Nite Fire Book 1
by C.L. Schneider
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Slated for execution, shapeshifting assassin, Dahlia Nite, flees her world to hide in the human realm. As payment for the shelter they unknowingly provide, Dahlia dedicates herself to protecting humans from what truly lives in the shadows. Moving from town to town, she hunts the creatures that threaten an unsuspecting human race; burying the truth that could destroy them all.
But the shadows are shifting. The lies are adding up. And when Sentinel City is threatened by a series of bizarre brutal murders, light is shed on what should never be seen. The secrets that have kept humanity in the dark for centuries are in danger of being exposed.
Wrestling with a lifetime of her own deceptions, Dahlia investigates the killings while simultaneously working to conceal their circumstances. But with each new murder, the little bit of peace she has found in this world begins to crumble. Each new clue leads her to the one place she thought to never go again. Home.
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I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be afraid. I’d outgrown the nightmares of my youth long ago. Burying the events that sparked them, locking away the images, I’d dismissed the power they held over me. But I still remembered…
Waking in my dark den, throat raw, fire spitting from my fingertips; in those first few moments before sleep released me from its clutches, I’d sworn the creatures’ hot breath was still on me, their barbed tongues darting out, smelling my fear on the air. In every shadow, I saw the black blur of their shifted forms, circling me. Every heartbeat bore the promise of pain as the razor-like teeth of the savage nageun shredded the meat from my bones. Every night, I waited for the creatures’ bites to penetrate, for their venom to flow in and my blood to spill out.
Those moments were far behind me. The nightmares were gone. Experience had made me stronger and wiser. Determination and training had pushed my fear of their slender, stunted reptilian forms to the depths of my mind.
Now they were crawling out.
They were stepping from my past.
The dark swarm was closing in, and the nageun’s pursuit of me was as real as the cold fear burning in my veins; twisting like a frozen blade with each pump of my legs as I ran.
Shifting out of my human form, crimson scales erupted to spread beneath the malleable confines of my uniform, covering breasts, stomach, thighs, and back. Muscles increased in size as my slender nose widened. Rounded jaw hardened. Cheekbones and forehead became more distinct as my full lips darkened. I dropped to all fours, back arched slightly, and the forest floor sunk beneath my weight. Claw tips extended, digging in, releasing the aroma of damp soil and moldy undergrowth. With a rustle of leaves, I pushed off.
Night birds scattered in haste at my swift trespass. Woodland creatures stirred and scurried. My unmistakable smell, an arousing amalgam of human female and dragon, had them skittish as I dove headlong into the clog of downed boughs and scrub. My agile hybrid form slipped through the labyrinth of timber with minimal effort. Arcs of fire crackled off the ends of my hair as it fluttered out behind me.
I was too conspicuous. I needed to blend.
Without breaking stride, I shifted the strands and their composition changed. From scalp to ends, human hair emerged, and doused the visible fiery heat wafting off the lengthy red waves. It wasn’t camouflage even close to what my pursuers were capable of creating. Their ability to shift into shadow, nearly erasing the edges of their bodies—little more than whip-like tails, long flat jaws, and serrated teeth to begin with—was one of the creatures’ greatest weapons.
It wasn’t easy to kill my kind. Death by nageun was a long, tortuous mutilation there was no coming back from. Picturing it, I tore deeper into the forest.
I tried to run and not think. But my mind was spinning, desperately seeking to understand, to conceive how a normal assignment on a normal day had landed me on the wrong end of an execution. With a single hesitation, my hopes, my future—my life—was over. The Guild was all I’d ever known. They’d plucked me from my den-mates, sheltered, fed, and trained me; promoted me to the coveted role of Executioner. They’d shown me the rewards of a life in service to our dragon elders. Dahlia Nite was a name respected in the ranks. I was known to all the tribes, decorated for fealty and bravery. Now, all had turned against me.
I carried the order through. I did as I was told. I’d just needed more time.
If the child hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t…
What? I thought bitterly. I still didn’t know what happened. Only that her emotions had been strong beyond explanation. They’d been tangible, slithering over and in me, affecting me in an impossible way. I hadn’t been merely sympathetic to the human child’s terror. Her panic had brought me to my knees. I’d felt the violence of the moment, the violence I’d been sent to inflict, in a way I never had: as a victim. I’d seen it, growing around her ankles like a black wet fog. Stunned, I’d lost hold of my fire and faltered. Pausing, even just a moment, had created a memory; a record of my uncertainty, and, therefore, a death sentence.
In a society where not even our thoughts were private, no mistake was overlooked. No performance could be embellished or hidden. Our mission reports, our kills, were pulled straight from our minds by the highest authority: Naalish, the Exalted One; mother of all firedrakes and Queen of the Elder Dragon Tribes of Drimera.
Telepathy was common in female elders, but Naalish was said to possess a superior mind. It was also rumored she’d ripped the heart from her predecessor and ate it, consuming her soul to gain her power. I’d never believed it. Naalish was the most beautiful and majestic of all the dragons. Even hours ago, standing before her wrapped in chains, I’d been in awe of her presence. Deference and pride had kept me silent as she ordered my execution. I hadn’t even thought to plead for mercy. I was better than that. I was a hybrid, a shifter, a lyrriken. The product of a human female and an elder male in human form, both human and dragon existed within me. It was by the grace of the elders alone that I lived. They had every right to judge and punish me.
It didn’t matter that I’d gone before the Queen confused, that I’d needed help and she’d called for my arrest. Mercy was a not a common dragon trait, and I would never have shamed either of us by begging. I took her condemnation with my head held high.
It was after when my outlook changed. After, as I sat in my cell, with the blood of that human child drying on my hands, as I dissected my actions and tried to comprehend—I watched the walls go inexplicably fluid and gray. And I saw her. I saw it all again: the clearing where her home sat, the woods surrounding it, the charred body of her headless father on the ground. Stretching out like a hand from the grave, the child’s terror, stronger than anything I’d felt before, had gripped me anew. It dominated everything. My status, my honor, my duty to die as commanded, had no value. My squad, not even my lover mattered. Suddenly and inexplicably, I cared for one thing.
No one had challenged my escape. They had no reason to expect such a bold move. Even facing execution, no Guild-trained lyrriken would dare defy the Queen. We would stay and take the death that was given us.
Yet something had crawled inside me that didn’t want to die.
Something that wanted to live more than it wanted to obey.
Now the coin had flipped, and I was the target. I was the one striving to outrun the oncoming death on my heels, clinging to life even knowing the odds of surviving. Fleeing was foolish. My impulse to do so was puzzling, but I couldn’t stop. Even now, with my cell in the depths of the Citadel far behind me, with the lights from the City of Spires dim in the distance, the sounds of the child’s scream rang as strong as the wind in my ears.
I’d left her alive too long. Her noise had brought the nageun out of the forest. My hesitation, my compromised aim when I recovered, had left her not quite dead when the horde descended. She’d watched them swarming. Felt their teeth puncture and tear. I’d backed quietly away, out of their view, listening to the foul crescendo of the cracking of bones and the slurping of organs as soft human bodies were reduced to strips of meat and puddles of viscous matter.
They were to die, anyway. It had been my duty to kill them.
But not like that.
I’d botched the entire job, and I still couldn’t fathom how. How could one little human melt away my years of training, one mistake label me weak and untrustworthy?
Now, in fleeing, I’d earned another brand. Traitor.
Nite Fire Book 2
If anyone can tell the difference between monsters and humans, it’s Dahlia Nite. For nearly a century, she’s hunted one to protect the other; safeguarding humanity from the creatures that slip through the torn veil between the worlds—creatures like her. But the lines are blurring. As people begin mutating and combusting on the streets, Dahlia realizes a strange affliction has descended upon Sentinel City. The mysterious ailment strikes all walks of life, from the posh, high-end nightclub district to the homeless community. Its victims, driven to random acts of savagery, are drawing attention too fast to cover up.
Assigned to the case, Dahlia and her human partner, Detective Alex Creed, investigate the deaths. But all they have are questions and bodies, and a public on the verge of panic. Working behind the scenes with her self-appointed sidekick, Casey Evans, Dahlia struggles to discover what, or who, is behind the alarming transformations. As the violence spreads and the mystery unfolds, she wonders: are the victims still human? Were they ever?
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Born in a small Kansas town on the Missouri river, C.L. Schneider grew up in a house of avid readers and overflowing bookshelves. Her first full-length novel took shape while she was still in high school, on a typewriter in her parent's living room. While her main focus is adult epic and urban fantasy, she also pens the occasional science fiction or post-apocalyptic story.
Though she has been writing all of her life, Magic-Price (the first installment in The Crown of Stones Trilogy) was Schneider's first published novel. With the trilogy complete, she is excited to be embarking on a new path with her urban fantasy series, Nite Fire.
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