Category: fantasy

(WP) The Monster’s Demands

forest had been taken over by a dragon, a winged creature of smoke, heat, and
flame; no one could actually prove the rumor, as no one had actually seen it.
For my part, I thought that this was ridiculous. There was nothing, absolutely
nothing, to indicate that the forest’s new denizen was there.

that had been before the mayor of our village had declared a state of emergency;
just about all the adults had lost their heads at the mere mention of the
beast. The whole of the village was buzzing by the time that we reached the

mayor was a fat, portly little man with a fondness for fine suits and rich
foods, and it showed. Someone had to put a crate behind the lectern for him to
stand on. Even before he addressed the public, he was dabbing at his perspiring
brow with a handkerchief, his face bright red. The talk was such that he had to
slam a gavel just to get everyone’s attention.

               At long
last, silence reigned, and the mayor coughed. “My dear people, I have called
you all here today to discuss the monster that lives in the forest. It must be
appeased with flesh.”

               At this
statement, cries went up: mothers tucked their children behind them, holding
their babies close, as if they feared the creature would burn the village
around us.

               “I don’t
understand!” I called out, and much to my surprise, the crowd hushed; clearly,
they wanted to hear the answer to my exclamation.

               “My own
son went to the heart of the wood and asked the dragon what he wanted. Other
than a place to live, well…” He hesitated, gulping. “It has also demanded two
children. Not one, not three, but two children. In exchange, the village will
be left untouched.”

beside his father, the mayor’s boy nodded, confirming his words. It was decided
that all of the village’s children would be put in a sort of lottery; one of
the ladies kindly lent her hat to hold it all.

               My name
was called, and so was the baker’s son’s. We were given one last day with our
families before we had to depart for the forest at dawn. I spent the day with
my parents and siblings, and they helped me choose what I would take with me.
There were only a few things: some books, a packet of paper and a quill, and a
necklace I’d been given at birth. I said my tearful goodbyes to my family in
the morning.


               I found
the baker’s son, Ronan, standing outside of our cottage before the sun had even
come up. I shouldn’t have been so taken by surprise; his trade caused him to
keep all kinds of hours. His face was pale, and his lips were twisted in a thin
line. Despite the cool air, he was sweating.

to go?” He asked, and I nodded, not trusting my voice. We walked in silence,
only birdsong and our steps, keeping time.

               When we
reached the wood, it wasn’t a dragon we found; at least, not exactly. It was a man,
young, but older than us; in his early twenties, I might have guessed. There
was a man there with bright, gleaming ruby eyes, sitting in between the trees.
We almost didn’t see him.

you going to eat us like everyone says?” Ronan asked, gulping audibly.

course not, boy. I’m going to raise you and teach you all the secrets of my
kind. But you mustn’t ever return to the village. After all, you’re one of my
children now. Welcome home.”


(WP) Stasis

seasons didn’t change anymore; in fact, they hadn’t had a real season in years.
Now, we were stuck in the strange limbo of winter and spring. The land had been
ravaged, the plants and animals were enchanted into a deep and unnatural sleep.
No one knew what caused it, exactly, but that didn’t stop the rumor mill from
going on and on.

said that it was a dangerous, contagious plague, caused by supernatural,
otherworldly mischief. Others were convinced that this was only the beginning
of the blight on the land, a precursor of what was to come. Astrologers were brought
in, as well as thaumaturges that claimed for a certain sum that they could set
everything to rights again.

               But it turned
out that the princess was the one who set out on a quest to restore balance,
and she chose me, of all people, to accompany her. Never mind that I was only
her handmaiden because my mother was a cook in the palace, or that I was
crippled with a twisted foot and have to walk with a cane.

going on a journey to try and fix the land,” She told me, her face already
locked in a scowl that let me know she wasn’t going to be talked out of this
mad quest. “And I want you to come with me.”

stared at her, certain that she was pulling an ill-timed joke on me. But she
didn’t laugh, or smile. She was completely serious.

first word out of my mouth was “Why?”

blinked, as if, of all the things she’d expected to say, that was the last
thing. But no matter how I pleaded, she wouldn’t budge. Either I was going with
her, or she wasn’t going at all. It didn’t matter, what the king and queen
said, or their cabinet of advisors. The princess was going with her servant.

this wasn’t just for companionship, I realized later.

               No, my
purpose in this was sinister, but I didn’t realize that until later.


               We both
rode a horse, with her behind me, holding the reins. We were following a lead,
and I gritted my teeth, feeling my bones rattle with every new hoofbeat. There
had been rumors that the source of the disruptive magic came from tainted river
water, and the princess thought that it was as good a lead as any to start

               We left
our steed tied to a tree and walked on, with me struggling to keep up. Even on
a manmade floor it was nearly impossible for me to stay upright, let alone the
forest’s. Roots and plants lingered under my feet, and I swore as the pain increased.

               The princess
shushed me, holding out a hand to block my way. I looked at her, confused, but
then the scent of magic, sharp, sweet and distinctive, tinted the air.

               “I can
sense something within the heart of the wood. Something old and powerful. Come
with me and see where it’s coming from.”

other choice did I have?


(WP) Remnants of a Star

               Your palm
is open, and lights of every color spring from the star nestled within it. It’s
like a jewel, heavy and substantial feeling, but it’s warm, aglow with life.

               You don’t
know how exactly you’ve acquired this gorgeous, impossible fairy-tale ending,
but it leaves you awash in silent awe. Your people have always said for years
that stars are but vessels for some of the realms’ most powerful magic. But
there’s been no living proof so far for you, until now.

something speaks to you from within the star, something dark, urgent, and old
beyond imagining. Something that longs to be free of its prison, screaming in a
language you can’t understand. Music fills the air around you, breaking the
silence with a melody so sweet you instinctively relax.

have no idea what the star contains, but you can no longer resist its call.

body suddenly goes on autopilot, going blank but for the need to break the
container. Your hand connects with something hard and unyielding, and the star
breaks at last, with a tiny, twinkling sound so soft that you can barely hear


you wake next, you’re on the ground, the remnants of the star still nestled in
your palm.

really must thank you for freeing me at last,” A voice says, in multiple
timbres and tones, so that you cannot ascertain whether it is male or female,
young or old. But then you see a person, or at least a humanoid shape. Its face
flickers, and you can see some faint shimmering behind its eyes.

did a creature such as yourself manage to get a star?” It asks at last, holding
out a hand to help you up. Reluctantly, you take it, and stand.

               You don’t
remember, and you open your mouth to say that, but you’re interrupted.

matter. All I know is that one good turn deserves another,” It says, grinning
again, so widely that the creature’s eyes, glinting like gems, all but
disappear into the rest of its face. “Surely there must be some wish I could
grant, some way that I could help you.”

               But the
only thing that comes to mind for you are your memories, and you have no idea
how old this thing is, or what power that it holds. Still… Something inside you
stops, stilling as if it’s listening. Waiting. Wanting.

               The only
memory you have within you is the beach you washed up on, and the way the moon
had sparkled up above the ocean, a cold, white eye that stared down at you,

               And you
don’t know how your luck has turned, but isn’t it worth a try?

memories. That’s what I want. I need to know who I am.”


(WP) A Complicated Sweet Sixteen

villager’s sixteenth birthday was the most important of all, because you came
of age when you turned sixteen. But that wasn’t the coolest part of it all.
When you turned the big one six, you got your very own dragon! I’d been looking
forward to this day for as long as I could remember.

village was isolated within the snowy mountains; the better to hide our secret.
We were one of the last villages left, still touched by the magic of our
ancestors and the dragons they’d so lovingly raised. I’d been born on the
Winter Solstice, and my mother clucked to herself, gowns in a rainbow of bright
colors spread out over my cot.

               It was
still so early in the morning that dawn hadn’t yet touched her pink and orange
fingers to the sky; only the cold, distant stars gazed down upon us.

               “Happy birthday,
my love,” Mother cooed, and I smiled at her sleepily, rubbing the remnants of
rest out of my eyes. “Are you excited?” I nodded, mutely, not ready to talk
yet. I could smell fire and smoke, and my stomach grumbled, needing food.
Father must have gotten up before myself and Mother, because when we came out, he
was already tending the cooking fire.

smiled at me; I was clothed only in a big t-shirt and some shorts. Mother didn’t
want any of my nicer clothing to get stained. There would be a feast held in my
honor, and after that, I would receive the initiation rite from girlhood to
adulthood. At the conclusion of the celebrations, I would meet my dragon, and
we would bond for the first time.

               If the
legends were true, that bond would grow into a friendship that would withstand
the test of time. Of course, there would be no confirming it until the actual

father placed a stone bowl full of porridge in front of me, garnished with the
last of the berry jam we had in the cellar. I beamed at him in thanks, and he
kissed my cheek, wishing me a happy birthday.

let her eat. We don’t want to be late, and there will be plenty of time to
catch up after the festivities. After all, it’s not every day that your only
child turns sixteen!” I tucked into my food, pretending not to notice how her
eyes went red and misty.


breakfast, Mother insisted on helping me get dressed. Together, we chose a
bright, neon yellow that warmed my skin and brought out the green in my eyes.
She gave me one last kiss on the forehead, and my parents and I departed to the
summit for the ceremony.


               I still
don’t remember much from the ceremony; it was a blur of shining, teary eyes and
bright, joyous smiles. I ate my food without tasting much; my stomach felt like
it was doing a dance inside of my body.

thing I remember most vividly was the dragon’s scales, a purple so dark that
they looked almost black, even in the lingering dawn. Its eyes were like round,
golden coins, its pupils mere slits.

sorry, dear, but I’m afraid there has been a… complication with your partner.
He’s afraid of heights, you see.”

stared at the Elder, nonplussed. “What do you mean, a complication? And how in
gods’ name can there be a dragon afraid of heights? He’s got wings!”


(WP) Stupid Cupid

               I wasn’t
supposed to fall in love, period, let alone with a human. It was against the
rules; it created so many complications that the last pair had been all but
erased from history. Cupids, contrary to fine arts’ interpretation, aren’t fat
little babies with rosy cheeks and sashes; they come in every shape and size,
but you don’t get officially called until you’ve turned sixteen.

               And the
only caveat to all of it was to never fall in love with humans. That was rule
number one. And I’d never been so much as tempted before. But this girl was one
of a kind, truly unique. And it was so much more than her beauty that drew me
to her; it was her vivacity, her desire to live fully, in the moment.

               And she
thought I was just some girl that she worked with, a passerby in her life. And
granted, I was supposed to be. I knew the ledger; I’d seen what it said. She
had a partner waiting out there for her, and my very existence hinged on them
becoming a real couple. If I upset that balance for my own selfish desires, who
knew the catastrophe that would be unleashed? It wouldn’t be fair to either of

               I was a
blip; and I could only reveal myself to her truly after the match had
been made.

being a Cupid, I was young, by their standards, and often too clouded by the
human veil of emotion. It was something my superiors had despaired over since I’d
started. But my record was almost spotless, so they couldn’t get rid of me,
anyway. Another fun little catch of the job? A human couldn’t renege once they
were accepted; otherwise, they would lose all the memories they’d had of their
time as a Cupid.

               If I
changed my mind and upset the balance, I would lose myself, and my charge in
the bargain, like we’d never existed to one another.

heart longed for her, but I had my orders, and it wasn’t me that she was fated
to fall in love with. We weren’t supposed to meddle; our jobs meant coaxing out
feelings that were already there; otherwise, a couple would not be matched.

               I was
sitting at my desk when she walked up, smiling at me, her dimples on display.
She had a gorgeous smile, I thought, with an unfamiliar shiver of desire.

I wanted to see if you wanted to go out for a drink with us later!” She said,
sitting on the edge of the desk, paying no mind to my belongings. “Please, say
you’ll come! Mark’s gonna be there and I’m so nervous. I’ll feel better if you’re

               And I
can’t resist her, ledger be damned. Still, I hedged. “I don’t know… I might
have something going on.”

sweet face falls, her full lips puckering into a coquettish pout.

Cara? I’ll love you forever if you do!”

               If only
you could, Diane. If only you could.


(WP) One More Job

               As an
assassin, it was imperative that I held a certain mystique; after all, no one
could know my identity, not even my clients. I’d received hundreds of thousands
of requests for a contract kill, but I refused to deal with anyone without
meeting them in person. As much coin as I possessed, it could only buy so much.

               The man
who stood in the tavern room I’d booked was holding out a carving toward me, a
face scowling at me from the wood. It looked alive, in a way that unnerved me,
but I didn’t allow it to show.

who am I getting rid of?” I asked, crossing my arms. I was masked and covered
in black from head to toe; not even my eyes were exposed. There could be
absolutely nothing that led me back to a corpse. I had countless enemies, and
had to constantly make sure that I was staying ahead.

not a who, more like a what,” My client rumbled from his chair opposite me, his
words thick around the pipe he was smoking. Another thing about my clients? I
let them be themselves. After all, you can’t ask someone to kill someone for
you and not be intimate about it. Comfort was an integral part to how I worked.

not a problem, is it?” He asked around the pipe, and I had to stifle a laugh.

that isn’t a problem,” I replied, going to get a bottle of wine for him. I
poured him a generous amount, and to my surprise, he grinned, revealing several
missing teeth. “Now, elaborate, will you? If I don’t know what I’m dealing
with, my services aren’t guaranteed.”

               The man’s
eyes darkened, and he bought himself time by taking a long, hearty draught of
the alcohol. “This creature… It’s come from other lands. They are called by
many names, depending on where you are, but it’s dangerous.” I nodded, not
wanting to speak until he had said his piece. “They are beings of fire, smoke
and spark, and they love nothing more than tricking humanfolk.” I nodded,
waiting for him to go on.

have to be on your guard. They much prefer to live in places with warmer climes,
near deserts, but they will live anywhere, so long as there are people to feed
off of.” My brain grinds to a halt at those words, but I refused to let the
fear of the unknown stop me from doing my job. I’d never faced a djinn before,
that was true, but I’d had experience in dispatching other supernatural
creatures: vampires, lycanthropes, shapeshifters.

I knew better than to go into a situation like that blind.

are they vulnerable to?” I asked finally, and he took another sip of wine.

I can provide weapons if you don’t have them… For an extra fee, of course.”

               “I don’t
need weapons. Just a horse, some coin and some foodstuffs that will keep. Where
was the last place you saw it?”

               “It was
on the outskirts of town, where the road ends. Like it was… lurking.”

about this didn’t sit right with me, but I’d already agreed to the task.

all, what was one more job?


(IP) Protector of the Wood

cursed one walked through the forest; at his every footfall, animals scurried
away, scenting danger. So much the better to hear the fierce, unending roar of
the river. As much as he longed to relax, though, he could not.

He had prey to catch. None,
regardless of their parentage, were welcome in this section of the wood. After
all, it was said that a great nature spirit had made its home within. That wasn’t
the only rumor, but it was the most popular. And anyway, that sounded far more
believable than the truth.

It was not something that he liked
to face; it haunted him still, the transformation into a bear warrior, and the
way his life had been bound to the forest in turn. It had been so long that the
memories of his human existence were faint, mere wisps of light, emotion, and
pain. He didn’t know if he would do it again, or if, indeed, he even regretted
what he’d done. He couldn’t remember anymore.

The days just passed in a blur, until
nights like this had happened. Someone let out a poor, half-dead creature in an
attempt to ‘appease’ the nature spirit. And it was down to him to kill the

On nights like this, the warrior
hated his lot in life. But it was a waste, anyway, to be bitter. It was like
drinking poison willingly. He hadn’t known the consequences of his choice when
he’d made it, but now he was bound, by magic older even than the land itself.

Thoughts chasing one another in his
head, he followed the river, lifting his nose to the air to see if his quarry
was close. His hearing was sensitive, but he could not hear anything moving;
everything was too still. For the first time in years, he was afraid. He was
being watched, and his fur prickled; he growled, warning whatever was lurking
not to come too close.

But then it tackled him, managing
to knock him balance; the hunter and his prey both tumbled into the cold, clear
water of the river. Maybe the water would do the job and kill them both, the
warrior thought, and he had to keep his mouth closed to stifle a mad, nervous

They were just a tangle of limbs
beneath the roaring water, and Hunter wondered if this would be how he died:
drowned by an unknown creature. If that happened, it would not just be Hunter’s
life in danger.

Knowing that he had only moments to
turn this situation into one that ended with them both alive, Hunter stood up,
grabbing the scrappy little thing by the back of its shift and pulling it up,
out of the water. It sputtered and coughed, shuddering in the cold autumn air.

The thing that he was hunting was a
teenage boy, his clothes soaked straight through.

In spite of himself, Hunter felt a
spark of pity warm his cold, dead heart.

Even if it meant protecting the
wood, he could not end this pathetic creature’s life.

No, better to bring him home.


Title: Serpent and Dove

Author: Shelby Maruhin

Age Group: Teen/Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Serpent and Dove, book one

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

               I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

               I have a confession to make: I’ve had my eyes on this gorgeous, dark debut since before it came out. I’ve had to return this several times to the library before I got the chance to read it. Since I had no more renewals on the book, as soon as I was finished with P.S., I Still Love You, I dove in. This debut wasn’t perfect; the cast was so expansive it was near impossible to keep up, and some of the pacing and worldbuilding was shaky, but nonetheless, Maruhin has penned a dangerous, dark romance that had me laughing, crying, and swooning! I loved many things about this book, but the characters were my absolute favorite. This dark and delicious romance was fantastic; I loved the way the book went back and forth between Reid and Lou. Where magic and religion collide, Belterra is a dangerous place for religious soldiers and witches alike. Full of political intrigue, action, romance, and more than a few surprises, I can’t wait to read the sequel!

               In the land of Belterra, the church has taken over everything, and witches have gone into hiding to avoid being burned at the stake. Louise ‘Lou’ de Blanc has been on the run for days, trying desperately to hide from those who wish her bodily harm. She also has another secret: she is a witch, able to manipulate patterns around her to work magic. When she meets Reid Diggory, a soldier for the Church, called a Chassuer, Lou finds herself in a situation she cannot talk her way out of: The Archbishop orders that the couple be wed, and Lou reluctantly agrees. But there’s a fine line between love and hate, and Lou and Reid are about to see just how fine it can get…

               I very much enjoyed this book! There were a couple of little flaws, and I wish that the worldbuilding was explained better, but overall, this was a really strong debut! The pacing was breakneck, and I was immediately captivated by Lou’s sparkling and hilarious voice. I also loved the way the book went back and forth between she and Reid. Honestly, the Church in this book gave me the creeps, which I suppose was the point. I loved that in Belterra, religion and magic were constantly at odds. I also adored the romance between Lou and Reid; one of my favorite, classic tropes is enemies to lovers, and this book just knocked that part out of the park! I hope more information, particularly about the world, is revealed in the next book, but this book might be one of my favorites of the last year! Romantic, dark, chilling and surprising, I loved Serpent and Dove! Forbidden, hate-to-love romance is one of my favorite forms of literary catnip! The bottom line: Rich, hilarious, dark and delicious, I loved Serpent and Dove! Next on deck: Salvaged by Madeleine Roux!

(WP) A Little Rest

He’d been waiting all day for this.

sunlight streamed through the window like liquid gold, illuminating the chair
in which he longed to sit. As a smith, his hours ran early and late; he didn’t
sleep much. But he hardly minded. The work was hard, but it was satisfying. Decades
of patience had taught him that you just couldn’t rush something into being. It
had to be nurtured, lovingly so.

forge had birthed many weapons, and he was proud of them all.

every so often, he would feel the stiffness in his bones, that stubborn crackle
in his knees, brought on by a storm or a strange shift in weather. As much as
he liked to pretend that he was still in his prime, his body reminded him of
his age.

               An old
man like him surely deserved a little rest, didn’t he?

last, he sat, with a bottle of sweet, chilled wine. It was odd; his appetite had
only begun to dwindle as he got older. But his tolerance for the finer things
in life had only deepened. If he didn’t love his work so, he would’ve retired
years ago, with an attractive paramour on his arm.

opened the wine and took a quick swig, luxuriating in the sunlight like a cat. He
savored the flavor of it, dark berries and chocolate and a hint of something he
couldn’t name. He licked his lips, putting his hands on his stomach. The wine
warmed him from the inside out, and all he could think about was how much he
wanted to nap.

he’d been awake since before the sun goddess Raeiel spread her skirts and
welcomed the day. He was certain that he’d earned it. With that decision
finally made, he pulled the brim of his hat down to shade his face. Feet
propped up on the barrel opposite him, he dozed off.


smith was awoken by a series of loud, rather insistent knocks, and he opened
his eyes, grumbling to himself. He’d been in the middle of a good dream, and
try as he might, he could not remember what had happened in it.

               “Just a
moment!” He called gruffly, lowering his feet to the floor.

knocks ceased, as if the person on the other side of the door had heard him.

shuffled to the door and opened it, slowly.

apologies, I’m afraid I dozed off. What seems to be the problem?”

person waiting on his doorstep was a girl, scrappy and small and fifteen at
most. Her face was dirty with soot, and her hair was cut so short that it was
impossible to guess at its color. She was tiny, just barely over five feet, but
her posture and the determined look on her face endeared her to the old, sleepy

The people in the village told me that this was your forge, and that I was to
see you.”

for, lass?”

               “I want
to make weapons, like you. So, I want to be your apprentice. Please, sir, I’ll
do anything! Sweep the floors, clean and cook, and I can read and write, too!
Please, I want to be a great smith, just like you.”

child, I suppose you should come in. We’ve a lot of work to do.”

               So much
for retirement.


(WP) Head in the Clouds

               It was
no secret, that she’d made a job out of making worlds, stories, and characters.
It had taken several years, but she’d finally hit the big time. There was a
movie and a television series in the works for her first book; really, she’d
hit the lottery when it came to her career. She couldn’t have asked for
anything better.

               But her
real and fictional lives were about to collide, because she could see a tall
man with an eyepatch and a grizzled face. Something about him was familiar, in
way that Julie couldn’t place. His outline was blurry, as if his place in this
world was dangerously precarious.

remembered what her therapist said about grounding techniques; perhaps this was
nothing more than her fatigued imagination playing tricks on her. She touched her
cold plastic cup, feeling the condensation weeping on its sides, the low murmur
of people talking around her, the rich aromas of coffee roasting, butter and
sugar and fruit.

               But, no
matter how many techniques she’d tried, the mysterious man wouldn’t go away.

stared so long that her eyes watered, blurring her vision. By this time, her
curiosity was practically eating her alive.

could take it no longer; abandoning her iced coffee and a half-eaten pastry,
she walked over and grabbed the man’s shoulder. “Excuse me, but you look really
familiar, like someone I know.”

the man turned around, she was doubly stunned.

               There he
was, Old One-Eyed Orin, half-troll and the king of the damned, his uncovered
eye weeping. Julie had created his backstory with particular relish: abandoned
by his mother after becoming blind in one eye, he was saved by the denizens of
the wood, who taught him secret magics that had been lost to the void of time.
But as Orin grew older, power became the ambition that swallowed him whole. He
left the gentle creatures of the woodlands behind, dreaming of glory. He built
an army that razed the world to the ground, and he remade the world completely.

was wondering if she was seeing things; was it somehow possible that the
contents of her imagination had left its confines?

               “I don’t
understand,” She said quietly, more to herself than her character.

               He grunted,
as if to agree with her. He was cradling a cup of coffee in his right hand,
wincing visibly, as if burned.

books had been nothing less than the product of a mind-numbing office day job
that had left her feeling depleted, empty, something less than human. She hadn’t
exactly intended to shake the earth, with the series that got her famous. It
had started out as a joke, something she’d fallen in love with along the way.

               And now,
one of her best (worst?) villains had walked straight out of her books. How had
this happened? As a young reader, there had been nothing she’d wanted more than
for the characters to feel real to her, as if they would jump right off the page.

that fantasy had come true. What kind of damage would her create wreak upon