Flash Point - Nite Fire Book 1 by C.L. Schneider Book Tour and Giveaway :)
Regret, I thought, processing the emotion’s distinctive touch. It was sad, but it wasn’t the trauma I was looking for. I shook my leg, dislodging the shadow, and moved on.
My quick dismissal wasn’t as callous as it appeared. As an empath, I understood: no matter the species, the age, or the cause, every hurt was significant to the soul that owned it.
This one wasn’t significant enough, not tonight. Not for what I needed.
Shivering, I yanked the zipper up on my hoodie. It was late. The building was drafty. But my sudden chill wasn’t sparked by cold. If it was, exchanging my human skin for scales was far more efficient. Being a half-dragon shapeshifter had its perks. Generating heat was one of them. But it was the end of August. There was plenty of heat to go around. It was disgust that had me trembling.
I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m terrible, I thought.
At least, I would be if I continued on my current slippery slope. It was a figurative decline. The crumbling concrete floor of the derelict apartment building I was trespassing in was as flat and unwavering as it should be. My morals, however, were careening steadily downward. If shifter-hell was a place, it was a sure bet I had a standing reservation carved in stone.
Of course, the name Dahlia Nite had been on that list for a while now. A former executioner for the dragon-queen, Naalish, there was no way my elevator had ever been going up. Not even the last ninety-seven years I’d spent performing (mostly) good deeds in the human realm could change my eternal destination. But this… Trolling the slums, looking to loot the trauma from whatever poor souls I could find and use it for target practice—this was going to plummet me straight to the bottom.
But I had to do something. My empathic abilities had been a mystery from day one. Over the years, they’d grown to become an important part of my life. The clues my empathic glimpses provided were mostly reliable, even if the results were inconsistent. Since moving back to Sentinel City three months ago, that inconsistency had flown off the freaking chart.
I’d tried not using my empathy, but I didn’t like being limited. I solved crimes and hunted monsters for a living. I needed every edge I could get. Unfortunately, this edge had become too unpredictable to be trusted. Hurting an enemy with an involuntary psychic attack was one thing. Sending an innocent man into cardiac arrest was a near-fatal mistake. I wanted it to be my last. If absorbing and reassigning pain was something I could do now, I needed to get a handle on it.
Yet, the last four weeks, I’d been dragging my feet. Because there was only one way to train my sixth sense. I needed pain. I needed to feel it and play with it, and doing so, for the sake of my own gain, made me feel no better than the creatures I hunted.
Ignoring the issue, though, was dangerous, which was why I was spending my Monday night touring one of the city’s most notorious buildings in the old waterfront district.
The Fletcher had been condemned for years. Rumors of spirits and ghouls fed into the city’s love of legends, but the only activity in the ramshackle structure was the unseemly kind. There was no electricity. Most of the rooms were missing doors. Grime coated the few remaining broken window panes. Termites and humans had riddled the interior walls with holes. Fire had scorched the rest. Graffiti bubbles colored nearly every surface. A few surviving furnishings were coated in layers of filth. Just looking at them warranted a shower.
The kids who snuck in to party mostly stuck to the lower levels. The junkies who stumbled in to forget their lives for a few hours or days favored the solitude of the higher floors. Runaways and vagrants, however, made use of the entire six stories. Most would crash for a while, then get smart and move on. Some graduated into permanent residency. Now and then, the city came in and cleaned the place out, rounding up the runaways, busting the dealers and the junkies.
They came right back.
Curling up in dark corners and old closets, hiding from the world, shooting up and fading away; their decaying souls shed trauma like autumn leaves in a perpetual windstorm.
There were certain places empaths preferred to avoid. Hospitals, nursing homes, cemeteries, prisons, the sites of ancient battles, all made the top ten. I wasn’t sure where drug den fell on the list, but I couldn’t walk five feet without someone’s suffering reaching out to me. It was everywhere: darkening the fissured concrete, drifting over the decomposing garbage and mold-infested blankets—clinging to the hunched human forms that had moved past unfortunate to wretched a damn long time ago.
What I saw and felt wasn’t your typical ghost, but I’d found no other word to describe the residue that haunted a soul. It grew with each new trauma, polluting humanity’s insides. Eventually, it manifested into a shadowy form that clung to their bodies; tainting, suffocating, sloughing off bits of trauma with each step. Sometimes, after death, their ghosts stayed behind. Here, so many had stayed, not even a spotlight could have penetrated the layers.
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.