Series: Shadowlight #1
Author: Elena Leman
Genre: Fantasy Romance
About the Book:
1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you into writing?
I am a mystic, poet, traveler, teacher, and book author. With an MA degree in Russian and English Languages and a burning desire to travel the world, I left my native Poland in 2008. Since then I’ve lived in Turkey, Costa Rica, Colombia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy, Brazil, and Portugal, working as an English teacher, a hostel manager, an assistant to the CEO of a personal development company, and… a bartender at Full Moon parties. Occasionally, I’ve got paid for cuddling cats. Currently, I’m living in Lisbon, Portugal.
I have been writing ever since I can remember—poetry, essays, and short stories. I’ve had several travel- and poetry-related blogs. When I lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I cracked my Spoken Word cherry by performing on stage. Soon, my international escapades resulted in a collection of fervently passionate poems and an equally ardent debut novel Happy Ever(ywhere) After. Enchanted by the fiery beauty of Spanish and Portuguese languages, I absorbed the South-American music, folklore, and spirituality with every cell of my body and mind. They filled my imagination with magic, adventure, and a bit of drama—all the essential ingredients for a page-turner, which I hope Incandescence is.
2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?
For some inexplicable reason, I’m the most creative at night, especially between midnight and three or four AM. I’ve tried to train myself into writing during the day but it was a futile attempt. I would spend hours on one page, my thoughts scattered like dandelion fluff. I could only focus when the world around me fell asleep. There’s something mystical about the night. It’s as if the muses are determined to come down from their astral plane to talk to us mortals only when we truly listen, without getting distracted by our mundane worries and chores. They demand our absolute attention. It’s all or nothing for them. As for my favorite place… my bed, of course! 🙂
3: Where do your ideas come from?
I think my ideas mainly come from my romantic and metaphysical experiences. Any angst or pain I felt as a teen was easily resolved by pouring it onto paper. It hurt less when it was transformed into something tangible and beautiful. On top of that, I have a ridiculously vivid imagination and an intense spiritual life. I meditate, visualize, practice Reiki, read tarot cards, perform moon rituals, and look at the world through the prism of symbolism and magic. That helps a lot in building fantasy worlds. As for my novels, each of them has a very unique story.
Happy Ever(ywhere) After is essentially a semi-memoir, loosely based on my life in Turkey, Costa Rica, Colombia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. It tells the story of a slightly lost twenty-something, trying to understand her role in the world.
With regard to Incandescence, my latest fantasy romance, it was born out of heartbreak I experienced two years ago. I lived in Brazil at the time and my entire world seemed to crumble into pieces. I moved back to Poland, to my parents’ house, and spent the entire winter in bed, miserable. The only thing that kept me sane was writing and, oh well, my mom’s pierogi. I wrote Incandescence in three months and when I finished it, it felt as if I were reborn. I woke up from my hibernation and left my cave with a manuscript in my hand. The time to share it with the world has finally come.
4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?
I’m a semi-plotter, semi-pantser. I usually have an outline of my story ahead of time, like a skeleton to hang muscles on. But I give my characters a lot of freedom and sometimes they don’t want to do what I’ve planned for them. Instead, they take me in drastically different yet exciting directions. I only sigh and ask, “Are you sure you want to do this?” In truth, they know better than I do what’s going to happen in the story. They live in it. I only observe it and take notes.
5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?
Happy Ever(ywhere) After is a literary read, steeped in magical realism and self-reflection. Incandescence, on the other hand, is so many things at a time—dark metaphysical fantasy romance with sci-fi elements and a whole lot of steaminess. When I was writing it, I didn’t try to fit it within any strict genre criteria or a secret success formula. I just wrote it out of love, out of pain, as a way to escape my own suffering. I hope it will transport my readers into a unique and magical world they’ve never seen before.
6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?
What a wonderful question! I normally write a story as if I were watching a movie, observing the scenes play out on the screen of my mind and noting down what I see and feel. Funnily enough, I’ve always seen Incandescence as an anime movie. I was obsessed with Japanese animation as a kid and loved the unique deres (personality types) the characters represented. I was enamored with the trope of a bubbly, girly spark of deredere type constantly teasing in a playful way the dark, mysterious, and emotionally unavailable tsundere man. That’s exactly what Orobella and Sambor’s relationship dynamic looks like. Also, since Orobella is a green-skinned water nymph with a talking gecko as a sidekick, it’s easier to visualize them in an animated form. Not to mention all the astounding battle animals emerging from the warriors’ spirit tattoos! If Incandescence is ever turned into a live-action movie, it’ll require some serious CGI awesomeness.
7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
I’ve been an avid reader all my life; equally passionate about fiction as about non-fiction reads. Some of my all-time favourites are the classics of literature by Victor Hugo, Emil Zola, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Charles Dickens. I love how their novels transport you back in time. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov holds an eternal place in my occult-fixated, Slavic-folklore-infatuated, witchy heart.
From more modern reads, I love the metaphysical and visionary fiction by such mystics as Paulo Coelho, James Redfield, and Richard Bach. Funnily, I’ve never really read much fantasy or romance… before I started writing it! I do love the world that G.R.R. Martin created in the Song of Ice and Fire, mostly as a result of the crucial role women played in it. Haters gonna hate but I’m Team Daenerys forever.
As for the romance genre, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is what makes my heart sing… and dance… and shatter into pieces. I’ve never read about a love as epic as the one of Claire and Jamie.
8: What book/s are you reading at present?
Ugh, it’s very boring but what I’m reading at the moment are mainly books about self-publishing, book marketing, and, on a more interesting note, crafting a story. I also beta-read for some truly talented authors, which gives me a lot of joy. Recently, I got into Audible, which is amazing as it allows me to “read” while I’m jogging, cooking, or putting on makeup. I’m listening to Becoming by Michele Obama, which I found absolutely fascinating! I have two novels demanding my immediate attention, waving at me from the shelves of my Kindle library: Children of Blood and Bone and Kingdom of Souls. Their vibe is quite similar to Incandescence and I can’t wait to sink my hungry eyes into their mystical beauty.
9: What is your favourite book and why?
It is impossible to choose only one, but I guess, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is still the book that has left the biggest mark on me. I read it as a teen, when metaphysical concepts were still a novelty to me, so it unraveled a whole new and mysterious world before my eyes. I love reading stories of quests where the protagonists overcome internal and external difficulties, find love and life purpose, and go through a major transformation.
10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?
Read and write. Expose yourself to as many different genres and stories as possible. Don’t judge yourself too harshly on your first draft. It usually sucks. Write even if you don’t know what to write. The ideas will come whenever you get into the flow. Truly, write as if no one were watching. Because no one is 🙂
11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?
Instagram, for sure. I really don’t understand how Twitter works. I have an account there, just for the sake of it, but I don’t use it at all. I’ve had Facebook for about thirteen years now but I use it mostly to connect with my friends from around the world. I honestly can’t be bothered to have an author’s page on Facebook, not at the moment at least.
Definitely, Instagram is the network that gives me the most creative joy. I love all the cute things you can do with stories and how you can easily connect with bookstagrammers and follow gorgeous bookish accounts. I love Instagram. Follow me there if you want to stay updated on my writing and some occasional private shots of my life in Portugal and all the sangria I drink.
Chapter 1 – Orobella
Being born starts with dying. You may be lying among rocks or drifting in the ocean, seaweed in your hair. You already know you exist. You open your eyes, if you have them, and look at the sky. It’s always so different—red like mashed strawberries with cream. Violet, resembling a planet’s silk sheet. Or turquoise, foamy dreams gliding across its joyous plain. Like here.
But my favorite moment is to see myself. The first thing that comes into sight is some sort of tentacles, paws, or fins. This time, I had hands. They were green.
“Welcome to Instaar, Collector,” a translucent critter spoke to me from a stone among bulrushes. “I am Smoku, your guide.”
I had many guides before—indestructible creatures with ancient wisdom from all over the Universe. Sometimes they took the form of a light being, an electric current, or a musical note. Other times—of a gigantic winged feline shaped by stars. Yet never had I had one that looked like a baby lizard.
I stood out of the water and walked towards the river bank. Two legs. Mmm, I had missed those.
“Clothes and accessories, as per the latest fashion. It’ll make it easier to blend in,” said Smoku while pointing with his scaled head at the bundle under a tree. I opened it.
“A map, a pouch, some local coin,” Smoku named the items as I was taking them out of the bag. “They use the money system here.”
When I got to a knife on a thigh strap, a little gasp escaped my mouth. “What about this tool of bloodshed?” Even in dread, my voice sounded sweet and joyful like the song of a bird.
“It might make itself useful, Collector. This planet is not as peaceful as Samoriah. That’s where your last mission was, wasn’t it?”
I sighed a longing, “Yes.” My eyes closed at the remembrance of the loving whispers and blissful collective chant of Samoriah’s bloom.
“Collecting crystals may be easier if you keep your new form in one piece,” said Smoku. “A little dagger under your skirt will do the trick.”
My eyebrow lifted in amusement. Not only was my new guide a very handsome reptile but also a real smooth talker. How did he even gather all these supplies? The knife on its own was triple his size.
I attached the strap to my thigh. Murderous or not, I had to admit, the weapon looked good against my new form’s emerald skin. “Oh, well. I’ll wear it,” I decided. “Just to blend in.”
Having brushed the duckweed off my body, I put on the rest of the attire—a turtleneck crop top, seamless panties, and a double slit maxi skirt, all in white. I slipped my feet into lace-up sandals and wrapped the long straps around my calves. I nodded with satisfaction. Shoes were the true reason why I loved having legs.
“You will need those, too.” Smoku waved his tail at two silver cuff bracelets.
I looked at my wrists marked with deep cuts. “Suicide?”
Smoku nodded. “It seems like.”
I hid the scars under the cuffs without asking further questions. That was the first rule of every collector—not to inquire into the form’s past experiences. The body was empty and available for use, that was all I needed to concern myself with. The less I knew about its life, or death for that matter, the better.
I tied the pouch filled with coin to the thigh strap and unfolded the map. It showed an archipelago of islands and its name scribed in the antiquarian font—The Middle Isles. Smoku stepped on one of them with his tiny foot.
“We’re here, on the Common Land. It belongs to no one and everyone. No wars or violence can be performed here. Theoretically.” He pointed to the big port city on the eastmost peninsula of the island. “That’s Amber Fields, thirty kilometers from here.”
“Is that where the inhabitants are?” The chrysalis in my chest itched for an exchange. It longed to know what wonders this turquoise planet held.
Smoku chuckled softly, amused by my excitement. “Yes. Diving through shouldn’t be a problem. Your new form allows hydroportation.”
Huh, that was precisely what I loved about the planets covered with liquid matter. With the right body, you could just dip in at point A and dip out at point B. It saved a lot of walking. However, I didn’t want to get my new skirt wet.
“I will walk,” I announced. “Please join me.” I outstretched my hand to Smoku, who scurried up my arm and made himself comfortable on my shoulder.
We took the forest path, among the merry twitter of flying creatures. “What can you tell me about this curious place, Smoku?” I asked, brushing away the slim branches, heavy with blossoms. The flowers giggled at my touch.
“Instaar is rather underdeveloped, compared to the planets you’ve visited before. The Middle Isles are believed to be the center of the world.”
“Funny. They’d be amazed if they saw the real planetary core.” I jumped over a tree root. “What about the Instaarii? How are they?”
“First of all, they don’t see themselves as the Instaarii. They’re all divided.”
“Typical,” I snorted. “So they have those… What do they call them? Nations?”
“Tribes,” Smoku clarified. “The most powerful ones in this region are the Lasota and their allies, the Mazuuria, occasionally in the state of war with the fierce Dargiin. The Baykush are mostly neutral.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ugh, war. And what do they do when they don’t kill each other?”
“Train to kill each other.” Yet another chuckle vibrated through the lizard’s throat. “And when they get tired of that, they sail, fish, hunt, dance—”
My fervent new heart fluttered. “Dance?”
“Yes. That’s how they worship their gods.”
I touched my chest. “Splendid. That sounds like the perfect way to exchange a whole lot of crystals.”
“Orobella,” I corrected. “Actually, call me Oro, if you please. Have there been other Crystellians on a mission here?”
Smoku hesitated for a moment. “Yes, Oro.”
I clapped. “Collectors?”
“Mainly. But no one is collecting at the moment.”
“Oh…” My enthusiasm dimmed. Then I felt my mouth curling to the side and that immediately made me feel better. “I love this facial expression. Feels so sassy.” Exploring a new form was always fun. You never knew what features it came with. It would be nice if this one could fly. But a side pout was perfectly satisfying.
The path led up and down, unraveling an orchestra of colors and sounds with every step. The flying creatures zigged and zagged above my head, impishly diving into the air just to soar up before colliding with a tree. Or my face. A pink bird poked my forearm as if wanting to say, Hey, look how pretty I am.
“There seems to be so much joy on this planet,” I exclaimed. “Does it even need more?”
“It truly does. The Instaarii are not like these little beings. They are… complex,” said Smoku while stretching his weightless body across my shoulder. “Besides, Oniria is a special kind of forest. It has a mind of its own and loves to interact with its guests.”
“Ms. Oniria must be a sweetheart,” I concluded, my hand dancing with the pink bird in the air.
“No, it’s you who is a sweetheart,” said Smoku. “The more time you spend in Oniria, the more it adjusts itself to your mood.”
“How helpful.” I let the mischievous bird fly away. “You’re not sure why you’re salty, you wander into the forest for an hour and walk out all enlightened. Problem solved.”
“That’s not how the Instaarii see it. That’s why no one wants to live here. They’re scared of the forest.”
Instaar was a young planet, its people still in development. My kind, the Crystellians, arrived here hundreds of thousands of years ago. We implanted crystals in a few of the most developed species but the experiment worked with only one. The second implementation happened six thousand Instaarii years ago. Now came the time of harvest. I hoped we had given the inhabitants just enough time to grow some magnificent minerals. That was what I came for. Well, and also for a bit of fun.
We’d just walked through a dense and very giggly thicket when I noticed the most unusual silky mandala among the branches. There were two creatures in it.
“What is this mystical being?” I asked.
Smoku licked his eye. “That’s a butterfly.”
“Well, I know this one, obviously. It’s all over the Universe. What’s the other one? Haven’t seen it before.”
“Oh, that’s a spider.”
I squatted and observed in silence how the extraordinary eight-legged animal wrapped its prey in silk and slowly sucked the life out of it.
“So sad,” I whispered.
“I thought Crystellians don’t get emotional over death,” Smoku remarked.
“Being emotional is the goal of our existence,” I said, never taking my eyes off the spiderweb. “But I feel sorry for the spider. It must be tragic to have to kill something so pure and gorgeous in order to survive.”
I felt Smoku’s googly glance on me. I met it with a question, “Right?”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s pretty, indeed, but a spider must eat.” He flicked his tongue. “And so does a lizard.”
I laughed and rose to my feet. “I enjoy your pragmatic approach, my dear friend. I think we shall be a lovely team. Unless, by accident, you eat me.”
“I will do my best to avoid such an accident.” He sighed with regret. “Once my kind used to eat sharks and crocodiles. Those were the days!”
“Mmm, tell me all about it.”
Soon the trail merged with a dirt road. We walked until the day star moved from the East to the West, and the sky burned in all shades of red. As the treetops bathed in the deliciousness of twilight, a sucking sensation made its way to my abdomen.
“I think I’m hungry,” I announced.
“We all are,” said Smoku, before licking himself all over his face. “Your form needs to be fed at least once per day. There should be a tavern right… there.”
A wooden inn stood on the side of the road, loud music and laughter coming from the open windows. “Uh-huh. That looks like my kind of place.” I strode towards the gate.
A few horses idled about in front of the building, plucking the grass. I approached one of them and put my face to its forehead. The memories of endless steppes and wind in my mane crossed my mind. And then… ropes, gates, and darkness. “I’m so sorry, my friend,” I whispered in its ear. “I wish you happiness.”
Smoku called my attention. “Oro, before you enter, a word of advice. Different tribes communicate among each other in a lingua franca called the Language of the Birds, offered to the Instaariii by the Great Spirit.”
“All right. I speak it, don’t I?” Actually, I spoke all tongues. A language was just a code carrying vibrations. Or rather hiding them.
“Everyone is a brother or a sister,” Smoku continued his crash course on the Instaarii etiquette. “The customary greeting is, I see you.”
“Lovely. Can we enter now?” I walked towards the entrance of the tavern. The wild rhythm hit my ears and poured down my veins.
“There’s usually a hand greeting to it too,” said Smoku. “I wish I were able to present it properly.”
“Awww…” I caressed his chin. “Don’t worry, my sweet Smoku. I will watch and learn. It’s not the first time.” I placed my two hands on the heavy door, but the stubborn lizard on my shoulder stopped me by nibbling my ear.
I was on the verge of losing my patience. “Yes?”
“One more thing, Oro. They won’t see me. If anything happens, I won’t be able to help, you know that?”
I knew. That was the first rule of every guide—not to get involved. They provided the words of wisdom and local knowledge, but if things got physical, a collector was on their own. Nothing I wasn’t used to.
Smoku continued, “Some male representatives of this planet might be rather—”
I stuck my finger into his mouth. “I said, it’s not the first time. I’m protected, Smoku. Don’t forget who I am.”
He made a coughing sound and jerked his head away. “I remember, Collector,” he said, only slightly offended. “I hope you shall never forget it either.”
I just winked at him and threw open the door. The room was hot and loud, filled with diverse forms, male and female, big and small, of various colors—creamy, pink, beige, brown… Not even one of them was green.
“There goes blending in,” I whispered through my teeth to the invisible gecko on my shoulder.
“I would give a shrug but I simply can’t,” he answered.
I walked to the bar, followed by astonished looks. A group of women by the entrance started whispering in each other’s ears. A lanky dancer crashed into his companion’s monumental belly, spilling sunny-colored liquid over his beard. One of the drummers let his stick fall off his hand. He immediately got slapped on his scalp by an elderly musician. I smirked. I loved the attention, each and every time.
I sat on a bar stool and watched the band perform, as casually as a solo green girl could. I took a minute, or maybe even less than that, before a peachy-skinned, wheat-haired “lumberjack” stood up from his seat and came to the bar.
“I see you, sister,” he said, his voice pure velvet.
I smiled flirtatiously. “I see you too… big brother.”
He choked on his beverage but quickly regained his composure. “Let my presence be a blessing.”
“It already is,” I coaxed.
He stroked his braided beard with relish. “I’ve seen people from the furthest corners of the world coming to Koliada, but I’ve never seen an exotic beauty such as yourself. Did you fall from the sky?”
“How did you know?” I bit my lip seductively. I had no idea what he was talking about but decided to play along. “It’s my first time to… Koliada.”
The charming giant took another sip from his mug. “I know it is. I would’ve noticed you before. The nights of the Winter Solstice Festival are dark and obscure, but some wonders can’t escape a man’s eye.”
“Aww, you’re just saying that because I’m green.” I playfully tapped him on the naked shoulder. It was time to read him.
A stream of images flew through my head—a clash of swords, ships on fire, dismembered bodies, a goblet of wine falling to the ground, an old man dying in agony, and then just drunken amok. “Hmm… What a pity.” I looked into his beautiful azure eyes with compassion before sliding off the stool. “I wish you happiness.”
“Wait,” he shouted after me. “Where are you going, beauty? Let’s have a drink.”
“Stop drinking,” I called out through the crowd. “Snail ale lowers your vibrations.”
“Lowers my what?” I heard him say. I didn’t stay to offer an explanation.
“Ugh, all over the Universe, developing creatures find the most inventive ways to kill their souls. That makes my work so much more difficult,” I complained under my breath.
“You’d better get used to it, Oro. The Instaarii don’t like to face grief. They prefer to drown their sorrows in snail ale or skycherry wine,” Smoku said. He lazily climbed to the top of my head and scanned the room. He was tiny, and I was shorter than anyone else on the dancefloor, but soon his scouting mission paid off.
“The musicians aren’t drinking,” he announced with pride in his voice. “They must stay sober for the spirits of music entering their bodies.”
“Smoku, you’re the best wingman ever,” I exclaimed.
“At your service. Thousands of years of ancient wisdom shall not be wasted.”
I slid among the hot, wet bodies all the way to the stage. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Every crystalkind on every planet I’d ever visited looked for a way to travel astrally. The profound longing for an unknown source of their existence pushed them to create the masterpieces of galactic art. So far, music had been my favorite.
I let the rhythm sway my shoulders and hips in a spellbinding trance. I felt a forest growing in my head—little bells on the wind among the leaves, raindrops on the surface of the lake, thunderstorms and rattlesnakes… And something… Like a heartbeat of the jungle… A drum! Yes, it was a drum!
Its hypnotic sound entered my mind, lifted my soul… My legs stomped back and forth in a pattern I didn’t realize I knew. My hands shaped sacred geometry in the air. My lips sang a song I’d never heard before, yet I’d known it from the beginning of time. My body was a vehicle and I was a passenger. I opened my eyes to see who was the captain on that flight.
He was looking at me, his big hazel eyes full of conspicuous desire. He was tapping the heart of the drum with his palms. Huh, so he had lost that stick for good? I smiled at him and saw his aura explode like a supernova. He wanted me more than anything in his life. Let’s do it, I thought.
And so he played for me and I danced for him, the flaps of my skirt swirling around my body, swaying against my naked thighs. The louder he played, the faster I spun. The stronger he tapped, the harder I stomped. Breathless and lightheaded, I felt the growing heat in my chest. The ball of light trapped under my crop top started to pulsate. It was happening. The chrysalis opened.
I looked up through my half-lidded eyes. A whirlpool of golden energy emanated from my chest, a yellow-white crystal spinning in its center—my core stone, the vibrational essence of my soul, my JOY.
An energy vortex opened in the drummer’s chest as well. A dazzling turquoise stone, mottled with light green specs, left his chrysalis and pirouetted across the stage towards mine.
Tears came to my eyes as the two streams of luminescence tangled into a passionate knot, swirling with the speed of light, shooting into the sky. The turquoise gem floated into my chrysalis, while the sunny one merged with the boy’s chest. An orgasmic rapture poured over my brain as I felt the power of the green stone reaching every cell of my body. What was that sweet, gentle energy that filled the mind with music and the heart with tickles? It took a moment before I recognized one of my most beloved crystals in the whole Universe—DREAMINESS.
I shook in unworldly pleasure—surely, an intriguing view for a bystander. Yet, my physical reaction was the only observable part of the process. No one could see the crystals or our little exchange, not even the drummer himself. It could only be visible to the eye of a Crystellian.
As the petals of my chrysalis furled, satisfied with its trophy, I faltered to the side, bumping against another dancer.
“We’d better go, Oro,” Smoku urged. “You should get a room here tonight. The first exchange is always exhausting. And you haven’t eaten yet.”
“Mmm,” I moaned. “This form… Such ecstasy… So powerful…” I walked with difficulty, my legs heavy, blind spots before my eyes. The music stopped, and I heard a tumult of female shouting coming from the stage. I turned around for the last time to look at the young man who’d shared with me his DREAMINESS. He was having a seizure.
Cold sweat dripped down my forehead. “Smoku… Smoku, we have to help him,” I gasped before hitting the floor.
The rest was darkness.
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