The Lily Cafe is thrilled to welcome author Jennifer M. Zeiger! Her YA fantasy novel Quaking Soul is set to be released on November 30, 2020 (check out purchase links at the end of this post), but you can enjoy her choose-you-own-adventure novel The Adventure while you wait.
Title: Quaking Soul
Author: Jennifer M. Zeiger
Genre: YA Fantasy
This was it. This was Na’rina’s chance to prove to her mother and the dryad Council she could navigate the mythic and human worlds. With night hanging over the city, all she needs to do is sneak in unseen, attend a mythic meeting, and report back. If only she knew who had called the meeting in the first place.
Na’rina’s a young Drydanda, destined to be Queen of the Dryads, or tree nymphs. Her world-fauns, nymphs, dwarves-hides in plain sight from the more populated human world. As long as they remain myth, they remain safe.
He’s come to warn them but he’s a wer-im, a werecat, who was banished centuries ago with the rest of his species for burning the dryad’s trees. But humans captured his leader and dozens of other mythical creatures as well. If the mythic world is to survive, he must forge alliances.
When Na’rina’s mother goes missing, she finds the violent, banished wer-im her only allies. She soon realizes that everything she’s been taught in preparation for leadership appears to be wrong. Who can Na’rina trust while attempting to keep the dryads alive in her mother’s absence? As she quickly discovers, the fate of the mythical world rests on her decisions.
Interview with Jennifer
Thank you so much, Jennifer, for chatting a bit about Quaking Soul and what inspires you!
Quaking Soul opens with Na’rina, a dryad, attending a mysterious meeting to find out what or who might be attacking the mythics (dwarves, fauns, dryads, etc.). She’s frightened to find out the wer-im, a species of were-cats who were banished centuries before, called the meeting. Their leader, the Wer-Kadis, insists the wer-im are not behind the attacks. He offers an alliance against whoever is behind everything.
Na’rina resists the alliance until her mother is kidnapped. Then, in a desperate hope to save her mother and the dryads, she makes a deal that could cost her everything. In exchange for helping the wer-im free one of their own, Silas, they’ll help her rescue her mother, Mona’rina.
Now, Na’rina finds herself with the Wer-Kadis on a military-style ship, surrounded by labs and human doctors, trying to free a wer-im she’s never met.
Na’rina stood in a tiny antechamber, shocked at her luck because whoever entered the room before her had already moved through the second door and hadn’t noticed her following. A faint acrid smell filled the small room. Na’rina wrinkled her nose as she approached the thin antechamber door to listen to the humans inside. She crouched beside the hinges, hoping to see through the small crack, but the door sat too tight to the frame.
“Where are we today?” a male voice asked. “Specifics, Doctor.”
“We tried waking him,” answered a female. “That didn’t work, so we attempted to pull the desired result from the body without him conscious.”
There was a pause. Na’rina got the distinct impression the female didn’t want to answer.
“And no dice,” she said. “The Enhanced Ketamine seems to be the one drug their bodies don’t burn through but all the others were easy to pull out of their comatose states. This one, however, seems to have adapted to it. It knocked him out, but now his body’s generating it on its own to keep him unconscious. It may be a defense mechanism, but without knowing how his body’s doing it, I’m hesitant to proceed.”
“And you’re sure we can’t use him without him aware?”
“Then use more invasive measures to wake him. We have to produce results.”
“What, Dr. Simms?” Na’rina cringed at the irritation in the voice.
“I can almost believe he can speak if he wanted.”
“This animal would slice your throat if it could. Never have these creatures achieved speech. They scream like any cat—but speech? Careful where your imagination takes you, Simms.”
The door thumped from being hit and swung toward Na’rina. She backed against the wall as it almost pinned her.
“But I’ve studied them. They have the vocal cords and voice boxes!”
The door stopped. “Careful, Simms, or you’ll lose this position.”
The door swung open again. Before it closed, the doctor keyed the outside and rushed through it in a huff, followed by the acrid scent.
Na’rina glimpsed the Kadis’ furious eyes behind 52A’s cracked door before 52B whisked shut again.
“You do have them, you know,” Dr. Simms muttered from the other room.
An idea occurred to Na’rina. Dr. Simms wasn’t convinced her subjects were just animals. Na’rina could work with that.
Na’rina slipped off her lab coat. Without it, her lithe, long-muscled dryadic body became obvious. That would probably be enough, but Na’rina wanted to be so striking it would leave Dr. Simms speechless.
Focusing inward, she washed a thin layer of zoi aima through her skin and the ashy white faded with a chill, replaced by her light spring green. The color reminded her of the underside of an aspen leaf. As an afterthought, Na’rina pulled her long hair up into a ponytail. She took a breath, rolled her shoulders back, and opened the inside door.
Monitors cramped the room beyond from floor to ceiling. Against the left wall sat a pudgy woman at a tiny metal desk. The woman, Dr. Simms, scribbled notes, only stopping to tuck stray hairs that escaped her chestnut bun behind her ear. This close to a human, Na’rina shuddered at how vulnerable she looked in her lab coat and khaki pants.
Looking away from her, Na’rina stared at the shiny metal slab dominating the center of the room. On it lay the largest wer-im she’d ever seen. Wires were attached to his head, his arms, his chest, even the soles of his feet where they protruded from the white sheet covering him. Fury flushed from Na’rina’s head down through her torso like a boiling wave. Only a prolonged second, during which she held her breath to keep it from seething from between her teeth, kept her from expressing her anger. If the sight of Silas like this infuriated her, then it was a stroke of fate the Kadis hadn’t followed her into the room.
“Dr. Simms,” Na’rina greeted the heavyset woman when she was sure the words would not lash out from her, then, as she caught sight of the name plate, “Rebecca.”
The woman spun in her chair and her mouth dropped open. After a frozen second, her fingernails scraped the bottom of her desk, searching for the small red button Na’rina could just make out beneath.
“Before you call for help,” Na’rina moved to stand on the other side of Silas, “would you like to hear his voice?”
Dr. Simms’ hand stilled. “His voice? He has no voice.”
“Neither do I,” Na’rina smiled at the irony, “according to some.”
Rebecca Simms pivoted away from her desk, never taking her wide eyes off Na’rina. “He won’t wake up.”
Na’rina reached for the first wire. “Neither would I, if this were what I woke up to.” She pulled the wire off his skin and one of the monitors went silent. The doctor gulped as Na’rina removed three more monitor wires.
“Then how do you wake him?” she whispered.
Removing two more wires, Na’rina placed a hand on Silas’ chest and pulled the metal contraption from his head. A nearby screen turned black with a startled beep.
“Watch.” Opening his collar enough to lay her palms on his chest, Na’rina concentrated on the blood in her veins, on the warmth and the zoi aima that made up her life. She didn’t need to touch Silas’ lifeblood, she just had to raise his temperature and the rate of his heart to burn off the drug keeping him under. It was a process of streaming zoi aima into him instead of shooting it, but the idea remained the same.
At first nothing happened. Na’rina’s zoi aima met something sluggish as though she were trying to fill mud with lifeblood. Then Silas’ chest heaved on a sigh and the resistance lessened when one of the unattached monitors sang.
Dr. Simms’ mouth hung open. As Na’rina streamed even more zoi aima into the wer-im, his hands clenched and his heart thudded heavily beneath her palms, pulsing out a flood of the wer-im’s own zoi aima, flushing it through his body in waves. Na’rina marveled at its vibrancy. She wasn’t connected to that rushing, churning life, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t sense just how vital and volatile it was in nature. The monitor sang, its pitch hitting a high note, and then it flickered, warbled and tried to restart, but the overload continued and it blew out with a static pop.
Dr. Simms’ eyes flicked between Na’rina and the blown-out monitor. Silas screamed, and the doctor jumped.
Na’rina’s heart clenched. She thought she’d killed him for a moment as his heart stuttered, but then the cry rounded out into the gritty roar of a mountain lion and his eyes snapped open—brilliantly green gemstone eyes. Na’rina jerked her hands away and he snatched her wrist before she stepped back.
“Mona’rina?” As he studied her face his brows drew together in confusion.
“His voice!” Dr. Simms gasped, her hands fluttering. “They’ll want you both. They said you were in the area but they never thought you’d come here. Oh, dear—” she cried as Silas slid off the slab toward her. She shoved backward in her chair but smacked against the desk, well within his reach. He clutched her throat in one massive hand, a snarl revealing his long canines. Dr. Simms gurgled, feebly struggling to pull off the punishing fingers gripping her.
“Silas!” Na’rina lunged across the table and grabbed his arm, again thanking her stars the Wer-Kadis wasn’t in the room. Silas turned those bright eyes on her, and her heart rate stuttered with a fear he could probably smell. “Na, Silas.”
He blinked, scanning her face as when he mistook Na’rina for her mother. It was an intense look but she could not say what he wanted to find. His snarl melted into something devoid of feeling. Its coldness made her shiver, but at least when he turned back to the doctor, he no longer seemed intent on slicing her throat.
“Stupid woman,” he growled, smacking her temple with his fist.
Na’rina jumped at the harsh thwack. The doctor slumped in her chair. She’s still alive, Na’rina assured herself as she saw the pulse in Dr. Simms’ neck.
“My clothes?” Silas asked, now focused in a way that reminded her of the Wer-Kadis.
“There’s a lab coat.” She pointed toward the antechamber.
“That’ll do,” Silas said. He followed her and shrugged into the coat. The shoulders stretched taut across his back but when he slouched it didn’t stand out as much as the thin shirt.
“Your skin,” he reminded her, raising a hand toward her face like he might touch her cheek. Na’rina swayed away, shocked at the familiarity. But he was right. A layer of zoi aima returned her skin to ashy white and cleared her head before she moved to key open the door.
About Jennifer M. Zeiger
She’s had short stories published in Z Publication’s Colorado’s
Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction Anthology and America’s Emerging Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers: Colorado Anthology, as well as in the online ezines The Story Shack and Dark Futures.
In 2017, Jennifer kickstarted her writing carrier, literally, by publishing her first book, The Adventure, after running a successful Kickstarter. The Adventure is a Choose Your Own Adventure–style book for young readers that contains three stories with eight to ten endings each.
With Quaking Soul, Jennifer has now realized her dream of publishing a novel. She plans to continue producing adventure books and novels in the future.
Connect with Jennifer M. Zeiger
Thank you so much, Jennifer! It was a pleasure to have you here, and I can’t wait to read Quaking Soul!
The author, Jennifer M. Zeiger, retains all rights to the Quaking Soul excerpt and interview information published above, which may not be copied, reproduced, modified, sold, or distributed without the author’s express permission. To contact Jennifer M. Zeiger to request permission to utilize the above excerpt and/or interview information, please send your inquiry to Kat via the Contact page.
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