I’ve taken the plunge, I’ve bitten the bullet, I’m working on book 3 and 4 of the Dragonwine series. Hopefully this is good news for fans of Shatterwing and Skywatcher.
I’ve booked both books in with the editor that means I have to do the work. (Momentum shut down, but they weren’t going to print these anyway as I didn’t sell enough).
Anyway, I thought I’d paste some of the WIP here. Feel free to criticise or comment, or just read and be teased. This is the first two chapters of Deathwings (tentative title) and hopefully it picks up the action and fills in on what happened before in a non-intrusive way. I try to reintroduce the characters but do let me know if you think it’s too much. Notice I start in Danton’s POV. As I love Danton this is a good thing. He had some great scenes in these two books.
Dust particles shimmer in the light of Margra’s sun, enveloping the world below in a lavender halo. A lump of space rock turns end over end as it plummets, a tail of vicious fire in its wake. Belle Moon’s surface erupts as debris is thrown high as another crater is born. The planet revolves on its axis again. Oblivious.
Like blood, a rich drop of wine is licked from the fingertip
He was falling.
Air rushed past. Breath stolen. Sharp rocks below. Fear spearing into his lungs, his heart. No breath.
A blur of the world around him.
Gercomo opened his mouth to scream. No air. No sound, his mind white with panic.
His arms and legs flailed. He tried to fly.
It was like swimming against the tide, limbs useless, clumsy. A great, burning surge of blood trammelled every muscle, undoing his human-ness, remaking him, remaking his mind. Dulling it, smashing it, obliterating it. He sucked in a lungful of air snatched from the wind rushing past.
A guttural cry vibrated against his hardened skin. His own fear haloed him. He struggled to maintain height, wrenching his shoulders, clenching his jaws in the effort to crawl through the air, yet he continued to drop.
Throwing his senses out, the world around him spun and slowed and came into conical focus. Valleys and rifts and eroded peaks loomed large beneath him, all jagged with the capacity to rend flesh.
He flapped. Wings moved, halting his plummet.
With a desperate heave, he threw more of his strength into his wings until his muscles burned, the sensation as if the flesh was being ripped from his bones. It wasn’t working. He was falling, still. Slower.
With a last ditch effort, he fought to recall the dance of dragons, remembering how they skimmed thermals and glided above the prison vineyard. Effortlessly they used the membranes on their wings to trap the air and slide. That was what Gercomo was doing wrong. He was fighting against the air instead of working with it. He ceased his struggling and stretched out his arms, no his wings, and air billowed underneath them. The headlong rush to the ground slowed as the wind caught and effortlessly lifted him. A relieved laugh turned to a screech that was alien in his mouth as he soared higher.
He was no longer falling, but he was too tired to stay aloft for long. Already the muscles between his shoulder blades ached.
Beyond the treacherous foothills of the Duggan Ranges, the desert plain stretched out muted pink, mauve and brown. He tilted his body in that direction, the colours of the landscape strange and his vision distorted while he tried to process a greater range of colours and a spectrum of light he’d not experienced before, a fierce violet glow and other alien ripples of energy that radiated and bent as he turned his head from side to side. He wasn’t seeing with his own eyes. It wasn’t the same. These were his eyes now. He had to adapt.
The flat stretches of wasteland gave him an uninterrupted view of the landscape. Yet he could not tell if objects were near or far. At times he thought he could but his brain was having trouble interpreting the new range of images and colours. Drifting lower, the wind grew precarious and like a cough the air pushed out from under his wings. In a panic, he tried to maintain his height, to stop himself from falling and failed. Instead, the clawed foot he extended to the earth clasped emptiness and he rolled and tumbled. Over and over he went, his bones bending and his tendons twisting. Fear and agony intermingling and robbing him of even a scream. When he finally came to a halt, he lay there stunned, pain shafting through every part of him, while he waited to breathe again.
Gercomo uncurled his claw and then dragged a torn wing from underneath his ungainly, scaled body. Every movement radiated hurt and increased his confusion. He no longer had hands that could touch. All he could do was lick his skin. It was then he noticed his size.
He was puny. What horrible twist of fate was this? To be cursed to exist as a beast, but not a real one, just a semblance of one. Looking down at his body, he knew it was terribly wrong. He was nothing like the huge winged beasts that overflew the vineyard. He was pitiful. What if another dragon found him? They would know he was different, alien. Instinctively he understood the danger. With one wing dragging in the dirt, he scrabbled across the stony ground, scooping loose earth with his claws as he waddled, driven by the need to hide before Margra’s sun set, bleeding the sky of light.
The desert was barren and there was no sign of human habitation. Turning to glance behind, he saw that nothing followed on land or sky. The changes in his body had slowed. He found his sense of smell enhanced. As the light faded, the tortuous jigsaw of his vision settled and honed to a rare acuteness. He could see the warmth of the day’s sun radiating off the sand. Above, the dark purple of the sky was marred only by Shatterwing blinking pinkly above the horizon. Ripples red and violet caressed the sky and the distant horizon. The colours confused him. Why do I see in this strange spectrum?
Before dawn, Gercomo found a patch of ground, layered with rough, loose sand. A nudge of his snout revealed it was littered with large, round stones, like a river had once flowed along the plain. Within the soft folds of earth, he found he could wriggle down and cover himself with the sand. Delving deep enough to keep himself safe, he could allow himself to rest. After an hour or so, pale pink sunlight swept over the horizon. Then as the sun climbed higher, the sand began to warm his skin. The pain eased as if the dirt provided healing. And as he lay there his mind began to relax and to warp. The human concerns began to wane, but a few knots of anger did not disappear entirely. He held onto the important things and would not let them fade—anger, envy and lust. They are what defined him, and they melded well with the animal desires surfacing within him. He was hungry, and he was lonely. He never needed another person before but now there was something burning in his blood, something driving like stakes through his brain. He needed kin.
In the late afternoon, Gercomo was rested but the cavernous hunger inside had grown out of proportion. He needed to eat. Needed to move. Simple as that. Thoughts of food, of starvation, swelled up inside him, dominating his mind. What did dragons eat? Was he a dragon or dragon enough to eat raw burden beast? He lifted his head and sniffed. There wasn’t much of anything on the breeze, except dust. He would need to search out prey.
The sand dropped silkily from his scaled hide as he clawed his way out of his resting place. Tentatively, he stretched a wing and tested it. It no longer sang with pain yet it was still tender in places, particularly the elbow joint. Fortunately it functioned. In the growing shadows, he stepped confidently, his strange vision still pink and mauve with flashes of vermillion. He remembered there were other colours in the spectrum of light and that the world wasn’t nearly as contoured as it seemed now. Nearby small stones were so clear and precise and the distant peaks loomed large as if he could breathe onto their slopes. Even these human thoughts of what he’d lost slid to the back of his mind as the need for food dominated.
The sun’s rays began to cool as night shrouded him. In the distance, he heard something, a clink, clink, as if someone was throwing stones against a rock. Perhaps it was an animal, something he could eat. He sniffed, searching for the scent of food.
Gercomo zeroed in on the sound, learning with each step how to control his various body parts. The more he walked the more natural his gait became. He was almost elegant as he slowly stepped toward his prey. Ahead he saw that there was a tumble of boulders, spread in a circle like thrown dice. Further on he could see the mark of flame burning across his vision. Beyond that was a settlement or a dwelling of some kind. But there amid the standing boulders was a boy, tossing stone after stone. Stealthily, Gercomo angled around to get a better view and to see if any adults were about, to see if there were any dragon lances or harpoons. The boy was aiming for a target, a crudely drawn circle on one of the boulders, the outline faint in the dim light emanating from the small fire. Tick, tick the rocks hit against the boulder the boy used as a target.
Gercomo sniffed and realised the boy was the food he smelt. His stomach churned and saliva filled his mouth, dripped off his tongue. He wanted to surge forward and swallow the boy whole. That impulse he held in check by the sound of a woman’s voice. It was distant but growing closer. Hearing the call, the boy shrugged once and kept aiming at the target. He looked about ten years old, maybe younger. Gercomo blinked and saw that the child had a faint violet glow about him as well as the tantalising scent of food. Another cry from the woman and the boy laughed and scooped down to pick up more stones.
As he crept forward, the boy stiffened and turn toward him. A faint squeak of surprise and then open-mouthed the boy stood stock still. Gercomo extended a claw, reaching around the small waist and clasping him tight in his grip. Looking down at the scaly appendage that held him, the child screamed and struggled. Gercomo liked the sound; it made him drool.
The woman’s voice was suddenly closer—after a pause, there was a sharp intake of breath from just outside the ring of boulders. A frantic wail cleaved the night.
Swinging his head round, he saw her jerk as she tried to enter the circle of stones, saw her react at what he was holding in his claws and stop dead, her eyes like large dark holes. When he had her full attention, he bit off the boy’s head and upper torso and swallowed. Next he ate the remainder, enjoying the crunch of bones in his snout, the sharp gnash of his fangs and serrated back teeth as he chomped and chomped and then swallowed. His laugh echoed around him, sounding like a roar.
With a guttural scream, the woman pulled her hair and fell to her knees, lost in a moment of grief. She should have run. It would have made better sport. Gercomo threw his gaze toward the settlement, but no one stirred. She was alone and unprotected. The boy’s life blood filled his stomach with warmth, spreading out and filling his extremities with a tingling sensation that enlivened him. Eating humans was good.
Like a dart he lunged at her and pinioned her against the target her son had painted. She fainted so he let her go. After falling to the ground, she came to, shook her head and began to crawl away. He let her move away at first, seeing that she found hope in that pointless exercise. Then reaching out, he pierced her dress with his index claw and drew her slowly towards him as the cloth fell from her shoulders. With the other claw, he drew a line down her front. The sharp tip cut the skin. A fine red line opened up. The scent of blood teased his hunger and made his pulse throb. A howl like the lonely wind tearing across the plains rose from her mouth. How he wanted to taste her and yet play with her and draw the moment out. This hesitation was invigorating and excruciating, honing his taste buds until he drooled hot saliva across her face and shoulder.
The woman struggled and tried to break free. She turned on her stomach and scrabbled in the dirt on all fours. At his screech, his victim shivered and shrieked. He liked her fear, revelled in it. He flipped her over and her screams became music and then she stopped, her eyes wide and staring with no more than a whimper leaking through her lips.
When she quieted, he played with her some more, exciting that melody once more from her throat. A bite of her arm was a tasty morsel, raising the tune to a new pitch. As he lapped the blood from her wounds with care, savouring each drop, her voice became low and husky. He began again, this time at the legs. Her scream flowed over him, filling him with joy as he lapped the arterial blood gushing into his mouth. As he gulped down a thigh, her voice grew whisper thin. Another bite and there was a visceral grunt and then a low moan as her last breath eased out of her throat. Gercomo didn’t know if she could see his grin, see how happy she had made him. He had found a new source of power—human flesh.
‘We have to do something about the dead,’ Danton said, as he balanced on a flat slab of broken stone in the remains of the observatory’s courtyard. ‘And then there’s the wall to repair.’
Not only was there a breach in the wall where the Inspector’s siege engine had torn through, there was the debris from Danton’s carefully laid explosives that had blown up the entrance to the courtyard. With his empty eye socket covered by a patch, the rebel turned a full circle, nodding slowly. This was where the Inspector had indiscriminately sacrificed so many lives and where the observatory had fought for survival.
His young, rebel companion, Brill, climbed up behind him, feet anchored on two large pieces of rubble. Now that Danton knew Brill better he understood why Salinda helped this young lad, with his vision of hope for the future of humankind.
‘There are so many of them,’ Brill said as his gaze raked the scene. ‘Many of them are on the pyre ready to be burned, but still too many in the rubble.’
Danton tried to smile, but found that he couldn’t muster one. He was tired. Deciding to help the observatory in its fight against the Inspector had ramifications. He found he could not walk away, even though he wanted to do so. Who would have thought his attempt to rescue Salinda would lead him to this place. ‘Yes and they are ripening.’ He brushed the end of his nose with a knuckle and shook his head.
Brill’s head angled in the direction of the elders and the tenders, who were crawling over rocks, peering into crannies to locate the dead with their mouth and noses muffled by cloth. Brill’s mouth turned down at the corners and dual tear trails wormed a path down his dirt stained cheeks. ‘That’s not the only problem. The escaping rebels will take away tales about the technology this place possesses.’ Brill then wiped his nose with his shirt sleeve and sniffed loudly.
Danton thought it was more than sorrow that made his young friend’s eyes water. The dust and the stench were sufficient irritants to make a herd of burden beasts weep. ‘You think the rebels will come back?’ he asked.
Brill’s brows drew together and he shook his head. ‘No, I don’t think so. But it would make interesting information for their superiors.’
‘Damn!’ Danton’s expletive made a few elders look up from their task, dark shadows under their eyes. Acknowledging them with a nod, Danton scratched his beard and then ran his hands through his hair. ‘I didn’t think of that. Who knows what damage such a report could do? It could threaten the future of this place. Wing Dust!’
Different options ran through Danton’s mind. There was no help for it. He could not have hunted down every last rebel and silenced them. Brill and Danton were the only fighting men here and he couldn’t imagine that the observatory would condone wholesale slaughter in any case. Thoughts of escaping rebels clouded his future plans. ‘Our goal is slipping through our fingers.’
‘Yes, the wine, meeting up with the rest of the men. I must be dust mad.’ Danton wiped his forehead with a cloth from his pocket and tucked it back into his trousers. ‘Right now we need help to clear this.’
‘Agreed.’ Brill turned away, nodded to one of the elders and jumped across the gap between two chucks of wall. Calling over his shoulder he said, ‘I’ll speak with Elder Wylie. He’s bringing the people back from the caves. I’ll ask if he can bring them here as a priority so we can speed up recovery the dead. And I’ll suggest he start to works for repairing the wall.’
Danton nodded, watching Brill’s figure recede. ‘Check with Salinda’s first. With the Master Elder dead, they have turned to her for leadership. Good idea though about the wall. I may have brought it down, but that doesn’t mean I have to put it back up.’
Brill paused and looked back over his shoulder. ‘Doesn’t Sal want to leave straightaway?’
Danton felt a weight pressing down on his chest and swallowed. Thinking about Salinda was hard. He wanted to stay close to her, but she was with Nils now and that made his feelings redundant, except to him. And there was duty, which was everything to her. It was his duty to recover that wine stash that much was clear. ‘Yes…and so do we.’
The subterranean city of Barrahiem seemed more empty than usual as Nils strode through its desolate, dust-filled streets. White homes stood sad and empty, their walls punctured with dark round holes, like the eyes of vermin. The last of his kin, he was alone. He had been in a prison of sleep for over a thousand years. Now he had to face the future alone.
If not for the lure of dragons, his desire for knowledge of this new species that had appeared on Margra, he would never have been inclined to explore the world above, the world of the Sundwellers. He would not have rescued Salinda from that witches pyre, brought her to this secret and sacred place and taken her for a mate. Now he missed her.
A sudden, intense cramp made him falter, made him lean against the balustrade for support. Thus weakened, he found he was seized with a coughing fit, until his throat burned. Struggling for breath, his legs buckled, too weak to stand. When it was over, the pain subsided to a dull ache, one that weighted his footsteps and took the spring out of his step. His bond with Salinda was stretched so taut that it caused him physical and mental pain. Thankfully Salinda did not experience it thus.
Nils understood that his mate’s duty lay elsewhere. The aftermath of the battle and Jalen’s death, left the observatory in a delicate state. Salinda could not turn her back on them. Yet, the bond formed in the deep lake was tangible to him. It stretched out through the Ways to where Salinda was, and it hurt.
Burying himself in research appeared to be the single means to salve the hurt. With his dying breath, Jalen had spoken of Trell of Barr, Nils’ grandsire. The Master Elder had mentioned that he had seen the name in a book. That had intrigued Nils.
In his workroom he found the index markers for his grandsire’s writings. A quick scan of the dates made Nils frown. The dates were within the year he had been interred in the sarcophagus and made to sleep away millennia or more. He read the final entry.
My heart is heavy this day. My favourite grandchild has been placed in the sarcophagus—a prisoner of sleep. It pains me to know that we will never talk again. It pains me to know that the world he will awaken to will be less than it is now. But in my heart I hope that there will be a world for him to enter again.
The child of my heart has always shared my passions. I remember the light in Nils’ eye when he peered through the scopes at Trithorn Peak. I remember the catch of his breath when I told him of the bands of power holding Ruel together. I remember how he touched my hand with his forehead in thanks at the gift of knowledge and experience I had given him. Now I see his face stilled in sleep, as cold as death, caught at the cusp of adulthood.
Barrahiem holds nothing for me now. My kin are mine no more. I turn my back on them, on their ignorance and their fear. They will not heed my warnings, nor will they make any preparations for the inevitable end. I go out into the world above to seek other learned men, Sundwellers who will work with heart and mind to save what they can of Margra. For the failing Ruel will be a global catastrophe that will leave this world shattered. We cannot avert this doom, but we can make something from the ashes.
Nils searched the records again, puzzled. That could not be Trell’s last entry. Did his grandsire truly leave his kin, to dwell above after Nils was interred? That would mean that the observatory possibly held the last writings of his grandsire. No, that could not be allowed. All the knowledge must be kept together in the archives. Then he recollected that the old observatory had been levelled, the present one raised from its remains. He shuddered at the thought of the loss of Trell’s thoughts and deeds from the archives. It was akin to having his grandsire’s existence expunged from the world.
When he reached his abode, he realised there was no reason to put off his departure. All he needed was his shroud and supplies and he would see Salinda again and perhaps look about for Trell’s writings in the ruins of the old observatory.
As Laidan considered at the bodies piled on the pyre, there was no emotion. She knew she should feel something but too much had happened, almost being raped and killed. It was if there was an empty space surrounding her, blocking her from empathising, from feeling sorrow, from feeling anything. The world was too awful. Its evil had slapped her in the face and there was nowhere to hide from it. What was the point anyway, of obeying the rules, doing what you were told, if you only ended up dead? May as well enjoy yourself while you can. That was her new approach to life.
Salinda had her studying mind-numbingly boring texts. They served Laidan well though because the more she read, the more distant that seat of unsettling power and thought, the cadre, came. Thurdon had thrust the cadre into her unprepared mind, making power shine out of her eyes and leaving her incapacitated and in danger of being burned as a witch. Thurdon’s voice had been so loud, so overpowering that she had been grateful when Salinda had been able to quiet it and give her some peace. But Laidan did not want the thing and from what she could tell it did not want her either.
At least, Brill made her feel good. He made her light up, made her feel like she was beautiful and important. If she was patient the task would be completed and then Brill would come to her. She would make him come to her. She would make him promise. Brill always kept his promises.
Garan thought that breakfast of cacti porridge, soft bread and some mulled dragonwine would wash the taste of death from his mouth. He was wrong. Everything he ate and everything he touched tasted of rotting corpse. When he closed his eyes, images of the faces, the bodies, the blood, the body parts were always there. He could not shift them from his mind. They appeared in the dark shadowed corners and dwelt in the depths of his dreams. They would plague his mind forever. He would hazard a shooting star that he was not the only one not to sleep last night. Unease and despair was in the air around him, like a sob held in check. The observatory was grieving. They had mourned the Master Elder but now they mourned Vanden’s dead, those who had been sacrificed by the Inspector against the walls of Trithorn Peak.
Even if the observatory’s inhabitants remembered the faces of their dead kin, none were recognisable, not from what he’d seen. Faces smashed, skulls caved in, bodies flat and crushed, gizzards everywhere. Blood like paint staining everything, providing a feast for flies. The observatory’s inhabitants mourned every single death as if it was their own flesh and blood. Such horror was new to them, new to Garan.
As he chewed and swallowed his breakfast without tasting it, he became lost in his nightmarish thoughts until startled by Salinda sitting down next to him. With his sleep starved gaze he gaped at her. She, too, looked like she passed a restless night. Lines at the corners of her mouth cut worry into her face. She’d been helping the elders restore some order after the attack, working long hours. The refectory doors swung open and Danton and Brill walked in. He thought Laidan might with them but she was nowhere to be seen.
Salinda looked at Danton and Garan followed the path of her gaze. He had never seen the one-eyed rebel look so grim. The smile was forced and his gaze haunted as he joined them at the table. Garan’s mood plummeted. Danton, who had helped him face the worse moment in his life, the death of a friend by his own power, was now succumbing to the misery surrounding them. Something had to give.
Salinda’s hand started to move across the table, and paused before she reached over to squeeze Danton’s hand. Instead, she wished him a pleasant morning. The look they shared with each other spoke volumes. Garan thought the rebel might cry.
Brill appeared in better spirits. Pointedly ignoring Garan, he began chatting to Salinda.
‘How are you feeling now?’ Brill asked her. ‘Rested?’
‘I am feeling more rested, thank you, Brill. And you?’
Garan was about to stand up to fetch more food, but he hesitated. Salinda’s question brought a blush to Brill’s face. Danton avoided Garan’s gaze by twirling an empty cup around in his hand, apparently absorbed in this action. What was going on now? Surely Brill had not been dallying with Laidan? Why Brill must be exhausted from all the heavy work. Garan glanced at Brill’s hands loosely clasped in front of him. The younger man had not bothered to get a meal yet. Brill’s fingers were cut and grazed and most of the fingernails broken. He had not been shirking.
Danton stood up. ‘Come on, Garan. Let’s get some of that cacti porridge. The day is young yet.’
Salinda rubbed her hand over her face as if that would wipe away fatigue, frustration and numerous other ills. Just then, the door flung open. ‘My lady,’ said that familiar croaky voice of Elder Wylie as he ran toward her breathlessly. ‘Forgive me…disturbing your breakfast. You must come…come to the gallery and see…’ Behind him strode Elder Titina, her longer legs keeping pace with the old elder. She looked thinner than the last time he had seen her. Garan recollected that she had been in the caves supervising the partial evacuation and then fell ill. Titina’s brows furrowed a vee in between her eyebrows and fatigue increased the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. With a brief nod to him, she kept her gaze on Elder Wylie and Salinda.
Salinda stood up straight away, shifting her robe out of her way to follow. Garan hastened after them. The anxiety in the old elder’s voice was acute. Elder Titina followed close behind, her steps unhurried but efficient. Once out the doors, Garan heard people whispering in the corridors. It was like the rush of wind in an empty cave, echoing and amplifying. Something had excited the inhabitants of the observatory. The slap of boots on stone warned him that Danton had followed behind.
Salinda took the steps two at a time. Elder Wylie followed as best he could. Once out on the gallery, the old man led them round to the Klester Valley side. A glimpse behind showed that the rest of the party still followed. As Garan came up behind Salinda and Elder Wylie, he didn’t understand what he was seeing. Then the sound filtered through and that drew his gaze. Beyond the pile of corpses stacked for the funeral pyre was a line of women with stooped shoulders accompanied by ragged, barefoot children. Garan could hear them wailing.
Salinda stood stock still. ‘Oh no!’