Excerpt– Shadow of the Dragon

It is finally done. I’ve finished the first draft of Shadow of the Dragon. It took much longer than I was hoping and I have to admit that the last part is a bit rough, but honestly, I just wanted to get it done. I love the characters and story but…

Kel will be reading for me before I have another run through– I already know spots where I have to add bits (at least in general) and make other improvements but that can be done now that I have a draft completed.

Here’s an excerpt for your enjoyment…

—-

Except it wasn’t a cloud, of course. It was a group of dragons. A flock? There were about forty of them, and they were moving quickly.

“Shit.”

Nobody was watching me– the women had other things on their minds. Tayen had dropped the sword when she rushed away. A woman in flowing silks had taken it up, but her attention was fixed on the sky. I could probably do whatever I wanted. They’d hardly notice me untying some ropes. Surely.

Slowly and carefully, as if that would be what saved me, I crawled to Zack and his post.

“What are you doing, Doc?” Zack whispered.

“What does it look like?”

I started working at the knots but my hands were shaking badly. I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.

There was a shout from close by but I ignored it, picking at the knot with my fingernails, trying to get a grip somewhere. If only I could work out what way the thing actually–
Another shout and it took me a moment to realise I’d been spotted. I looked up slowly and saw the women turning to look at me, one by one. Talasi was staring, dignity forgotten for the moment. The woman who’d taken up the sword took a step forward and raised the weapon. The others were mumbling angrily.

I stepped out from behind the post and cleared my throat running through some possible excuses in my head, as if anyone could understand them anyway. I rejected, ‘Zack had almost gotten his bonds undone– lucky I checked when I did so I could tie him up again’. ‘What does it look like, you stupid bitch’ didn’t get much of a look in either. For a couple of long seconds, ‘Nothing, ma’am’ took the lead. But finally I opted for the truth. “I’m releasing, Zack,” I said.

She said something and I replied. It was all pointless of course– arguing in two different languages wasn’t going to convince anyone of anything they didn’t already believe, so I licked my lips and looked for some means of escape. I knew real action was beyond me, even if I’d been holding a machine gun, so I must have been hoping for a deus ex machina to save us. Nothing presented itself and Talasi motioned two women towards me. The latest sword-wielder smiled. She was going to get to cut off some heads.

“This is crazy,” I said, taking a step back. There wasn’t anywhere I could go. Zack was beside me, still tied. The wall was behind us.

I stood passively as the women grabbed my arms in strong, rough grips. Once more I couldn’t find the courage to fight for my life.

Someone yelled and pointed to the sky.

I looked up in time to see a dragon coming in low from the north. It seemed huge, casting a shadow like a jumbo jet. Its grey and green scales gleamed in the morning light. A woman sat in a saddle, lance in a bracket near her side, sword held lightly.

At the last moment, Talasi scrambled up the bank to the north and out of sight over the top. Women scattered around her, diving to the ground or running for their lives.

I watched stupidly.

The dragon breathed fire, strafing a wide section of the plateau as it passed overhead. Women screamed. Flesh sizzled and burned. I gagged on the smell. I retched, choking and gasping. Arrows flew upwards, but had no obvious effect.

Then the dragon was gone and screaming, moaning, smouldering women were left in its wake. Another dragon followed and this time I ducked instinctively. But the creature didn’t attack. I could see it and its rider concentrating on the dragon in front, zeroing in on its tail.
A hundred meters to the south, the attacker banked away from the wall and the defender moved to cut it off. Arrows arced between them.

I missed the arrival of a second attacker. It mimicked the first one and silenced many of the sounds coming from the plateau. Either I wasn’t worth worrying about because I was a man or the proximity of the wall saved me. Zack and I were left unscathed. Nearby, women were writhing in pain, calling for help that wasn’t going to come any time soon.

The smell was horrible. That and the sounds pushed me into action.

Rushing behind Zack, I started working on the ropes again, with fingers now strangely still. The knots finally gave way to my ministrations and the ropes fell to the ground. I heard Zack give a sigh of relief then…

“Shit,” he said.

I stepped around into the open and… The third women in the line of ceremonial sword wielders was standing before him, sword raised.

She said something, fury showing on her face, and I shook my head in disbelief. Did they ever give up?

A third dragon passed low overhead, breathing fire and roaring. More women screamed. Some ran. Some tried to drag injured companions away from the killing zone. A couple, oblivious, joined our small group as if Zack and I were the cause of all their problems. The leader took a step forward but a single arrow, fired from the back of a dragon, took her in the throat. She didn’t seem to realise for a moment, standing upright as blood gushed from her. Then she toppled forward.

Zack jumped out of the way. I couldn’t feel relief. I knew that one of the women would simply take up the sword to finish the job.

But Zack seemed to realise something that I didn’t.

Where there had once been dozens of women surrounding us, there were now only three. Or at least, there were three that were still alive and in a condition to do anything at all. Before the sword could be collected, Zack stepped forward and attacked.

I could only watch.

Zack moved his attention from one woman to the next. A punch, a kick a feint. It seemed to me that he was more worried about keeping them busy than actually doing any damage.
I wasn’t sure what that plan would give him.

Finally, one of Zack’s opponents went down. He punched her in the face– I could hear the contact from amidst the groans and screams of the burnt– and she fell awkwardly. Zack didn’t slow down to look. He was onto the next woman, moving quick. A minute later and he had fought his way all the way to the top of the stairs. He lunged at a woman and she shied away instinctively. That one small movement saw her overbalance and topple over the edge. She screamed and tumbled down the slope, leaving Zack one on one.

The first woman he had felled was starting to come to her senses. Zack was busy. He didn’t even see her. With a quick look around, as if Marissa might pop her head out a door and ask what the hell I was doing, I raced forward. The woman didn’t see me, even when I stopped by her side wrestling my second thoughts.

Finally, she looked in my direction and the cold fury on her face shocked me. She was reaching for her knife…

With a shout, I kicked her in the stomach, sending her rolling across the pavers. Before she could recover, I followed up with a gentle kick to her head. I didn’t want to do any permanent damage but I didn’t want her getting up for a while yet.

When I looked up I saw another dragon. Most of the battle seemed to have moved on but this creature flew in from the southeast, heading straight towards the us. Zack continued with his fight and didn’t even notice the new threat.

I shouted a warning but nobody noticed. Zack and the woman fought on and the dragon came closer. The creature started to breathe a long, bright, dancing stream of fire when it was about fifty meters away. Both the dragon and its rider were concentrating as hard as Zack and his opponent. They were oblivious to anything else.

And so, apparently, was I. I turned from Zack’s fight to the dragon and back again, wondering what I could do. As I watched, the woman stooped quickly and collected a knife from the ground. I stepped forward then stopped… It would all be over in a moment for Zack, one way or the other. I was too far away to do anything.

Then, a shadow enveloped me and I wrenched my attention away from Zack to look upwards.

A dark blue dragon had come over the top of the cliff above me. It was twice the size of the other creatures, graceful and powerful, and wasn’t carrying anyone at all.

The dragon attacking Zack saw as well, though it didn’t seem to care. It let loose another stream of fire, intent on its prey. It screeched in pain and terror when the larger dragon rammed into it. I could hear the impact. I saw bright scales knocked free. The scales fell to the ground, flashing in the sunlight. The rider fell as well, letting loose a scream that set my teeth on edge.

The two dragons wrestled in the air. They twisted and writhed, raking at each other with claws and pummelling each other with their strong rear legs. They kept their wings moving and, somehow, that kept them aloft. Their fiery breath sounded like jet engines. I thought I could feel the heat.

There was only ever going to be one outcome. I was surprised it was taking as long as it was.

The larger dragon tore a wing from the smaller, holding it up in triumph. And as the other creature fell it pulled off an arm as well, for good measure. It laboured for a second with the trophies upsetting its balance before tossing them aside and turning around. It looked at the top of the little plateau and flew slowly towards us.

“Oh, for fuck sake.” Nothing was going our way. We’d been a minute from escaping. Less. And now this. If I’d only… If I could’ve…

Zack and his opponent stopped fighting. They were standing just two meters apart but took no notice of each other. They were staring at the dragon, mouths open in shock and awe. I knew how they felt. And another woman had climbed to her feet. She held a bow, arrow nocked, but stood as stunned as the others.

The dragon continued its slow, steady advance, rising and falling like a boat on the ocean, with each beat of its wings. There were four of us standing there and it looked from one of us to the next with large, intelligent eyes.

The canyon wall was only a couple of meters behind me but Zack and his opponent had plenty of retreating room. They started to use the space. Zack backed away, hands raised as if to show he was unarmed. The woman with the bow was almost beside me when she thought of her own weapon. She seemed unsure if she should drop it or fire the arrow.

A second later, the dragon flared its wings and landed on the pavers. It was even larger close up. Its wings seemed to block out the entire sky. It threw back its head and roared.
I took a step back discovered I’d reached the wall.

——-

And now I can get to writing something else for a while. I think that is going to be o novella called Sand Kings, at this stage, though that could change to Skyfall or Upfall. I’ll have to see.

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