How very remiss of me! *smacks hand* I’ve just realized I never posted an excerpt of Lightning Rider here on my blog.
Of course you could have read a few chapters on Smashwords and Amazon (via the Look Inside feature), which should have given you all a pretty good idea of whether the sci-fi element of this romance is your cup of tea or not, but this time I thought it’d be cool to post an excerpt featuring one of my favorite characters from Lightning Rider.
I give readers a few hints about Karylon’s on-again off-again Lightning Rider lover in the early parts of the story, but Novik doesn’t get his own POV scene until much later on. And then (semi spoiler alert!) he becomes a pivotal character right at the end. I loved writing Novik, so I thought I’d share my favorite scene with you. Enjoy!
by Maree Anderson
Novik wasn’t used to failure. Failure was a human… uh… failing and he didn’t much appreciate it happening to him.
He racked his brains as he recouped his energy.
He didn’t dare mention his fears to Fost or the other Council Lords and Ladies. So far as they were concerned, Karylon had chosen to undergo ReBirth. If they learned what Novik knew—that something had gone horribly awry with the ReBirthing process, and Karylon was now AWOL—they’d spout some mealy-mouthed platitude and immediately elect a new Council member to replace her. There would be no true regret, no real sorrow, merely a continuance of the way things had always been.
Novik knew there had to be a way to help Karylon Reconstitute back to the Elemental Plane a second time. He knew it intuitively—something that didn’t hold sway with Elementals of any faction. Gut instinct was far too human a thing to be taken seriously. His own seat on the Council would be jeopardized if the Lightning Lords suspected even half of what Novik believed.
Hmmm. Whatever had happened to Karylon was inextricably linked to the little human Host she had chosen. What had been her name again?
Brennan. Andrea Brennan.
If by some remote chance Andie was still walking Earth, if Novik could sense her, then maybe—
That was it. He would petition the Keeper of Portents to find out exactly where Andie Brennan had been scheduled to die, and he’d ride the next lightning storm in that particular area. Or as near to it as he could manage. And if he was lucky, if he was strong enough, he might be able to sense Andie Brennan and determine once and for all what had happened to Karylon.
If this Andie was still alive on Earth, that was. If she hadn’t undergone ReDeath and her completed soul hadn’t moved onwards. If Karylon was still linked with her and hadn’t faded. If the Keeper would deign to respond his request.
If. If. If!
Too many ifs.
But he had to do something. He had to know.
Novik created his most enticing form and wasted precious energy locking it in, so it would be perfectly presented the moment he reformed. Appearance was everything when visiting the Keeper of Portents.
The Keeper’s background was a complete mystery in a society where mysteries had eons ago ceased to exist. No one knew how many eons it had seen. It was ancient—had been ancient even before it had first made itself known to Elementals ten millennia ago.
For as long as Novik could remember, the Keeper had been affiliated with all four Elemental factions. It favored none but served all. At least, that was the popular doctrine. Novik had heard enough rumor and innuendo over the centuries to wonder who served who.
One never knew what form the Keeper would take when one visited, either. It was a Pan-Elemental, the only one of its kind, and the only Elemental who could assume—and actually become—any of the four Elemental forms at will. And, if rumor were to be believed, the Keeper also served the Apokryphons in some unknown capacity and therefore, was capable of becoming an Apokryphon as well.
Come to think of it, the demonic Apokryphons also had an affinity for all four Elemental factions—if one could term food preferences an “affinity”. They’d happily feed on any Elemental, regardless of the flavor.
Novik shuddered. He didn’t wish to consider ravening Apokryphons right now.
His main focus had to be charming the Keeper right out of its portents while he presented his case. Not to mention hoping the Keeper would give its knowledge freely, and not demand a price Novik might not be willing to pay.
How much was he willing to sacrifice for Karylon?
Novik was about to find out.
He thought about the Keeper, and sent his request for an audience out into space and time. Then he settled back to wait patiently… or as patiently as Novik was able. Which wasn’t very, as anyone who happened to glimpse him pacing back and forth would be able to tell.
Mid-pace, a charge of energy buzzed through him, demanding and almost painful in its intensity. Too late for regrets now.
A split micron’s respite and then….
“Shiiit!” He was disintegrated.
Novik re-formed in all his calculated glory before a replica of the tripod upon which Pythia had perched to pronounce her prophecies. Or she had, before that asshole of a Greek god—Appalling? Apple? Apollo, that was it—slew the poor thing.
Hmmm. Perhaps this was the original tripod, and Pythia’s one had been the copy.
Novik couldn’t quite recall. Nor did he care. Regardless, it was unsettling to imagine himself in a similar position as those witless human priests who had approached the Oracle, and waited with bated breath for some gibberish to translate and distribute to the ignorant masses.
Speaking of waiting…. As he waited, Novik wondered what the outcome of this petition would be. There was always the chance that if the Keeper, too, had known love, had ever yearned for another life-form as Novik yearned for Karylon, it might be sympathetic. Should he perhaps play on its sympathies and dare to ask if it had ever loved another?
Nah. Better not. For all Novik knew, the Keeper was the one who’d set the Lightning Riders on this emotionally barren downhill slide in the first place. It might therefore be displeased by Novik’s embracing of such a humanlike emotion. It might be so vastly displeased that it vaporized him on the spot, meaning he’d learn firsthand whether Elementals went to the same Heaven the humans believed in.
He sighed again schooled his thoughts toward composing the flowery formal phrases expected of petitioners.
“Hail, O Great One, Distinguished Keeper of Portents— No, Estimable Keeper of Portents. Your very presence brightens my existence and—” Ah crap. That sucked. Maybe he’d better just stick to groveling. He was good at that.
He twiddled his thumbs and pleated the hem of his gossamer-thin robe—colored specifically to complement his hair and eyes—and it occurred to him the Keeper might save itself a heap of bother if it posted the names of those humans scheduled to die on a big piece of paper, and stuck it somewhere prominent. Or even better, used one of those flashing electronic billboards dotted around the big cities on Earth.
“Newsflash! John Doe, Oklahoma, Wednesday 14th at 11.33am. Don’t be late or you’ll lose your chance at Rebirth. Smile and have a stellar cycle.” Sure would save a heap of mucking about. All this pompous ceremonial crap became a tad wearying after a few millennia.
He stifled a groan. “C’mon already. Not getting any younger here!”
“That you are not, Novik,” a voice boomed.
The voice chuckled, thunderously amused by Novik’s reaction. “And it is ever a wonder to Me that despite your age, you show all the patience of an Earthling infant squalling for its mother’s tit. Not to mention your inclination to absorb and embrace some of the baser aspects your Hosts displayed in life. A real talent for profanity, for instance.”
Novik gulped and bowed his head. “I do most humbly apologize, Keeper.”
He remained bowed, peering up through his hair to try to catch a glimpse of the omnipotent being. Light. He hoped it was using a Lightning Rider aspect today. That could be a sign it might be in a good mood and more inclined to grant his request.
“Rise, Novik. Before you get a crick in that handsome neck of yours.”
Novik slowly straightened and barely managed to control another outburst of inappropriate language when the Keeper abruptly appeared before him, perched on its tripod. For now, it was composed entirely of heat. Its core undulated with white-hot streams of molten lava, and red and orange flames flickered and danced, forming a moving living skin.
Novik allowed himself to relax. Interesting. Not a Lightning Rider Elemental. More like a being born of Earth-style volcanoes.
At least it wasn’t an Apokryphon. And for that, Novik would be eternally grateful. This he could deal with. This he could charm and—
“Aaaargh!” He reared back, tripping over his robes and scrambling backward on all fours, too terrified to even think about trying to transport himself to safety.
This, Novik could not deal with. It was his worst nightmare—the worst nightmare of any Elemental.
Apokryphon—what humans would name Demon or Devil. And rightly so, for that was exactly what the creatures mimicked—every devil or demon ever described, or pictured, or even merely imagined, throughout human history. Blood-red pupil-less eyes glowed malevolently, deeply set beneath overhanging brows. Its nose was mashed upward, pig-like, with huge slanting nostrils. A gaping fang-filled maw stretched into a permanently grinning rictus. And to add to the delight were spindly double-jointed limbs and a swollen pot-bellied torso.
Ghastly. Hideous. And a multitude of other far more descriptive words Novik couldn’t think of right now. Apokryphons were macabre creatures, parodying humanity’s physical form while twisting it into the sum of all human nightmares. That was how they fed on humans of course—through their dreams. Or more accurately, they feasted upon the fear and terror generated by the nightmares they sent.
But Novik only pretended to be a human. And unlike a human, who might be scared witless by an Apokryphon but unlikely to actually die of fright, Novik could die. He could be drained to the point of Fading. And even though Novik knew the Apokryphon in front of him wasn’t real, knew it was in truth the Keeper, still he grappled to overcome his fear.
The creature reared over Novik’s prone form and hissed at him, snapping its fangs in his face and missing his nose by a finger-width.
Novik fought the instinct to scatter his particles and flee. If the Keeper wanted to play games with him, so be it. If it wanted to play Apokryphon and suck him dry until he Faded, so be it, too.
He focused his thoughts on Karylon and stood his ground. Or rather, crawled out from under the creature, climbed to his feet and then stood his ground… and used his robe to wipe off the goops of saliva that’d dripped on his face. Which rather ruined the entire standing his ground gesture.
It laughed again at him, a guttural snorting and slavering that made Novik’s stomach turn.
“Nice to know one of us is happy,” he muttered.
The Apokryphon’s hideous form segued into a more pleasing one, that of a beautiful human woman with blonde hair and curves voluptuous enough to make a human male weep. Marilyn Monroe personified. One of Novik’s Hosts had been a huge Marilyn fan.
“Better?” she gushed.
She threw him a sly wink. “I know what would be even better still. You should appreciate this one, Novik.”
More games. Novik resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “And what form would that be, Keeper?”
It was Karylon perched on the tripod.
She smiled at him, and a sharp pain exploded in his chest. Whoa. Was this what humans meant when they claimed their hearts were breaking?
He glanced down at his torso. The largest, most rotund energy worm he’d ever seen was burrowing into his chest—toward the exact place the human organ known as a heart would be if Novik had been lucky enough to own one.
He wrenched his gaze back to the being who’d become Karylon.
His core energy waned and his vision fuzzed. He was dying. “Karylon,” he whispered, reaching out to her.
She grabbed his hand and—
Time warped and folded.
Copyright 2011 by Maree Anderson