A Gift During Social DistancingPosted
I hope you and the ones you love remain healthy and well during this unprecedented time in global history. I’m hunkered down in Florida, with my husband and my two US-based children. My third daughter remains in med school in Australia. So far (knock on wood), everyone in my family remains coronavirus free. We are all social distancing, working, studying, and writing from home. The daughter who isn’t with us is currently doing her ICU rotations at one of Brisbane’s hospitals, but she assures me that the minute her hospital receives their first COVID-19 patient, she will be sent home.
For anyone who has or has a family member who has contracted the virus, you are in my thoughts and prayers.
Just to thank you all for your continued patience and support and to offer a little gift from me during this stressful time, I’m posting this snippet from my current WIP, THE JAGUAR KING, the third book my Weathermages of Mystral series. Enjoy.
Excerpt from THE JAGUAR KING, by C.L. Wilson
(c) Copyright 2020, C.L. Wilson, All rights reserved. This is an unedited work of fiction.
“Come quickly!” Taraq hissed, waving at Miq from the branches of a nearby banyan tree. “Something’s happening.” Not waiting for a response, he turned, sank back into his cat, and raced nimbly across the network of branches.
Miq melted into his jaguar form to more easily navigate the tangle of tree limbs. Powerful muscles flexed in his chest, forelegs and hindquarters as he leapt from his tree to the one Taraq had occupied. Thick, curved claws sank through bark and into the wood beneath to secure his purchase. His sensitive whiskers twitched and his eyes glowed gold as his magic responded to the thick miasma of evil that emanated from Cuora Zinoctl. It was so strong, it all but overpowered him. Miq chuffed and his tail smacked the banyan as he fought off the dark lure that dragged at his cat, making his mouth fill with saliva as every predatory instinct leapt to savage life. A snarl nearby—Cholu keeping watch over him—snapped him out of his brief trance. He shook himself roughly, chuffed his thanks, and followed Taraq’s scent trail through the arboreal highway towards the city of their enemy.
As he drew closer to Taraq’s position, he could hear a commotion. Shouting. The screams of shadow cats. He couldn’t feel the priests, though, thank the Seofne. For the moment, Miq was not a danger to his b’alam. In the days they’d spent scouting the city, trying to find a way in through the barrier, they’d learned that the shadow cats could sense Miq’s presence from a farther distance than the priests, but they had no power to control or influence him. That power lay solely with the priests—and only some of them, at that.
Taraq, who once more wore the skin of a man, crouched amongst the densely leafed upper branches of a massive kapok tree. Miq shed his fur and crouched beside him, and together they both looked down at the city below. The crown of the kapok tree, some two hundred feet above the forest floor, provided an unparalleled view of the deceptively beautiful Cuora Zinoctl, with its shining white stone pyramids, neatly ordered buildings, manicured gardens, white-stone-paved streets, and peaceful reflecting pools.
At the moment, the city’s facade of perfection and peacefulness had been shattered by some sort of uproar that had set the whole city in turmoil. Alarms were blaring. People were shouting. Scores of warriors and half a dozen shadow cats were all converging on the open stretch of ground that bordered the pyramid backing Gulah Zin’s palace, another pyramid to the right of the palace, and the walled gardens that linked the two. More shadow cats and numerous black-robed priests spilled from the temple to Ur’Xal that stood at the center of the city.
A single, small, dark figure ran before the gathering mass of pursuers, and the gap between them was closing quickly. At first Miq thought the figure was one of the priests, but as the figure grew closer and burst through the flowering hedges and greenery into to open, he realized that the swath of black swirling around the racing figure was hair, not cloth.
And the figure was a woman.
A young, naked woman with skin the color of burnished mahogany and waterfall of flower-bedecked black hair that fell to the back of her knees.
As she neared the magical barrier that enveloped the city, Miq realized something else.
The woman was glowing.
Golden light beamed out from her, surrounding her in a sphere of brightness as if her body was a blazing torch.
Miq grabbed one of the thick liana vines hanging from the branches nearby and shimmied down it. He called just enjough of his jaguar to makes curved claws sprout from his hands and feet as he dropping into a tangle of banyon limbs below and ran down them until he reached the ground.
The rainforest floor was a shadowy place. Little sunlight pierced the overhead canopy to reach the ground below. Shrubs and bushes grew in a dense thicket all along the perimeter of Cuora Zinoctl, leafy branches thrusting forward to fight for their share of sunlight that beamed down upon the great stone city. The magical perimeter that kept Miq and his b’alam at bay was a smoky haze, barely visible to the eyes but blaring across all of his senses, emanating a malevolent wrongness that set his teeth on edge.
Secreting himself in the shelter of the riotous shrubbery, Miq parted the leafy vines and branches with his fingers and peered through.
The woman was fifty yards from the barrier now, and whether she saw it or not, she showed no signs of slowing down. Behind her, the shadow cats had outpaced the guards and were closing on her fast. Her eyes, he saw, were green. A bright, blazing, vivid green. They glowed in her face even more brightly than the light glowed from her body. So brightly, they obscured the features of her face and made his own eyes hurt to look upon them. As if the sun itself blazed out of her eyes. It was the most astonishing and fascinating thing he’d ever seen.
He forced his gaze away and found that his vision was obscured by great spots of shadowy color, exactly as if he’d stared directly into the sun. Miq blinked and rubbed his eyes, but it took several seconds before the blinding spots faded enough that he could see again.
By the time he did, the woman had almost reach the barrier. Only another five or ten yards to go, but Miq felt his heart sink. She wasn’t going to make it. The shadow cats were almost upon her. One of the guards chasing her stopped long enough to put a blowgun to his lips and fire. The woman flinched and stumbled, reaching around blindly to pluck the needle from the back of her right thigh.
She took another staggering step, two. Her right leg collapsed. She went sprawling.
A lesser woman would have given up. Even many a strong woman would have given up. But not this one. She didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She didn’t make a sound. She simply started crawling, dragging her limp right leg behind her. Determination shone from her as clearly as her light. No fear. No tears. Just pure, steely will. Blazing for all to see.
Admiration, fury and helplessness warred inside Miq, twisting his gut. There was nothing he could do. He and his b’alam had spent days trying everything in their power to breech the barrier to no avail. They couldn’t leap through it. Their claws couldn’t pierce it. Not even the jungle could cross the boundary. Not one leaf or branch or twisting root.
Behind the woman, the leading shadow cat prepared to spring.
Since coming to Cuora Zinoctl, Miq and his b’alam had kept themselves concealed, never daring to reveal themselves to the warriors in the city, not to the shadow cats that roamed the perimeter at night, and especially not to the priests walked along the barrier each day presumably to verify that whatever evil magic they’d used to construct it remained strong and potent.
Not one of his b’alam had dared risked exposure, too wary of the power the priests might wield against them.
But at the sight of the brave, fearless sun-eyed woman about to be slaughtered by the corrupted cats that wore his same fur—mere yards from his hiding place, no less—Miq found himself incapable of just hiding and watching her die.
He leapt from the bushes, a roar bellowing forth, so loud the birds in the canopy overhead exploded into squawking flight and the spider and howler monkeys screamed shrill warnings to their family groups.
The shadow cats behind the woman faltered.