Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Preview: Dragon's Fighting

There are still some of you who haven't yet read the excerpt from my first novel: The Shadow of Tiamat. I'm not going to get mad at you, though. You're all very busy. Or, maybe you aren't sure you'll like it. Also, the excerpt is pretty long. Most authors and publishers only give you a few paragraphs. I slapped down the first six chapters. A lot of you have appreciated that, but I'm sure there are many who found it daunting. I don't blame you: I'd be reluctant to read six chapters from a book I wasn't really sure was going to be that good, too.

As a new, unpublished author it is my job to convince you to take a look. That means some very aggressive (and possibly annoying) self-promotion. I used to be embarrassed by it, but I'm so over that now. So, here we go...

When I started writing the first novel, I had no idea I was writing something good. I mean, I figured it wouldn't suck, but I never imagined I might be creating something that could have mass appeal. I expected to self-publish or land a small, ebook publisher and sell a few hundred copies to friends and family. The first person to actually read the book all the way through was a young friend of mine. She is not an avid reader, or even a fan of fantasy or dragons. She is also very, very busy and has a high-stress job...which meant that her down time is precious. I expected she'd read a few chapters and then tell me it was "interesting" but that she was too busy to read the whole thing and give it back. She read the entire book in two days. I should also point out that this was an early draft of the book. It was riddled with typos, spelling errors, awkward usage and even a couple of logical inconsistencies that were later cleared up. She loved it. Still loves it. Her reaction was what convinced me that I had something special here, something that could be big. At the very least, it was something I could make a living doing, and enjoy.


So, here is the deal. I can talk about how great the book is all day. I could tell you that my beta reader group is unanimous in their love of the book and the series. I could tell you how many of them read the whole damn manuscript (over 110,000 words) in like one night--hint: most of them. I could also mention the actors, writers, producers and musicians who have read at least part of the book (if not all) and loved it.

But I won't...that would just be insufferable of me.

Instead, I'm going to give you a little taste of what you might be missing.

The following is the third chapter of my novel, The Shadow of Tiamat. It is the first in The Dragon's Blood Chronicles, of which I have written five, not including a spin-off series of paranormal mysteries starring one of the more endearing characters from the first two books. A lot of the feedback on the book is praise regarding the elaborate but easy-to-follow battles between the dragons, even from people who don't even like fantasy--or dragons. This is a pleasant surprise, but it makes sense: few things are more bad-ass than dragons beating the hell out of other things and/or each other. This is not a very long chapter, and it contains several key characters for the series.

Enough of the self-promotion...now it is time for me to prove to you that my book will be worth reading. I give you dragons fighting dragons:

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Three stood in silence in the East African desert: two men and a woman. The night was black under the moonless sky, but they saw clearer than any human eyes could have on the brightest day.

The female broke the silence, “Do you think she will come?” Yomiko stood a few inches from Yor, the only other Asian there. His silence implied impatience. He was her brother and she expected his support.

“She will come,” said the bald man standing several meters away. He continued gazing at the horizon.

His accent was English, maybe Australian. Whatever it was, Yomiko despised the way he talked…not the accent, the words. He spoke like a human. It was disgusting.

“Do you think she will suspect?” the female asked, turning her back to Yor.

Though she could see only the side of his face, the curl of his cheek showed the bald man was smiling.

“Of course she will suspect.” Her brother placed his hand on her shoulder. She shook him off. Her bound hair flipped against his wrist as he withdrew.

“She is one of us, love.” The bald man’s scalp was decorated with sharp, angular runes. They seemed to have been carved in with a knife and filled with black and red ink.  He glanced over his broad shoulder at her. “She would be a fool not to.”

“But she will come, Xyus?” She fixed his eyes with her gaze and tilted her head. He reacted to the mention of his name by turning back to the horizon.

“She will come.”

And she did. The cool desert breeze carried her scent to their nostrils. All three raised their heads and took it in, like instinct. A few seconds later, Morrígu came into view.
She was massive, but graceful. Her powerful wings turned the gentle desert air into a torrent. The three on the ground stood resolute, despite the powerful dust storm erupting around them.

Yomiko couldn’t help but admire her. She was captivated by the layers of emerald scales, many of them glossy enough to catch sparkles from the faint starlight. Some interlocking and other overlapping, they armored her muscular form like a work of reptilian art. Yomiko found her spectacular; a breathtaking example of their kind. It reminded her why many of their ancestors were worshipped.

In her long life, Morrígu had probably been worshipped as well.

She transformed into her human shape in midair. The creature that was over eighty meters long with a wingspan of nearly twice that reduced to a naked woman. She fell to the ground feet first with a light thud, bending her knees with the impact.

As she stood, Yomiko saw Morrígu’s female form was no less astounding than her draconic one—at least by paltry human standards. She was voluptuous, with full breasts, a slender waist, and curving hips. A mane of sultry red hair fell over her strong, feminine shoulders down to the middle of her back. Her eyes were piercing green; no less so than the emerald scales that had covered her form just seconds ago.

Yomiko looked at her two male companions. Many of her kind had a taste for human women. If her brother or Xyus were among them, they must have found her irresistible.

Without taking her gaze away from Xyus, Morrígu gestured to the others with a nod. “Who are they?” Her voice was strong and proud, full of a confidence Yomiko envied. The accent was Irish, but poised and refined.

“They are to be trusted,” Xyus replied, not taking his eyes off of her.

“That is not what I asked!” She placed her hands on her wide hips.

Xyus introduced them. It was only after they had been named that the red haired dragon glanced to them and sniffed the air. She did it twice, once for each of them.

“Twins?” she said, with no small amount of intrigue. She regarded Yor before Yomiko, but seemed to spend a bit more time on the female. This interested her, but seemed to concern Yor. Her brother stepped forward and placed a hand on his sister’s back and another on her belly.

“Meredith Morrígu.” Xyus glanced over his shoulder at the twins. They nodded in reverence. Morrígu returned attention to her host.

“Xyus, I presume you have called me here at the behest of your master—”

“I have no master!” he interrupted, taking a brisk step forward and lowering his jaw. His gaze fixed her nude form in umbrage. It was a level of contempt Yomiko had never observed between two of her kind.

“Your ally,” Morrígu corrected, making it more than obvious that she did not approve of the finer term. Nonetheless, it seemed to abate Xyus; for the moment.

“I have.”

“Then I will tell you what I told the last ally he sent to me.”

“You have no need to tell me,” he explained, crossing his hands. “You may tell him yourself!”

Yomiko noticed an immediate change in Morrígu. Almost like an animal, she went from refined and elegant to feral and poised. The men tensed up in kind, initiating an instinctual reaction in Yomiko to do the same. After sniffing the air, Morrígu relaxed but kept up her guard.

“Fraise is not here,” she declared, unhidden scorn in her tone.

“Not yet.” Xyus mocked her with a chuckle.

Yomiko looked to her brother. She expected to see confusion, but instead saw only wide-eyed curiosity.

She knew Morrígu was smart enough to know there was no need to take to the air. Fraise was large enough that his scent would be noticeable from over a hundred kilometers away. He was nowhere near. If he hoped to arrive before Morrígu had a change to escape on wing he would need to be much closer.

The air rippled. At first Yomiko thought it was the wind, until she realized that it wasn’t just the air moving in waves, but the ground and sky as well. The ripples intensified, like someone had cast a rock into a placid lake.

Morrígu’s eyes narrowed and her jaw tightened. Yomiko wondered if this was what dragons looked like when they felt fear. She’d seen it in humans, but they were so accustomed to fear that expressing it came naturally. For a dragon, even in human form, fear was an infrequent sensation. The intensity was overwhelming.

At the moment, Yomiko shared the rare emotion with her—but not with her brother or Xyus. The former looked around in amazement; the latter raised his eyes to the East in expectation.

The ripples pulled away from them and focused into a single pane of the night sky. From this surface, like a fish breaking from water, emerged three more men. Two of them were in the fore, one with dark brown skin and the other with a smooth, pale complexion. Yomiko didn’t know them, but she knew they were dragons by their scent. The third emerged as the ripples ceased. The sight of him caused Yomiko and Yor to gasp, and Xyus to beam with adoration.

“You said they were to be trusted!” Morrígu roared, throwing a finger towards the twins. Yomiko saw the betrayal in Morrígu’s eyes, but she dared not show any sympathy towards an enemy in the presence of Xyus’ ally.

“They are to be trusted,” the third male said, stepping between his two escorts. His strong face, wrinkled with age, curled into a cold and sinister smile. “Just not by you.”

As Morrígu turned her attention away from the twins, Yomiko gazed with wide eyes at the new arrival. She had no doubt who this was, for she knew of no dragon on the earth so ancient that his human form would bear the profound marks of human aging: a head of thinning white hair, wrinkled skin, and glossless, faded eyes. They were features she’d never seen in the human guise of one of her kind.

“Veles Fraise!” Morrígu snarled—giving name to the beast.

“Darling,” he replied, shaking his head. His voice was smooth but discomforting, like a chilling winter wind. “I have not been called Veles in over nine hundred years.”

“You have come here to murder me.” Her voice sharpened.

“Oh, Morrígu!” The most ancient among them spoke in earnest. “Beautiful, beautiful Morrígu! I have come only to implore you to reconsider your compassion for these pathetic creatures.”

His accent was unlike anything Yomiko had ever heard. Dragons adopted the manner of speaking of whatever humans they live near or among to help fit in. This was something different, something that harkened to an ancient dialect long lost to the world’s memory.

“You think I have compassion for them?” she spat, almost trembling with rage. “Loathsome talking apes! The mere sight of them repulses me! I feel disgusted hiding in the shape of them!” She gestured to her body, causing her firm, ample breasts to shake as she motioned like tearing off her skin.

“Then why not join me?” Fraise was calm. “Rid our world of these pests? This was always our plan, beloved—”

“This is not what we planned!” Morrígu shook her head. “This…had you come to me two hundred, maybe a hundred years ago, I may have cooperated. But now, it is different. The apes are more powerful. They have weapons that can kill even us. What you seek to do will bring exposure and death to our kind. Nothing more!”

“So it’s not compassion,” Xyus injected, smiling like he would laugh aloud once he completed his thought, “but cowardice, then?”

Morrígu roared and turned fast, fixing Xyus with a murderous stare. Her emerald eyes were alive with hate and disgust.

“You speak to me of cowardice!” she roared. “You, who dare not face me without the protective presence of your master!” She placed special emphasis on that last word, driving home that she was through with politics and courtesy. It did not seem to bother Xyus as much this time as before; though he tensed his hands and set his boots to the ground.

Silence. Even the creatures of the desert ceased making noise. Yomiko noted that the lowest things on this world could sense what was coming next, and were wise to be as far from it as possible.

“So you’ve come to kill me.” Morrígu regained some semblance of composure and turned to face Fraise.

“My precious friend, I am forbidden by honor to subject you to a fight I know you cannot win—and bound by my affection for you to give you a fair chance.” He sounded quite sure of himself, but Morrígu did not appear to disagree. “But if you will not cooperate, I cannot allow you to leave.”

She nodded, accepting what was next.

“I am here only to see to it you do not flee,” he continued, stepping away from his escort.
Xyus’ eyes were wide and his teeth bared, seething constrained excitement at what was coming. Yomiko was surprised to see the same look on her brother’s face.

“Would you have expected me to flee?” Morrígu was polite, like she were still talking to a friend. Yomiko didn’t imagine she was someone accustomed to retreat.

“Simply a precaution, my dear,” he explained, continuing to walk away. “Though I trust in the capabilities of my younger allies…” He gestured to the assembly—they surrounded her like a pack of beasts. “You are far swifter in flight than any dragon I know.”

“Any dragon,” she added, “but you.”

Fraise nodded once, smiling.

“Goodbye, Morrígu,” he concluded, now several hundred meters away.

Morrígu dipped her head in reverence to her old friend.

Then she was a dragon again. Her change was so abrupt that the gust made Yomiko's hair flutter. Before she could take in the magnificence of her emerald plated form, the great dragon cast a powerful backhand blow against Xyus’ human body, hurling him into the air and off into the desert. Thousands of meters away, he landed with a faint crash. That would keep him out of the fight for a minute or so. She appreciated that Morrígu was smart enough to recognize the strongest among them and remove him from the battle long enough to thin out the rest.

Yomiko wanted no part of this fight, but took to her nature nonetheless. Her clothes ripped to threads and strips as she lengthened into her serpentine form. Yomiko’s body was leaner than Morrígu’s, and her scales were yellow and red. She had no horns, and her legs were set further back on her body. Her tail was less defined, like her entire body was part of it. She reared up on her powerful hind legs and took flight, carrying herself away from the battle.

Morrígu was more than twice the size of any of them. Her neck and head alone were as long as Yomiko or her brother, and almost as thick. Yor’s form was identical to Yomiko’s, except for the dangling scales around his chin that resembled a human’s beard and two short horns.

The other two dragons were more like Morrígu. One of them was covered with shimmering silver and white scales, the other black with a grayish white belly and neck. Both had horns, though the silver one had bony ridges that ran the length of his spine and ended in a set of sharp spikes at the tip of his tail.

As Morrígu occupied herself slapping Yor in the face with her claws, the silver dragon whipped his tail about and drove the spikes into Morrígu’s back.

Though roaring in anguish and pain, Morrígu didn’t slow. Black dragon’s blood gushed from the wound and splattered on the sand with a hiss. Morrígu responded with her own tail, lacking the spikes but as muscular as any Yomiko had ever seen. The heavy end of it crashed into the silver dragon’s knee, and a powerful crack of bone sent her adversary to the ground. Morrígu swatted Yor again, this time ripping scales from flesh and drawing more blood. It erupted in a geyser, spraying across Morrígu’s breast as she twisted her neck about and opened her mighty jaws.

Yomiko knew what was coming next.

Morrígu’s breath attack was a burst of sound so powerful and violent that it tore the air. It radiated out from her throat in a cone, blasting chunks of flesh and bits of scale from the bodies of the two dragons. While the smaller black dragon took the brunt of the damage, he was quick enough to avoid the full force of the blast. Most of it impacted into the ground and caused a crater to appear, as if the earth had been depressed by a massive foot. Her brother took some damage to his hind leg, a wound that would cripple him for days—if he survived.

The effect left Yomiko deaf for a few seconds. The smaller dragon scampered back, trailing blood from the tear in his belly and leg. The silver dragon, still face down on the ground, began to rise, using the three legs that still worked. Morrígu would have none of that. She brought her own leg up and stomped down on the smaller silver dragon, crushing several of the bony plates along his spine.

Morrígu’s eyes widened when the spines pierced her foot, causing a shower of blood to coat the smaller dragon. The pain wasn’t enough to stop her from crushing his spine. The weaker dragon roared in pain, his forked tongue lashing around in anguish as he realized that he could no longer use any part of his body below the wound.

Yor leapt to the air, sinking his teeth into Morrígu’s sinuous neck. She twisted her head about, but was unable to bring it low enough to bite back. As Yor brought the rest of his body up in an attempt to coil around Morrígu, she brought her front legs to bear and grabbed him around the chest.

Her claws dug into his scales, tearing through them like tree bark. Streaks of black blood poured down his yellow and red body. Yomiko thought she heard her brother squeal as the emerald dragon’s muscles flexed. She pulled his jaws from her neck. Much to Yomiko’s surprise, blood erupted from the wound Yor had left. His teeth left black grooves in the interlocking green scales of her neck.

She hurled Yor over a hundred meters away. He landed with a crack and lay motionless for a few seconds before stirring. He was too hurt to stand. Yomiko turned her attention back to Morrígu.

The wound left by the silver dragon was deeper than Yomiko thought. It had torn a fissure through Morrígu’s lungs, and each breath the mighty dragon took caused blood to trickle down her scales. If there was pain, it did not show.

The silver dragon paid a great price for striking so mighty a blow. With a roar of triumph, Morrígu brought her wounded foot down upon the smaller dragons face, crushing his skull with a chilling crack. The silver dragon twitched once before twisting up on itself to become a motionless pile of flesh.

Yomiko’s jaw fell open. It was the first time she saw a dragon die.

With a blur of motion and a burst of flame, Xyus was back in the fight. His natural form was a squat beast with a long horn on his nose and a short neck ribbed with bony armored plates. His scales were dull red, like dried animal blood, except for his belly and the underside of his short neck which were rust colored. His wings were short but powerful. He was likely not as skilled a flyer as other dragons, but his body had other advantages. Xyus looked built for battle, and he seemed to relish the opportunity.

He wasted no time unleashing a cone of scorching flame from his throat. It poured forth like water on Morrígu. She howled in pain and fell to all fours then shielded herself with one of her wings. The flames coursed along the surface of the wing and blackened the skin beneath.

By the time Morrígu recovered from the searing blast, her wing was nothing more than a limp frame of blackened bone. Yomiko winced at the sight of it, and knew this meant Morrígu had resigned to die here tonight. No dragon would ever sacrifice a wing in such a way unless they thought there was no escape. She sought only to cause as much damage to her enemies as possible before they overwhelmed her.

She released another burst of her own breath weapon, amazing Yomiko that she’d been able to regenerate it so fast. The sound was weaker this time, and appeared focused into a beam. It struck Xyus in the face, but his thick armor absorbed most of the impact. He whimpered and staggered back; stunned, but not killed. She managed to take him out of the fight again, though not for long.

Not to be caught unprepared, Yor flew back into the fight and tried once again to clamp down on Morrígu’s neck. She and her brother had a breath weapon: searing flame like Xyus. It wasn’t as powerful though, so Yor appeared to be foregoing its use.
Morrígu caught Yor in air and slammed him to the ground. The earth cracked at the impact, leaving another deep fissure in the desert floor. Again she brought him up and down, crushing his body under repeated blows, until he fell limp against the sand, trembling in pain.

Yomiko hadn’t reckoned her brother could be killed here tonight. He needed help. She scanned the desert for the black and gray dragon, and found him huddled near Fraise, nursing his wounds. He must have been more injured that she thought, or just a coward.
Yomiko looked back to her brother. He turned his head to meet her eyes. Morrígu positioned herself over him, limping and leaving a trail of sizzling black blood on the ground at her feet.

The fight was over for Morrígu. Xyus would soon come out of his delirium and rip her to pieces. Even if she managed to defeat Xyus, she would succumb from her wounds within an hour. The inevitability of it weighed on Yomiko. She knew Morrígu had no reason let Yor live. The emerald dragoness had nothing left to lose, and all that remained was to end the life of another of her aggressors. Yomiko hissed with anger at Yor for getting her involved in this ambush, but was overwhelmed by the fear of losing him.

She leapt on Morrígu and caught the older dragoness off guard. Yomiko was impressed by the sheer power coursing through the muscles of the emerald dragoness. She sunk her teeth into the same wound Yor had inflicted seconds ago. Her jaws, equal in strength to her brother’s, crushed the weakened flesh in their embrace. She found the bloodied grooves he’d carved into the Morrígu’s neck and matched them with her own sharp teeth. Bones more powerful than steel bent and snapped in her mouth, and Morrígu released a hoarse roar as blood bubbled through her lips.

Black dragon’s blood sizzled from the wound, pouring down Yomiko’s throat and chin. It tasted like iron and ashes. Morrígu attempted to grapple Yomiko, but was too weak. The slender red and yellow dragon wrapped her body around the larger one’s neck and constricted. Morrígu let out a gasp—then a hiss—accompanied by bubbles of blood. She resolved to a gurgle as fluid pooled in her throat and lungs.

Morrígu fell to her knees then flopped on her belly. The light in her eyes faded as she took her last look at the world: the reality where she’d spent over seven thousand years.

Yomiko saw no traces of sorrow in the mighty dragon’s eyes.  She would die an honorable death after doing great harm to her aggressors. Nevertheless, the younger dragoness felt sorrow for her, and at the passing of this magnificent creature from the world. Yomiko released her grip and lowered her lips to the fallen dragon’s ear.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, in the language of dragons. They were rare words for their kind.

Morrígu died.

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There it is. If that didn't appeal to you, then you probably won't like the rest of the book. That's fine: everyone has their own taste and preference when it comes to books. But, if you did enjoy it and want more, you can download the first six chapters and read it all you want. At the very least, click the little LIKE button on the upper right hand corner, or maybe tell other people about what you read here.

Thanks for giving me a chance! You're the best, and I wouldn't have the confidence to do what I do without you.

--StP