View our feature on Katie MacAlister’s The Unbearable Lightness of Dragons.
Ysolde Bouchier is still coming to terms with the dragon part of her, while at the same time trying to free a friend of Baltic-her Black Dragon lover-from the weyr, get Baltic to meet with the dragons who want him dead, rescue a half-dragon damsel in over her head, raise the shade of the man everyone says killed her, and once and for all clear Baltic's name of the murder charges that continue to plague him.
For Ysolde, being a dragon is starting to bite.
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Katie MacAlister lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dogs, and can often be found lurking around online game sites.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Blinking at the sudden sound of a male voice, I turned to see who was speaking, at the same time taking in the noxious smells that wafted around me. I appeared to be in some sort of a dark, rough alleyway that lay between two rows of tall, narrow houses, the overhangs of which blocked out any streams of sunlight that might try to make it down to the ground. Not that there was any sun to be seen now, since it was nighttime, but I was willing to bet that even on the hottest day of the year, the alley would remain dank and unwelcoming.
A crude wooden door next to me bore an almost illegible plaque informing unwary visitors that one Master Bertram would mix pigments for a small fee.
“Painter’s shop,” I murmured to myself, my nose wrinkling at the smell. I was used to the scent of items commonly used to make paint—plants, ore, and such—but the odors that assailed me had their origins with humans and animals. I eyed an open barrel next to me that made my eyes burn. Urine, no doubt, collected for the purposes of making paint. “Just my luck—I haven’t had a vision for a month, and when I get one, it has a great big barrel of pee in it.”
The woman’s voice called my attention back from where I was trying to avoid stepping in any of the refuse that clogged the close alley. Skirting the urine barrel, I took a few steps toward the dark figures that stood almost invisible in the deep shadows cast by the buildings, faint light from a couple of sputtering torches the only means of illumination.
The distant sound of voices raised in song reached my ears as in front of me two figures approached each other.
“Why have you summoned me to Rothenburg?” the man demanded to know in an arrogant, somehow familiar voice.
I took a couple of steps closer until I could see the face of the speaker, dimly lit by a torch that leaned drunkenly from a nearby iron sconce.
The woman’s form moved, blocking my view for a moment before she shifted to the side. “You ignored the warnings. You were told what would happen if you continued. Now you must pay.”
I moved to the left, my eyes widening as I watched Constantine Norka, once a black dragon and rival heir to the wyvern of that sept, laugh first at the woman, then at the two men who emerged from the darkness behind him. “Do you think to frighten me? I am afraid of no dragon alive, and certainly not of you and your friends.”
The woman’s jaw tightened. The two guys behind Constantine closed in, although they kept a respectable distance from him.
“It will be our pleasure to teach you how wrong you’ve been,” she said with a wholly unpleasant smile. “You thought I did not mean what I said? Then you are foolish as well as wrong.”
Constantine laughed again, shaking his head as if in dismay when the woman’s hands started moving in an intricate pattern that I knew cast a harmful spell. “You are here to chastise me, I suppose? I’m not the one who is foolish, then. You have not heard that your precious Baltic is no longer in the sept of the black dragons?”
What the hell? Was Constantine insane, or was I? Sometimes it was hard to know the truth, since my memory of the last five hundred years had been more or less wiped out. But some of that had returned since I’d found Baltic two months past, and I didn’t remember a thing about this little bombshell.
The woman checked, a frown between her brows as she said quickly, “What nonsense is this?”
“It is the truth.” Constantine leaned casually against a battered wooden door. “He was declared ouroboros at the command of the First Dragon for crimes committed against dragonkin. So not even you, who have Baltic in your pocket, can change the fact that I will be named wyvern.”
The woman looked stunned for a few seconds, blinking rapidly as she digested this information. I knew exactly how she felt—if what Constantine said was true, when had it happened? And why on earth hadn’t Baltic or someone told me about it?
“I do not believe you,” she said in a somewhat faltering voice. “Baltic would not . . . What crime did he commit?”
Constantine shrugged. “It is of no matter to me whether you believe me. I do not discuss sept business with those outside the weyr, so if you wish to know more, you will need to ask your pet himself.” A little sneer crept over his face. “I’ve long said Baltic was a weakling; that he hides behind a woman’s skirts proves the fact that he is the basest of cowards, as well. How much did he pay you to threaten me?”
Her hands fisted. “He did not send me, if that is what you mean. I came of my own accord, as a friend to Baltic, because I know well that you have done your best to usurp his rightful position.”
Constantine snorted. “I am the heir to the wyvern of the black dragons, mage, not Baltic. He did his best to undermine that fact with Alexei, but it is I who am victorious, while he is no longer even recognized as a dragon.”
Alexei? That name rang a bell in the dim recesses of my memory. He was the wyvern before Baltic. Which meant that the time this vision was presenting must also be before Baltic was wyvern—but that couldn’t be.
The woman swore under her breath. “This is some trickery of yours, I am bound to believe. You said the dragon ancestor was involved. How did you manage that?”
Her words came out with the velocity of bullets. I stepped back, not wanting to get within range of eye contact with her.
“I am well-known to the First Dragon,” Constantine bragged with an easy smile. The two men behind him, evidently hearing the confidence in his voice, moved back as well. “But you are mistaken in thinking I had anything to do with Baltic’s fall from grace. He managed that himself.”
The woman took a deep breath, her hands still fisted. “I will investigate your claims, dragon. If they prove as false as you are, then your suffering at my hands will treble.”
Something wasn’t right. How could I be having a vision of this time? I shook my head at the thought. I couldn’t. It just wasn’t possible.
“Yet more threats. How I will live in fear,” Constantine answered with obvious amusement.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” I said as I moved forward until I was next to him. “I wasn’t even born until Baltic had been wyvern for almost a hundred years. Constantine, what is happening?”
The woman smiled again, and it was just as unpleasant as the previous time. “I look forward to proving to you that I am not to be taken lightly.”
“Hello? Can anyone hear me?” I waved my hand in front of the woman’s face, but obviously neither she nor Constantine registered my presence, which made sense, seeing as I hadn’t been alive at this time. But why was I seeing this moment in the past? And who on earth was this woman that she felt comfortable speaking in such a threatening manner to a powerful dragon?
“This conversation is putting me to sleep. If you are done with your empty threats, I will leave you to practice your vainglorious speeches.”
A little corona of blue-white light crackled around her at Constantine’s words. I frowned at it, trying to remember where I’d seen something similar, shaking my head when my brain refused to cooperate.
“The day will come when you will regret those words,” she warned.
“I regret only the amount of time I’ve wasted on you. You lured me into your grasp by telling me you could aid me, when all along it was Baltic you championed. I knew that, of course, for despite your opinion, I am no fool. But it amused me nonetheless to watch you cavort in your attempts to promote his cause while hindering mine. Your antics are no longer entertaining, however. Quite simply, Lady Antonia, you bore me.”
The woman reached right through me to slap Constantine. Both of us jumped. I stared at her in stark surprise, examining her face. Lady Antonia. She had to be Antonia von Endres, the famous archimage, and once Baltic’s lover.
I narrowed my eyes at her, wondering if that was why I had been given the vision—to engage my jealousy? Enrage was more like it. . . .
“All right, I’m willing to admit that I’m lost,” I told the pair. “The only other visions I’ve had have been memories of my past that the dragon inside me used to try to get me to remember who I am. I’ve never once seen one where I wasn’t there in person. But assuming this is a really pathetic attempt to incite jealousy, I have to tell you guys that it’s failed. I’m not jealous of Baltic’s relationships before he met me. Not in the least. They don’t matter at all. Not even the fact that you would give him your infamous light sword just because he was so incredible between the sheets matters to me.” A little belch of fire erupted around Antonia’s feet. I pretended I didn’t see it.
Without another word, Antonia—not seeing the fire any more than she had seen me—executed a one-eighty turn and marched off into the darkness, her two bully boys following with only brief smoldering glances at Constantine as they passed him.
I watched until they all disappeared into the shadows, then turned my gaze to Constantine. “You’re not going to take that, are you?”
He ignored me, just as I assumed he would, instead rubbing his face as he muttered something rude under his breath before turning to walk away in the opposite direction.
“I guess you are going to take that. Well.” I looked around the unkempt area, stared for a minute at the nearest shuttered windows of the tall, narrow houses, and made a frustrated gesture. A dog barked in the distance. A rat sat on the edge of the urine barrel and considered me. A duck wandered past, quacking softly to itself. “Now what the hell am I supposed to do?” I asked no one in particular.
My voice echoed against the building, growing louder and louder until it seemed to fill my head with pounding, nonstop noise.
“Stop!” I yelled, my hands over my ears as I doubled up in pain.
“OK, but I thought you’d like them.”
My eyes shot open at the matter-of-fact voice. I looked into the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, one who held a portable music device in one hand, a black cord trailing from it to my head. “Brom?”
“You don’t like Rampaging Wildebeests?” He looked at the music player, then at me, his serious brown eyes considering me with a perception that belied his nine years. “OK, but you were dancing around like crazy to ‘Take Me by the Horns’ the other day. I thought you’d like their new CD.”
With a shaky hand I pulled off the headphones my son had put on me while I was off in vision-land. “They’re very nice. Loud, but nice. Are you done settling in? And . . . er . . . how long have you been standing there?”
Brom sat down beside me on the warm stone bench that clung to the side of the house. “Yeah, I’ve unpacked, although I hope this is the last time we move. And a couple of minutes. You had a funny look on your face. Were you thinking about something a long time ago?”
I hadn’t told Brom much about the visions I’d had a couple of months before. They ceased after that fateful day when we had been ostracized from the weyr by the rest of the dragons, and I assumed the part of me that had once been a dragon in centuries past had given up trying to get me to acknowledge it. “Something like that. I told your stepfather that three houses in two months was enough, so hopefully he’ll stop insisting we move every few weeks.”
“Jim says Baltic isn’t my stepfather, not unless you marry him, and you’re still married to Gareth, except maybe he’s married to Ruth. Jim says that’s illegal, and that Baltic is going to string him up by his balls if he ever finds him again. Jim says you might do the same.”
I eyed my child. “Trust that demon to become your go-to source of information. Honey, when I said you could talk to Jim despite the fact that we are at war with the other dragons, I didn’t expect you to discuss our personal issues.”
Brom squinted at me. “Is it true?”
“That Baltic is going to string up your father by his testicles? No, of course not.”
“No, is it true that Baltic isn’t my stepdad until you guys get married?”
I slumped back against the rough stone of the old farmhouse that Baltic had taken as our latest refuge against possible attacks by other dragons. Explaining the intricacies of my relationship with Baltic hadn’t been high on the list of things I wanted to do. “No, it’s not true. You know that I was born many hundreds of years ago, right?”
“Yeah. You’re a dragon.”
“I was born a dragon. I’m not one now. Now I’m just a wyvern’s mate with a dragon inside. . . . well, that’s kind of complicated. Let’s stick to the easy stuff. I was born several hundred years ago, and met Baltic, who was the wyvern of his sept.”
“The black dragons. The one that Kostya runs now,” Brom said, nodding.
“Exactly.” I wondered briefly how Baltic had ended up back in the sept, and with enough standing to take control when the previous wyvern left, but figured that was something speculation wasn’t going to answer.
“And Kostya used to be his homey, but now they beat each other up. And Kostya keeps breaking Baltic’s nose.”
“Just twice,” I said, irritation rising at the memory of events a week past, when we had run into the black wyvern in London. “And only because Baltic was behaving properly and Kostya was being a rat fink. But that’s neither here nor there. When I met Baltic all those hundreds of years ago, I became his . . . er . . . wife. Then some things happened, and Kostya killed Baltic, and I lost my memory, and then about fifteen years ago, I married your father. Or I thought I did—I didn’t realize that Baltic had been resurrected, which meant I wasn’t really married to Gareth. So because I married Baltic first, I don’t need to marry him again in order for him to be your stepdad.”
Brom looked somewhat skeptical, but he didn’t dispute my somewhat convoluted explanation of the complex relationship I had with Baltic. “Jim was wrong, then?”
“Yes. Even demons as old as Jim can be wrong. You don’t have anything to worry about—Baltic is your father in all ways but actually having a blood relationship. You know he loves you, don’t you?”
“Well . . . he claimed me as his son. That’s the same thing, isn’t it?”
I sighed and gave Brom a swift hug and kiss on the top of his head. “For Baltic, that’s the very same thing. Remember what I told you about some men?”
“They have problems expressing their emotions, and you have to read between the lines,” Brom parroted from a previous discussion.
“Exactly. Baltic isn’t the sort of person who marches about telling everyone he loves them. Kind of like someone else I know,” I said with a little nudge of my elbow into his side. Brom had lately developed a horror of demonstrating affection whenever anyone else was around, feeling it was beneath his dignity. “His actions speak louder than his words, remember. And if he didn’t love you, he wouldn’t have gone out of his way to find houses that had space for you to set up your horrible mummy lab, now would he?”
He rolled his eyes. “Maybe. He does hug me.”
“There you go. You know, sometimes people need to know that you love them, too, and Baltic hasn’t really had anyone to love him for a very long time, so he needs all...
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