Hi Nancy! Want to tell us a little bit about your work?
Sure! I'm the author of the Deadtown urban fantasy series, featuring shapeshifter Victory Vaughn. As Boston's only professional demon exterminator, Vicky kills other people's personal demons while trying to maintain a relationship with her workaholic werewolf lawyer boyfriend and manage a teenage zombie apprentice. There are currently five books in the series: Deadtown, Hellforged, Bloodstone, Darklands, and Hellhound. The sixth and final book, Firestorm, will be out next year.
That's awesome, Nancy! I read the first two and liked them very much; clearly I need to get caught up! For now though, on to RustCity!
1. Fill in the blank: "I used to be really good at downhill skiing , but these days I'm pretty rusty." I did a little skiing years ago myself, although I would have to say "downhill skiing on beginner runs only." The one time I attempted a blue run, I gave up part way down and slid down on my butt holding my skis...
2. Eminem or Aretha? Explain. No one has a voice like Aretha. This truth we hold to be self-evident...
3. Choose One:
I'm confused. And not from around here.
All will become clear at the conference...
4. What are you looking forward to most at the RustCity conference? Hanging out with readers and other authors. Excellent, because that's the whole point!
5. What is an off-the-cuff association you have with Michigan, Detroit, or Troy? Wayne State, where my dad went to grad school (not quite) a million years ago. Your dad and my husband are fellow alumni, then!
6. Your latest work of fiction features a wealthy industrialist and an R&B singer. What's the first sentence?
So this girl walked into the bar--not just any bar, MY bar. And not just any girl, either.
What's it about?
No clue except she's the wealthy industrialist and he's the R&B singer. I like the Casablanca nod!
7. And finally, would you like to participate in the Alpha Heroes Five Words Fiction Game? Yes please!
Yay!! You chose to work on Alchemy Rusts, our paranormal, anything-goes story. And I'm so excited because this will be the THRILLING CONCLUSION to a pretty amazing story. Your challenge words are: sliver, onyx, morbid, lush, and taste
Part 1, by Laura Bickle
Part 2, by Calandra Usher
Part 3, by AJ Norris
Part 4, by Roselynn Cannes
Part 5: by Gina Conkle
It was the shivering that woke her.
Cold . . . how could she be so cold? Her joints ached with it. It felt like splinters of ice were jammed up under her nails, into her eyes and nose and ears. She was an iceberg floating in a vast, dark, frozen sea.
Mara struggled to open her eyes, but her lashes were frozen shut. She lifted her arm—there was a sound like glass breaking as she pulled free of ice—and rubbed her eyes. Her fingers, stiff with cold, were just warm enough to melt the crystals that sealed them shut.
Mara opened her eyes to the end of the world.
A blizzard raged around her. Tiny silver flakes, sharp as razors, sliced at her skin. She sat up, and silvery ice cracked and flaked away. All was silent until she dug the ice from her ears, unleashing sounds of howling wind and screeching cries. Above it all, Ayla chanted in a language Mara didn’t understand.
The mermaid queen held the astrolabe aloft. The orb shone like the north star as it spewed the metallic snowflakes that filled the room.
The liquid that had spilled from the mermaid tank and lifted Mara up was slowly freezing. It stuck to her like quicksand, drawing her in. She panicked, thrashing, only to get pulled in deeper. The thick liquid splashed into her mouth, coating her tongue with a metallic taste. The taste of death by freezing.
Stop thrashing! she told herself. She closed her mouth. Her body retained barely enough heat to melt the ice from her tongue. She spat it out, and the globule froze in mid-air.
A dark form flew over her head. It hovered over Izyk’s frozen body. The Others were clustered there. As Mara watched in horror, a ring of smoke left Izyk’s mouth, only to be inhaled by one of the waiting ghouls. The Others were stealing his breath. They were sucking out the life force that Spike had tried to restore.
“No!” Mara screamed. She struggled to break free of the ice that held her. But each movement trapped her more firmly. The ice thickened.
Ayla stopped chanting. Her eyes, hard and dark as onyx, fixed on Mara. “Where is the bladeless sword? Give it to me, and I’ll let Izyk live.”
To Mara’s right, an Other inhaled another ring of smoke. Izyk lay motionless, his body encased in ice, his skin tinged with blue.
“Give me the sword!” Ayla screeched. “The time for the ritual is now!” She threw aside the astrolabe and picked up something else. A block of ice. Frozen in its center was Spike. The little dragon glowed orange, but its heat was no match for the unnatural cold of the mermaid queen’s ice. As Mara watched, the orange faded. The tip of Spike’s tail turned hard and clear. Orange flared again, but dimmer. More of the tail glittered, hard and white and cold. Ayla was turning the dragon into a diamond.
“It is the only creature that can give me what I need,” Ayla said. “A sword forged not in fire but in ice. With it, I will expand my realm throughout the half world—and beyond! Where is that sword?”
“You’ll never get it!”
“Then your lover shall die!”
A cloud of Others hovered over Izyk. Could Mara sacrifice him to save the world? But what kind of world would it be if Ayla won? A hard, glittering world of ice and snow, without the lush green forests created by Izyk and his kind. Mara couldn’t let that happen. But neither could she imagine a world without Izyk, his deep laugh, his cool blue eyes, his strong, graceful body that took her breath away.
Maybe there was a way she could save him and the world. But did she dare?
Mara shifted slightly, resting her free hand on her hip.
“There!” Ayla shrieked. She’d seen the movement. “The human has the sword. It’s on her hip, under that ridiculous cloak. Get it!”
The Others remained where they were. Mara prayed that Izyk still held on to some shred of his life force.
“Leave him!” Ayla commanded. “Remember our agreement!” She set Spike on a shelf and picked up the astrolabe, twisting its knobs. The Others jerked upright and stood at attention. “Bring me the sword!”
Mara shut her eyes as the Others descended upon her. Smokelike hands searched her body, pushing her down into the ice. Their touch was the feeling of creeping dread. Then, with a cry of triumph, one of them wrested away the sword. The Others withdrew as they carried the sword to Ayla.
“Good.” The mermaid’s voice was slick with satisfaction. “You may have her.”
Mara opened her eyes to see a dark cloud above her. Faces formed—leering, hungry—and dissolved back into the mist. She was frozen in place, only her face above the ice. All she could move was her eyes, allowing her to just barely see Ayla in the periphery. The mermaid had set down the astrolabe and was reaching for Spike. The poor dragon had almost completely transformed into a diamond. Spike had given up fighting. There was no more orange glow, only a pale yellow at the creature’s heart and the tip of its snout.
Mara had to do it now—or all was lost. She opened her mouth.
One of the Others swooped toward her, and Mara felt like her lungs were being ripped out of her chest. A ring of smoke puffed out of her mouth. The Other gobbled it up.
Mara’s mouth snapped shut. She need to speak. But how could she if the Others were eating her breath?
There was a word. A word of power. A word so dangerous that the book warned never, ever to say it aloud. Mara had stared at it when Spike was stuck to her hand but that warning had kept her lips sealed. Whatever the word did, she needed to say it now. If she even remembered it.
Ghostly fingers probed at her mouth, trying to pry it open. Mara tensed. She visualized the page. The word formed in her mind. She could feel its power. She let the power gather.
She opened her mouth and bellowed the word.
It blasted through the Others, scattering them.
It shattered the cube of ice that imprisoned Spike. Color rushed into the diamantine body—orange, then red. Spike burst into flames. Spike became fire. Ayla tried to drop the dragon. She tried to hurl it away. She tried to shake it off her hand. But Spike was clamped firmly to her palm. Fire spread up Ayla’s arm. Her hair was in flames. Her flesh melted. The water of her aquarium boiled as she disintegrated into it. Her last cry faded in the smoky air.
Ayla was gone. But the flames kept spreading.
Wisps of dark mist flared and fell to ash as the Others were burned up. The ice holding Mara melted. She ducked under the water as fire shot across the surface. But the water was growing hot. And she had to breathe.
What had she done? Mara had stopped Ayla, but she’d tilted the world too far in the other direction. A world of fire was no better than a world of ice.
Now she had just one choice left: Death by drowning or by being burned to cinders.
Mara’s lungs screamed for air. She couldn’t drown. Maybe the fire would be quicker.
As her head broke the water, a deep voice boomed out a word. Mara had no clue what it meant, but she could feel its power. It thrummed with an energy that shook her to her bones.
The flames extinguished. When the smoke cleared, the first thing she saw was Spike, its silvery scales shining as it sat on the rim of a cracked aquarium and preened. The dragon hiccupped, and a little belch of flame shot from its mouth. But it didn’t spread.
The second thing Mara saw was a pair of ice-blue eyes, sparkling with life and a touch of amusement. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you to never, ever say that word?”
Izyk. He was alive.
And so, for that matter, was she.
“What else could I have done? I thought Ayla would let those Others kill you.” Not to mention freeze the entire world.
“Don’t be so morbid,” Izyk laughed. “I don’t kill that easily.” His expression darkened. “Ayla was evil. She froze the North Woods and was holding some of my people captive there. She forced me to tell you to bring the astrolabe. I had no choice, but I thought if I was rude to you when you called, you might stay away. I was trying to protect you.”
Oh, Izyk, Mara thought, as if anything could make me stay away from you. “I was ready to smack you,” she admitted.
Izyk laughed again and pulled her into his arms. She rested her cheek against his strong, muscled chest. She felt warm here, and safe.
“You do understand, though, how dangerous it was to speak that word.” His words held no hint of reprimand.
“I know. It upset the balance. And I didn’t know how to restore it.”
“I think you need some lessons in alchemy. Advanced alchemy. Your spellcraft is powerful, but you need to refine your control.”
Mara smiled up at him. “I agree. Know any good teachers?”
Spike hiccupped again. But the dragon’s burst of flame wasn’t half as hot as the kiss that consumed them.
Thanks for featuring me on Alpha Heroes. I look forward to seeing you at RustCity! In the meantime, readers can find me around the web at these locations: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+
It was so great having you Nancy! and I love love love what you did with this story! What a ride! Thanks so much!