This month I want to share a few selected pieces of Carol’s art from NIGHT’S GIFT, book one of our fantasy adventure series OF CATS AND DRAGONS. The pictures are captioned with short quotes from the story. If this looks like a book you would enjoy, check us out here. And if you’ve already read NIGHT’S GIFT, I hope you enjoy this little trip down memory lane.
A tall, thin figure in long grey robes stood near a cauldron emitting a billow of greenish smoke. He’d been a man at one point, the broad bones of his face distinguishing him as human. But the rest of his features were impossible to discern within the mass of lumpy grey skin, which spread over desiccated muscle tissue.
Gack. Looks like a snake’s slough. Cast-off. Putrefied. Omen swallowed down the sick rising in his throat at the sight. The smell in the air was almost unbearable to his heightened senses, and the silk kerchief only vaguely lessened the impact.
The alchemist had two eye sockets in approximately the right place, but they were filled with glistening gelatinous material that boasted pale green irises with black pinpricks in the center.
Omen took an abrupt step back, bumping into Templar.
“The prinssssessss,” Gerdriu hissed through squared off ivory teeth yellowed with age and far too visible. Part of Gerdriu’s lip had long ago fallen off, and the words that came out of him were difficult to understand. The alchemist prolonged the final “s” so much that the word sounded like princess.
“Run, walk, crawl, won’t much matter boys,” a low, harsh voice informed them.
Both Omen and Templar spun around. An old woman stood behind them, clutching a gnarled wooden staff in one hand and a goblet of wine in the other. A small hummingbird flittered about her head, pulling at strands of her long white hair. It landed on her shoulder and perched calmly there, tiny eyes peering intently at Omen.
“Ma’am?” Omen nodded his head politely to her — his Melian-bred manners at the forefront. He’d been taught to speak respectfully to the elderly.
“They’ll eat you if you go near them,” the old woman continued with a chuckle that sounded remarkably like a low rolling cackle.
“Who will?” Templar and Omen asked in unison.
The old woman pointed her staff toward the red sector and the group of women sitting in the center of it. “The Feast Seekers of course!” she said.
“I thought Mer folk were supposed to be beautiful maidens,” Omen whispered to Templar as they approached the strange, scaled man.
“There are more different types of Mer folk than there are land folk,” Templar said. “This kind is frequently seen around the bay of Hex. They’re mostly harmless, but they’re strong and extremely long-lived.”
As they approached the strange man, he turned toward them expectantly. Omen could see thin slits in the man’s neck. Though the Mer’s features were mostly human, his gills suggested that he could breathe underwater. He was dressed in long blue robes that hid his form. His hands, folded upon his lap, were unusually large — his fingers extremely long and thin. Omen spotted webbing between each digit.
Templar stopped beside him and inclined his head politely. “Greetings old one,” he stated clearly. “We are here to ask for Miss Cornelia’s pearl back. She has sent us to retrieve it.”
The Mer blinked slowly. His eyes, blue as the sea, were enormous and bulbous, lending him a wild, wide-eyed expression. The smile that accompanied that look only added to the unnerving effect as it revealed tiny needle-like teeth behind his pale blue lips. “Delightful,” the Mer replied, his voice soft but clear. “But if you want the pearl, you’ll have to play for it.” He motioned with one webbed hand toward the Battlefield board next to him.
“You’re saying you’ll give us the pearl, if we play a game of Battlefield with you?” Omen tried to clarify.
The Mer’s smile widened. “I’m saying I’ll give you the pearl if you win a game of Battlefield.”
“And if we lose?” Omen pressed.
The Mer rubbed his chin thoughtfully, looking the two of them over. The webbed plume on his head raised upward as he studied them.
Standing in the center of the pit was a most curious-looking creature. Tall, with fine sharp features and long dark hair that hung about his shoulders in curls, he might have passed for human were it not for his glowing yellow eyes and the fact that his legs below the knees looked like they belonged on a goat. His goat legs stuck out from beneath his calf-length velvet breeches. Covered in fine black fur, his fetlocks and pasterns ended in glittering black hooves that clicked and clattered upon the marble floor.
Dressed in a flowing black coat and a tall black silk hat, the goat man swept the hat from his brow and elaborately bowed to the audience all around him. He gestured to the crowd with grand over-exaggerated motions and waved the hat in the air several times before setting it back upon his head. Then, he cracked the long whip clutched in his other hand. The sharp sound of the thin piece of leather snapping in the air drew all attention toward him.
“Welcome back gentle lords and ladies!” he shouted to the crowd. His voice was deep and rich, and easily carried throughout the cavernous arena.
Team Luciene, the champions, were towering, androgynous entities that, while humanoid in shape were anything but human. Tall and well-muscled, they bore enormous leathery wings upon their backs like giant bats. Their hands ended in long vicious claws, and their feet were shaped like the talons of raptors. Black beaks sprouted from the front of their faces as if a dark triangle had been shoved over an unsuspecting human’s mouth and nose. Their beady bird eyes flashed yellow and bright over their beaks, while their thick, scaly tongues flicked out over their long incongruous fangs and rows and rows of sharp teeth.
Beaks and fangs. Hardly seems right.
As team Luciene entered the ring, their wings beat fiercely, carrying them over the marble floor in great bounds. They landed near the ringmaster, and Omen could see their claws digging down into the surface of the stone as if it were made of sand. Each let out a series of vicious caws that cut right through Omen. While their bodies showed signs of minor injuries, they did not seem even slightly fatigued from their previous matches.
From the other door the two challengers . . . slithered. Not remotely human, these two players were mostly reptilian — their lower bodies curled into enormous serpent coils. Their long, wide upper torsos were covered with glistening scales. They possessed four arms each, heavily muscled and thick with ropy sinews. Their scaled hands flashed with sharp claws.
Nightmare snake things.
As the snake creatures approached, both hissed, showing off long dripping fangs. Team Islid swayed menacingly in front of the ringmaster, who cracked his whip in warning.
Two furry white shapes caught hold of the edge of the box. The fuzzy shapes were white as snow, white as cream, long fluffy tendrils of fur catching in the air. A larger shape pulled itself upward. Omen saw a flash of orange, a gleam of gold, a shimmer of gossamer, and a moment later he found himself staring into the face of a . . . kitten.
Omen blinked. The music in his head grew utterly silent. The patterns vanished. He blinked again and stared hard, trying to make out exactly what he was seeing.
The kitten was large — perhaps the size of a herding dog. But it was still a kitten, a kitten with a too-large head and gangly legs. The kitten was covered in long fluffy orange and white fur patterned in glimmering stripes that caught in the air currents and shimmered with a silken sheen. The kitten’s ears, long tufts of white fur sticking up from them, the insides as pink as sea coral, were perked forward. Enormous amber-colored eyes shone with curiosity. The pink nose, twitching as it tried to catch the scents all around, seemed almost lopsided due to the small smattering of dark freckles on one side of the velvety skin. Incongruously there was a slender golden crown perched upon the kitten’s head, held up by one ear.
To Omen’s shock the kitten opened its mouth and proclaimed in a loud voice for all to hear, “I is only three weeks old!” And then the little creature yawned as if exhausted. The words — not meows, not growls or some vague approximation of speech — were spoken in clear, unmistakable Sul’eldrine, the Language of the Gods. The kitten’s voice was sweet and lilting and perfect for the holy tongue.
- all art by Carol E. Leever
Visit us at OfCatsAndDragons. com