Author: T.J. Baer
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 07/18/2023
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Genre: Fantasy, action/adventure, enemies/rivals to lovers, humorous, magic, secret agents, slow burn, lesbian, romance
Seventeen-year-old Alisha Howard is having a hard day.
She’s had to rescue her headstrong little brother from getting eaten by a monster from another dimension, her mom has put her on dish duty as punishment for bringing her sword to the table (again), and her lifelong enemy, snarky rich girl Belladonna, is starting to look like both a real human being and someone Alisha would like to kiss.
Oh, and to make matters worse, it looks like the world is about to end.
T.J. Baer © 2023
All Rights Reserved
My brother Jake lay unconscious on the cave floor, his favorite denim jacket torn in three places and his cell phone a cracked mess of plastic on the ground. If we actually survived this, he was going to be pissed.
“All right, look,” I said, giving the giant snarling insect monster my serious face. “I know I don’t look like much, but you should know I am fully capable of kicking your big buggy butt straight back to where it came from, not only for hurting my brother, but for whatever unholy reign of terror you’ve got planned here.”
The monster was nine feet tall, jet-black, and scaly, with hundreds of spindly legs, like a centipede on steroids. Savage mandibles gleamed in the light from the cave mouth, and I tightened my grip on my sword hilt. And because times of stress often led me to incredible feats of word vomit, I kept talking.
“I mean, let’s face it: guys like you don’t generally show up in our world without some kind of nasty plan for world domination, so I think it’s pretty safe to say you’re up to no good. So are you gonna go peacefully, or do I have to start shoving my boot up random orifices until we find the one that hurts the most?”
The centipede monster reared back, its legs fanning out, its mandibles opening—
And then it tilted its scaly head to the side as if regarding me in puzzlement. “You speak great volumes but say very little,” it said in a thin, whistling voice.
Which, okay, was fair. I’d always had a tendency to babble, particularly when I was in imminent danger of being devoured by the Godzilla of centipedes. Generally, the centipede didn’t take the time to inform me of it though.
“I do not wish any harm upon you,” it continued, deviating even further from the Evil Monster Intent on Taking Over the Earth speech. “Nor any human. I came here only wishing to be left alone, but your companion—” It swung its head toward Jake. “—attempted to steal one of my children, at which point I was forced to defend them. I have not seriously harmed him, only caused him to lose consciousness to neutralize him as a threat.”
“He tried to steal one of your kids?” That didn’t sound like Jake.
The centipede-thing tilted its head toward the other end of the cave, where I could just make out the glittering of a number of round, pearly, head-sized spheres. Eggs? They looked like the kind of pretty, decorative objects people would pay a lot of money for, bringing them much more firmly into the realm of things Jake would totally try to steal.
I sighed and slid my sword into its sheath. The magic triggered the instant I did, and sword and sheath shrank to being a decorative golden clasp on my belt. “I apologize for my companion’s rash actions,” I said, bowing my head slightly like we were supposed to do in these situations. “If you’d allow me to remove him from here, I swear to you that he’ll never come near you or your children again.”
The centipede bowed its head too, its pincers snapping and clicking together in a way that I tried not to be too creeped out by. “That would be acceptable. I thank you, Guardian.”
I blinked. “How’d you know I’m a Guardian?”
“Well, for one thing, the sword.”
“But even had you come unarmed, I would have known. You wear your status like a cloak. It seeps from every ounce of your being, every word and action. Though you look a frail female thing, there is power in you.”
“Frail female thing,” I said in a flat voice and decided not to be offended. If the worst thing a giant centipede monster had to throw at me was sexism, I could probably count myself lucky. “Yeah, well, guess I’d better get Jake—err, my companion—out of your hair before he wakes up and starts trying to make off with your kids again.”
I started forward, hoping the centipede monster would move out of the way, but it stayed where it was, its black eyes glittering in the dimness.
“You have shown me respect and kindness, and so I shall do something for you in return. My species have a unique ability that appears only between laying our eggs and the birth of our children.”
“Oh, yeah? What kind of ability?”
“The ability to glimpse the future. It allows us to provide extra protection to our young when they are unable to protect themselves, for instance if a young human is attempting to steal one of them.”
“For instance,” I said dryly.
“Something lurks on the horizon, Guardian. An age of darkness and danger is coming to you and those like you.”
I frowned. “To the Guardians, you mean?”
“To all beings of your world.”
“What kind of danger?”
Its legs rippled, and it dropped down onto them and made its undulating way over to the row of eggs. Its last word hissed through the cave, seeming to echo louder and louder in my ears: “Extinction.”
I suddenly felt very, very tired. “Again?”
Meet the Author
T.J. Baer is a queer trans author of novels and short fiction. Born in Western Pennsylvania, he currently resides in his adopted hometown of Chicago with two cats and a well-stocked cupboard of tea. When not writing, T.J. can be found either discussing queer media on his YouTube channel or failing to escape from murderous ghosts on Twitch.
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