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I’m facing an interesting dilemma.

I feel good. I feel great.  I’m no longer alone. I’m living in a wonderful home with a loving family. Everything’s fantastic!

And I’m hardly getting any writing done because of it.

I’ve read it before how comfort can be deadly. I’m seeing first hand how that can be true. I’m also realizing just how much visualizing and fantasying your dream coming true is also dangerous.

Because feeling like I already have everything I wanted means I don’t feel any urge to do anything to get it, because in my head I already have it. Tricky, eh?

That said, I’m not giving in without a fight. I may have missed a week of blog posts, but I finally finished the first draft of the first chapter of my YA novel, BEASTS, which I’ve been working on since early February.

Needless to say, this is a cause for celebration.

So since today is Monday and that means Excerpt day, in order to make up for my unannounced absence, here is the entire chapter in all its flawed glory.

Who knows how much it’ll change when I finally send it off to agents (hopefully within a decade), but I’m not going to touch it again until the rest of the book is written.

Meanwhile, I’m going to contemplate about the actual benefits of suffering.

At least some amount of suffering. I finished reading War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which was amazing and related to what I’m talking about  so there’s a post in me on what I’ve learned from that book as well.

Until then…

Here is Chapter One of my YA Fantasy novel: BEASTS.

 

Warning: The following is over 3k words long. So take a bathroom break, get your mug of hot coffee and a cookie, sit back, relax and enjoy.

 

 

~~~

 

BEASTS

Chapter 1

Nicolai nearly fell, his sneakers skidding on the wet pavement. He kept his balance, panting hard as he ran for his life. Their growls grew louder as they gained on him, their jaws snapping at his heels.

A chain link fence loomed ahead, but he didn’t dare slow down. He hopped on the dumpster and leaped onto the fence, climbing for the top.

The lions collided against the fence below, standing on their hind legs. One took a swipe at him and got ahold of the bottom of his jeans. It tugged him towards their teeth, but Nicolai kicked out and connected with one of their noses. The denim broke free and he didn’t stop moving till he reached the top of the fence.

“I’ll get you for that!”

Nicolai looked down and saw they shifted into their other forms. The one who yelled sported a broken nose, blood seeping into down his white t-shirt, staining his gold necklaces.

“We’re going to rip you to shreds!”

The second – a dark skinned male with a golden Mohawk – shook the fence, snarling up at him. “A tasty midnight snack!”

The last of the trio whispered something into the injured one’s ear. Their sharp white teeth reflected the moonlight as they smirked. They gave him one last look before they left, leaving Nicolai confused.

The fence wasn’t that hard to climb. Not liking this at all, he jumped down the opposite side and kept moving. The more distance between him and the felines, the better. Problem was, he had no clue where he was. He only arrived to Capital City two nights ago and was still figuring his way around.

Once he left the alleyway, he found himself on the deserted main road. He felt exposed and at risk of being picked up by the cops for breaking curfew, but roaming the alleys was what got him into trouble in the first place. He stuck close to the buildings, hiding in their shadows and avoiding the streetlights.

He glanced at his reflection on one of the darkened store front windows. His blonde hair was greasy and stuck up in every angle.  It’d been days since he could find a place to wash it. The rest of him was in the same state – unwashed and uncared for.

Everything he owned was stuffed into his ratty knapsack and pockets and both were mostly empty.  His stomach growled and his ankle throbbed from where the lion’s claw grazed it, but he didn’t dare slow down. He stuffed his hands into his army jacket’s pockets and kept moving.

The street took him to a plaza. A large stone fountain stood in its center, commiserating the founding of the city. Statues of the founding leaders in their majestic animal forms—an eagle, a bear, a falcon and a lion—with the first human mayor standing around a bone dry moat.

The entire fountain stood in the shadow of a gigantic tree that blocked the moon from view. Several small boutiques and a small park surrounded the landmark. A few benches here and there, a water fountain or two, a path for people to walk along, everything beautifully maintained and cleaned.

It would have been the perfect place to stay. He looked up at the tree and wondered if he could sleep in the higher branches, hidden from view.

As he was looking up at the tree, he froze as he realized something was looking back – two large amber eyes that glowed in the dark. A blinding white smirk, like a sadistic version of the Cheshire cat grin split the new shifter’s face as he chuckled darkly.

“Lost little boy?”

A deep dark laughter filled the air as Nicolai became aware of people appearing in the darkness. Figures appeared, their reflective eyes shining in the dark. Some were in their lion forms, growling softly, a couple approaching him from behind; but most were in their muscular human bodies, their faces covered in shadows.

Nicolai glanced at them all, trying to count them, but it was impossible to tell how many more lurked outside his range of vision, deep in the darkness amidst the trees and how many were probably up in their branches.

He locked eyes with the amber orbs above him. They hadn’t moved and mostly the body they belonged to remained hidden in shadows.

The disembodied grin widened. “Cat got your tongue?”

More laughter. Everyone joined in, creating an unsettling din around him.

Nicolai took a step closer to the tree, trying to see more than teeth and eyes. “I take it you’re the Alpha. Did you really need your entire clan to catch a ‘lost little boy’?”

The Cheshire grin vanished, leaving only the floating eyes, gazing at him from above. “Maybe not. But no one wanted to miss out on this. Right boys?”

The lions roared in unison, even in their human forms they could make a rather convincing sound. Nicolai’s heart began to pound. “Miss what?”

The Alpha slinked down to a lower branch and Nicolai finally got a view of a bronze face and golden brown hair tied in a long pony tail. Gold jewelry weighed down his ears, neck and arms. His nails were long and sharp enough to leave scars across the bark of the tree.

“An intruder with a smell even I can’t recognize?” He chuckled, flashing his razor sharp grin once more. “Such a delicacy? Of course everyone wants a piece of you.”

Nicolai swallowed. “I’m flattered.”

There were too many. He was surrounded and even if he did shift, there was no way he could break through before they ripped him to shreds. The only way he’d have a chance is if he killed the Alpha or a ton load of them. He doubted the sight of his animal form would faze them for very long, so scaring them off wasn’t an option…but neither was killing.

“Well come on already.” Nicolai crouched into a fighting position, his last act of defiance, his last bluff. “I don’t have all night.”

A deep murmur reached Nicolai’s ears, the sound of deep chuckling from over two dozen lion shifters. They flexed their fingers and necks and flashed their sharpened teeth.

The Alpha shrugged with an amused smirk on his face. He raised his hand about to snap his fingers, the signal to start of the feast.

“Wait!”

Everyone turned towards the voice. Nicolai turned too. Startled by the interruption, it took him a second to realize this was the perfect opportunity to make a run for it. But then the smell of the stranger reached his nose and replaced every thought in his mind with unreasonable fear.

He walked among the lions, but it was clear he wasn’t one of them. Everyone backed away, some so abruptly they tripped and landed on their backsides. But that wasn’t how Nicolai knew he didn’t belong.

The smell sent a shiver up his spine and cold sweat down his neck. Now he understood the terror many felt towards his own presence. He never knew before because he never met anyone else with an unrecognizable scent.

It was old, pungent and smelled faintly of rotten eggs. But one thing was clear. No animal alive on earth had that scent.

A loud growl snapped Nicolai from his paralyzing fear. It belonged to the Alpha, who glared at the stranger with absolute disgust. “Zander. What are you doing here?”

The stranger named Zander stepped out into the open and under the light. He was very tall, taller than anyone there, with black hair and crimson eyes with traces of gold. He wore all black leather, including thick biker boots. It was difficult to look him in the eye. Half his face was missing under long scars as if it nearly been clawed off by a very large predator. It was a miracle it missed his eye or maybe he did lose it and simply grew it back.

Ancient shifters had the power to heal over the course of their long lives, some even growing back entire limbs. But it took centuries. Nicolai knew that with age, came strength. This Zander was not to be messed with.

When Zander approached, Nicolai nearly wet himself.

“You’re not going to shift?”

Nicolai trembled. “…I…”

Zander laughed a deep, booming laugh, much like his voice. “Seriously? You’re giving up? Come on. Let’s see what these cats are so afraid of.”

The Alpha jumped down from the tree and onto the fountain’s edge. “He’s ours! Stop interfering!”

Zander turned his scarred eye towards him. “Was that an order?”

He barely whispered it, yet the Alpha nearly fell backwards into the fountain. He started to sweat.

Zander turned back to Nicolai. “Well?”

The boy swallowed hard. “Well what?”

“Shift. I want to see what you are.”

A silence fell. Not a single insect chirped, nor a wisp of a breeze blew. It was then that Nicolai recognized how afraid these lions were of him, a teenage shifter. They were nearly as frightened as they were of Zander. The looks they gave the stranger. It was clear that if they had the power, they would have torn him to shreds too. But they couldn’t. The stranger was too old and too strong.

“Okay.” Nicolai steeled himself. “Okay, I will. But only if you shift first.”

The silence was broken by a sharp intake of breath from two dozen sets of lungs. Feet began to step back, away from the fountain and the only thing that kept the lions from a full out retreat was their leader, the Alpha, who remained glaring at them both with both absolute hatred and dread. The combination kept him paralyzed, though Nicolai had hoped he would have run off by now.

Zander blinked and let out another deep laugh. “You want me to shift? Boy, do you even know who I am?”

“I don’t. That’s why I want you to shift.”

It was a lie. Every ounce of instinct in Nicolai’s body was telling him to get as far away from this male as possible, and he definitely didn’t want to see just what that quiet strength looked like in its true form. But it was his only option of getting out of this alive.

Zander smirked. “You know, curiosity killed the cat.”

“I’m not a cat. And couldn’t you say the same thing to yourself.”

“But I’m not a cat either.”

There was a pause, while Zander just smirked at him as if Nicolai was the most amusing person in the world.

“Okay. I will.”

That did it. The Alpha bolted and his clan, taking his cue, took off into the night. Nicolai was about to do the same when Zander reached out and grabbed his jacket’s collar.

“Oh, no. Not so fast. We have deal here. I shift and then you shift, got it?”

Zander’s grip cut off circulation from his shoulder and his toes barely touching the ground. Nicolai nodded frantically.

“Yes!”

Zander let him go. Nicolai ran again, but he didn’t get very far. A strong gust of wind knocked him to the ground. He turned over in time to be engulfed by thick, suffocating smoke. A roar shattered the air and the ground trembled with heavy footsteps. Something long and wicked cracked through the air like a whip and tree branches fell to the ground, nearly crushing him. Nicolai stumbled to his feet and peered through the smoke, trying to make out the large shape that was moving within. Slowly, the air began to clear.

Wrapped around the base of the fountain was the largest creature Nicolai has ever seen.

A dragon.

A real living dragon.

The light reflected off its body’s blood-red scales, and it looked like it was made out of smoldering red hot coals. Its slithering tail sliced through the air and severed the head of the first mayor’s statue and tossed it at Nicolai’s feet. It laughed, much like Zander, but much deeper, the sound vibrating Nicolai’s rib cage. Its ugly, scarred beak-face turned towards him, its crimson gold eyes looked like a pair of rampant wildfires trapped in large glistening orbs.

“Well? Isn’t this what you wanted?”

The voice boomed in his mind as the roar became something shrill, like a bat’s screech amplified by a hundred. Nicolai covered his ears, falling to his knees, as the boutiques’ front windows shattered. The dragon slithered up the statue, standing tall as if it were on a pedestal and spread out its wings. It gave them a flap and Nicolai stumbled onto his back again by the blast of wind.

“Impressive, aren’t I?”

Nicolai didn’t speak, could barely sit up from how badly he shook. His eyes watered from the heat that radiated from this creature and all he could think of was to get away. Get far, far away.

The tail came slamming down into the ground beside him, leaving a deep trench in the earth.

“AREN’T I!”

“Yes!” Nicolai squeaked the word before covering his head with his arms. “Don’t kill me, please!”

Zander laughed. “Boy, I’m not going to kill you.”

There was a silence, but Nicolai didn’t dare raise his head.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” the voice in his head boomed.  “It’s your turn! Shift!”

Nicolai lowered his arms, his head still low to the ground. “What?’

He quickly covered his head again as the dragon whipped his tail around, slicing through trees, breaking benches and breaking more windows.

“Don’t play stupid! You heard me!”

Nicolai straightened his wobbly knees and gathered as much courage as he could, unable to look Zander in the eye. Shift or die. Well, it felt more like die or shift and then die anyways. He felt embarrassed by his own form in the face of this monster. Zander would just laugh at his animal body before he roasted him alive.

He almost wished the lions hadn’t left.

Taking a deep breath, Nicolai bent his knees. His only chance was to take off the second he finished shifting, use the trees for cover. It was only thing he could do.

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!!”

Zander’s tail, which was whipping about lazily, stopped mid swing, going completely still at the command. Nicolai froze. What now? A part of him was actually curious, though he didn’t think his heart could take another surprise.

The voice was clear as water and slightly high pitch, a female’s voice.

Nicolai slowly turned towards the source. Down the street behind him, she stormed towards them, her thick wavy blond hair – so pale it looked white – flying off her shoulders. Her gray eyes narrowed at Zander as she passed him without a glance.

“Knock it off, Zander. Right. Now.”

There was another gust of wind and when Nicolai looked back, Zander was once again in his human form.

He sighed heavily as he hopped down from the fountain. “You really know how to be a kill joy, sweetheart.”

The female scowled and stepped right up to his face. “You think this is funny. Destroying public property? Burying us in debt? You find this funny?”

Zander smirked. “A little.”

SMACK.

She slapped him, hard and his face snapped sideways. Either she was stronger than she looked, or he was humoring her. Either case disturbed the hell out of Nicolai.

The teen winced, expecting Zander to retaliate since the dragon’s smirk disappeared. Instead, he looked bored.

The female’s face was red. “Don’t you ever think! What were you doing out her in the middle of the night anyways?!”

It was then that Nicolai realized he couldn’t recognize her smell either. She smelled more like white lilies and fresh earth than an animal. It confused him. But after everything tonight, his fear wasn’t as great as before. Now he was more curious. Who were these people?

Zander shrugged, rubbing his jaw. “Taking a walk. Is that illegal?”

“Actually it IS illegal to be out past curfew, Zander!”

“Relax, Celeste. It’s not a big deal. What are they gonna do?”

“Slap us with one hell of a fine, that’s what! Oh, just wait till Li hears about this!”

Zander scoffed as if he could possibly care less and Celeste slapped him again, before pointing in a direction Nicolai knew lead to be the industrial district. “March!”

Nicolai could hear him murmur something under his breath, but obeyed, digging his hands into his pockets and started to walk. As if remembering an afterthought, Zander glanced at Nicolai with a smirk. “We’ll continue this another time.”

Celeste gave the dragon shifter a disapproving glare and Zander ducked as if expecting another slap. To Nicolai’s horror, she turned towards him next. He tensed, afraid she’s doing to hit him too, but she actually smiled. It had a tremendous effect. She was truly breathtaking. Nicolai’s heart started to race for a completely new reason.

“I’m so sorry about all of this. You’re not hurt are you?”

Nicolai shook his head and her smile grew. Up close, he caught a hint of equine in her scent. Definitely a mammal and not a normal horse, but that’s all he could tell.

“Good. Well, I think it would be best if you were to head on back to your clan. It’s dangerous to be out past curfew…as you already learned the hard way.”

She sighed deeply and shook her beautiful head and Nicolai could tell she was thinking of Zander.

“Be careful, okay?”  Celeste gave him one last smile before she turned and followed Zander out of the plaza.

Nicolai watched their retreating backs until they were disappeared. He remained where he was, still unable to understand what just happened. A dragon? They were real? They existed? No. They weren’t supposed to exist. And that female, Celeste, she was the same. Something that shouldn’t be. Outcasts like him. Were there more? Did they belong to a clan? An entire clan full of shifters that shouldn’t be alive?

Hope replaced fear. It was something he had dreamt of, but never dared to believe. And yes, Zander terrified him, but still….still…

Before he could finish making up his mind, his feet began walking in the same directions as the strangers.

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