In case you missed it – Burning Sky is out now!
Buy it. Read it.
The rest of the series – Blazing Dawn, Storm Rising and Cloud Cursed – are also only .99 until Tuesday, 23rd April. Grab ’em while they’re cheap!
This book was a real pain to write and felt quite stressful to release, so I really hope you enjoy it. But if you’re still not sure if you want to give it a go yet, here’s Chapter 1, Part 2 to tempt you along. Featuring an anxious Rider and a very poorly dragon.
If you missed the first half, catch up here. Enjoy!
The Rider gave them a funny look, although it wasn’t unusual for Anhardyne to be caught behaving in a manner that was less than dignified. Her flurry was, after all, currently engaged in a prank war with Vish’s Riders. However, it was less common for Nera to be caught up in their silliness. When she realised she was the one the Rider was staring at askance, she straightened her jacket and smoothed her ruffled hair.
“May we help you, Rider?” she asked, trying to get the woman to stop gawking. Nera was almost certain she one of Anhardyne’s flurry, but couldn’t remember exactly what her name was – Nahari or Jenarri, something like that.
“Are you all finally ready for me, Fhenari?”
Oh, well, close enough. Nera rubbed her nose.
Rider Fhenari glanced between them uncertainly. “Um, almost, lieutenant. But I, er, well…”
“Spit it out, Fhen,” Anhardyne encouraged, loosening her grip on Nera’s shoulder and resting her elbow there instead. “It’s almost time for us to get in the air, so if you’ve got something to say, do it now. Don’t mind the lieutenant, she’ll keep any sordid secrets.” Anhardyne patted Nera on the head. Nera slapped her away.
The other woman blushed bright red, dropping her eyes to the floor and scratching at her neck. “Oh, well, umm…”
Nera winced as Fhenari’s nails raked over rash-roughened skin. Anhardyne must have noticed it too because she reached out and gently slid her fingers beneath the Rider’s chin, tipping her face up and to the side.
The rash extended from behind Fhenari’s left ear, all the way down her neck where it disappeared beneath her shirt. Reddened by the recent scratching, it was scabbed and raw, livid against her pale skin. It looked painful. Nera hissed in sympathy.
“Need some salve, Fhen?” Anhardyne asked, tipping the Rider’s head in the opposite direction and revealing more of the rash peeping above her collar. Tugging on the material, Anhardyne scowled at the sight of yet more disappearing below. “Heirayk’s fiery balls, Fhen, why didn’t you say something?”
“It doesn’t hurt,” the Rider protested, scratching her wrist.
Anhardyne grabbed Fhenari’s hand and shoved up her sleeve. The rash was cracked and angry as it spread from her wrist all the way up past her elbow. Anhardyne checked her other arm and found more of the same.
“Is there anywhere you’re not scratching?” she asked grimly.
The Rider folded her arms across her belly and shook her head. “It’s not bad, I promise. It itches occasionally, but it doesn’t hurt or – or bleed much. I-I’m used to it.”
“You need to see Healer Litha,” Anhardyne commanded, all playfulness gone. This was the lieutenant and she would not be disobeyed. “Now. You’re excused from duty. I want this taken care of today.”
“Oh, but –” Fhenari protested.
“I gave you an order, Rider.”
The woman bowed her head. “Yes, lieutenant.” Yet despite the brisk nod of dismissal Anhardyne gave her, she didn’t leave.
Sensing that her friend was losing patience, Nera cleared her throat. “Was there something else, Rider?”
Fhenari flicked Nera a grateful glance. “I… I wondered, lieutenant, if you had any of the special herb left,” she asked in a low mumble.
Anhardyne rolled her eyes to the sky in exasperation. “I think you’ve spent more than enough intimate time with dragons, Fhen,” she said. “Even your body is begging you to stop. Listen to it.”
Before arriving in the Dragonlands, all Riders had been warned about getting too close to dragons for two important reasons. The first was the rash that poor Fhenari was covered in. Not every human experienced such a reaction, but since no one knew what caused it, no one could tell who would or wouldn’t be affected. It seemed like Fhenari was one of the unlucky ones, but it could be treated with proper care and lotions. The second reason was the risk of pregnancy, which could also be avoided through the use of special herbs. As long as one was diligent in taking them.
“Oh, um, is that a no?” Fhenari asked, glancing shyly at her lieutenant and scratching her wrist again.
Anhardyne huffed. “No, Fhenari, I do not have any of the special herb left. I haven’t needed any since Teirenlai, and I gave up the last of my supply when we were staying with the Tempestfurys.”
Nera raised her eyebrows. While she’d known Anhardyne and Vish were loyal to each other, rumour said they weren’t adverse to welcoming others into their bed. They certainly both flirted wildly and widely enough to give that impression. To hear that Anhardyne hadn’t used the herb since their first stop in the Dragonlands seven months ago – before she and Vish had even become a couple – was rather unexpected.
Anhardyne sent Nera a wry look. “How about you, Ni? Got any herbs going spare?”
Nera shook her head, still stunned by Anhardyne’s revelation. She hadn’t touched the herb herself, having had no use for it. She’d had offers, but none she’d felt remotely inclined to accept. All her female Riders had been directed towards Captain Wellswen and the ambassador for further advice.
“Oh.” Fhenari’s shoulders slumped. “Right.”
“Go see Healer Litha,” Anhardyne ordered, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Get that rash seen to and perhaps she’ll have some more herb she can give you. If not, we’re stopping in fresh territory soon. I’m sure we’ll be able to find something for you there.”
“Yes, lieutenant.” Fhenari finally left, scratching her neck as she went.
Nera watched the woman disappear down the nearest hatch and bit her lip with worry. She wondered if any of her own Riders had been experiencing similar problems and just hadn’t bothered to come to her. Had she been failing her flurry with her wider disinterest? Perhaps it was time she sourced her own herbs, if only to have them on hand should her Riders need any.
“I would have expected better from Reglian,” Anhardyne growled.
Nera frowned, confused. “Reglian?”
“You’d think a dragon as clever as him would have the decency to take better care of his lovers.” Anhardyne shook her head at the rear deck, where the young Thunderwing in question was listening intently to something Ambassador Jesken was saying.
“Reglian?” Nera said again, incredulously this time.
Picking up on her disbelief, it was Anhardyne’s turn to frown. “Who else can it be? Some of that rash looks old enough to have been left over from one of our earlier stops, especially the way Fhen was scratching it, but if she’s looking for more of the herb she must still be sleeping with her dragon partner.”
Nera blinked, having not even considered that. “But Reglian?” she said again, because it seemed so unlikely. She wasn’t even sure why particularly, since Reglian could be almost as bad a flirt as Anhardyne when the mood was on him. However, for most of their journey he’d been too busy asking questions of everyone he came across to waste time flirting. Nor did shy Fhenari seem like the curious Thunderwing’s type.
“Yes, Reglian,” Anhardyne huffed. “Who else?”
Nera opened her mouth and paused. Of the ten dragons on board, four were female, so Fhenari wouldn’t have needed anti-pregnancy herbs with them. Then there were Mastekh and Estenarven, but although Estenarven was another incorrigible flirt, he was also deeply devoted to his lover Mastekh, who showed no interest in anyone of any species who wasn’t Estenarven. Which ruled both of them out. Elder Blazeborn was an unlikely choice since he was far too protective to ever be so careless, while Elder Rainstorm spent most of his time shut up in his cabin, plotting and sneering at any who came within reach. There was also Elder Goryal, but Nera couldn’t quite connect the idea of the all-powerful, ancient elder with sex. It just seemed too ordinary and everyday a thing for them, but if they did take partners, she doubted they would be so uncaring as to leave any lover in such a state.
Which left Reglian.
“Huh.” Anhardyne was right. Nera had expected better of him too. It just went to show that even after seven months in their company, she didn’t know the dragons anywhere near as well as she’d thought.
The cry came from the rear deck in the booming voice of Korija, Elder Thunderwing, making the air around them shudder. Distracted from dark thoughts, Nera and Anhardyne returned to the prow as the hazy horizon solidified into a wall of red stone, weathered and cracked.
The ship’s bell rang out and the Skylark’s deck came alive with scurrying sailors. Nera pressed against the rail, keeping out of the way as the ship lifted higher.
The view expanded into a dusty red, empty world that yawned before them, broken only by snaking canyons filled to the brim with white fluffy clouds.
“Welcome to the desert,” Anhardyne murmured, and Nera grinned with anticipation.
A bang startled them both as Elder Blazeborn stumbled out of the nearest hatch. Ever since he’d passed through the Curse, with Nera, Estenarven and Vish, the elder had spent most of his time in his cabin, struggling to recover from the type of cold no Sunlord dragon should ever experience.
Seeing him now was a shock. His usually gleaming bronze skin looked tarnished and dull, his robe hung askew and his face was gaunt. His golden eyes, once so fiercely bright with power, were dim and foggy. His breathing sounded laboured as he staggered away from the hatch, tripping over ropes and colliding with skysailors he didn’t seem to notice were there.
“Akasshee,” he breathed, lurching towards the lieutenants. Anhardyne stepped quickly aside and he slumped against the rail, eyes fixed on the horizon.
“Elder?” Nera said, her hand hanging hesitantly above his shoulder. He’d never been a dragon who invited casual contact. Yet after everything they’d been through, both above and below the Curse, Nera dared to rest her hand on him.
He was cold.
He didn’t respond, his eyes greedily drinking in the sight before him. All he cared about was the desert.
“Akasshee,” he repeated, and started scrabbling at his waist.
Nera jerked back as he pulled the tie loose and fought his way free from his robe. Normally she would have looked away, embarrassed by his nakedness, but one glimpse left her appalled.
He was so thin. Not only could she count his ribs, the bones of his spine looked more akin to the ridge he bore in dragon form. His muscles were wasted and his skin hung loosely on his frame. She’d known the Curse had affected him badly, but this was awful.
“Akasshee,” he said again, body shaking as he struggled to hold himself upright. This time when he fell against the prow rail, he tipped over it.
“Khennik!” Nera lunged to catch him.
Too late. He was already falling.
“Reglian!” someone roared, and she flinched as a dark blur rushed past her.
A loud boom shook the sky and Nera hung over the rail, hands gripping the wood hard enough to make her bones creak as she watched the frail figure of Khennik tumble wildly downwards.
The second figure fell much faster, waiting only long enough to clear the Skylark’s hull before vanishing in a punch of dark grey magic. A large, powerful dragon emerged: Estenarven kin Boulder Clan Stoneheart.
A second dragon swept out from beneath the ship, enormous and black, dusted with a hint of gold: Reglian kin Thunderwing Clan Skystorm.
Estenarven reached Khennik first, snatching him in a bulky fist and surging back into the sky.
“What are they doing?” Anhardyne asked, and Nera could only shake her head as the two dragons raced as fast as they could up, up, up, higher and higher, clearing the Skylark and pushing even further on.
Fire blazed, filling the sky with a boom that could have put a Thunderwing to shame.
Estenarven and Reglian were buffeted aside like leaves as Elder Khennik kin Blazeborn Clan Sunlord emerged in his boldest, brightest form.
Nera’s breath caught at his magnificence. Sunlight clung to him, stroking lovingly over his bronze scales, picking out his golden highlights, winking on claws and spine tips. For a moment he ruled the sky: fiery, flaming, unstoppable.
Then his fire snuffed out, his wings faltered and he fell.
Reglian and Estenarven were already waiting to catch him. With a bronze wing draped across each of their necks, the two great dragons supported the limp third between them as they drifted over the red dust of the desert edge and slowly glided into land.
They had brought Khennik kin Blazeborn Clan Sunlord home at last. Only time would tell whether he healed or not.
“Lieutenants,” Captain Wellswen spoke from just behind Nera, making her jump, “to wing. Just because we’ve brought their elder back, doesn’t mean we’re welcome around here. Get your Riders in the sky and keep your eyes open. We’re over unfriendly lands now.”
“Aye, captain.” Nera saluted with Anhardyne and ran for the nearest hatch. Her excitement at finally seeing the desert had already faded. Khennik’s failed flight was a timely reminder of the troubles that lay ahead. They were entering Sunlord territory, where even the sky was hot enough to burn. It would take a miracle to bring them through this unscathed. That or a fabled dragon hoard of luck.
Clambering down into the eyries, Nera pulled on a flying hat to keep the sun out of her eyes, and nodded to her sergeant to call their Riders. Luck, miracles or not, it hardly mattered now. They were Rift Riders of the Overworld; they had work to do.
Nera found her miryhl and ran a hand across Teka’s plush brown feathers. Smiling at her partner, she swung into the saddle. “Let’s go.”
Grab it now while it’s still cheap ;)