Saturday, June 3, 2017

Dragonwatch: WIP Excerpt

So who's ready for more dragons?

Dragonwatch, book 4 of the Wytch Kings series, is on track for a September release. This one features Tristin, who was a secondary character in Shadowspire (book 3), and Prince Mikhyal of Rhiva. Tristin's cousin, Wytch King Garrik of Altan, is moving forward with his plans to unite the kingdoms of the north against the Wytch Council, but Tristin has his own problems to deal with...

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Tristin blinked hard to bring down his inner eyelids. He quickly located a downdraft, a swath of cool turquoise, and rode it in a lazy, spiraling descent toward the roof of the watchtower. His landing was perfect, but it gave him no satisfaction, and he didn’t make the shift back to human form.

Wytch Master Ilya stood before him, a cloak draped over his arm. “Would you shift for me, Tristin? I would have words with you, and we cannot speak properly when you are in dragon form and I am not.”

Tristin snorted, but didn’t shift. If Ilya wanted to speak to him so badly, he could shift into dragon form. Tristin knew exactly what Ilya wished to talk about, and the thought of it made his dragon-belly writhe and twist in dread.

His gaze drifted away from the Wytch Master to the slope of the mountain beyond the watchtower. He could have been safe in his cave by now, if he hadn’t been curious and come to investigate.

“Tristin… if you insist on spending all your time in dragon form, you risk losing yourself to the beast within. You will forget your humanity entirely.”

Tristin stared down at his wicked, ruby-red claws. Forgetting his human life would not necessarily be a bad thing.

“If you lose yourself to the beast,” Ilya continued, “you will be a danger to the folk of Altan. Garrik would have no choice but to order your death, though it would grieve him to do so.”

Ilya was right, of course, and Tristin knew it. He’d already experienced signs of the beast-mind overshadowing his human mind: losing track of the days, reveling in the hunt, the smell of blood transporting him into ecstasies the likes of which he’d never known as a human man.

“Won’t you try?” Ilya coaxed. “Your cousins are both very concerned about you, as am I.”

His cousins, yes. He owed them much. His life, his freedom… and his current condition. Which, truth be told, they were trying hard to help him with.

“I know the watchtower is particularly difficult for you,” Master Ilya said. “If you’d be more comfortable, you may glide down to the courtyard, and I will meet you there.”

With a heavy sigh, Tristin dipped his head in acquiescence and nodded toward the courtyard. Ilya smiled. “Very good, then. I shall see you in a minute. Would you like to take the cloak with you?” He held it out to Tristin, laying it across outstretched arms so it would be easy for the dragon to take it. Tristin carefully wrapped his claws around it and hopped to the edge of the watchtower roof on three legs. He spread his wings and glided down to the courtyard.

Shifting back into human form was easy, but the mental onslaught that came with it was shocking. Visions of armed men running to do battle flooded his mind. Shouted commands and screams of pain filled his ears, and he felt the bite of steel on flesh and the heat of fire. The smell of smoke and the taste of blood were almost enough to choke him. It didn’t matter how many times he reminded himself it wasn’t real, the sensations were too intense for him to remember that when he was caught up in them.

The empathic resonances bled from every surface he touched, and those first moments after shifting back into human form were always overwhelming, especially after the peace he experienced in dragon form.

Dragonwatch stood on the site of an old fort which had been home to the men who guarded the kingdom of Altan from the winter raids of the mountain barbarians. The barbarian tribes were gone now, thinned out or driven off nearly a century ago, during the Ten Winters of the Dark Ice, but the empathic resonances of the men who had fought here remained. The violence, fear, and pain experienced by those ancient warriors had suffused the stones of the watchtower and the surrounding landscape as their blood had soaked the dirt.

Most people were blissfully unaware of the savage history written in the land beneath their feet.

Tristin wasn’t most people.

The fears and hopes of those long dead souls who had once defended the kingdom sliced through his head like millions of tiny daggers. Each alone was barely noticeable, a drop of rain in a raging storm. But the combined onslaught was so overwhelming that for a moment, Tristin froze, feet glued to the sun-warmed stone, hands clenching the cloak.

“Tristin?” Master Ilya’s voice broke him out of a haze of pain so intense, he forgot to hide his arms. Ilya gently uncurled his fingers from the fabric of the cloak. “You will be well again, I promise you,” Ilya said gently. “But I cannot teach you the shielding patterns if you insist on spending all your time in dragon form.”

The Wytch Master’s pale blue eyes fixed on Tristin, his expression remaining calm and composed. He didn’t look the least bit disgusted at the sight of Tristin’s gaunt frame, or the terrible scars on his arms.

Though he wanted to tear the cloak from Ilya’s hands and whip it around himself to cover his body, Tristin forced himself to wait while the Wytch Master gently draped it over his shoulders. When the cloak was in place, Tristin pulled it tight, holding it closed with shaking hands in an attempt to cover as much of himself as possible.

“Come on. You’ll feel better once you’re inside.” The Wytch Master’s voice was cool, a soothing contrast to the hot mess of empathic resonance swirling in Tristin’s head.

By the time they reached the school’s entry hall — the new hall, built from freshly hewn planks, thank the Dragon Mother — Tristin’s skin was slick with cold sweat. The moment his bare feet touched the smooth, polished floorboards, the sensations absorbed by the stones in the courtyard faded to a dim noise in the background, leaving him weak-kneed and trembling.

Master Ilya escorted him to his suite and waited in the sitting room while Tristin staggered into his bedroom to find something more suitable to wear than a cloak.

Now that the worst of the resonances were blocked by the relatively new wood, Tristin’s mind was a quiet as it ever got. He dressed quickly, in breeches and a shirt with sleeves long enough to hide his scars.

Outside, the sky was a clear, lavender blue, and Tristin took a moment to stare longingly at it. He could be out the window and gliding, pain-free, through the sky in a moment, if he dared.

The Wytch Master’s words threaded through his mind: Garrik would have no choice but to order your death…

For one brief moment, he thought perhaps that was the answer. But no — Tristin wasn’t quite ready to give up yet. Not quite. Though he feared if things didn’t improve soon, he might quickly reach that point.

With one last, longing look at the sky, he left his bedroom.

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