Anakisha’s Dragon launch party!
Anakisha’s Dragon is live in 6 days! Join us on 25 March 2021 from Noon ET-9pm ET for fun, games and giveaways in my Facebook group.
I promised my readers a sneak preview of Anakisha’s Dragon. This preview will be taken down on 24 March, the date before Anakisha’s Dragon goes live, so enjoy it while you can!
A feisty street fighter avenging her dead brother. A dashing dragon rider in the right place at the wrong time. And an unlikely pirate captain with nothing left to lose.
Being a dragon rider is not in Anakisha’s plans. And Anakisha’s stubborn. She’s not giving up her dreams anytime soon.
Even the dashing Yanir—the King’s Rider, who patrols the skies on the onyx King Syan—can’t convince her to train at Dragons’ Hold. But then again, Yanir’s as irritating as he is good looking. Then Anaksiha’s gifts unfold, a dragon comes calling, and a crisis calls her into action.
Will’s an opportunist, combing the Naobian market to feed his starving sister. Luck goes his way, until a fateful game in a dodgy tavern changes his life forever.
He and his best friend wake on a ship, desperate, surrounded by bloodthirsty pirates, and armed only with Will’s gift of the gab. But even Will can’t talk his way out of this one…
This epic clash will plunge Dragons’ Realm into generations of bloody battles.
If you love epic coming-of-age fantasy, heart-pounding adventure and dragons, Anakisha’s Dragon is for you.
The warmth of the Dancing Dragon was stifling, and the hum of voices was already loud enough to drown out a dragonet’s roar, even though it was only late afternoon. Anakisha turned the tap on a keg, and pale ale frothed into the wooden tankard. She placed it on the bar, foam slopping down the side. An out-of-towner—a dashing straw-blond fellow with ebony eyes and a fine-spun cloak in midnight blue—smiled at her as he placed his coppers on the polished wooden bar.
The handsome man winked. “Keep the change.”
She smiled. “Thank you.” She tucked the coppers into her apron, and pushed a strand of chestnut hair behind her ear.
“When do you finish work?” The man raised an eyebrow.
Ew, yuck, he was way too old for her—nearly thirty summers. He could barely believe a girl of seventeen summers would be keen on him. Anakisha let the trace of a smile soften her words. “My work here is never finished. There’s always something to do.”
He gave a mocking grin. “Oh well, it was worth a shot. You don’t blame me for trying with such a pretty girl, do you?” He picked up his beer, sauntered off to a crowded table and sat down. His friends jeered and hooted, shooting more than one glance at her.
So, it was like that, was it? No doubt, the cad had been dared by his friends to try his luck with her. Anakisha turned her back and poured a beer for the next patron. He wasn’t the first man to have failed, nor would he be the last. She smiled to herself. She only had eyes for one man. She avoided turning to gaze at the best window table where Justan was seated with his father, the village arbitrator, and his father’s advisers.
As she spun, she couldn’t resist a peek. The late afternoon sun glinted in the golden strands of Justan’s blond hair as he nodded attentively at something important those men were saying. Now, there was a compassionate young man going places. Not like the lout sitting with his boozy friends. Not that Anakisha had anything against drinking. She and Pa supported their family honestly by plying ale, food and rooms in the Dancing Dragon.
Her father nudged her and nodded at a stranger in an identical good-quality blue traveling cloak. “Could you serve this gentleman too, please, Anakisha?” He wiped his brow and grinned as he poured ale into one tankard after another. “We’ll make good coin today. We’re still three days out, and this tournament is already great for business. Can you imagine how busy we’ll be tomorrow and the day after? Not to mention during the after-tournament revelry.” Pa bustled off, hands full of tankards, to serve a group of men at the other end of the bar.
The tournament. Anakisha rolled her eyes. Why did he have to remind her? It wasn’t as if she could forget. This was the first year she wouldn’t be competing.
A breeze blew through the tavern as the door opened and another group of travelers elbowed their way through the throng, past the dark polished wooden tables brimming with patrons, toward the bar.
“Three ales and two plates of steak and eggs with bread, thanks, Anakisha.” Farmer Orion placed his coppers on the bar, his frayed shirt cuffs trailing through a trace of froth. “I wouldn’t say no to mushrooms and onions if you have some too.”
Anakisha plonked his ales down, pocketed his coin, and wiped up the foam. “Thanks. I’ll bring your meals out when they’re ready.” She headed to the kitchen.
“Anakisha, when you’ve placed that order, could you take a few chairs and tables outside into the square?” Pa asked. “The new arrivals need somewhere to sit. And grab four beers for the corner table on the way back, will you?”
Anakisha bustled behind the bar through the door into the kitchen.
Stella’s face was pink and her forehead covered in a glowing sheen of perspiration. She pushed back wisps that had escaped her long blonde braid. “Can you give me a hand, Anakisha? I’m run off my feet.” Her younger sister flipped some ham steaks and cracked more eggs onto an already full skillet.
“I know the feeling. This is the busiest it’s been since…” She bit her lip. Stella was already stressed. None of them needed reminders of Ma and Jacob’s deaths right now. Anakisha grabbed some steak from the meat safe and plopped two pieces onto the edge of the skillet. She sliced a few onions and threw them and a handful of mushrooms on, too. “I’d better get out to the bar. Oh, Farmer Orion wants bread with his steaks.”
“But we don’t have any bread.” Face panic-stricken, Stella flipped the eggs and ham onto four plates and maneuvered the steak into the middle of the skillet.
Anakisha shook her head. Stella was barely beyond her littling years, only nine summers old. Managing a kitchen in the busiest season was no small task for an adult, let alone a young girl. “The bakery’s not closed yet. Nip down the alley and grab a few loaves, and I’ll deal with all of this.” Anakisha popped some coppers into her little sister’s hand and hustled her toward the back door. “Be quick.”
“Thanks, Anakisha.” Stella hurried out the door, but turned on the stoop. “It’s a shame you can’t enter the tournament this year. Jacob would’ve been proud of how hard you’ve practiced.”
He would’ve. And proud if she won the coin up for grabs. Coin that could help her family. Anakisha picked up the plates of ham and eggs and gave Stella a bright smile. “It’s all right.” She swallowed the lump in her throat as her sister dashed across the Dancing Dragon’s stable yard and down the alley.
For years, her father had let her tag along to the tournaments with her older brother Jacob, who’d taught her all he’d learned from the village’s master archer. This was the first tournament since Jacob had been murdered and Ma had died of pilzkrank. She’d been practicing every day since her brother’s death, determined to compete and honor Jacob’s name. But last night, when folk had flooded the tavern, Pa had forbidden her to enter the tournament this year, saying their livelihood came first. But if she won the prize, she’d be helping their livelihood too.
Pa stuck his head through the door. “Four more plates of ham and eggs, two apiece for tables seven and eight.” He raised an eyebrow. “Where’s Stella?”
“Gone to get bread.”
“Good. I’ll do the beers. Could you help me with the chairs once you’ve served those plates?” He ducked back into the bar.
Anakisha followed Pa into the taproom, the din enveloping her as she wove between crowded tables, deftly avoiding the odd stray hand—not locals’ hands—only out-of-towners would attempt something that daft under her father’s watchful eye.
Smiling, she gave the patrons their meals and then scampered down the hallway to retrieve the folding tables to ferry outside. The furniture was light, but awkward to squeeze through the crowded taproom. Anakisha dodged patrons and finally made it outside with a table under her arm. The square was brimming with visitors to Fieldhaven, hawkers plying their wares long after the morning market should’ve shut. Usually, setting the tables outside was one of their early morning tasks when they opened, but today, they’d been woken by people looking for rooms and food, and barely stopped since.
No sooner had she set the tables on the cobbles and dashed back inside to grab some chairs, patrons were flooding outside with their ales to sit in front of the tavern.
“Hey, love, could we have some stew and bread out here?” a middle-aged man with a huge belly and dark bushy whiskers asked. “Four bowls for me and my companions, please.”
“We’re out of bread, but I can bring you stew for now, and perhaps some bread later,” Anakisha replied.
“No bread?” The man’s eyebrows shot up. “Never mind. The whole town’s probably out with so many people here for the tournament. Just bring us that hearty stew. That’ll keep us archers going.”
His companions guffawed, flexing their bow arms.
Everyone in town—and from out of town—was competing, except her. Anakisha bustled through the taproom and into the kitchen, making her way to the cauldron of bubbling goat stew. She ladled stew into four bowls, salivating at the aroma of mushrooms, onions, meat and carrots in thick gravy. She hadn’t eaten in hours. Maybe she could snag a slice of bread when Stella returned. Balancing two bowls on each arm, and Farmer Orion’s orders in one hand, Anakisha pushed the door open with her hip and walked through the taproom, catching snatches of conversation.
“Dragons are on their way. They say even King Syan has been sighted coming south.”
“Syan? He’s not been about much lately. They say he’s been too busy training his young rider.”
“He has been. So, are dragon riders competing too?”
“They always shoot a few arrows.”
“The tournament’s early, so mind what you drink. You don’t want to sleep through it.”
“Who should we place our bets on today? What’s the local talent like?”
She gave Farmer Orion his steaks. “Stella will be back with bread soon.”
He nodded his thanks and kept on talking.
Anakisha escaped the dense babble and broke out into the square. “Gentlemen, I trust this will be to your liking.” The men broke off their conversation while she placed their bowls before them. Their tankards were empty. “Would you like more beer?” she asked.
The man with the beard chuckled, his belly wobbling beneath his shirt. “No worries, love. We’ll come to the bar when we need more ale. It’s so busy, it looks like you can hardly take a breath.”
She smiled gratefully and raced back inside.
Pa smiled at a red-faced laundress sitting at the bar, set her beer on the counter, and collected her coin with a practiced ease. “Anakisha, the arbitrator’s table would like ham and eggs, when you have a moment.”
“Stella should be back by now. I’ll let her know.”
“Ah, look, a new influx of guests,” Pa replied as yet more people pushed their way into the crowded tavern.
Anakisha popped her head through the door into the kitchen. “Stella, we need… Stella?” Stella was hunched over the table, shoulders shaking, her face in her hands. Anakisha rushed over and laid an arm across her littling sister’s shoulders. “Stella, what’s wrong?”
Her sister lifted her face, her cheeks tear-streaked. A dark bruise was blossoming on her left cheek.
“What happened?” Anakisha cradled her little sister’s head against her chest as sobs wracked Stella’s body.
“It was one of the Howlers,” Stella sniffed. “Purley’s gang stole my coppers, so we don’t have any bread.”
“Which Howler? Who?” Anakisha held Stella out to examine her face. Her cheek was swollen, and the bruise mottled her skin.
“It was Spike,” Stella sobbed. “I caught him with his hand in my pocket trying to steal my coppers.”
“What did you do?”
“I punched him, but only in the arm. He stole my coppers anyway.”
“So brave.” Anakisha pulled out a ’kerchief and wiped Stella’s eyes and cheeks, carefully dabbing around the bruise. It still made Stella wince. “Good on you,” she said. “I’m proud of you for standing up for yourself. I bet he has a right bruise tomorrow.”
Her littling sister smiled through her tears, heartening Anakisha. “Don’t worry,” Anakisha whispered. “We’ll get your coppers back.”
Stella’s tears stopped. Wide-eyed, she asked, “We will? How, Anakisha?”
“I know someone who knows someone who fights the Howlers.” Hopefully, that would be enough to satisfy her sister without raising suspicion.
“Stella,” Pa called from the taproom, “please bring the ham and eggs for the arbitrator’s group by the window. Anakisha, could you grab two more of those small tables and bring them outside for a new group? And when you’re done, they’d all like ales.”
Anakisha rolled her eyes. “Wouldn’t we all?” she muttered to Stella, managing to make her sister laugh. “Here, I’ll put the eggs and ham on. Watch them while I do the tables and ale and then I’ll take them out for you. The last thing you need is a ribbing from unruly patrons—and there are more than a few unruly ones out there at the moment.” Anakisha cracked the eggs onto the heavy iron skillet.
“Thank you,” Stella murmured, gingerly touching her bruise.
Anakisha clenched her jaw. Spike would pay for marring her sister’s face. She’d see to it personally.
Anakisha sauntered back out to the taproom balancing two plates of ham and eggs on each arm, with an extra ale for the arbitrator in one hand, in his special tankard. She deftly maneuvered between the crowded tables, avoiding being jostled by laughing patrons. Everyone was in a festive mood—except Stella, who was back on her feet, but still puffy-eyed, in the kitchen.
Trust the Howlers to ruin things.
“Evening, gentlemen. The ale’s on the house, sir,” Anakisha said, placing it in front of Justan’s pa. She deposited the plates in front of the arbitrator, his two advisers and Justan.
Justan’s father barely gave her a glance, although his scowl lessened slightly as he reached for the beer and continued his conversation with his advisers.
Anakisha briefly laid her hand on the table with five fingers splayed, then touched her shoulder with her left hand.
Justan’s eyes grazed her fingers on the table, then flitted to her hand at her shoulder. He tilted his head, watching his father as if transfixed, smiling slightly as his father gestured ostentatiously and delivered the punch line to his anecdote. Too busy laughing, the other men missed Justan’s nod, the two fingers he laid on the table, then his ten splayed fingers as he placed his hands on either side of his plate of steaming eggs and tangy ham.
Good. Tonight at twelve. But where?
“Do you require anything else, gentlemen?” Anakisha asked, deliberately giving Justan more time.
“I’m fine, thanks.” Justan scratched his chin, letting his forefinger brush his lower lip.
At the abandoned wine cellar, then.
“We’ll call you if we need anything, girl.” Justan’s father waved Anakisha away like a bothersome moth flitting too close to a lantern.
Anakisha made her way back through the maze of tables to the bar. With a flash of his midnight-blue cloak, the straw-blond man reached out to pat her waist as she edged past. She nimbly sidestepped his grasping fingers.
His companions guffawed.
“You’re going to have to try harder than that if you want her,” a man wearing a similar cloak chortled, banging his meaty fists on the table.
As far as she was concerned, midnight couldn’t come soon enough.
Pa stalked out from behind the bar, shouldering his way through the taproom. He towered over the straw-blond man, fists flexing. “I’d thank you to keep your hands off the tavern master’s daughter.” His voice was laced with iron.
The man turned his dark glare on Pa. “And I suppose you’re the tavern master, are you?” His tone bordered on arrogant.
“Yes, I am.” The iron in Pa’s voice brooked no nonsense. “Perhaps you’d like a meal to help you handle your ale?”
The man grinned. “Well, if I can’t have the girl, a fine slab of ham wouldn’t go astray.” His eyes raked over Anakisha’s hips and thighs, making her want to scrub herself with a boar-bristle brush.
Actually, make that his face she wanted to scrub with boar bristles. Instead, she stalked off and sequestered herself behind the bar. She could still hear Pa from here, but she felt a lot better with the solid walnut bar between her and that pretty snake.
“If you or your friends want any more beer tonight, keep away from my daughter.”
The man nodded. “Yes, sir. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my friends.”
His friends laughed as if he’d meant something else completely. Something ribald. Something sinister. A shiver rippled down Anakisha’s spine.
When the last of the customers at the bar turned to take their beer off to the crowded tables, Anakisha slipped into the kitchen.
Stella had pulled her hair out of her braid and was seated at the table, taking a rare break. Two steaming mugs of soppleberry tea sat on the kitchen table, their bittersweet aroma wafting to meet Anakisha. Her sister sipped from a mug and gestured at a seat. “Sit down, Anakisha. You must be tired too.”
Anakisha sank into a hard wooden chair and cradled her hands around the warm mug, inhaling deeply. “Ah, this is just what I need. Thank you.” As she took a sip, Pa wandered into the kitchen.
Stella leaned forward, pouring a third mug of tea for Pa, her hair cascading over her cheek. Then she went to the counter, her back to them, and busied herself with plonking dirty dishes into the wooden tub of steaming water on the benchtop. She didn’t fool Anakisha—Stella was hiding her bruise so Pa wouldn’t see.
Pa wearily sank into Stella’s seat and rubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t want you and Stella to grow up in this tavern cooking and learning your letters by day and serving drinks and food all night.” He took a long sip of tea. “I know there’s a better life for you both out there,” he spat. “A life away from thuggish louts and pretty boys who think they’re allowed their own way with women.”
Anakisha patted Pa’s hand. “It won’t be forever, Pa. Things will change soon.”
“I know you’re trying hard, blossom. Hopefully, you’re right and our fortune will soon change. With more busy days like today…” he trailed off, scowling. “Not that I want more incidents like that one. But with a few more busy days we’ll earn enough coin to hire some help.”
Anakisha had never dared to tell Pa about her plan: one day, when she married Justan, the arbitrator was bound to promote Pa to be one of his advisers. Then Pa could also wear fine ermine stoles. He’d be able to come home and see them in the evenings, instead of being stuck behind the bar serving guzzling patrons.
She smiled brightly and patted his hand again. “We’ll sort something out.”
Pa frowned, his blue eyes piercing. “You’re not up to some harebrained scheme, are you?”
Anakisha let her eyebrows shoot up. “Harebrained?” Her scheme was anything but that. “No, not me.” She wouldn’t tell Pa and Stella a thing until they no longer had to work in the Dancing Dragon. Perhaps, one day, she and Stella could live somewhere with a pretty flower garden—instead of a stable yard out back—and spend their summer afternoons sipping cold soppleberry tea under cherry trees, like Justan’s ma and sister did.
But not tonight—tonight she had work to do.
Star had buried herself under her covers again. Will peeled back her light summer quilt to peer at his littling sister. Her hair was tousled and her face creased with sleep. He stooped to kiss her brow.
As his lips brushed her forehead, she woke. “Are you going out again?” she murmured, and sat up, her ebony eyes bright in the predawn shadows.
“I am.” He smiled and tickled her under her chin.
She stifled a giggle and shot a glance at the next room. Their mother’s soft snores trickled from her bedroom.
Will sat on the bed. His eyes darted to Ma’s room. “I stayed by her all night. She slept well last night, the whole night through. You should be fine with her today. If there are any worries, go straight to Bessie’s.”
A frown puckered Star’s pretty brow. “Will you be home by supper?”
“Yes, I will.” He nodded.
Star gave a shy smile. “What will you bring today?”
Will grinned, even though he didn’t feel like it. Before he’d woken Star, he’d pried up the floorboard and taken out the last of their savings—a measly two coppers, enough for two loaves of bread. Ma had been sick for nigh on a moon now, and unable to work. Will had tried all sorts of work, but between caring for Star and Ma, and being clobbered by half the merchants in the local market for having a smart mouth, he hadn’t been very successful—until he’d started trading up.
Yes, things were looking better, but he’d need these coppers as seed money. You couldn’t get rich from nothing. By the First Egg, Ma had told them that often enough.
He smiled at his baby sister. At seven summers, she was still a littling and ten years his junior. Since Pa had died at sea shortly after Star’s birth, he’d done everything he could to keep them safe. And today would be no different. His smile softened. “Now, lie down and go back to sleep.”
She wriggled under the bed sheet, her chin poking over the top. “You promise you’ll be back in time for supper? Can you bring something tasty?”
Will nodded. “I will. In the meantime, there are a few bites of bread left. I’ve milked the goat and softened half the bread in a bowl for Ma. Hopefully, you can get a few mouthfuls into her today. And there are still a few plums on the tree.”
Star’s lip trembled.
Will tickled her chin again to make her smile. “There now, be a brave girl and I’ll bring you and Ma a treat for supper.”
Her face brightened immediately. “Perhaps an orange?”
“We’ll see what my master gives me.” There was no point in telling Star or Ma he’d been fired again. They’d just worry. He sighed. He’d never expected to become the man in the household at twelve summers old. For five years, he’d borne the weight like an enormous Robandi camel slung across his shoulders.
Perhaps camels didn’t weigh that much. Long-legged, the beasts had mighty bodies for sure, but perhaps his family weighed more—especially this last moon since Ma had gotten sick. If only he’d been better at earning a crust. He’d failed them because he couldn’t keep his trap shut. Well, it was that very same mouth that was keeping them fed now.
Will bent and kissed Star’s forehead. Then he brushed his fingertips across her eyelids and they drifted shut. He blew out the candle and tiptoed out the door into the dark.
It was an hour’s walk to Treyvin’s cottage but, as usual, Will had lingered with Star, so he had to hurry if they were to get to the market early. The empty burlap sack over his shoulder swung as the ocean breeze caught it. He hurried along the road between the farms and orchards, heading towards Treyvin’s house on the outskirts of Naobia.
When he got to Treyvin’s gate, his best mate was nowhere to be seen. With a rustle of leaves, Treyvin slid down a tree onto the road and landed with a thump. His teeth flashed in the gray predawn light, and he held up a handful of walnuts. Beside Treyvin’s cottage, the forge was already glowing—his father, a blacksmith, was an early riser. A head taller than Will and one and a half times as broad, Treyvin had the right build for a blacksmith—thick, well-muscled arms and large hands with blunt finger tips.
Treyvin moved with the confidence of a draft horse, big-footed and solid, passing Will a couple of walnuts and gesturing at his own bulging pockets. “There’s more where those came from. I guess you haven’t had any breakfast.”
Will nodded, pocketing the nuts to take home to Star. Although they were too tough for Ma to chew in her weakened state, his sister loved them. She’d wanted a treat for supper. Walnuts would do the trick nicely.
Treyvin gave him a cheeky grin and placed two walnuts in the palm of his large hand. He closed his fist around them and squeezed. When he opened it, the walnuts had cracked cleanly. Treyvin picked out the nut flesh and chewed it, grinning. “Your turn.” He held out two more for Will.
Will shook his head. “I don’t have strong blacksmith’s hands like you.” He took the nuts anyway and squeezed them as hard as he could, knuckles turning red and then white. It was no use. They didn’t crack.
Treyvin laughed and pulled another two nuts out of his pocket. Within moments, a crack sounded from his palm and those walnuts were in pieces as well. “Go on,” Treyvin said. “Try again, or you’ll never get any breakfast.”
“Maybe I’m not that hungry.” Will’s stomach grumbled, betraying him.
Treyvin sniggered as they hurried along the road toward Naobia, Treyvin cracking walnuts and passing them to Will.
Will picked the pieces of flesh from the shards and munched on them. They were good, but barely enough to keep him going. “Let’s take the shortcut through the orchard,” he suggested when they were near the city.
They sneaked through the peach orchard, snaffling some fruit on the way. Will even managed to stuff a few pieces into his sack. Peaches would please Star, no end.
As usual, they waited for sunrise at the edge of the orchard on a knoll just outside town. The red rays of dawn rose above the city of Naobia. The sun’s fiery wake reflected on the broad expense of the Naobian Sea, setting the ocean ablaze with red and gold. Will inhaled deeply through his nostrils, savoring the salty tang of the ocean and enjoying the wind ruffling his hair. “I love the sea.”
“I know.” Treyvin rolled his eyes. “You say the same thing every morning. It’s in your blood, from your pa.”
Could it be that simple? The sound of crashing waves tugged on something fierce and wild inside Will, making him want to ride out on the tide all the way to the Wastelands—the Robandi Desert where those giant-hoofed camels roamed and assassins pocked the dunes like canker. He shrugged. “Maybe it is from Pa. Maybe not.” Some days he could barely remember his father.
A green guard flew out from the city, patrolling along the coast. Three more flew out to meet an incoming ship. The dragons’ wings blazed emerald in the early morning sun, their riders sitting tall in their saddles.
“Being a dragon rider, now that’d be the life,” Treyvin said. “Soaring on the wind above the city, flying out over the depths and viewing the world from on high. Not having to slave over a hot forge in the summer heat.”
“How long has your pa given you?”
Treyvin grimaced and tossed an empty walnut shell into the grass. “Two more days to prove I can make decent coin, otherwise I’m back in the forge. Are you sure we can make this work?”
“We’ll be fine, you’ll see.” Will shaded his eyes from the rising sun. The dragons were now circling the ship.
“Do you think it’s a pirate ship?” Treyvin gestured at the incoming galley. The prow cut through the satin of the ocean, peeling it back like the skin of an orange, leaving a shimmering trail of foam in the galley’s wake.
Will shook his head, pointing at the sails. “Hard to tell, but I don’t think so. See how she’s riding low in the ocean? It’s probably full of goods from the Wastelands—or from Metropoli, ferried across the sand by camels.”
“Could be from farther along the coast,” said Treyvin practically.
Will grinned. “That wouldn’t be half as romantic.”
Treyvin shivered. “I’m glad I don’t live in Metropoli. They say slaves make half the wares there. Knowing our luck, we’d be among them.”
Will barked a laugh. “Us, slaves? No way. I’m glad I’m in Naobia living a free life. Even if I haven’t made my fortune yet, as least here we have a chance.” He elbowed Treyvin. “Besides, today’s our lucky day. I can feel it in my bones.”
They bumped fists. “To freedom and good fortune.” Treyvin raised an eyebrow.
“To freedom and good fortune.” Will returned it with a raised one of his own. “We’d better get on with it. Our fortunes won’t be made standing here.”
They strode down the knoll onto the main road leading to the gate in the city wall. Merchants were unloading goods from the dock and bustling toward town.
Will and Treyvin strode through the city wall and along the road past a man pushing a handcart loaded with exotic fruit. Will inhaled the scent of cardamom as a horse clopped past, pulling a wagon laden with grains, herbs and spices.
“Make way, make way.” A man flipped the reins on his horse, his yellow and red caravan drumming up a flurry of dust. Pots and pans fastened to ropes outside the rear door clattered as Will and Treyvin stood, their backs to the stone wall of a building to let the tinker pass.
“Let’s duck down here.” Will gestured to a side alley, and he and Treyvin went down it to avoid the press of traffic. Will wiped the dust from his mouth with the back of his hand.
They broke into a piazza holding Will’s favorite fountain in all of Naobia. A tangle of sea dragons carved from opaline crystal cascaded water out of their maws, their tiny glassy scales glittering with rainbows in the early morning sun. Will scooped the sparkling water up with both hands and took deep gulps, rinsing the walnut bits from his teeth. He drew a damp hand through his dark hair and slicked it back. “When you’re trading up, you have to look the part. Best to present yourself tidily so people trust you.” He inspected his reflection in the water, satisfied.
Treyvin looked dubious, but bent to swish a wet hand through his hair. “Any good?”
“Uh, it’s sort of sticking up. Perhaps you could…” Will mimed slicking rather than scrubbing, but no matter what he did, Treyvin’s hair stuck up at odd angles like an untidy shag’s nest.
“That’ll have to do,” said Will. “If we don’t get to the market soon, it’ll be shut.”
“It’s only set-up time,” Treyvin protested.
“Ah, it was just an idiom.”
“I’m not an idiot.” Treyvin frowned quizzically.
“That’s not what I meant. Forget it. Look, if you’re going to learn how to trade up, you need to copy me. Are you with me?” Will held out his fist.
Treyvin bumped it. “To freedom and good fortune,” they said in unison and hurried down the lane to the market square.
A few stray customers were still outside, sipping their final ales at the tables in the square, when Anakisha and Pa closed up and dragged their weary bodies up to bed. “Good night, Anakisha,” Pa said, pausing on the threshold to his room. “Thanks for your help tonight.”
“Night, Pa.” Anakisha slipped through the door next to his and closed it.
Stella was long since in bed, breathing softly and evenly, a dark hump under her covers, barely visible in the strand of moonlight that slid between the crack in the curtains.
Anakisha drew the drapes back and opened the window, the lacy net curtains fluttering in a gentle breeze as she pulled the sash window up. She took a stick out from under her bed and propped the window open. The slurred voices of the last drunken patrons floated up from below, their raucous chuckles drowning out Stella’s even breaths. Moonlight fell across Stella’s bed. Anakisha stole over and gazed at the mottled bruise on her sister’s pretty cheek.
Anger stirred in her belly. The street rats had probably killed her brother. Now, they’d bullied one littling too many. Tonight, she’d teach them. She eased her door open and peeked down the corridor. Candlelight glimmered under Pa’s door. There was no way she could sneak out the back while he was still up. The window, then.
She closed the door and stole over to the hearth. Anakisha grabbed a handful of ash and smeared it on her cheeks, then threw her warmest cloak over her shoulders and padded to the window. They’d closed late. It must be after midnight. How long would Justan wait for her? Hopefully long enough. She took off her boots, tied the laces together and hung them around her neck.
With moons of practice, it was no problem for Anakisha to hoist herself into a crouch on the window sill, twist, and maneuver herself onto the ledge outside, grasping the stones on either side of the window to steady herself. A burst of raucous laughter echoed off the cobbles. Anakisha glanced down. The moon glimmered off pale hair. A familiar voice drifted up to her.
By the First Egg, it was that straw-blond man and his cronies, swathed in their midnight-blue cloaks. Luckily, they were too busy enjoying the dregs of their ale to notice her. She edged along the ledge, her fingers grasping familiar handholds. Only a few steps to go until the corner.
The unmistakable swish of dragon wings beat overhead. A rush of wind gusted her hair across her face and made her cloak eddy around her legs. Dark wings blotted out the moonlight.
The straw-blond man laughed. “Hey, what’s that? Anyone feel like besting a dragon rider tonight?”
“Not that particular rider,” crowed a crony, “but if you’re itching for a duel, I’ll best you.”
More laughter broke out.
Anakisha froze on the ledge. Gods, if they saw her and yelled out, they’d be sure to rouse Pa—and all the dragon fire in the realm wouldn’t save her.
If she could just get around the back, near the stables, she wouldn’t risk being seen. She tentatively reached an arm around the corner, then stretched out her leg, her bare feet grasping toeholds. Only two handholds until the next ledge.
Anakisha whipped around the corner as the blond man said, “Wouldn’t mind a taste of that tavern wench.”
Shuddering, she paused on the next ledge, and drew in a deep breath. The sooner she got out of here, the better. She reached out for a handhold and launched herself across the gap to the next ledge, and then the next, her boots swinging, whacking her chest. Finally, heart pounding, she reached the drainpipe at the corner of the stable yard.
She shimmied down the pipe and landed on the rain barrel. Anakisha breathed a sigh of relief and thudded to the ground, her boots thumping against her chest. Thank First Egg, she’d escaped those drunkards.
Raucous laughter rang down the alley.
Strong hands shot out of the shadows and grasped her arms. “What are you doing out past your bedtime? Looking for fun?” A flash of teeth in the darkness—and that straw hair. “Gimme a drink from those pretty red lips,” the drunk slurred, tightening his grip until the bones in her forearms ached.
Gods, he was strong. “You’ve obviously had enough to drink,” she said. “The tavern will be open tomorrow if you’d like another ale.” Around the corner, his cronies were laughing about tavern wenches.
Tavern wench indeed. What gave those men the right to treat her like this? It wasn’t her fault Ma and Jacob had died, leaving her and Pa to run the Dancing Dragon. Nevertheless, a prickle ran down her spine at their deep chuckles. Gods, if they came around the corner too…
“Come on, you know you want me.” The man leaned in, a gust of stinking beer rushing across her cheek and over her lips. He shoved her up against the wall, leering. “You made a fool of me, but your father’s not here to protect you now, girl, so I’ll show you a thing or two.” He jammed her harder against the wall. Despite her thick cloak, the stone bit into her spine.
Wedging his shoulder against hers, he fiddled with his belt buckle. As quick as an asp, Anakisha kneed him in the groin.
Gasping, he doubled over clutching his crotch. She kicked out, her foot connecting with his chest. He tumbled to the cobbles, his limbs sprawling in a drunken heap.
Anakisha ran, her boots thumping against her chest and feet scraping on the rough cobbles.
Bellowing, the brute thundered after her and yanked the end of her cloak. She surged forward and the fabric ripped. Anakisha darted down a tiny lane. These alleys were her playground, her territory. She knew them like the back of her hand—better than the back of her hand. Better than he did.
His boots pounded the cobbles, echoing off the sleepy buildings. A bolt of green flame shot through the air. Anakisha ducked as it sizzled past, narrowly missing her head, and hit the stone facade of a bakery. She dashed around a corner, catching a glimpse of green sparks dripping from his fingertips. A mage—just her luck.
She raced like a flaming dragon was on her tail, leaped over a pile of garbage and scrambled to the end of the lane. A wooden fence and a pile of refuse blocked her way. But then again, she’d known that. Anakisha surged over the garbage and clambered up the fence. The bottom corner of her cloak snagged on a nail, and for a moment, she teetered on the top of the fence, the ties of her cloak tightening at her throat and choking the air from her windpipe.
The straw-blond mage laughed, making gooseflesh ripple down her spine. A blast of heat roiled toward her. Desperate, Anakisha flung herself toward the ground. The cloak’s ties constricted her throat. Dizzy, she let her weight carry her. With a wrench, her cloak ripped free of the nail and Anakisha fell off the fence into the farrier’s yard.
Gasping, she sprang to her feet and took off across the hard-packed dirt. One of her boots had become dislodged and banged against her back as she ran, the other thumping her chest. Gods, her feet were sore.
A curse rang out behind her. There was a muffled thud as the mage hit the ground. He didn’t rise. No sparks flitted from his fingers. As she glanced back, a deep snore rumbled across the yard. The drunken sod had banged his head and was out like a snuffed lantern.
Feet aching, Anakisha kept running.
Anakisha bolted along the cobbled alley that wound between storefronts nestled together like a cluster of toadstools. Storm clouds scudded across the moon. Her feet slapped on the rough cobbles and her breath rasped. Gods, what a night—and it hadn’t even started yet.
When she came to the corner of the Narrows and Bloodlust Alley, she slowed, slipping into the shadows and moving silently along the stone facades until she reached the hatch to an old wine cellar beneath a derelict tavern. Anakisha gave two short raps on the door and waited. A sliver of moonlight broke from between the dark clouds and hit the hatch as it opened, illuminating a pale hand that motioned her inside.
Still panting, Anakisha climbed down the rickety stairs, hoping she wouldn’t get splinters in her aching feet.
Justan grunted and slid the hatch shut. A lamp flared, illuminating his and three other ash-smeared faces.
Brianna scowled. “You’re late.” The flickering lantern light made the ropey scar across her throat gleam. Caught in a knife fight, Brianna had been no match for the Howler that had wielded the blade against her. Luckily, Justan had been passing and jumped in at the last minute. Since then, Brianna had fawned over him.
Fox, Brianna’s brother and Jacob’s best friend, shifted uneasily, shadows playing across his thin face and pooling under his sharp cheekbones so his head looked like a skull with a thatch of wiry red hair. Next to him, Billy flexed his brawny arms and looked at Justan with his slanted emerald eyes—not unlike a cat’s.
“We couldn’t really leave without her, could we?” Justan said. “Since she’s the one who called the meeting, and all.” He spun to Anakisha, hands splayed. “So why did you want to meet tonight?”
Anakisha sat on the bottom step and rubbed her aching feet. Her words came out in a torrent as she tugged her boots on. “The Howlers attacked Stella and stole her coin when she was out buying bread for the tavern. She came back in tears, empty-handed, with an ugly bruise on her cheek. I want revenge. Purley has to pay.”
“Purley has to pay, all right. And not just for wee Stella.” Justan growled. “That’s four attacks on us and ours this week. They kicked Shiv in the guts behind the tannery and then wrenched my arm something awful in a scuffle in the marketplace, knowing I couldn’t fight back because my pa was around.”
“With Stella, that’s three. Who’s the fourth?” Anakisha tugged her laces tight.
“They poisoned Widow Mayfree’s cat,” Fox piped up. “I know it was them, even though they denied it, ’coz she hit Spike with her purse when he tried to lift her coin last week.”
Justan shook his head. “They’re a nasty bunch, all right. We need to rid the streets of these rats. If my father wasn’t so spineless, we could fight the Howlers on behalf of the council and be paid good coin. But he’s terrified of them striking back.”
Justan was noble, fighting for the cause even though it could cost him his inheritance—no mean feat, because the arbitrator had the largest estate in the village. Despite his father being the arbitrator, he was brave enough to take matters into his own hands.
Justan’s gaze turned to Anakisha and lingered as his voice softened. “We need to avenge the Howlers’ wrongs.”
She swallowed and blinked hard. After Ma died, Jacob had been consumed with grief and taken to fighting. He and Fox had fallen in with the Night Wings. For three moons, Jacob had fought the Howlers alongside Justan, Fox and Billy. And then one night, Justan had arrived at the back door of the Dancing Dragon with Jacob in his arms, splattered in her brother’s blood. The dagger hilt protruding from Jacob’s chest had said it all. Pale-faced, Justan had passed Jacob’s body to Pa and taken Anakisha in his arms, holding her while she sobbed. Comforting her. He’d been her refuge in the storm. On the spot, she’d pledged to fight with Justan in the Night Wings and avenge her brother’s death. The next night, she’d sneaked out to meet the Night Wings and put an end to the Howlers’ crimes.
“Why are you late?” Justan asked.
“Couldn’t help it,” Anakisha said. “A lout followed me from the tavern and tried to have his way with me.” Her heartbeat sped, just thinking about it again.
“By the dragon gods!” Justan’s eyes narrowed. “You all right?”
Anakisha’s heart stuttered. Shards, it was nice to know he cared. “Yes, I’m fine, but that strange mage is not. He’s out cold in the farrier’s yard.”
One of Fox’s red eyebrows quirked up. “You bested a mage? Good on you, Anakisha. Jacob’s fighting lessons paid off.”
Billy grinned and Brianna laughed.
“Let’s get down to business.” Justan palmed a key from his pocket and strode behind a row of fusty old barrels.
They all followed, Fox carrying the lantern. Justan bent and opened the weapon chest. The flickering lamplight glinted on the collection of blades. Justan selected his favorite sword and tucked an assortment of daggers into his belt and boots. As Justan’s new right hand, Anakisha got next choice. She lifted her scabbard from the chest and drew out her sword, the fine blade gleaming as she inspected it. Anakisha sheathed it and fastened it at her hip as Fox took his sword, Brianna her knives, and Billy his cudgel—not that he needed it; his fists were powerful enough.
Justan snapped the chest shut and locked it.
“Over the rooftops?” Fox whispered, a sly smile sliding across his thin face.
A nod from Justan and they padded to the stair. Billy hung back and blew out the lantern, plunging them into darkness. He pushed past them in the inky-black and opened the door without fumbling. It was uncanny how well he could see in the dark—and how little he spoke. They stood, hands on hilts, as he poked his head outside. “All clear,” he murmured.
They filed out and hugged the stone walls while Justan and Billy shut the heavy hatch. Fox led the way, flitting through the shadows, the rest of the crew stealing after him through the winding alleys. He darted down a narrow lane between the shoemakers and the tannery, and nipped into a shadowy recess between two buildings. Fox jammed his fingers and feet into cracks in the stone and scampered up the side of the building, as agile as a squirrel. Soon, a rope whipped down and dangled in the recess against a stone wall.
Billy didn’t like heights, so he slunk off into the darkness to meet them near the Howler’s latest haunt—a burned-out brewery on the shady side of town, deep in Howler territory.
The rope twitched—Fox’s signal for Brianna to climb up. She grasped it, set her feet against the building, and scaled the wall.
Waiting, Justan edged closer to Anakisha, his breath tickling her ear. “You all right to climb? You’ve had a rough night with that mage, and all.”
“Fine,” she purred, smiling in the dark.
“Good. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.” He squeezed her hand.
The warmth that stole through Anakisha had nothing to do with the night air.
The rope twitched—her turn. Anakisha scaled the building quickly. Her arms and face tingled with warmth by the time she got to the top. It was nothing to do with Justan, of course. Only the exertion. Maybe.
Once Justan joined them, Fox hoisted the rope and tied it around his slim hips.
The undulating rooftops snaked around the winding alleys. In single file and staying low, the crew scrambled over the shingles up onto the ridge of the roof and balanced there, grasping a chimney.
Justan gave them a nod. Fox raced along the ridge and leaped across a narrow gap. Brianna went next. Anakisha pelted across the rooftop and jumped. Her foot caught the lip of the next roof and she stumbled, landing on her knees. Although she’d grazed them, she slithered out of the way so Justan could land. A moment later, he thudded down beside her.
“You all right?” His voice hissed like the scrape of a sword sliding from its scabbard.
She scrambled to a crouch and dusted off her knees. “I’m fine.”
A bloodcurdling howl rose from Bloodlust Alley.
“Come on, let’s go.” Justan took her hand and pulled her across the roof after Fox and Brianna, who were already running along the ledge of the next roof. Fox leaped, his red hair catching the moonlight as he nimbly landed.
They leapt to the next roof. Fox grinned and clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Sore knees, or are you used to it by now?”
Anakisha shrugged his hand off. “I’m fine.” She glowered, but that only made his grin wider.
Fox and Brianna took off along joined rooftops that rose and fell like dragon spines along the winding alleys of Fieldhaven. Justan and Anakisha followed, keeping their tread light. They’d been traversing the rooftops at night for so many moons it was almost second nature—except for that cursed first gap which Anakisha kept muffing. All of the Night Wings gave her no end of ribbing about it.
Soon they got to the Howlers’ turf—the rundown poorer quarter where the Howlers prowled at night.
Fox and Brianna were up ahead, flat on their bellies looking over the edge of the roof. Anakisha dropped to the rooftop and slithered over on her stomach. Better safe than sorry—there was no point copping an arrow in the head. She wriggled forward, the worn shingles smooth under her fingers from years of rain and snow. She peered over the edge, wrinkling her nose at the carcass of a dead bird lodged in the gutter an arm’s length away. Not that the alley below smelled much better—it was full of rotting refuse.
The Howlers lived rough, squatting in the remains of a brewery that had been gutted by fire. Although the charred stone edifice still stood, most of the windows had exploded in the blaze. Along the ground floor, jagged shards gaped in the windows’ hollow maws. The street rats dragged their spoils back to their blackened lair: food and valuables they lifted at the market; coin they extorted from locals; and good old-fashioned pickings from those they robbed or treated to brutal beatings.
Anakisha shook her head. Stella was only nine summers old. These street rats picked on anyone—especially the weak and vulnerable.
Scuffling and voices rose from the twisting alley. Anakisha edged forward, peering over the gutter.
“What are you doing on our turf so late at night?” Purley barked, her dagger at the neck of a man who was backed up against the huge brown shutters over the cooper’s store.
In the sputtering torchlight, his cherry-red velvet cloak was a stark contrast to the dirty worn home-spun of the Howlers arrayed around him. He was obviously a stranger, here for the tournament, or he would’ve known not to come to these parts of town at night.
Lefty swaggered over waving his strongwood staff and shoved his face right up against the man’s as Purley held him at knife point. “What you got for us tonight?” he crooned. His staff was taller than the stranger, but, then again, so was he.
“Maybe I should have a go-round with him,” a sultry voice said as Adora materialized from the shadows. Spike flexed his knuckles and grinned.
Hang on, only four of the Howlers were here tonight. Where was Snitch?
The traveler’s dark eyes flitted over the Howlers. He shook his head. “I have no coin, nothing valuable, only the clothes I’m standing in.”
Anakisha mentally groaned. That was a wide-open invitation for the Howlers to strip him naked. These rats knew no bounds.
“Mighty fine cloak,” Spike snarled. “Give my mother’s teeth for one of those.”
“Your mother ain’t got no teeth.” Lefty snorted.
“Whether she does or not, the cloak’s yours, Spike.” Purley’s dagger flashed, cutting one of the cloak’s ties. She yanked the man forward and the velvet slumped to the ground, pooling behind the traveler’s fine boots.
Spike his foot under the cloak and, in a lightning move, kicked the fabric into the air, caught it and fastened it around his neck. “Blood red. I like it. Won’t show your blood when I beat you to a pulp.” He edged in, teeth flashing in a nasty grin.
Anakisha shuddered. She’d been terrified the first time she’d seen Spike’s teeth. He’d inherited his name by filing his teeth to sharp points. The malice in his eyes along with those evil teeth had made her blood turn icy.
The traveler paled, hands shaking. “I—I… What do you want? I have nothing.” Scarlet welled up on the man’s collarbones, gleaming wetly in the moonlight.
Anakisha drew in her breath with a soft hiss. So Purley hadn’t just cut the cloak.
“You still have a fine pair of boots,” Purley said.
“Let’s see how those boots can dance.” Lefty’s chuckle skittered down Anakisha’s spine. He smacked the butt of his staff on the cobbles, making the man leap. He whacked it again, knocking the man’s shins, then smacked the strongwood onto the cobbles again and again, the dull thud echoing along the alley. The thunks sped up like a battle drum as the man leaped and yelped whenever Lefty struck his legs.
Adora stalked over to the dancing traveler, her willowy figure casting a long shadow against the shutters in the sputtering torchlight. “My turn now.”
Lefty hefted his staff and stepped back, leaving the man panting and wild-eyed as Adora approached. Purley’s eyes never left her target, her dagger glinting as she held it ready.
Adora stalked around her prey, then ran a finger down the traveler’s cheek. “If you have no coin, then pay us in other ways,” she purred, toying with one of his long dark locks, then running a seductive finger down his throat to his collarbone. She drew her finger through the blood, then licked it. “Delicious. I wonder what the rest of you tastes like.” She trailed a finger over his jerkin down his chest to his stomach.
“Stop that. I’m a married man.”
“They’re the best.” Adora giggled. “Much more experience.”
“Back off.” Purley barked. “He’s obviously loaded. You won’t get that sort of payment tonight.” She thrust her dagger under his chin.
The man yelped, and more blood trickled down his neck.
There was no time to lose. Justan, Anakisha, Brianna and Fox shimmied backward over the shingles. Fox grabbed the rope from his waist and fastened it around the chimney. One by one, they slipped down the rear side of the building. Sticking to the shadows in single file, they flitted down the dank passageway between two buildings. Billy was waiting at the mouth of the passage. He gave a quick hand signal and Justan nodded. They raced out of the shadowy passage to confront the Howlers.
“We’re under attack!” A cry rang out from a neighboring rooftop.
Snitch! Sure enough, a pale, skinny face peeped out of an upper story window in the fire-gutted brewery. Lefty spun and raced at Justan’s Night Wing crew. Spike tailed him, sauntering over. There was a flash as Snitch loosed an arrow, aiming straight for Justan.
Anakisha dived, knocking Justan to the ground. The arrow clattered off the stone building behind them and hit the cobbles. Billy bellowed and rushed Lefty. Brianna joined him, whacking her sword against Lefty’s staff as he twirled it at Billy.
Above them, Snitch clambered out the window and shimmied up a rope onto the rooftop of the charred building, his bow and quiver slung over his back. Anakisha scrambled to her feet, wishing she’d brought her bow, and raced toward Spike.
Fox rushed at Purley. Before Fox reached her, Purley kicked the traveler. He crashed into the cobbles. Adora leaped on him, straddling his stomach, facing his feet with her dagger at his groin.
Then Fox was there, slashing his blade at Purley. He lost ground as Purley drove him back with rapid slashes of her dagger. Justan dashed to help Fox, swinging his sword.
Adora ignored them all, tugging the traveler’s boots off. Her victim struggled, but a quick slash of her blade on the inside of his thigh stopped him. Blood soaking his breeches, he whimpered as Adora yanked off his boots and scrambled to her feet. She held the boots aloft. “These are mine,” she yelled triumphantly. I scored ’em fair and square.”
The traveler scuttled sideways on his elbows and haunches like a crab, desperate to get away without being noticed. A fat coin purse bulged at his waist.
Adora lunged and cut it free with her dagger. “You said, ‘Nothing but the clothes I’m standing in.’” She hooted. “Well, now you have only half your clothes and no coin.” She laughed and tucked the purse inside her tunic as the man scrambled to his feet and fled, stocking-footed, down the alley.
“Good work, Adora. Now get stuck in,” Purley bellowed, clashing blades with Fox and Justan.
Brianna struck Lefty’s arm. He cried out, dropping his staff. Billy smacked into Lefty. They sprawled and rolled, pummeling each other’s faces, stomachs and chests. Brianna danced around them, slashing her sword at Lefty whenever he was uppermost. Gods, if Brianna wasn’t careful, she’d slice Billy.
The clouds shifted, the moon bathing the alley in chilly white light. Another of Snitch’s arrows flashed. Anakisha ducked. It zipped overhead and thunked into the cooper’s shutters, the arrowhead sinking deep into the wood.
Spike swaggered, sliding his sword out of his scabbard. Pointed teeth flashing in the moonlight, he lunged at Anakisha. Their swords clashed, the impact jarring her to the elbow. She deflected his thrust and danced out of reach, drawing Spike away from the others. If she could incapacitate him, they may have a chance—as long as they avoided Snitch’s arrows.
Spike’s reach was longer, his arm stronger, and he had a powerful, trained physique. Their blades clashing, he drove Anakisha back toward the fishmonger’s shopfront, the shutters drawn beneath an orange linen awning.
Anakisha stumbled, losing her footing. Gods, she was tiring. She had no way of winning with brute strength. She had to use her wits. Yelling, she darted sideways and swiped at him, smacking his arm with the flat of her blade. He spun and slashed, ripping the fabric of her sleeve. Anakisha jumped and raised her sword. Leaving herself unprotected for an instant, she slashed her blade through the fishmonger’s awning, and dashed off. The heavy fabric fell, knocking Spike off his feet. He yelled and kicked, twisting it around his limbs in his attempt to get free.
Fox was slumped against a building, grasping his arm. Purley and Justan circled each other, twin daggers glinting in their hands. Justan lunged and she deflected. He jumped back, warily looking for an opening. Suddenly, Purley leaped. They went down in a heap of flashing blades. Anakisha rushed over, but she was too late—a moment later Purley was sitting on Justan’s chest, a blade under each of his ears.
There was a swish overhead, and the moonlight was blotted out by broad leathery wings.
“Dragon rider! Scarper!” snapped Snitch, his feet pounding across the rooftop shingles.
Purley scrambled off Justan and ran.
“Justan, are you all right?” Anakisha’s heart pounded as she crouched beside him.
Something hard smacked the back of her head. Pain ricocheted through her skull as footsteps pounded away down the alley. Her knees crumpled and darkness swept in.
Enjoy the rest in Anakisha’s Dragon