If you’re reading this, you probably are aware that my latest story, “Epena’s Epiphany” is part of Faith Hunter’s TRIALS anthology.
I’m not a fantasy guy, not really. If you’ve read my other works, however, you may have come across a short story I wrote for charity, “The Monoceros.” THAT story has a Sheldon Cooper-esque protagonist who is forced, against his will, to go offworld to find a purple unicorn. Ostensibly to get rid of him, because his boss is sick of his shenanigans. You might argue, Gentle Reader, that purple unicorns are clearly fantasy, and what do I mean I’m not a fantasy guy?
Guilty. I admit it reluctantly, but you saw through my prevarication quite easily. I offer you a nod of approval at your clever insight.
And, come to think of it, another short story of mine “Just A Second,” published a few years ago in Galaxy’s Edge magazine’s inaugural issue has magic potions and a mysterious lady just around the next corner. Also not very SF-nal. Potions are, by their nature, rooted in fantastic lore.
But I digress.
Faith herself called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in writing a short story for her anthology, and she immediately started off with “Now, I know you’re science fiction, and this isn’t science fiction, but if you would be interested, I’d like for you to write me a short story set in my Rogue Mage world.”
Gentle Reader, when a New York Times bestselling author calls you and invites you to write a story for her anthology, you have two mandates: say “yes,” and say “thank you!” immediately thereafter.
So we talked, she and I, about what that story might look like. I bought a dog-eared copy of BLOODRING, the first book in the trilogy, and read through it, making notes all the way. Her Southern drawl poured like molten honey through my phone as I asked her how energy comes from gems, and she told me about creation energy, how a mage can wield it and how a non-mage cannot. What IS this energy made of, I asked, ever the scientist, grasping at my technical acumen to understand her world.
“Well, it’s kinda like electricity, except it isn’t. And when a mage pulls stone from a gem, it can kill her.”
I don’t WANT my protagonist to die. I knew it was going to be a young woman, because I’m trying to be a flexible author and I KNOW what it is like to be a guy. I’ve been one all my life. And I knew I wanted her to be unfamiliar with the way that creation energy works, and ignorant about how to use her latent powers.
“Does she have to die?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Faith. And when you invent the world, like she has, you get to call the shots.
“What kills them?” (I was trying, you see, to find a loophole.)
“The fire burns them up from the inside.”
My mind went to a battery being overcharged, and exploding. How do you fix that? Put in a fuse.
“What if my protag has a tattoo using a powder made up from the stone she pulls energy from? What if she uses common stone, not gems? Can that work?”
“Maybe,” Faith sounded doubtful. “Tell me more.”
Well, I’ll spare you the rest of that phone conversation, but it went for 45 minutes, and there were moments when she yelled in excitement, and that, Gentle Reader, is the sound you want your author to make when you pitch her a short story concept set in her world.
So, please consider picking up a copy of TRIALS and reading ALL the stories, but especially mine. I would like to introduce you to Epena Kawai, whose name literally translates to “Stone Water,” and the reason that, while in school, the mean girls would call her “mud-girl.” Her parents are dead, she’s adrift in life without a career or life-path (kuleana) , and she is head over heels in love with her little cousin, Akamu, whom she spoils rotten and cares for while his mother, her aunt, goes off to work.
Life is easy for Epena, as nobody is pushing her to take a stand for herself. Until ‘Ana’Ana, the dark seraph ruling the Hawaiian islands, comes very near to killing Akamu while he is at school one day.
And the reason might very well be Epena herself.
Here’s a short excerpt:
“Outside, the moon spilled silver light across the landscape, making it easy for Epena to find her way to a nearby lava field. Chunks of ’a’a lay about, varying in size from pebbles to house-sized boulders. She filled her sack with several fist-sized pieces, then stopped.
Before she went ahead with her plan, maybe she should test it first.
She bent and picked up a small bit of lava and pressed it against her left arm’s kakau, but not quite hard enough to break skin.
The tracings of powdered rock glowed beneath her skin, absorbing energy from the stone in her hand. At the same time, a faint throbbing nibbled at her. She removed the stone and the sensation faded.
So it was true. Her ink glowed when it drew energy from rock. But was it enough to summon a dragon?
She pushed the sharp rock against her arm again, gritted her teeth against the pulsing and dragged the stone’s edge across her arm. The sharp edge bit through her skin and into the etched stone-powder pattern under the surface.
Her entire arm lit up with a flash of bright light, startling her, and she dropped the rock. In a sudden panic, she turned and ran from the lava field, toward a cluster of nearby buildings, a strong sense of imminent danger goading her. Her slippers slapped against her soles, and she didn’t stop until she stood beneath an overhang, gasping and looking at the sky.
Then she saw him.
A dark shape rose into the moonlight and hurtled toward her. She bit her lower lip as ’Ana’ana moved to where she had stood moments earlier. She tore a strip of fabric from the hem of her skirt and wrapped it once, twice, thrice around her arm, stanching the blood and covering her left arm’s kakau, blocking the weak light it still threw off. She crouched, hoping to remain hidden, but his head swiveled in her direction, his eyes blazing.
She mentally kicked herself for not having waited until she’d connected her kakau before experimenting.
Too quickly for her to follow, suddenly ’Ana’ana was in front of her, hovering, a sulfurous reek wafting from his body. Although his form was human, black, feathered wings sprouted from his shoulder blades. His face had a rugged beauty in the moonlight that washed across his naked form, even the tuft of black feathers near his genitalia. He hovered lazily, stirring the warm night air around them with each beat of his powerful wings.
She shivered anyway.
“Have you seen anyone in the lava field?” His voice rumbled.
’Ana’ana sniffed, then pointed to the strip of cloth around her arm. “You have been injured. How did this happen?”
Epena trembled, knowing she could not survive if he chose to attack her, at least not at that moment. “I cut myself with a knife, making poi.”
The dragon didn’t seem convinced and hovered, glaring.
“If it helps,” she said, “I saw a flash of light moving across the water near Lana’i.” She pointed a trembling finger at the dark hump of an island across the moonlit water.
The dragon smiled. “You’d better not be lying to me, human.” He flew away slowly, in the general direction of Lana’i.
Epena let out a long, slow sigh of relief, then unwrapped her arm, which had stopped glowing. The bleeding had stopped as well, but her heart pounded like a rabbit’s. She walked to where she’d dropped the burlap sack of ’a’a, picked it up, and then scurried back to Kanoa’s shop, glancing furtively at the sky, hoping the dragon wouldn’t return.”
Like it? I hope so!
Once I had finished this story, I got to read it over again as if I were a reader. I like Epena, and I like her lifestyle, but that changes in this story as she confronts a supernatural being with only disdain for humanity. How she rises to accept the challenge of his presence, and his lethality, makes her a hero to me.
Now that this one is going to print, I’m back to working on my first novel, not speculative fiction but literary, and hope to have that out in the next year or so. I’m also writing science fiction short stories, and have a steampunk story coming out in the next PENNY DREAD anthology, edited by Quincy Allen, as well as a time-traveling , space cow story set in Burgundy during WWII, where our intrepid heroes have to fight, well, alien cows. THAT story comes out in the NO SH*T, THERE I WAS anthology, edited by Alex Acks.
Deadly serious business, that.
Thanks for reading this long-winded post. I hope you pick up a copy of TRIALS.
I hope you like my story. And, if we ever meet, remind me that I promised to sign your copy.
Until later, Gentle Reader, I remain your loyal servant
Click the picture below to get to Amazon for your own copy!
Latest posts by Lou J Berger (see all)
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