Deathmaker (Dragon Blood)By: Lindsay Buroker
I would like to thank those of you who checked out Balanced on the Blade’s Edge and have come back for more. Readers left over a hundred reviews around the web in the first month it was out, and thanks to your help, it hung out as the #1 steampunk novel at Amazon for several weeks. That meant I could justify doing something I wanted to do as soon as I finished working on BotBE: write another story in this world.
This adventure features a couple of new characters, but Ridge and Sardelle will be playing a role in the second half. I hope you’ll enjoy the novel, and I would like to thank those who helped me get it ready for the world: my enthusiastic beta readers Cindy Wilkinson and Sarah Engelke, my tireless editor Shelley Holloway, and the cover art specialists at Deranged Doctor Design.
Cas didn’t like her new cell. After having spent two weeks jammed into a dark locker on a Cofah warship, the space so confining that she couldn’t stand up or stretch out straight, she probably should have considered this an improvement. But she wasn’t one of those irritatingly cheerful optimists. She hadn’t liked the last cell, and she didn’t like this one either. The window might let in the ocean breeze, but it was too small to climb through, not to mention barricaded with iron bars. The cries of parrots and the yowls of monkeys beyond it were a reminder that she was in a strange land, far from home, without hope of rescue.
Heavy footsteps and the jangle of weapons sounded in the hallway.
Cas bared her teeth, hoping the guards would only stroll past on their way to attend to another prisoner. It had been scarce minutes since her welcome-to-the-Dragon-Spit-prison-and-here’s-a-thorough-beating-to-make-you-feel-at-home greeting. She was still lying on the floor and recovering, so she flinched at the idea of another round with those bone cudgels. For all her vows to stay strong, she had spent most of her first beating curled in a ball on the ground, clutching her gut, and doing her best not to whimper. Whimpering wasn’t expressly forbidden in the “Survival, Evasion, and Recovery” chapter of the army field manual, but the line about the “inherent stoicism of soldiers” seemed to discourage it.
The footsteps stopped, and the door opened. Yellow lantern light spilled in from the hallway, making Cas realize that twilight had fallen outside. Not that the time of day mattered much.
A guard scurried inside carrying a stool. He set it down, the legs scraping against the hard sandstone floor, then he stood beside the door. Thanks to the shaven head, scarred face, and broad shoulders, he would have been ominous and forbidding even without the bone cudgel and short sword secured on either hip and the shotgun gripped in his hands.
Another shaven-headed man walked in, this one older and wearing a tiger fur cloak over his brown uniform. It didn’t look particularly climate-appropriate. The man wasn’t carrying any visible weapons, but Cas assumed he was in charge. If the Cofah military was anything like her own, only important people got to tinker with the dress code. For a moment, she thought of her own commander, Colonel Ridge Zirkander, and the way his non-regulation cap was always tilted at a rakish angle, but she hurried to push the image away, lest tears form in her eyes. She could be tough while they questioned her, but only as long as she didn’t let herself think of comrades—friends—back home... and whether she would ever see them again.
“Lieutenant Caslin ‘Raptor’ Ahn,” High Lord Cloak said, settling on the stool. “Wolf Squadron.”
Cas searched for something cocky to say, something to show that she wasn’t intimidated by him or this situation—Zirkander would have had a witty riposte for this statement of the obvious—but all she got out was a muffled, “Yeah?” Her lips were split and swollen from the beating. Even that single syllable hurt.
“Raptor?” Cloak made a point of eying her up and down, or rather, since she was on the floor, forward and back. Then he smirked. “Truly?”
Cas would have liked to stand up and tower threateningly over him, but she had to wear her thick-soled combat boots to brush the five-foot-two mark on a measuring wall. So far, she hadn’t managed to tower over anyone older than ten. It would have hurt too much to climb to her feet anyway.