment. The bone wand felt comfortingly warm under my fingers and against my chest. I wondered if it would protect me. If the stories I had heard were true, then no, it would not, for all its comforting, living warmth in my hand.
“Shut the door,” said the man. I did so even though I didn’t want to, I couldn’t say why. He bent over a chest on the floor and began rummaging through it.
“Here we are,” he said, pulling something small out of the chest. “Try this.”
“What is it?” I asked.
He opened his hand, revealing a glass vial half-full of a red liquid that glowed even in the gloom of the shuttered room and rainy day. “The second part of the test,” he said.
“What do I do with it?” I asked.
“First of all, take it from me. Give me the wand, and take the vial from me.”
My fingers did not want to release the wand, but they wanted to touch the vial with its strange liquid, that was lit from within like a ruby in full sunlight despite the twilight surrounding us, even more. In a moment the wand was gone, and the vial was in my hands.
“How does it feel?” asked the man.
“Warm,” I told him. “Even warmer than the wand.”
“But it’s not burning you?”
I shook my head.
“Good.” He reached over and, gripping my hands in his own, unstoppered the vial. “Now, I’m going to pour a tiny amount into your mouth. Just a drop, do you understand? Take no more than a drop.”
“I have to drink it? Why?”
“Because that’s the test,” he told me.
“What is it?” I tried to ask, even though some part of me already knew, but before I could get the words out, he had brought the vial up to my mouth and forced the neck between my lips, tilting it so that my head tipped back and a tiny drop of the red liquid rolled out and landed on my tongue.
Fire…I was diving into the fire, but there was no pain…soaring above a snow-capped mountain spine, looking down at all the land and all the settlements, and knowing they were all mine, that I was the mistress of everything I could see from wherever my wings could take me…
“Well, look at that,” whispered the man. My eyes, which must have shut in my ecstasy, came back open and followed his gaze to my hands. In the glow from the vial it appeared for a moment as if my hands, too, were glimmering, with an iridescence like a bird’s feathers or a snake’s scales.
I jerked back, pulling free of his grip. “What was that?” I demanded. “What happened? What does it mean?”
“What does it mean?” he repeated back at me. He smiled crookedly, revealing sharp teeth that in the uncertain light looked almost fang-like. His eyes, though, were wholly human, and sad. “It means you are a dragon, Laela. Just like me.”