Today's the day! This book has been long waiting in a drawer to be picked up again and I'm thrilled that it will be published on Amazon's Vella app later this month (July 2021). Night Fall will release serially, meaning one chapter per week over the course of the next few months! As the novel publishes, I will also have maps, character art, bonus content, and other fun things here on my website for readers to enjoy.
Night Fall is a story between two magic users, one who should have power and doesn't and another whose power is killing her. Yes, they are both women, and yes, they absolutely end up kissing at some point.
Born of light to save the dark. Serena should have power but she doesn't. Dresden's power is killing her. Together they can save each other and their realm, but can you ever really trust your enemy? A dark fantasy f/f romance with martial arts, monsters, decadent courts, and dynastic drama.
Serena is under an enormous amount of pressure from her family to perform and magically save their realm. Yet without magic, she has no idea how to do what they want of her and feels she is a disappointment. So, she plans her escape early in the story to become her own person by earning money in the fight pits.
Dresden is expected to rule the kingdom of Elidor's underground, keeping criminals in check and serving the mortal queen's interests. They call her the Nightmare and she was a loyal servant until discovering a curse plagues the realm.
In the back alleys of Cathmoor, in a place bilge rats and drug runners call the Hollows, she was known as the Nightmare. To the high born of Elidor, she was known as Dresden Navarre, Caster of the Night Court. They were separate pieces of her life. One gilded in mud and murder, the other tarnished by riches and etiquette. The two sides of her reputation rarely crossed. Tonight was the exception.
Tonight, she went to visit the one creature who knew everything about her. The Hag. A creature thousands of years old, from another realm, a detestable seer who once nearly brought the world to ruin.
The stink of the Hollows rose up from the streets as steam, reeking with a stew of flavors, from piss to rotting flesh. It must have been a hot spring day in Elidor. Not that she'd know. She rarely ventured out during daylight if she could help it. And it was wet. With the rain and the heat, it was too hot to wear an oilcloth cloak and too wet not to.
Her father, the High Lord, forbade her from visiting the Hollows, now that she was "too weak to protect herself."
Once, Dresden had been powerful enough to protect herself from nearly any enemy. It was the Navarre bloodline, Casters so powerful that their leading cause of death was madness brought about by an overabundance of supernatural ability. But, for almost a month now, she'd been "gifted" with barely enough magic to perform her duties to Cathmoor and its underworld. Any spells she cast threatened to tap into her life force. Although she'd quietly seen every healer in the country, no one had an explanation for the sudden disappearance of her power.
She glanced behind at her cousin, who'd accompanied her as a guard. Usually, it was others who needed guarding from her. Malik was miserable in the rain, his platinum blonde hair dripped water into his eyes, but he kept his discomfort contained to a scowl that had citizens caught in the deluge scurrying out of his way. Dresden kept her collar up and her cap pulled down low in a similar mood. Though wouldn't do to be recognized tonight.
"We're going to be whipped for this," Malik complained.
Dresden raised a sharply arched dark brow and recited the Navarre family motto. "Darkness rules and the rules are meant to be broken."
Dresden didn't think her father would dare have her whipped for disobedience, not now.
The taste of bitter metal soured her tongue, yet another unexplainable symptom of her malady.
She stepped around piles of waste in the labyrinth of alleyways she knew too well. Widow Croft lane had barely enough room for her and Malik to walk side-by-side. The slim alley terminated at a black door. The rune for "prison" had been traced over it with generations of repeated blood spells.
Even now, the blood seemed fresh, like an old oozing wound.
Dresden's skin crawled as she pounded a fist against the ancient, stained door. It opened immediately on hinges that squealed with the sounds of countless lost souls.
The first thing she noticed was the pile of blue hair atop the creature's head, braided and woven with bones, glass, and bits of metal. Then her scaled skin, beaded like a reptile's, sagging into deep wrinkles. Then her crooked, yellow smile, teeth with razored edges like a raptor's. Last, black eyes set too far back in their sockets.
"Little princess," she cooed.
"Hag," Dresden greeted, although every part of her wanted to draw her sword and run it through the beast. If it weren't for her usefulness, she'd happily kill her. Ravell was a monstrous realm and the Hag was an example of what terrors waited beyond the gate. But the High Lord and the queen agreed the Hag should be left chained behind her blood-locked door. Because Dresden served Elidor, she wouldn't kill the Hag. Not today.
"Sweet as ever, you are. Do come in. Leave your dog outside." The thick ebony forged chain made from ancient runes dragged under her long and tattered robes when she stepped back.
Malik rolled his eyes and spun the hatchet in his right hand with expertise. "Get this over with, Dresden," he grumbled. "If he hears of it, the High Lord will flay me for bringing you here."
Dresden's father might actually threaten that. He'd done it before. The Night Court was a dangerous place that it made the Hag's abode seem somewhat demure.
Dresden shook the rain off her cloak and stepped inside the door, stooping to avoid a wind chime of human bones. The decoration hadn't been there during her last visit. Who, other than her, had been stupid enough to knock on the Hag's door?
The Hag pulled out a chair from a narrow card table for Dresden. There was a doily laid out, stained with gray splotches. The stone cellar was dimly lit by a colony of glow worms crawling on the ceiling. A pile of refuse took up one corner. There was no kitchen, no hearth, nothing to make the prison seem livable. Dresden sat and the Hag took the chair across from her.
"You want to know what's killing you. That's why you came to see me after all these months." She cackled as though Dresden's impending death were a long-awaited punchline. The sound was half-screech, half-laugh, all inhuman.
"This isn't a joke," Dresden said.
"Ha! To you maybe. I'm imprisoned so long as your bloodline survives. Your death, young princess, means my freedom."
And the end of Astyria, Dresden thought.
"You are required to speak the prophecies," she reminded her. "So speak." She sat there on the rickety chair, all pale skin, her dark hair braided into a crown around her face. She had the kind of face that broke hearts, full-tempting red-blushed lips and eyes dark as her duty. That is to say, even in this dirty hovel, she looked at home as a creature of the dark looked at home in any cave-like space, a little like a spider crouched on her web and a lot like a dagger between folds of silk. If she had to, she would use every bit of her sharp edges to slice the knowledge out of the Hag.
"You know," the Hag criticized, "your handsome father never comes to see me anymore."
"You predicted six of his seven children would die by his hand," Dresden said, examining her nails, palm toward her face, fingers curled over. A trick to conceal her sorrow. "Why would he return for more bad news?"
"Because I was right. How was the funeral? Did you wear your customary black?"
Dresden kept her face impassive, though behind her facade was a rolling line of images of her father drenched in blood, her mad brother dead on the floor in the room beyond, and the High Lord saying to her, "He better be the last."
"Speak, seeress," Dresden snapped.
She ignored her. "I've heard all this before. He sends you, his sweet, precious, only daughter, and if the news is bad enough you make sure he knows. If it's not that bad, you take care of it so he can get some sleep. You casters worry about incidentals when you have all this—" she sighed "—delicious power. Think of what you could do if you let go of your inhibitions and divorced from your mortal queen's rule. Ravell knows every one of you casters are tasty treats. Me and mine have waited too long for a feast."
Dresden's skin chilled, but she wore a cloak so the creature couldn't see the gooseflesh prickling her arms.
A wispy sigh. "Yes, you are dying, Princess. Ravell has its hooks in Astyria. I doubt you will survive to see what is waiting on the other side of the gate once it's opened." She licked her lips, leaving too much saliva behind so they glistened with an oily film.
Dresden's heart pounded. She couldn't possibly mean that someone was trying to open the Ravell gate. To let the hordes of Ravell into Astyria, to let those demons rape and pillage this realm as they had their own.
"You said nothing of this on my last visit."
The Hag smiled. "Didn't I? Must have slipped my mind."
"Truly?" Dresden asked, her very thin patience having run out. She traced shapes on the edge of the table. The lines and curves of complex runes burned into the wood from centuries of repetition, glittering with the ebony magic of the Night Court, patiently waiting to be released into action.
The Hag's sunken eyes widened as she stared at the four distinct symbols, burned over millennia into the table's edge.
Dresden was good at runes. Better even than her father. These were ancient, old as the great schism that split magic into light and dark. Their power tingled over her skin, like the beginning of a burn when venturing too close to a fire.
"Princess," the Hag said in warning.
Activating the runes would cost her. Perhaps send her spiraling into another episode. With each use of her power, she was less and less likely to wake up. Still, Dresden could not afford to go without the Hag's knowledge.
"I don't like torture," Dresden said, and it was the truth because there was no reason to lie. "My father swears by its methods. You know how well he trained me." Dresden flicked her gaze up to meet the Hag's and activated the first rune as she continued to speak.
"You will never—"
Energy drained from her. She activated another rune.
The Hag started screaming. Black fire raced over her beaded skin.
She activated the third rune and the Hag screamed even louder, falling from her chair to curl into a ball.
Nausea clawed at Dresden's insides, threatening to make her sick all over the Hag's greasy rat-chewed rug.
She waited until the screams subsided into wretched gasps.
"Am I understood?"
"Yes, Nightmare." It was a sneer, but she sensed the Ravell creature was done playing with her.
"Do not make me repeat myself."
The Hag groaned, forcing herself back into her chair. "Do you treat all your subjects this way?"
Dresden raised an eyebrow and activated the fifth rune, hiding her hands in her pockets as they began to shake.
The Hag screamed and writhed.
"You are Ravellian scum, no better than the flea on a street dog," Dresden said once the spell's effects were over.
The Hag shook herself like an animal. "You want me to give you the cure."
The Hag gasped, catching her breath.
"To find your salvation, you'll have to abandon Elidor. There was once another doomed like you. Stupid and powerful like you. Virgil also carried this curse. He failed in the end. Like you will fail."
Dresden stiffened. She knew the name. Every Night Court caster knew the name of their greatest hero. He who had shut the Ravell gate and sealed it with his life.
"You lie," Dresden said. "Virgil didn't fail."
"And you know so much? The gate is opening again."
"What does this have to do with the curse on me?"
"Everything," she hissed, staring up at him from the floor. "The curse on you is meant to change Astyria's fate, and your fate is entangled with the realm. There are threads of magic weaving you into Astyria's core and the curse on the augury, is a curse on you, is a curse on the realm. She is the fulcrum Astyria's fate rests on. If you fail––if she fails––so will the realm fail, and I will finally have my freedom."
Dresden sat a little straighter.
"Girl? What girl?"
The Hag rolled her eyes as though the knowledge was obvious and she was a simpleton. "The augury. Find the girl who carries Virgil's bloodline, and you'll have your cure." The Hag sat back in her chair and folded her arms, appearing pleased with herself.
Dresden was stunned. "The augury? They're legends, myths." She didn't even know where to go about finding one. The famed women warriors were bedtime stories.
"Are they?" the Hag countered. At Dresden's frown, she cackled. "That confusion! Such a gift you give me after such pain. But who trapped me? Who locked me up in this pit? Who didn't have the guts to do the augury's dirty work? Virgil made a great many mistakes, and locking me out of Ravell was the very worst."
The only thing Dresden knew about the augury, were tales of preternaturally talented women, driven by instinct to fight the Ravell hordes. They were the ultimate protectors of Astyria, the women who chased the monsters back into their realms.
"Tell me where to find her," Dresden commanded.
The Hag made a moue with her lips and tapped her claws on the table's edge. "I am not one of your subjects to command, Nightmare."
Dresden carried Arion's blade, her eldest brother's sword. The sword that had helped end the Rune Wars. It sang as she unsheathed it and laid the edge along the Hag's wrist faster than an eye-blink.
The Hag pretended to fan away a yawn. "I've seen the inside of this cellar for longer than your family held the name Navarre. I have no idea what this realm still looks like. The polarity of Astyria has changed and the sacred trees will not all be in the same spots. They move, you know. The names I know are not the same as yours. However, I will give you this one clue you can depend on. Find Rillian Navarre and you'll find her."
Dresden's hopes sank.
The Hag smiled nastily at her with all those rotting triangle-shaped teeth.
Rillian Navarre, her uncle who'd been missing for years, having left after the tragic death of his wife. Some said he'd gone mad after he laid waste to the Gold Court's army and beheaded their vile Empress twenty years ago. The only person who'd kept him sane enough had been his wife, Isabelle. Her murder drove him back into the wasteland of his soul. After her funeral, he'd walked away from the court, and hadn't been heard from since.
Rillian Navarre was a ghost.
The Hag folded her too long arms and sat back down in the rickety, splintering chair as though it were a throne.
Dresden stood to leave.
"Oh, and Dresden. The curse, the one that's killing you, requires thirteen times thirteen souls to open the Ravell gate. My brethren are eager to free me. You'll notice the bodies starting to appear if they haven't already." She winked one sallow eye at him. "Act quickly. You only have twelve months left."
Dresden slammed the door behind her. If she'd had the power, she would have set the Hag to burning for a decade.
The bodies had appeared this morning, two days after her latest episode, washed ashore in the bay.
Thirteen bodies. Thirteen months in a year. Thirteen basic runes to cast a spell.
Malik took one look at her and scowled. "I hate it when it's bad news."
"We need to find Rillian," Dresden said shortly.
Malik paled, even more, if such a thing were possible. "R-Rillian? Are you sure? I'd rather be whipped by the High Lord than––"
Dresden turned on Malik, cutting off his complaint. "Get Bastion, I'll meet you at the docks."
"How do you even know where to find him?"
Dresden was Rillian's favorite niece, his only niece and when the High Lord had started executing her brothers, he'd told her what to do if ever she needed to flee the court and her father.
"Before he left, he told me if I ever had to escape Elidor, to make port at Delta."
Malik swore. "Delta? When did he tell you that?"
"Six months before he left."
Malik had to skip to keep up, to get in front of Dresden and put a hand out to stop her. "Uncle Rillian threatened death to anyone who came looking from him. You know what he did all those years ago."
Dresden ignored Malik's reasonable fears, stepping around her cousin. "Delta is east across the grasslands. We'll start there."
"We can't take you there. What if––"
Dresden looked at him. The shadows seemed to reach for them, little tongues of Night Court magic. "It's the only way. Rillian is with a girl, we find her, we can stop it."
Dresden swallowed. "I don't know. But it's bad, Mal. Get Bastion. Leave the details to me. We have to find an augury."
Malik's mouth dropped open. "An augury? There hasn't been an augury in centuries."
"May the darkness help us find her then," Dresden said, cloak swishing into the night. "For the good of Elidor."
Now to reveal the cover!
The full cover that will be on display through the Vella App will look a little like this:
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