Writer Spotlight: Marissa Byfield, author of The Soft Fall

Few stories manage to fit in elements of romance, tales of myth and legend, terrifying beasts and a strong, bad-ass woman in the way that The Soft Fall by Marissa Byfield does. I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading her Young Adult Fantasy novel, which also has ever-so-slight elements of paranormal fantasy in it. It’s one of the most creative retellings of the werewolf genre I’ve seen in recent years. It will make you feel deeply for the main character, Dianna, as she navigates a whole new world of demons and beasts who’s intentions are unknown.

I could go on and on about the narrative arc and incredibly well-detailed scenes, but instead, I’ll turn it over to Marissa so she can tell you about it herself.

Marissa, over to you!

What is The Soft Fall about?

If you love Wonder Woman, Princess Mononoke, or Beauty and The Beast, then The Soft Fall is for you. Set in a fantasy world, it’s a retelling of the myths of the goddess Artemis and the imperial twins raised by wolves, Romulus and Remus.

Bitten by a wolf as a girl, the young huntress Dianna must do anything it takes to survive her oppressive village — even if that means trespassing the forbidden woods where the wolves roam. What happens next will bring the lives of five outcasts together and change the course of an empire at war.

I always joke that it basically started as an AU (alternate universe) fanfic of Greco-Roman mythology, but it is! With a twist of lycanthropy.

Why werewolves?

I’m fascinated by wolves and werewolves alike. But throughout myth and story, they haven’t exactly been represented in a positive or even neutral light. I know there are many readers who feel like once you’ve read one werewolf story you’ve read them all. And there are plenty of werewolves in romance or horror — but the fantasy genre is surprisingly lacking in them.

I always knew I wanted to write a fresh and more nuanced werewolf tale, and that started with thinking about things I didn’t like about existing ones, and how I could go about subverting them.

Instead of hierarchy, I thought, let’s depict wolf packs as they really are: dynamically structured, highly social and communal groups. What if there was a found family of werewolves who fought not for dominance, but against another territorial pack and hunters bent on exterminating them?

Instead of wolves being shown as a menace and a threat, let’s show how wolves are essential to the ecosystem. What if these werewolves had special powers over the earth?

Instead of werewolves symbolizing toxic masculine aggression, let’s explore werewolves as a symbol for the transformations of womanhood, including being caged and repressed by a society that calls you monstrous for the desire for bodily autonomy.

Dianna’s village calls the wolves “demons.” It begs the question: Who is the real monster?

What are you working on currently?

The Soft Fall is the first book in the Lunar Siege duology. I’m writing the sequel, Echelon Rising, which follows the pack as they seek to bring peace to the empire…but there are forces at play beyond their imagining.

Without spoiling you, the narrative is split between Dianna and Eccka. They’re two incredibly empowered women, and I wanted to get an even more intimate look at their thoughts, motives, and backstories.  The Soft Fall was about finding agency, and Echelon is about taking control of it. There’s a war to be fought, fates of former characters to be revealed, and new characters to meet — including a warrior based on the goddess Athena, an alchemist who may hold the key to defeating the enemy, and (of course) lots more werewolves. I think there will also be more moments of humor and lightness than readers expect. Some character developments have been waiting in the wings a long time, and I’m so excited to finally visit those.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching battle formations and legionary strategies against the odds. Here in America we’re facing a dire political situation, and in addition to the pandemic, it’s given me a lot to process about how interconnected and volatile survival can be. My aim is to bring messages of perseverance onto the page, and hopefully bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Excerpt from The Soft Fall:

The first sensation was cold.

Its numbness embraced her, settled clean and raw in her lungs with her awakening breath. The sharp teeth of it needled at her nose and cheeks.

Dianna lay still, blinking. One by one, like flower buds unfurling in spring, each of her senses returned to life.

The silence was broken only by the faintest of sounds – the soft skitter of nocturnal animals, the tumble of melting snow from a tangle of branches, the wind’s dull susurration. She saw darkness above; white below.

She smelled the earthy spice of pine.

A nightmare.

She looked at her body and thought it had somehow disappeared, that she’d dissolved into the snow itself. But a bitter gust unsettled her hair, making the ends whirl about her face. A white nightgown flickered around her legs.

Dianna clenched her hand experimentally. A warm rush of blood prickled through her. She tried the other hand.

No, this is real, she thought.

“No,” she found herself saying. She rubbed the back of her head, tearing clumps of snow from her hair. “No . . .”

She sat up, squinting into the night. The farmhouse was a distant speck on the horizon. The slope below it was draped in a clean, blank canvas, smudged only by a trail of her own footprints. They stopped in a spray of powder at her stocking feet, where she’d tripped and woken. She moved her ankle away from a knotted tree root and looked up.

Snow-laced pines loomed tall and motionless as sentinels around her.

Something moved among them, half-smothered in the dark. Dianna glimpsed slivers of its lupine form. A chill slithered through her as she rose to her feet.

The demon went still, watching her.

Behind latticed branches, its molten yellow stare was unfaltering. Dianna’s heart was a bird beating its wings against the cage of her ribs. Though her instincts screamed to run, she dared not move.

Both girl and wolf stood with the impasse of strangers, each studying the other. Time seemed to suspend. The sounds of the woods calmed to a hush.

It began to snow.

The snow fell like fragments of moonlight, silver-flecked, before blinking out in the darkness. Dianna stood like a shivering fawn on feeble legs as the cold nipped at her skin, pushing its icy fingers through her hair. It touched her nose, swelled in her fingertips and toes. Snowflakes caught in her eyelashes.

The wolf’s expression seemed serene, even curious, fringed in a soft halo of fur. Its auric eyes remained fixed on hers as if waiting for something to happen.

As Dianna stayed rooted to the spot, the grip of fear began to slacken. And slowly, a profound wonder filled her.

The wolf crept forward with a tentative grace, despite its sheer mass. It loomed over her, tall as a grown man. There was a subtle deadliness in its deliberate steps, like a snake twisting through grass, like smoke curling from a slow-burning fire.

Dianna’s breath deepened. She visualized it killing her in one smooth movement – seizing her neck in its jaws, throwing her to the ground with ease.

But still she could not find the strength to move as the snow crushed under its heavy footfalls, closing the distance between them.

The wolf’s head was low, flame-eyes level with hers. Something human stared out from their depths.

The realization tingled on her skin, shivered deep into her bones.

“I see you in there,” she whispered.

It was so close she could feel its hot breath wash over her, strangely welcoming in the winter chill. For one mad second, she wanted to reach out and stroke its fur, just to know the feel of it.

Its muzzle furrowed, revealing glazed, sharp teeth.

Dart-quick, its fangs pierced the soft flesh just above her elbow, sinking in, drawing blood. The white-hot pain shattered through her arm like glass. She buckled to the ground, convulsing.

The wolf turned in a flash, vanished into the veil of snowfall and beyond the clustered pines, a memory to be forgotten.

The Soft Fall is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook at this link!

Marissa’s blog: https://marissabyfield.wordpress.com/

Book trailer for The Soft Fall: https://youtu.be/lt2cHWxIKIw

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/moonlitmarissa/

CANADIAN THANKSGIVING SALE – A FORGOTTEN PAST FOR ONLY 99 CENTS!

This weekend is Thanksgiving in the Great White North, and for a limited time you can get The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past for less than a toonie! Better hurry though, sale ends on Monday, October 11th.

Curious to know more about the land of Sapeiro? Here’s the book blurb:

Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.

Get your copy here: https://bit.ly/34NcYIM

IMPORTANCE OF CULTURE IN FANTASY STORIES

Writing and reading books in the fantasy genre is one of my favorite things to do. Maybe it’s the limitless possibilities that come with the genre, but there’s something so intrinsically cool about building a world from the ground up and thinking about how it works. Do they have giant six-legged beasts they ride to work in the morning? Do they get bouts of rain so acidic that it melts rooftops that aren’t properly insulated? Does their monetary system revolve around singing, and those who sing best are the richest?

There’s a lot that goes into creating a story, especially a high fantasy story…but maybe that’s just my bias showing. With high fantasy, you as the writer have an opportunity to toy with language, different races, jaw-dropping geography and awe-inspiring architecture. The world you build really is only limited to how much you can imagine.

During this process of thinking and building and creating, it’s important to put an emphasis on culture. That’s because a lot of the time, culture is what will impact your story and determine your character’s reactions to the events happening around them or to them.  

Pondering the importance of culture in a fantasy story is a pseudo chicken-and-egg scenario. Do you mold the story after the culture you’ve created, or do you change the culture to fit the story? Which should come first?

It’s an interesting conundrum to ponder. But I would argue that the sooner you establish your world’s culture, the sooner you can work out the kinks in your story. An arc that revolves around a girl who wants to work hard and become the first female dragon rider might not make sense in a matriarchal society. Or a boy who refuses to marry might not be a good point of conflict if marriage isn’t an important cultural ceremony.

But before delving any deeper, let’s examine what comprises culture, exactly. It’s a term often thrown around by eager travelers wanting to ‘immerse themselves in the culture of the place, you know?’, but a nation or country’s culture is an intricate knot composed of different elements.

In its broad term, culture refers to a people’s religion, art, literature, beliefs, and customs. It’s the cuisine, the language, social habits, music and customs of a subset of people. It’s the essence of a nation and defines or alters their world view. In effect, it becomes the lens through which they see the world.

Culture should be the backbone of your worldbuilding. You’ll want to think deep and hard about what your world is like, and how the culture has shaped the people who live in your story.

And don’t forget – cultures often vary by region or families. So it’s helpful to think of how to incorporate different cultures, and how they may clash or align with others included in your story. Not only does it make you look good as a writer, but it also serves as fodder for plotting and story structure.

When thinking of the story I wanted to tell with the Sapeiro Chronicles, I gave a lot of thought to the region’s politics and how it influenced or affected people’s view of their leadership. I also gave great thought to how their magic – referred to as Kerai, is part of the social fabric. This made me in turn consider how to weave it into the myths and legends of Sapeiro, and think about how the relationship with this magic differs per family. Thinking of these different worldviews was instrumental in teasing out how the different conflicts would present themselves, and made for a much more engaging story.

When done well, culture can be a driving force in a story arc. It can be the initial conflict, the resolution, or even the conclusion of your story. Culture is a powerful tool to leverage in your narrative, and you should absolutely exploit it for the purposes of your story.

Enter the giveaway to WIN a copy of A Forgotten Past!

It’s already October! I do love this spooky month, for all sorts of reasons. The decorations, the costumes, the warm drinks…and the spooky movie marathons!

Except that I’m a total wuss. I usually spend most of the time watching said horror movies hidden behind a pillow. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

But here’s some news to make your October even better: I’m currently hosting a giveaway on my Instagram page. You and a book buddy could each win a free ebook copy of The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past!

Entering is ridiculously easy. Just head on over to the giveaway post and read the instructions. You can tag as many people as you want, and each counts as an entry to win. Better hurry though, the giveaway ends Monday!

PS – if you don’t want to leave it to chance, you can get your very own copy here.

Best of luck to everyone, and happy reading!

Talk soon,

Tiffany

Read the first few chapters of The Sapeiro Chronicles!

Hi everyone,

The weekend is almost here! Maybe you’re looking for your next read, or maybe just keeping an eye out for an excuse to procrastinate on that thing you’re supposed to be doing.

Either way, here’s a solution for you: you can now read the first three chapters of The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past here!

The best part: it’s absolutely free!

I hope you enjoy those first few chapters. Full disclosure: the action gets really good soon after, and the plot thickens as of chapter 4, which introduces one of my favorite characters, Saki Stanimir.

Sakti is clever, strategic, and a total bad ass. She will absolutely beat you to a bloody pulp if she feels like it, and she’s on the verge of making a really big discovery that sets her off on a personal mission.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the story, so you know what you’re getting into:

Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.

Interested in the story? Check it out on Amazon!

THE IMPORTANCE OF A BAD FIRST DRAFT

Writing is stressful. It isn’t this blissfully serene activity, where writers spend their days on high-backed chairs sipping a perfectly roasted cup of coffee while story arcs magically plot and write themselves.

No. every word choice is agonizing. Every plot twist takes time and preparation to, well, plot.

From the second draft to the fourth (or fifth, tenth, or how ever many it may take to get to a final), stress levels are high as you boil down the words to their most perfect form, and strip away any imperfections within the narrative arc.

But here’s the thing: a lot of writers stress about this in their first draft. And that’s a bad thing. You may be asking yourself: “but shouldn’t my first draft be the best it can be so I can build from there?”

Here’s the short answer: no, it doesn’t.

The longer, more elaborate answer is that your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, because perfection isn’t the goal.

No story is perfect, ever, but especially in the first few drafts. The story is still figuring out what it is trying to be. Even if you, the writer, may think you have everything perfectly plotted out and ready to go. The story needs room to breathe and expand.

The only expectation you should ever have of a first draft is to have it written. It doesn’t need to be good. Doesn’t even need to have all the pieces. It just needs to be on paper, and it needs to be finished in the sense that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the first draft, the focus should be on story and making sure the main plot points are all in the right-ish order.  

You can always go back and tinker with the writing to your heart’s content. But focusing on the writing is kind of like choosing an outfit without looking at the forecast: might work out, but you might need to get changed. When you focus on the story, then you can make sure the pacing is good, the characters are where they need to be at the right time, and all the steps are in place.

The first draft is as bad as your story will ever get. It’s all improvement from this point on.

I’m a huge advocate of a bad first draft. My first draft for A Forgotten Past was just under 50,000 words. A few dozen drafts later, and the final was just over 100,000. The first draft was not publishable. Neither was the second or third. I would never have dreamed of sending it to an agent.

And that alleviated a lot of pressure. The stakes were lower. This draft just needed to be done, typos, mistakes, and run-on sentences galore. I didn’t care, because it didn’t matter. No one, short of a few trusted friends, would ever read that monstrosity.

But because I didn’t sweat the small stuff, I was able to get a first draft out in a few short months. And from there, I refined, re-plotted, re-wrote, and edited, edited, edited.

All the writers I know all agree on one thing: it’s a lot easier to edit than to write. Staring at a blank page is awful. The stakes are so high, needlessly so.

But editing is a thing of beauty. You have an outline, maybe not a clear one, but an idea is beginning to form, and it just needs some polishing. Your first draft is the putty that you need to sculpt your masterpiece. It needs to be sculpted and mashed and cut and worried for it to resemble something worth displaying.

Without that first bad draft of A Forgotten Past, I might never have finished the whole book. Or maybe I’d still be writing it. But by hanging up my pride as a writer and embracing a get-‘er done attitude, I was able to have fun just writing and throwing ideas onto a page for an older and wiser version of myself to edit at a later time.

The more time you waste on trying to find the exact, perfect word to describe something, the less time and energy you have on building your story.

And remember: story is everything. Readers will forgive a good book that is written okay. But good writing cannot cover for a bad story.

It’s Giveaway time! Enter now for a chance to WIN!

It’s National Book Lovers Day today! And do you know what that means?

IT’S GIVEAWAY TIME!

Now’s your chance to own a signed copy of A Forgotten Past! I’ve got two signed copies to give away to two lucky readers! Enter the giveaway today on my Facebook page for your chance to win!

Here’s how to enter:

  • Tag your best ‘book buddy’ in a comment on the pinned post
  • You and your friend must both be following my author page
  • Comment as any times as you want with different buddies! Each one counts as an entry!
  • Bonus points for sharing the giveaway post!

Winners will be announced on Sunday August 23rd!

GOOD LUCK!

Reader Appreciation Post: Read Chapter One of A Forgotten Past!

It’s my birthday today! And to celebrate, I want to give a gift to YOU, the Reader! So here’s the entire first chapter of A Forgotten Past.

I hope you like it! And if you really like it, then feel free to get your copy on Amazon so you can continue reading through the story.

Enjoy 🙂

*****

CHAPTER ONE – MENIDI FIELDS

Though the sun had not yet touched the horizon, the moon was bright in the sky, casting a silvery sheen over the world below.  Spring was in the air, ripe with moisture which settled on Lily’s arms. She shivered and drew her fur-lined coat tighter around her shoulders. Summer was still a thought, but it would bring the warm nights she so looked forward to. Until then, her patrols would be cold and wearisome. 

She tucked the stray strands of her dark-brown hair behind her ear and stifled a yawn, shutting her green eyes tight. She and her patrol members were finally, mercifully on their way back home from their mission: accompanying a delivery of raw metals and building materials from Stonemire, their capital city, back to Basolt, their home.

Lily glanced at the cart to her left. The heavy wooden structure was laden with crates and boxes piled high upon one another, secured to the frame with coarse rope. At the front of the cart, six gray, draft horses snorted and neighed as they dug their hooves into the soft earth, muscles straining as they pulled the cart forward one step at a time. The cart driver, a squat old man with a bushy salt and pepper mustache, glanced warily from one side to another, as if expecting a threat to jump out from every shadow. 

He isn’t wrong,Lily thought, bracing herself against another cold gust of wind.

Treasure like this would be a fine acquisition for any thieves who happened to pass by. Hence, a ten-person patrol had been requisitioned. Lily glanced at her fellow guards. Swords were sheathed at their hips, and the backs of their dark cloaks had been embroidered with the Craig family crest: a purple mountain over a valley. Though the guards looked menacing, Lily knew that their patrol was more symbolic than practical. Their biggest threat was curious wildlife from the nearby Ashenson Wilds, the thick forest that spread across the western edge of the continent. And even that was a stretch.

Turning in her saddle, Lily could still make out the misty peaks of the Teraberg Mountains, their summits grazing the darkening sky like serrated teeth. Stonemire was a city fleshed out from within, buried deep in the heart of the largest mountain. Founded by the Craig family, it had taken eons to carve out the tunnels that connected the different parts of the capital, which eventually led to the other Craig settlements, further along the mountain range. 

As her patrol had put more distance between themselves and the capital, the rocky terrain had gradually given way to fields of grass, which made the journey home easier. It had taken them a full day of cantering across the Menidi Fields to arrive at the meeting spot, where they took over from the Stonemire guards in assuring the safety of the cargo on the way home. Another full day had passed since then. If they kept a steady pace overnight, they would arrive in Basolt just after the break of dawn.

Lily drew her cloak tighter around her shoulders, trying to bury herself in the warm fabric. The cold air had started to seep through her skin and would soon reach her bones. She sighed, hoping the rest of the journey wouldn’t be too miserable. She already looked forward to wrapping herself under her thick blanket while sipping on her mother’s famous vegetable soup.

 Another shiver passed through her body. Lily sighed. Maybe it wasn’t just the cold. The dream last night hadn’t helped. She shifted uncomfortably in her saddle. She hated that dream: dark water closing in on her, pushing and pulling her through a cold current. Her lungs feeling as though they would explode from lack of oxygen. The intolerable pressure around her head, as if someone had tried to crush her skull. Every so often it returned to haunt her.

Maybe the shivering had nothing to do with the temperature, after all.

The sound of hooves approaching snapped her out of her distracting thoughts. She glanced up as a man advanced toward her on a roan horse. His brown hair was pulled away from his face, and a scraggly beard covered his mouth. Though he looked like a menacing warrior, with a square jaw and thick cords of muscle wrapped around his arms, his eyes were kind, crinkling at the corners.

 Lily smiled at him as he drew closer. “Brandon. Did you get bored at the front of the patrol, all by yourself?” 

 Brandon grinned. Though the leader of their patrol – and Captain of Basolt – was well into his fifties, he led his people with the kindness and energy of a much younger man. “It’s dull, always being at the front. No one to talk to. Besides, I wanted to check on the status of the wolf pack.”

 Lily was readying an answer when a smug voice cut her off.

 “They’ve fallen behind, Captain. I don’t expect they will be causing us any more trouble.”

 Lily closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She had promised her parents she wouldn’t harm Cormick, no matter how much he tested her patience. In retrospect, she realized she shouldn’t have made a promise she knew she’d have a hard time keeping.

Cormick drew up on Brandon’s other side, matching his and Lily’s speed. His black hair was slicked away from his face, and he straightened his back as he rode alongside his leader. His high cheekbones made his face look sallow in the waning light. 

 “I haven’t let myself be bothered by the arduous nature of the trip, Captain, and have made sure to stay locked on to the wolves’ location.” He glanced pointedly at Lily as he said it, a small smirk barely tugging at the corner of his lips.

 Lily nonchalantly looked ahead.

 “The main core of the pack has fallen behind, yes. But the scouts are ahead, hoping to cut us off at the ridge,” she said, pointing ahead where the road dipped between two small hills. 

Cormick snorted. “I would have sensed them if they had tried to pass us,” he retorted contemptuously.

Lily reached for the bow slung across her back and notched an arrow. She held the tip out towards Brandon. 

 “Would you do the honour?” she asked. 

 Leaning over from his horse, Brandon blew softly on the tip of the arrow, which instantly ignited. Pointing the flaming projectile upward, Lily pulled the string taut and let the arrow fly with a hollow twang.

They watched as the arrow soared through the air in a graceful arc, a line of orange flames trailing behind it. It disappeared from view as it descended over the ridge – and was met with a surprised yowl. A gray wolf scuttled away; its tail tucked between its legs. A fellow scout followed suit, fearful of more fiery projectiles. They yipped pitifully as they ran into the surrounding fields.

Lily was barely able to conceal the grin that threatened to split her face. This was made even harder when she spotted Cormick’s confused yet enraged expression. 

Cormick was a gifted Beast Whisperer, but she was better.

 “How did you . . . They were all the way over there, how in the world could you sense that?” He asked, his voice a few pitches higher than usual. 

 Laughing heartily, Brandon slapped Lily on the back, winding her for a moment. 

 “Good thing we’ve got you with us, Lily. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Beast Whisperer with your range. It really is a gift you have.” 

 Cormick shot her a dark glare, his mouth a hard line. “I guess the orphan does have her talents,” he said, staring her straight in the eyes. “It’s too bad she can’t use it to remember who she is.” Digging his heels into his steed, he cantered forward and settled near the front of the patrol, nose in the air and shoulders squared. 

Brandon glared at Cormick’s back a few moments before turning his attention to Lily. 

“Don’t mind him. He’s just jealous. After all, he was considered the prodigy before you came along.” 

Lily shrugged. “I don’t let it get to me. And besides, he’s telling the truth. Why would I get mad at him for that?” 

Brandon smiled softly and looked up at the sky, lit by the shimmering light of the stars.

“One day I would like to see you lead your own patrol, Lily. I know that’s what Cormick wants, but he’s too self-centered. Good leaders aren’t those who lead for themselves. They lead for others.”

Lily smiled softly as she gazed up at the stars. Leader of her own patrol . . . she liked the sound of that. They trotted along in silence, broken only by the soft footfalls of the horses in the patrol and the creaking of the cart.

The quiet was soon broken by the sound of something splintering, followed by a loud groan and a crash. Startled, Lily glanced back at the cart, which had come to an abrupt halt. A wheel of the merchant’s cart had broken under the weight of the metals it carried and was now listing precariously to one side.

Brandon swore under his breath. Jumping off his horse, he approached the cart to examine the damage. It wasn’t hard to see that the wheel was completely unsalvageable, the reinforced wooden spokes having fractured under the stress. Brandon sighed, turned, and addressed his patrol. 

“Looks like we’ll be stranded here until we can get this fixed. Luckily, we have a spare wheel, but it will take some time to re-attach the new one,” Brandon said, resting his hands on his hips.

“Cormick, Lily. Keep your senses sharp. I wouldn’t want those wolves to think we’re easy prey.” 

“Yes, Captain,” they replied in unison. Cormick darted off right away, shooting her another smug expression as he trotted over to the other side of the cart. Lily sighed. Why couldn’t he understand that she didn’t care what he thought about her? 

Lily dug her heels into her mare’s side, guiding her to a small rocky outcrop. There she had a sweeping view of the landscape – green rolling hills as far as the eyes could see, with an occasional pocket of bushes or trees. The sparse trees danced in the gentle wind. Everything was quiet, peaceful.

Closing her eyes, Lily opened her mind, reaching out with her consciousness to sense the beings around her. Though she remained firmly planted in her saddle, she was reaching out, sensing the warm glow of other beings surrounding her, appearing like patches of light in her mind.

She could sense the draft horses, glad for the rest the broken wheel provided them, as well as the mice scuttling in the grass. A hawk flew above, gazing on, uninterested in the scene below. The world was lit with the consciousnesses of the beings that surrounded her. She could sense them and feel their joy, fear, and determination to survive. Their emotions were her emotions.

Extending her reach further, Lily sought out the wolf pack. They were not difficult to find: seven large spirits clustered together, a few hundred meters behind the patrol. Their sharp, predatory minds were bright. They were forming a plan, intent on taking advantage of the broken wheel, which left her patrol stranded and weak. But their intentions changed suddenly, from focused planning to aggression – and finally fear.

Lily opened her eyes, suddenly on high alert. What could make the biggest predators in the fields feel such unrestrained fear? Closing her eyes again, she extended her consciousness, probing, searching for the cause of the fear that had overtaken the wolves so quickly. There didn’t seem to be anything that could— 

Lily frowned and concentrated harder. Another consciousness had appeared. It was far away but approaching fast. It was too fast for a forest bear but too slow for a horse. Its mind was intelligent, smarter than the wolves, but she was still not able to identify whether or not it was a threat. 

 Pulling on her mare’s reins, she dashed over to where Cormick stood, on the other side of the cart. The spare wheel had been brought out, waiting for the rest of the patrol to pry the shattered wheel from its spoke. Brandon looked at her quizzically as she sprinted along, though Lily ignored him. 

“Cormick,” she called as she approached him. He glared at her through hooded eyes.

“What, come to gloat about how powerful you are, orphan?” he spat. 

“No, you twit,” she snapped, patience running thin. “Something’s coming our way. Can you sense it?” 

Cormick was about to retort when his expression froze. He snapped his head eastward, towards where Lily had sensed the bright consciousness. 

“What is that?” he asked incredulously, all animosity gone.

Lily had a feeling she knew. Though it shouldn’t be possible, she knew what was lurching their way. There was only one thing on this side of the continent that could be that big, that powerful, and that intelligent.

A berserker. 

She quickly guided her horse over to the rest of her patrol, where Brandon had finally succeeded in taking off the broken wheel. Another two men were crouched near the spoke, trying to ease the new wheel on, while the others were straining at the frame, attempting to lift it high enough to latch on the new wheel.

“Something’s coming,” she blurted out, heart fluttering in her chest. 

Brandon’s expression instantly darkened. 

“What is it, thieves? The wolves? Rasara?” he asked, placing his hand instinctively on the pommel of his sword. 

“No,” she replied. “It’s a berserker.” 

 Brandon’s jaw dropped. “A berserker? How is that even possible? Are you sure?” 

Lily nodded vigorously. “No doubt about it. But hurry, it’s moving fast! We have to leave the cart behind and go!” 

Brandon’s reaction was swift. Immediately, he launched himself on his horse and addressed his patrol. 

 “Everyone back on their horses now, we’re leaving! Smash the wheels, we’ll go back for the stores tomorrow. No one is risking their lives for—” 

“It’s here!” Cormick yelled. His voice wavered as he pointed eastward, towards the hills. 

 Lily’s heart pounded in her chest. She didn’t need Cormick to tell her the berserker was upon them – she’d sensed its approach. Its incoming presence washed over her: powerful, near-paralyzing.

The creature was not yet in view, but the ground was shaking. Waves of fear and confusion came off the beast. Something had happened to it, something disorienting. It meant them no harm, but unfortunately it was not aware they were in its path. 

Before anyone could stop her, she jumped off her horse, and sprinted forward. The ground now rumbled with each of the beast’s steps, though it had not yet appeared at the top of the opposite hill. 

“Lily, come back!” Brandon yelled, trying in vain to catch her arm as she darted away. “What are you doing?” 

Ignoring her captain, Lily paused at the dip in the hill. She planted her feet firmly on the ground and steadied herself, taking in long, deep breaths, trying to slow her heartbeat and stop the trembling in her hands.

She hoped this would work.

The berserker came careening over the hill, emitting a guttural roar as it landed heavily on the ground. Its thick, gray skin glowed. It was at least twice Lily’s height and four times as long. Two long, white horns curled out from its brow, pointing forward, while another jutted out from its nose. Its milky-white eyes were set deep in its skull, rolling frantically. White froth foamed at its mouth, the spittle flying in all directions as it launched itself down the hill towards Lily. Its short, powerful legs, as thick as tree trunks, propelled it forward at an alarming speed.

It was a terrifying sight. Lily faintly heard her patrol yelling, but she couldn’t make out the words over the pounding of the berserker, its thin, stumpy tail whipping back and forth as it charged straight for her, head low to the ground, nostrils flared, and thin, disc-like ears pointing forward. 

 Steadying herself, Lily closed her eyes and opened her mind, concentrating on the beast in front of her. Its mind was clouded with fear, confusion, and pain. It formed a wall around its mind, blocking out all other thoughts. 

Gritting her teeth, Lily pushed harder, managing to slip tendrils of her own consciousness into the berserker’s mind. Focusing intently, she tried to inject thoughts of peace and calm. Noticing the alien presence, the massive animal recoiled, anger flaring as it fought back, trying to push the foreign consciousness out. Lily wormed her way back in, snuffing out the fear by enveloping it in tranquility. 

The effort seemed to have little effect, and the distance kept closing. Eventually, the terror tapered to acute anxiety, and to a slight unease. As the strength of the beast’s emotions diminished, so did its speed, until its breakneck sprint had devolved into a slow, ambling walk.

Lily opened her eyes. The berserker was a mere twenty meters from her. The ground no longer trembled with its steps, and its eyes had regained their focus; they were looking straight at her. It gave out a low moan, tossing its horned head around and came to a complete stop. It gave another low grumble and lay down on the grass, breathing heavily. Resting its head on the ground, it moaned pitifully. 

Lily noticed the cause of the beast’s suffering: a metal pole stuck in its flank. Thick blood ran down the length of its body. The berserker looked to Lily again, and she felt the despair in its mind. It needed her help. 

Cautiously, she approached, wary of the sharp horns that could so easily impale her. One sweep of its head and she would be mortally wounded. Keeping a wide berth between her and the horns, she approached the beast’s side, slowly making her way to the animal’s wound.

Even lying down, the berserker towered over her. Its chest rose and fell as it took quick, shallow breaths. Lily cautiously climbed onto its back leg, trying to reach the pole embedded in its hide. She climbed fully on top of the beast and crouched near the wound. The pole was made of thick iron, maybe four inches in diameter. Gingerly, she touched it. The berserker immediately recoiled and let out a low growl. She kept her balance as the beast beneath her shifted. 

She held her hand to the creature’s warm skin and reached out with her mind. 

 Let me help you, she repeated over and over, until her message was a song filling its head.

Slowly, she felt the berserker’s tense muscles relax ever so slightly. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the pole with both hands, wrapping her fingers firmly around the rough metal.

Don’t move.

Gritting her teeth, she pulled. Beneath her, the beast whimpered but did not budge.

The pole didn’t move at first. Lily pulled harder, and it slowly began to give. She pulled the metal free. 

Nimbly, she jumped down from the berserker’s back, pole in hand. It was three feet long, the bottom foot drenched in blood. The point had been sharpened. If Lily didn’t know any better, she would have said it was a spear. 

But who would be reckless enough to attack a berserker? 

Free from the metal embedded in its flesh, the beast rocked back onto its feet and pushed itself up. The wound was already mending, the hole closing before Lily’s eyes.

She smiled. The creature’s magic was truly incredible. 

It looked at Lily once more and gratefully bowed its head. Lily bowed back in turn. 

Go home and be well.

With another growl, the berserker turned and began trotting away, back from the direction in which it had come. Lily watched it run, the trembling in the earth diminishing as it sped away. She vaguely realized that Brandon had joined her, and they watched the beast retreat.

“If I hadn’t seen that with my own eyes, I never would have believed it,” he said quietly, staring after the berserker as it disappeared from view. He turned to her. 

“Lily, that was incredibly dangerous. You could have gotten yourself killed!” He fell quiet. “I’m trying to be angry. I should be angry at you. But to be truthful, I’m still trying to understand how you managed to do that. It looked as if you were able to communicate with it.” 

Lily shrugged. “I just let it know that I wanted to help it.” She frowned. “Although I don’t know what it was doing here. It seemed as if something had attacked it.” 

Brandon shrugged. “It’s true that this is much further north than they typically roam. But down south, in the Wyck region, there are lots of abandoned castles and fortifications from the Great War. It could have impaled itself on an old piece of stray metal.” 

Brandon turned, beckoning Lily to follow him. “Let’s go home. The others are reattaching the wheel to the cart.” His eyes twinkled in the light of the stars. “I’ve never heard of a Beast Whisperer being able to influence animal behaviour before. If you’re not careful, you’ll go down in history as the strongest Beast Whisperer ever!”

Lily smiled demurely. Turning one last time, she stared at the spot where the berserker had disappeared. Something didn’t feel right, but she couldn’t figure out what. Sighing, she rubbed her eyes. At least she would have an interesting story to tell when she got home.

****

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Fantasy Writer Spotlight

Since becoming more involved in the writing community online, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting a ton of amazing writers with incredible stories.

One of those writers is Jonathan Chandler. I had the pleasure of reading his entire manuscript for Bright Claw, a fantasy story about a wolf who goes on a journey to discover who she really is, and how her relationship with her mother, the pack leader, has impacted her self-image. It’s an amazing story with a heartfelt cast of characters who each have their own struggles and conflicts to surmount.

Since our audiences and stories are similar, Jonathan and I decided to do a blog swap! You can read Jonathan’s blog here.

Here’s what Jonathan had to say about why he writes, and what his story is about.

What is your story about?

            Bright Claw follows a hunted wolf, fleeing the harsh and overbearing rule of her mother and the pack her mother commands. After refusing to give up the hiding place of a rival god filled being in the ancient and wintry forest her mother rules, the wolf eventually named Bright meets another outcast named Trickclaw, who shows her the merits of being willing to fight even one’s own blood for the right to live life one’s own way.

            It’s a story about coming to terms with the pains that have made your parents the way they are; about accepting the harshness of a world where power seems to be the only way to survive. It’s a story of the loneliness suffering creates in us and the will it takes to overcome that isolation.

            While gods and fate seem to clash with Bright’s pursuit of happiness, her adventure will call for her to accept those things and still, somehow, remain herself.

Why do you write?

            When I was younger, I used to fancy myself a debater. I loved playing devil’s advocate, but more, I loved when I could unpack the layered perceptions that led someone to believe what they did. And, in doing so, I loved when I could take part in creating an entirely new, often more nuanced perception—that even I hadn’t had before.

            As beings of flesh and bone and spirit—of thought—we are constantly living at odds with the world and each other. With our varied experiences and physical separation from one another, with our individual bodies and minds, we often feel we have no choice but to designate the differences in others as either wholly good or wholly bad. We have to make others either friends or foes, or risk being overrun by the problems of the world around us, and the basic physical needs we each have. Yet, in spite of that reality, we humans have managed to create societies, communities, and nations that have worked in concert to thrive in a harsh world and have even begun to manipulate those fundamental aspects of reality that only the gods had dominion over in the past.

            We have survived and evolved. And not just by chance. We didn’t simply always give in to our instinct to make lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’. We discovered a magic, I think, that does more than even a revelatory debate, because it acts as a neutral party to mitigate the effects of ego on the ensuing change of the involved parties’ spirits. That magic was storytelling.

            The act of creating a dialogical space where empathy could bridge the gap of our physical selves, helped us see other points of view and ways of experience. It helped us find common ground. It helped us continue to expand the once small tribes that our ancestors fought and bled for. Now, we sit on the edge of an interconnectivity that no one has experienced before, because of the momentum of that magic and the technology its seeded desires have given birth to, through us. I want to be a part of that.

            I no longer consider myself a debater—though I’m sure I argue as much as anyone else in these days. I don’t want to fight. I want to experience. I want to cry, live, love, and share in the magic of stories in whatever way I can. Because, I think, writing stories is the most human thing that can be done, and I can’t see myself doing anything else.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

            World building; initial plotting and character sketching, are all my favorite parts of creating a story. When you’re someone that, perhaps, spends too much time in your own head, it can be a surprising thing to discover that you don’t know everything that can be found there. I’m sure everyone has moments of introspection that coincidentally lead to recalling a vague memory, or person, or idea. But those small moments are often fleeting and rarely do more than bring up sparks of the emotion they had when they were first experienced. The nostalgia is short lived, however true it might feel for a little while.

            Unearthing a gem in the back of my mind and rotating it in the hands of my perception has always been a passed time, nonetheless. And I’ve found that writing enhances this act. It digs deeper and melds together half forgotten things of your past to produce something novel (to you and the world—oh, and no pun intended there, ha).

            The feeling of wonder that comes with the contradictory feeling of familiarity is the reason I love plotting and building worlds—particularly in fantasy, where archetypes let us graft our experiences intuitively. I think, just like how story allows people to connect with others outside of themselves by internalizing external experiences, I think story making allows a person to connect with the ‘other’ in themselves through the exercise of externalizing what has been left subconsciously internalized throughout their lifetime. Learning about the good and bad parts of myself, that I never knew before—or have never been able to articulate before—is the reason I keep staring at blank pages until my head hurts.

Here’s an exerpt from Jonathan’s incredible story:

She wasn’t alone. She only felt like it. There was a pressure, a pressing on the sides of her eyeballs that shadowed everything in a way that pulsed with the beat of the blood in her veins.

            The ravens’ magic? Bright wondered.

            There was another wolf with her, whining and growling plaintively for her not to press on. It was a familiar complaint, from a familiar source. She ignored it, in spite of her present self-howling for her to listen to the tag along her mother always sent with her. To watch her.

            To stop me from wandering too far….

            She was too far. The shadows broke along her memory self’s path, creating a tunneled vision toward the very place Bright of the present had run so far away from.

            There was a copse of ashen trees, clustered oddly together, so that they were like a great beaver’s damn emerging into Bright’s vision. She investigated them, sniffing up and down the wall’s length for an opening, a place where the scents beyond could become an inviting cloud.

            This place had been new to Bright. This was a place the pack hadn’t been. A place her mother hadn’t marked.

            It was a horizon. A place I could have made my own. It had been so important to do that, Bright of the present lamented. Then her past self found a way through the wall. There was a place where the lay of the trees was untethered with a dip in the ground. She had to dig to clear dirt, moss, and the ominous bones of some small beast, but the Bright of the past was undaunted.

            She was spurred on by a strange scent that grew and grew in her nostrils, until it was all she could think about. She smelled, beyond the dirt and roots and bark, animal flesh and smoke. Like the sky had sent down one of its blinding, jagged furies to start a fire in the Wood. But the smell didn’t have that warning itch, that dryness of the air that would have scared her off. There didn’t seem to be a storm brewing.

            Again, this had been something new; fire without the scent of a spark.

            When she broke through, she learned the terrifying why.

            There was the hollow skin from a bear, standing next to a fire, surrounded by small stones. Bright snarled immediately, even before she got her body free of the hole she’d dug beneath the clustered and stacked trees. The thought of how vulnerable she was rolled through her past self in a chill down her spine, making the Bright that had to watch bark in time with her vision.

            What kind of bear wasn’t afraid of a fire? What kind of fire wasn’t wild and ravenous, consuming all it could snare?

            This bear, placid and sunken in many places, was nearly hugging the flame; as if it had no fur to warm it. This fire was tame, beneath a conical roof of tinder, content to nibble at its own housing and blacken it to ember.

            The sunken bear moved at the barks past Bright threw at it. But it didn’t move like a bear. The head didn’t raise and the eyes, the wolf realized, were empty sockets— sightless.

            Bright of the present, who saw this as a ghost might, through eyes too far away to control what was seen— to demand her past self to turn away— watched the tunneling shadow of her vision condense around the figure that was not a beast of any kind. It stood tall, having been crouched in the guise of an animal. As it did, the fire it had been huddled over cast a dancing light on its skin.

            Skin. Not fur. The thing, the lanky, but muscled thing that stood on two legs, had almost no hair, save for its shoulders, face, and head. In its head were piercing eyes, darkened by the cowl of the bear pelt and strong brow.

            Bright had never seen anything like it. Her past self knew to fear it though. After all, what prey thing could wear a dead bear.

            It took a pack of wolves to kill a bear, normally. This creature had apparently done it alone, because Bright scented no others. The question of how crawled over Bright’s mind for a moment. Then the thing spoke. And, having now felt what god-speech is like from a more mortal creature, Bright of the present could not help but flinch at the force of a god’s thoughts given form.

            Through this vision, Bright experienced the sights this new god had cast into her and all around her, a second time.

            While the fear of this new thing speaking seized her chest, the Bright of the present had the mind to keep her eyes opened as the god spoke its words to spawn sights not just into her mind, but into the world itself.

            That was the power of true god magic. Bright’s mother could do the same, as host of Great Cold. It created more than visions. It created the real. But no god Bright had ever heard of had ever been able to produce so much. What was this god’s name that it had mastery over the trees, earth, and fire?

            Only the Bright of the present could now wonder if indeed the strange new creature was full of only one god at all.

            Trees sprouted with loud cracks of stone and earth, right in front of the wolf and made her jump from the hole that was her only apparent escape. She was nearly bowled over sideways when a fir erupted at an angle to her left and thundered toward the sky, headless of the wolf in its path. Then another sprouted and lanced through her now wounded ear. Bright of the present cried out from the doubly present pain.

            More words came, followed by trees and rocks and fire gouts that licked the pads of her feet. At one point, her breath a scratching coil in her chest, incomplete and panic inducing, she was seized. Great arms grabbed her by the scruff and tried to wrestle her from her feet. But she thought of the bear. She thought of the blackness of those empty eyes and the icy gaze of the figure wearing the bear’s sockets as its own. 

            She felt like prey. She felt like death was near.

            I had looked for a horizon— not an end!

            She twisted in the god’s grip. She lashed out with her teeth, biting some part of the figure blindly. The creature’s muscle moved oddly in her mouth, like a clutch of snakes. The taste of blood on her tongue was hot and filled her with a shock of strength. The thought of how her mother looked, hunting other god-hosts, occurred to her for the briefest instant. Then her mouth burned. It flashed with a bewildering light that made the creature holding her yell and set her free.

            Immediately, she ran in a widening circle, unsure what random creation would spear her or flay her, when her tag along resolved on a ridge above a low part in the ash tree wall.

            Bright followed his howl, as she remembered from the actual moment of her frenzied escape. All the while the god thing spoke and she couldn’t understand his words, or even really if it was more than one word it was speaking. An incredibly terrifying and, somehow, frustrating situation. As if she couldn’t understand why she was afraid, despite the danger of death on her heels.

            But I’m almost free….

            No.

            The path she took up the hill to leap over the ash wall vanished, then the other wolf she’d been with turned into shadow and shattered into a burst of cawing black birds.

            Suddenly Bright was in complete darkness, with the cloud of black birds becoming a veil that crowed and yelled to drown out the god she fled. At first, this was like a gift. Then there was snarling.

            She was still running. It was the only thing that made her heart’s pounding feel right in its cage. Ahead there was a dimly glowing light, growing its ambient sphere as if Bright were rapidly closing on it. Light in this emptiness was welcome, but a cold tingled her nose that soon sank beneath her fur. Her mother resolved in the light, snarling and barking loud enough to shake the invisible ground beneath Bright’s feet.

            The whole pack was behind her mother’s tall shadow and were resolute as a wall amidst the wisps of frost and snow her mother brought with her. All their hackles were raised and they magnified to the size of mountains as Bright’s legs rushed her toward them.

            With numbing anxiety, Bright thought she might pass between the giant wolves’ legs, since she could not change direction or slow down.

            She was afraid. And she was right to be.

            Her mother’s head lowered, nearly to the invisible ground, her massive eyes, the color of winter wind, peering into her soul to dispel all hope.

            “Tell me, daughter,” Bright’s mother said, with a voice like the hiss of a blizzard’s gusts. “Where is it?”

            Bright kept her jaws closed.

            “Where is the new god in my wood? Tell me, so I can avenge my daughter.”

            Bright shook her head with a whine as her mother’s oversized head let its mouth hang open on the path Bright took. She would be consumed!

            “Tell me or you will be eaten first, and the Great Cold will still have its way. Why protect what threatened you? Tell me and be the wolf you are. Tell me or be gone!”

            The fury of winter and the god within Bright’s mother cast spikes of ice on either side of Bright’s path. She would be eaten.

            And like the new god, she realized, she was alone and afraid.

            I will be no more than what my mother wished for me….

Indie Books You Might Want TO Grab!

Check this out, The Sapeiro Chronicles made an Indie reading list!

Musing Of Souls

While the quarantine life has worked out well, I’ve come across a lot of Fantasy books, I’ve been leaning a bit towards fantasy and thus I have a mini list of some books you all might want to grab while searching for your next favorite read on the Amazon and Goodreads. While they come at a price everyone can afford, a few boxsets and pre-orders are at an incredibly cheap price that you just would not believe.

8. Lela Trilogy

Princess Cora is abandoned and left by herself and thus finds herself inducing in the world of magic. Prince Teryn has to marry to have another kingdom by their side for the heard invasion for which he has to kill the Unicorns who are being protected by a witch.

To save a unicorn, Cora must face her past. To save a kingdom, she must fight for her future.

The Lela…

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