This summer I wrote a new novella entitled Lunaticking, featuring Elizabeth Marquez, magics good and evil, and more than one sort of werewolf, set in the Olympic rainforest. Writing it was huge fun. It was also emotional. My wife and I lost our long-time friend Rachel to cancer. She always believed in magic, and the novella is dedicated to her.
It will be exclusive to the new High Moon anthology, along with novellas by seven other urban fantasy authors also exclusive to the book: Aimee Easterling, BR Kingsolver, Jenn Stark, Becca Andre, Jenn Windrow, N.R. Hairston, and Marina Finlayson. The book will be released on September 14th. It’s already available for pre-order at three ebook retailers.
Here’s the first two chapters of Lunaticking as a sample:
The howl shredded the silence of the Olympic Rainforest night, erupting from the canyon mouth, east of Tully and me. The hairs on the back of my neck stuck straight out. It sounded like something out of a horror movie.
“That’s our wolf-dude,” I told Tully. He loomed beside me in his leather duster, his dark face tight with concentration as he peered into his scry stone. He began chanting a Tag spell in Finnish.
I held my wand and peered into the darkness, brushing my bangs away from my eyes with my free hand. The waxing gibbous moon had sunk behind the wooded ridge west of us, plunging the canyon floor into darkness. Morning twilight hadn’t begun yet.
“Got you,” Tully said. A golden thread hung in the air, a glowing spell-line that connected him to the wolf-man manifestation.
“Let’s go then,” I said and started back down the trail at a half jog, my wand out, point down. I pulled a Link spell from memory. I’d cast it in German. Not much elegance, but plenty of sure strength, enough for this wolf-man manifestation, especially out here in the boondocks.
“Liz, wait up,” Tully called behind me.
I looked over my shoulder at him. “Come on, old man, better keep up.” Tully was thirty, four years older than me, and I never wanted to miss a chance to tease him about the age difference.
He broke into a run, and I ran faster to stay ahead of him, but Tully had longer legs, was former US Army, and a big-time gym rat. He passed me in seconds.
My breath burned as we ran. My boots felt like they weighed a ton each. Maybe I should have worn hiking ones instead of Doc Martens. We crested the rise in the middle of the canyon and then I could see the mouth, and the distant mountains, lit by the nearly full moon sinking in the west of us.
Tully stopped and I did likewise, bending over and gasping for air. He uttered a command word and purple mana pulsed along the golden thread of the spell.
The air shimmered, and a window of silver light appeared in front of Tully. He gestured and we finally glimpsed our target, after a night spent wandering through this forsaken forest.
The supernatural’s gray fur was shaggy. Its jeans bulged and ripped, going down to just below the knees, with the tattered remains of a checkered shirt hanging from its broad shoulders. The eyes glowed red. It sniffed the air, mouth open, short fangs shining in the moonlight. The manifestation was right out of a Universal monster movie from the Nineteen Thirties. Manifestations modeled themselves on human ideas and self-conceptions. Everything from myth and folk lore to urban legends.
“Now that’s a classic wolf-dude,” I said. It looked like a stunt double for Lon Chaney Jr.’s wolf man.
Tully gestured with his hands and the golden spell-thread brightened. “Anthro-wolf, to use the correct designation.” face narrowed in concentration. “It’s a Level Three.”
I blinked. That was a permanent on the Residency scale. “That was fast. We only picked it up yesterday.” How could it solidify that quickly? Manifestations took time to coalesce.
“And why is it out here in the boondocks?” Tully asked.
“Good question,” I said. This part of the Olympic Rainforest was deserted. There shouldn’t be any here. “Maybe it wandered away from a populated area.” I shook my head. To exist, manifestations needed people. Supernaturals flickered into existence from the interaction between mana and the human subconscious. Mana was the fuel for magic. It flowed through everything and everyone, invisible except for the few of us aware of its existence. There were very few humans out here, and supernaturals typically needed a large collective subconscious. Which meant there should only be the very rare fleeting manifestations, not a permanent prancing about.
I searched my memory for the ranged binding spell I needed. The Spinning Chain, I’d go with that. Ensnare him at range, and then attach the Link spell. Two spells in quick order. Despite the long night, I could do it.
I began slicing the air in front of me with my wand, warming up. The wolf-dude was a hundred yards distant. It turned and ran off, shoulders rolling, long arms nearly scraping the ground.
I chanted the Spinning Chain spell in Spanish. “I cast forth my hand and ensnare you from afar.” My skin tingled as a spinning loop of golden light appeared before me. It turned to a muddy gray glow with steel glints, mimicking a real chain. “I bind thee!”
As I pulled back my arm for the windup, a chorus of howls echoed behind us. I couldn’t stop the spell, but my aim went all skewed and the chain missed the lens and spun into the trees. My right tricep muscle suddenly cramped.
In the arcane lens, the image of the wolf-person disappeared into the trees, the lens dissipating a second later as Tully lost concentration.
We turned and peered back up the canyon. Moonlight washed the tops of the trees with light, but the forest beneath was dark. The chorus grew louder.
I massaged my arm. “More? How are they materializing out here in this deserted forest?”
Tully snapped his wand, flinging a quick spell in that direction. “Reveal!”
We waited. And waited.
“No mana. No magic.” Tully said, after a minute.
“You’re kidding.” I flexed my arm. Still a bit cramped. “You’re telling me those howls are not supernatural?”
“There’s nothing magical there,” he said.
“Maybe that supernatural can throw howls. You know, like a ventriloquist.”
He gave me a side-eye.
“Okay, I admit, that’s ridiculous. Maybe those howls were fleeting manifestations, Level Zeroes?” Level Zeroes were supernaturals that only lasted for minutes, sometimes just seconds. Most manifestations were phantasmal Zeroes, only a few solidified enough to become even a Level One, which might last an hour, or a day at most. Level Twos, perhaps a few weeks. Level Threes, like the wolf-man manifestation I’d failed to ensnare, were the lowest level of permanents.
“Multiple Level Zeroes?” Tully’s tone told me he thought I was nuts.
“What else could it be?” I asked.
“How about actual wolves?”
I squinted at him. “There aren’t any real wolves here in the Olympic peninsula.”
“Actually, there is a wolf sanctuary here. Not close, but still here.”
“You’re suggesting that maybe an actual wolf left the sanctuary and happened to end up here, right when a manifestation outbreak occurred?” I asked.
Tully shrugged. “Okay, so it does seem pretty unlikely.”
“There are no coincidences, just connections not yet found,” I said, quoting our RU.N.E. field manual. The Regulating Union for Normalizing Enchantments loved to spell everything out, especially procedure.
His eyebrows rose. “You’ve actually read the field manual?”
“Hey, I’ve read it. I just don’t read it for fun like you do.” I put my wand away. Tully couldn’t cast another scry until after dawn, and then it was going to be very difficult to locate any supernatural. Day magic was much more subtle than night magic, and manifestations usually went to ground once the sun was up.
“There’s only one thing we can do,” I said. “Go find breakfast.”
Chloe stood at the edge of camp. Her skin tingled in the glow of the nearly full moon that hung low in the west, taking the edge off her anger at Russ. He and the others had been gone for hours, out on his latest “lope-about.” Despite her annoyance at him, his expression made her smile. She shook her head. He seemed to do both to her on a regular basis.
Grass rustled behind her, and the familiar scent of a packmate filled her nostrils. It was Calvin. She turned to greet her friend. He smiled and adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. She’d bonded with him on that ill-fated tour bus, when she was with her grandmother, and he with his grandparents. Before the terrible accident that changed the survivors forever.
Behind him the coming dawn had begun to smear the eastern sky.
“They still haven’t returned?” Calvin pushed his glasses back up his nose. Despite everything, poor Calvin was still near-sighted and needed his glasses. It wasn’t his fault.
“Not yet.” She suppressed a grin.
“The moonlight gives your coppery hair a silver tinge,” he said.
“You only now noticed?” She grinned. “Making a pass at me, Calvin?”
He blushed. “No, no, I’m not,” he said hastily. “I wouldn’t want to get between you and Russ.”
“I don’t belong to him,” she said.
“Well, I didn’t mean it like that, but you guys are a thing, right?”
They’d become a couple. Chloe and Russ hadn’t committed to each other. Not yet. After the accident, they had been the first ones to shift and become wolves. Her human and wolf sides had both felt the attraction between them. It crackled like summer lightning.
For a time, they had been happy in the deep forest. The others learned to shift, and they bonded as pack. Then Russ began having dreams, dreams about another place, a better one. A month ago, they came to this place, near a fishing resort, not far from the highway, and not much farther from a town. They were able to get supplies, more clothes and shoes and other gear. But it also put them at risk of being discovered for what they had become.
Staying deeper in the forest was best. Chloe was sure of it. But Russ was certain being here was the best for the pack. He told Chloe he now dreamed of new members joining them. So, the pack had to wait here for the new members. She was still drawn to him, and she thought he was to her, but his dreams kept getting in the way.
She said they needed to move on. He said that they must wait.
Now the disagreement over what the pack should do next threatened what the two of them had together. She told him the entire pack needed to discuss staying or going. Russ agreed to it, reluctantly. He had agreed, saying it was only right, though she could sense the compulsion to just order them to stay. What was it about this place that made him so stubborn? When they’d been deep in the wilderness, he’d agreed that the pack needed to stay away from civilization and move as necessary. But these dreams now convinced him otherwise.
A chorus of howls echoed faintly to the east.
She shook her head again. “Russ and the others.” The fishing resort lay west, but only a couple of miles. Too close to be howling.
“It sure sounds like it,” agreed Calvin.
They stood there in silence, waiting for the pack to arrive.
Tyler returned first, still fastening his jeans as he walked out of the trees west of them. Barefoot as usual. His sleeveless flannel shirt was unbuttoned. His chest muscles flexed as he buttoned it, stopping two holes short of the top.
“Where’s Russ?” Chloe asked him.
He brushed his long blonde hair away from his eyes. “He’s still scouting.”
Which meant he was still in wolf form. “Now?” She frowned. “He knows we have this meeting.” She’d finally agreed to the discussion, and he stayed away?
Tyler shrugged. “He said he wanted to check out a possible intrusion.”
Worry poked at her. “Intrusion? How many and where?”
“I don’t know, that’s all he said.”
She frowned. Just like Russ to be the hero and investigate on his own.
Angel appeared next, pulling her black tank top down over her naked breasts. Her hair, which had been shoulder length when they’d all been on that tour bus three months ago, was now cropped close to her head.
Kat and Max walked behind her, both dressed in wool shirts and jeans, holding hands.
Chloe crossed her arms and stared up at the lightening sky. “Russ needs to be here.”
“He’s the Alpha,” Tyler said. The rest of the pack gathered in a circle around Chloe, beneath a sequoia.
Calvin adjusted his glasses again, and smiled. “Pirate Code, Tyler, remember? We decide together. Russ decides in a crisis. This isn’t a crisis.”
Tyler bared his teeth, took half a step toward Calvin, who bravely stood his ground.
“You aren’t the alpha,” Tyler growled. “You’re not one of the betas, either. Me and Chloe are. You’re in the back of the pack, man, where you belong.”
“Don’t speak to him like that,” Chloe said, putting a low growl into her own voice.
Tyler flinched, then lifted his chin up defiantly. “You aren’t the alpha,” he repeated, but there was less force in his words the second time.
Chloe uncrossed her arms “How about you shift and find our fearless pack leader and let him know we’re waiting for him?” He shouldn’t be chasing down intruders. The rules stated they must avoid outsiders.
Out of the corner of her eye, Angel smirked, but didn’t say anything.
Tyler pulled his shirt off as he stalked into the trees. Angel headed to her tent.
Chloe plucked a long blade of grass from the earth, twirled the stem. A flood of scents filled her awareness—the sharp, sour tang of the grass itself, the dirt traces tangling from the roots, the moistness that sheltered earth worms, wriggling insects, the trace of a bee that had brushed against the grass blade, the almost metallic taste of a dragonfly that had perched on the blade not long ago.
She shook herself. Lately, the world had begun opening up to her in a flood of sensations while she was still in human form. Not like it had been for the first two months.
“Are you all right?” Calvin asked.
She blinked. She had forgotten he was still there. “I was distracted,” she said. “So much to drink in here.”
“You’re more aware of everything now, aren’t you?”
“I guess. Why?” she asked.
“Because I am, too. In all sorts of ways. I notice sounds far differently than I did a few weeks ago. Smells and tastes, too. But it’s more than that.” He fell silent.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He tilted his head, looking at her. “Haven’t you noticed tiny glints of gold and silver light, sometimes, when we transform? Have you seen how some rocks and hills have a really faint purple aura around them?”
She tugged idly at a strand of her hair, struggling to recall. “Maybe once or twice, but I thought it was just a trick of the light.”
“I’ve seen it more than once or twice, but only because I’ve written it down in my journal. I have four entries. But the thing is, I can’t actually remember any of them. I only know because I wrote down that I saw it.”
Chloe shivered. “That’s spooky. What do you think it means?”
“We’re changing. I don’t know why. Is it this place? Or just our wolf sides developing further?”
“I think it’s this place. We need to move on,” she said. “It’s too risky to stay here.”
“But this is something different,” Calvin replied.
She nodded. “Another reason to leave.”
“If only we knew why our senses are altering.” He got to his feet. “Another reason to leave, I guess. I’m going to get something to eat. I’ll keep an ear and an eye out for Russ and the others.” He left and she leaned back on her arms.
The Moon had disappeared behind the wooded ridge. She could go and look for Russ, but they’d argued before he took the others out on the run.
It had been a bad fight. She clenched her fists at the memory. He left to lead the others. He should come back to her, not expect her to chase after him.
She exhaled slowly.
“We need to decide, together, as a pack,” she said aloud.