In a few hours, Raptor, the sixth book in my Dragon Blood series, will be out everywhere. If you haven’t given these stories a try, and you like your fantasy with humor, adventure, magic, and a little romance, you can give Balanced on the Blade’s Edge a try, or pick up the first three books in the discounted boxed set. There’s also an audiobook of the first three novels that you can get for one credit through Audible.
For those who are all caught with the series and are ready for Book 6, here’s a peek at the prologue. This is only the second prologue I’ve written in twenty-odd books. (Bonus points if you remember which other book of mine has a prologue!) I thought it would be fun to introduce our dragon through eyes of… well, you’ll see.
If you want to skip reading it here and grab the book, here are the links:
Raptor — Prologue
“Hope we get her delivered before the rain starts.” Jort clucked at the horse team, encouraging greater alacrity on the muddy street.
“That’s why she’s under a tarp.” Jort’s comrade, Ox, yawned and scratched himself, the wooden bench shivering as the big man adjusted his weight. “A few raindrops won’t hurt her.”
“I was thinking of us.” Jort eyed the late spring clouds scowling down from the heavens. “Figured we’d be delivering this to base housing, not some dead-end out in the middle of nowhere.”
“We’re less than twenty minutes from the city walls.”
“It feels like the middle of nowhere.” Jort waved at the towering firs and hemlocks closing in on either side of the puddle-strewn road, the branches leaving only a strip of cloudy sky visible overhead. “Besides, twenty minutes is a powerful long time if you’re getting poured on.” He spotted an algae-covered pond up ahead, marking the end of the road. They had only passed three houses since the turnoff, and he had checked the addresses on all of them. No sign of 374 yet. “You wouldn’t expect a general to live out so far.”
“Bet his witch picked the place.”
“Don’t say things like that.” To ward off evil magic, Jort circled his heart with two fingers, his movements so hasty that he dropped the reins. “There’s no such thing as witches. Not real ones.” He circled his heart again before picking up the reins, just in case. A man couldn’t be too safe.
“If you believe that, you can knock on the door and be the one to talk to her.”
“You don’t think she’ll be there, do you?” Jort licked lips that suddenly seemed drier than the white-sand deserts. He didn’t believe in magic, but he’d heard plenty of stories about General Zirkander’s lady friend, stories that would make any man twitchy. She supposedly had all sorts of potions and kept the famous pilot under her spells. And she had a sword that could melt a man’s balls off. No wonder the general had bought her such an expensive piece of furniture.
“Better be there,” Ox said, not sounding concerned. “Someone’s got to sign for the couch.”
Jort’s heart rate was up about five hundred percent by the time the horse team stopped in front of the last house on the road, a cozy two-story cottage with a tidy, green lawn out front and picnic tables and a horseshoe pit in the back. It looked innocent enough, but the tall trees along the borders hid it from its neighbors, and nothing but an overgrown blackberry patch occupied the lot across the street.
“It looks… private.” Jort eyed the windows, wondering which room the witch used to brew her potions. A curtain upstairs stirred, and he froze. He couldn’t see anyone, but he felt certain someone was watching them.
“Yup.” Ox hopped out of the wagon and strode around back to untie the canvas tarp.
A raindrop spattered Jort’s nose, and he tore his gaze from the cottage. He needed to help his partner so they could deliver the couch and escape back to the safety of the city.
“They probably like it private so they can get wild without anyone hearing,” Ox added, dropping the gate on the back of the wagon. “Maybe on this very couch.”
“Pilots got needs, same as anyone else. Now, go knock and ask the witch where she wants it.”
“Don’t call her that.” Jort glanced at the curtain that had shivered. “Not when she might hear.”
Ox gave him a dramatic sigh. Jort wiped his hands on his trousers and walked up the flagstone path to the door. He took a bracing breath and lifted his hand to knock.
The door opened before he touched it, and he jumped back. He almost found himself reaching for his hip, where he had carried a sword during his infantry days, but the barefoot, brown-haired girl standing there in a paint-stained sundress was not an imposing figure. She certainly didn’t look old enough to be the witch Jort had expected. She didn’t even seem old enough to be the girlfriend of anyone without pimples and a squeaky voice.
“It’s here,” she blurted and clapped her hands. “Sardelle will be so happy.”
Sardelle. Yes, that was the name on the clipboard.
“I think she was secretly pleased that Ridge’s last couch was blown up along with his house,” the girl went on. “Did you ever see it? I never did, but I heard about it.” She shuddered.
“Uhm, no, miss.” As if the legendary General Zirkander would invite Jort to his house for dice and cocktails.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” The girl pointed to the wagon, where Ox had removed the tarp and levered the couch partway out. “It’s so sleek. Is that suede?”
“Yes, miss. Where do we put it?” Jort allowed himself to relax slightly. Maybe the witch wasn’t here, and this girl could sign for the couch. He and Ox could be back in the city before the rain grew serious.
“In the front room, here.”
“Good, we’ll bring it right in as soon as you sign this.” Jort held out a clipboard.
The girl gave him a blank look. She pulled a wet paintbrush out of her pocket and raised her eyebrows.
Before Jort could explain that a pen would be better, a man walked into view and stopped behind her. He had silver hair that fell to his shoulders, a strange color for someone who appeared no older than twenty. His eyes were an eerie yellowish brown, reminiscent of a wolf, and he had a presence that made Jort want to take a step back. Several steps back. Fortunately, the intense gaze did not land on him. The man stepped past the girl and looked toward the sky. He rested a hand on the girl’s shoulder, and they stared at each other. They didn’t talk. They just stared, as if some kind of communication was happening that didn’t require words.
“We’ll, ah, get that couch now,” Jort said, stumbling as he backed away. He turned and strode toward his partner. Maybe there were multiple witches staying here. A coven. Wasn’t that what a bevy of witches was called?
“You get the signature?” Ox asked.
“Not yet. Let’s just hurry and get it in there. This place is creepy.” Jort glanced back toward the house. The young man was standing in the yard now and waving for the girl to go back inside, while his gaze remained locked on the cloudy sky.
“Boss will throw our balls in an apple press if we don’t get it signed for.” Despite his protest, Ox shrugged and pulled the couch out further. Jort jumped into the bed to push from inside. He and Ox had never gotten such a heavy piece of furniture off the wagon so quickly. Ox did not appear worried—he had not seen the man’s eerie eyes—but with his brawny arms, he had no trouble carrying his half of the couch and matching Jort’s pace.
They were halfway up the walk when the girl shouted. “Look out!”
“Get in the house,” the man ordered, raising a hand toward her. The girl staggered backward, and the door seemed to shut of its own accord.
Jort was so busy finding that unnerving that he was completely surprised when Ox dropped his end of the couch.
“What are you doing?” Jort blurted. “If it’s damaged—”
“Run,” the young man ordered. His voice was calm, but it cut through Jort’s words like a sword through butter.
A huge gust of wind struck Jort in the back, and the horses screeched. Jort tumbled over the couch, and then was hurled through the air in the direction of the wagon—or where the wagon had been. It and the horses were taking off up the road.
As Jort scrambled to his feet, a hand gripped him from behind. He yelled in surprise. It might have been a shriek. What in all the hells was going on?
“Get down, you idiot.” Ox pulled him through a mud puddle, water spattering in all directions.
An utterly alien cry thundered from the sky. Jort looked up and promptly wished he hadn’t. He had only seen pictures of dragons in history books, but he recognized the massive flying creature for what it was. There was no doubt. The cry came again, the ear-splitting noise a cross between a roar and a scream as the golden-scaled creature descended, its wings pulled close to its huge muscular body as it plummeted toward the yard.
Jort and Ox backed across the road as quickly as they could. Jort expected the young man to get out of the way, too, but he stood, staring defiantly at the sky.
At first, it looked like the dragon would crash into the earth, but like an eagle diving for a fish, its wings unfurled from its body to slow it at the last moment. Those wings easily spanned forty feet, stretching from the house to the road. The dragon’s giant fang-filled mouth opened, and a gout of fire streamed forth. Flame poured onto the grass, the couch, and the man standing in the yard.
Even from across the street, with the blackberry bushes clawing at the back of his shirt, Jort could feel the heat. He lifted his arm to protect his face, but he couldn’t tear his gaze from the yard. Impossibly, the man wasn’t burned from the fire, even though the grass had yellowed, then disintegrated, as flagstones cracked and smoke poured from the tormented earth.
The dragon’s talons grasped at the air where his prey stood. At the last instant, the man rolled to the side, moving for the first time under the assault. Those talons bit into the ground where he had stood, tearing a gaping hole before the dragon’s powerful wings flapped, taking it into the air again.
The draft batted at Jort, almost pushing him farther back into the brambles. The young man jumped to his feet. The door opened slightly, but he flung a hand, and it closed again. Then, as if Jort hadn’t been shocked enough, the man leaped into the air. Before his feet came back down again, his clothes disappeared and his body transformed, silver scales replacing skin, and wings replacing arms. He also expanded in size, and while Jort stared, his mouth hanging down to the ground, the figure became a dragon.
Without hesitating, the former man flew over the house and into the trees behind it. Branches shivered as he passed, alternating between flapping his wings and tucking them in close to streak between the evergreens. Jort’s first thought was that he meant to fly into the sky to confront the other dragon, but he stayed in the trees. The gold dragon didn’t seem surprised at having its prey transform. It gave pursuit immediately, soaring above the treetops and breathing flame into the branches. The damp wood smoldered and did not catch fire, but it charred and fell limp under the fiery assault.
“Phelistoth,” came the girl’s voice from the house. She opened the door and ran outside.
Without glancing at Jort and Ox, she raced around the corner of the house and into the woods. She would never catch the dragons. Even with the impediment of the trees, they were too fast. Before long, they disappeared from view.
Jort’s gaze lowered to the destroyed patch of yard where the young man had stood. And where the couch had stood. It had burned to the ground, only four charred stumps remaining where its legs had been. The cushions, the frame, the suede… gone. Completely gone.
“You should have got that signature,” Ox said.
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