Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Excerpt from The Will of the Darkest One

Here is a little taste of the action from the second book in The Dragon's Blood Chronicles

Vampires weren't any smarter than humans, by nature. They lived longer, and in that time they gained experience on a level that a human never could; but they still had a human brain. The demonic infection didn't increase the capacity to reason or understand. In some ways, it lowered it.

So, their plan to kill a dragon was only virtually flawless. They found Benjamin Ardeth’s African mountain sanctuary, hidden where no human could reach without the aid of a helicopter. It was too exhausting and difficult to reach on foot, except that vampires could hike for days without resting.

Dragons had heightened senses, especially smell. Vampires didn’t smell like humans; they smelled like vampires. A dragon would most certainly smell five vampires hiding in the rocks around his lair, unless they used sorcery to mask their scent. A human probably wouldn’t have thought of that, likely wouldn’t have even know that option existed. Even if they did, where would they find a wizard to cast the spell? They even placed the spells on their weapons, so the dragon wouldn’t smell the gun oil or explosive charges in the grenades.

So when the dragon soared over the mountains, changed in midair, and landed at the entrance to his home in human form, Gordon felt like he was going to pull this off. He was the vampire with the fifty-caliber, bolt-action rifle. He was a crack sniper, having served eight years in the United States Marine Corps.

When he was mortal, he was good; as a vampire, he was amazing. Gordon was stronger, able to absorb the recoil and hold the weapon steady from the beginning of the shot through its exit from the barrel. He could breathe slower and hold his breath longer: breathing was the greatest factor affecting a successful kill. He was more sensitive to the wind, capable of sensing its direction and adjusting his aim accordingly. And his eyes were so acute, he barely needed the scope.

When he had the dragon in his sights, he adjusted the dials of the scope with a level of precision that no human could have achieved. The human form of the dragon—a muscular black man with broad shoulders—almost filling the scope. Gordon took careful aim, unimpeded with a bipod since he was strong enough to hold up the entire rifle with his bare hands. Holding his breath, he focused on the mark, placing the cross hairs directly between the dragon’s human-looking shoulders.

As a trained sniper, Gordon followed proper procedure down to the last detail. This was ritual: snipers who didn’t obey the ritual died. It was military training and discipline, something few understood unless they followed it themselves.

The last step in the ritual, before placing his steady finger on the trigger, was turning off the safety. He did it with his thumb. The switch made a soft click.

Virtually flawless…

An absolutely flawless plan would have involved some manner of silence spell on the weapons. Of course, they hadn’t thought of that. Details. In fairness, there was no  chance that the vampires—even the very old ones who had planned this assassination—could anticipate dragon acuity. A detail like the soft click of a rifle being taken out of safe mode probably wouldn’t have occurred to them even if they did know.

What should have been a lethal shot left the barrel in an explosion of gas and light. The heavy round zipped through the air as the crack echoed off the mountain walls. It would have been a perfect shot—the best in Gordon’s career—except that Ardeth dodged. The vampires knew how fast a dragon was, even in human form. That was why it was so important to stay hidden. They also knew they’d only get one chance at this, because if they failed to kill him right away…

The shot took him in the shoulder. It was a good hit: the round went straight through and pulled a stream of blood with it. Such an injury would have crippled or killed a human. A dragon in human form was merely angered.

He became a dragon. He was blue, like the deep ocean from the sky. A single crooked horn jutted from his massive head, like a stalagmite. The beast’s scales were like giant plates of painted metal, overlapping and intersecting over its sinuous body. Gordon assessed that the dragon was over ninety feet tall at the shoulders, with grand wings that could spread to twice that and short, trunk-like neck.

Ardeth’s giant eyes flared with energy, and sparks of electricity danced around his nostrils.

Gordon hoisted the rifle over his shoulder and leaped from his hole. The dragon found him right away. It brought a claw down on the very spot where he’d been hiding. Unable to find him by scent, Ardeth honed in on the sound until he saw the vampire. His claws struck the ground inches from Gordon, sparing him an instant death but knocking him off balance and causing him to tumble down the mountainside.

The dragon probably would have finished Gordon off if another vampire hadn’t started firing on him. It was a second shooter with another fifty-caliber rifle—a semi-automatic, not a bolt action like Gordon’s. Faster, but less accurate, making it a poorer choice for a sniper. He pelted Ardeth’s neck with shots; each one clanked against his thick scales and left little black marks. The tungsten-core, titanium-tipped rounds were working: they penetrated the dragon’s scales—albeit, not very deeply. They cost a fortune and had to be specially made, but if they slew a dragon they’d be worth every dime.

Several yards from the first vampire, another vampire shooter emerged from the brush and opened fire. He used the brush as cover. Though the dragon’s individual wounds weren’t severe, enough of them would slow the monster…maybe. That remained to be seen: this hadn’t been attempted before.

Gordon reached for his gun, but found that his arm was twisted by the fall. It was starting to heal, but he wouldn’t be able to use it again for a few seconds. As long as the two shooters kept the dragon occupied, he’d be able to aim at an eye and put one in its brain.

Ardeth widened his jaws and unleashed a torrent of lightning, a dozen bolts each the width of a tree streaked through the air with a thunderous crack. The strokes widened into a cone, saturating the ground around the shrubs with energy and light.

Gordon heard his comrades screaming over the electric thunder as they were reduced to ashes. He rolled behind a set of rocks, pulling the rifle with him. The dragon still couldn’t smell him, and Gordon hoped he’d been too busy blasting the other two vampires to see him slink off.

Explosions came next. That would be the third vampire, the one with the grenade launcher—a rotary style with six rounds—who’s waited inexplicably until then to join the fight. The dragon roared and turned. Gordon peered around the edge of the rock, still waiting for his arms to heal enough that he could fire his weapon. The grenade-launching vampire had blasted Ardeth twice in the back with white phosphorous, leaving black marks on his hide. The full extent of the injuries, Gordon couldn’t estimate. He’d never fought a dragon before. From the way the mighty blue dragon moved, it didn’t look like he’d been slowed down a bit.

The vampire with the grenade launcher was fast. She jumped on the creature’s tail and ran up his back, firing two more shots at the dragon’s face. Ardeth dodged the first one, twisting his neck so that his head was far to the right of the projectile. The second one hit him in the face, exploding against his snout. Ardeth roared, and the vampire laughed. Between his wings, she leveled the launcher for another shot at the creature’s face.

Ardeth was fast. He wrapped his claws around the female vampire, stifling her laugh and crushing her into pulp with a single squeeze. Her head fell to the ground and the rest of her body oozed between the dragon’s fingers like he was squeezing a piece of fruit.

Gordon had one last chance to accomplish his mission. He estimated that even a these rounds weren’t powerful enough to penetrate a dragon’s bones—especially not his skull. It would probably go through an eye though, where the dragon’s thick skull would become a liability: the round would enter his brain but wouldn’t exit, bouncing around like a pinball in a machine, ripping him apart inside.

Gordon’s arm healed while Ardeth took out the forth vampire. He’d chambered another round after taking the first shot, so the weapon was ready to fire. He didn’t even have to turn off the safety this time. The mission had cost three out of five of their lives, but he wouldn’t fail. The mission was all he had left. If he did this, he’d be a legend.

He brought the rifle over the rock, balanced it carefully, and drew the crosshairs on the dragon’s eye. It was going to work; he was going to succeed. He was going to complete the mission. All he had to do was pull the trigger…

He pulled the trigger. The gun exploded in his hand.

There was a lot of force behind that backfire, powerful enough to have killed a human. Gordon hadn’t been a human for years, so he didn’t quite die. But the exploding rifle did blow off his hands and throw him to the ground. He felt blood pouring from his face and pooling around his head. He reached up with the stumps of his arms and tried to inspect injury. Half his face was gone: the backfire had torn off his cheek and part of his jaw. The rest of it hung limply against his neck.

Adding insult to severe injury, he’d failed to kill the dragon. The bullet never even left the gun. In his haste, Gordon hadn’t thought to make sure the weapon hadn’t been damaged. Being a vampire had made him a better sniper, but it hadn’t made him a smarter one. Were his enemy anything but a dragon, he would probably have survived this with nothing more than a humiliation. The wounds would heal, though his hands were gone for good.

Ardeth stood above him, a tower of blue scales and fury. Drops of black dragon’s blood trickled down his neck and chest, dribbling onto Gordon’s crippled body. It burned like acid. The vampire would have screamed if his jaw still worked—or if he had a tongue. Instead, he made a pathetic wheezing sound.
The dragon’s laugh was a deep bellow, like thunder in a valley. Gordon probably would have thought this was funny too, if the situation were reversed. He knew that when the fifth vampire, the spotter, reported back to their masters they would realize the futility of trying to kill dragons this way. It was too late for the other ten teams like theirs, dispatched to take out dragons in other parts of the world. He imagined that they’d all meet with fates similar to the one that awaited him. But Gordon knew his death would limit further casualties. It was a soldier’s death. He accepted it.
The dragon brought his foot down on Gordon and crushed him into a bloody smear.  

***


So, there is that. Hope it whets your appetite for what's to come. As you can see, Ardeth gets to kick a little ass. The vampires aren't too happy about Garrett killing two of them in the first book, so they come back for some revenge...and it doesn't really work out too well for them.

Pre-order from Amazon here - http://amzn.to/ZBMGle

If you don't know what all this is about, you should check out the first book, The Shadow of Tiamat -