When Hollywood Gets It Wrong

I recently read this post by Eric Goebelbecker, and he links to an article where Hollywood attacks the movie rating site Rotten Tomatoes.

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Too much truth here.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Rotten Tomatoes is an online site where they aggregate critic reviews and give a total rank. The NY Times article above goes into more detail as to how they choose who is and isn’t included in the reviews they aggregate, but it sounds to me like Rotten Tomatoes does a pretty good job. Especially as they try to include a more diverse group of reviews that the traditional middle-aged white male perspective.

Still, the whole things does reinforces the term “la la land” for Hollywood.

Because, rather than them taking a hard look at the movies they’re making and asking themselves why they’re flops, they’re blaming a rating agency for giving those who go to their site the truth as a wider array of critics, and eventually viewers themselves, sees it.

And this is what people want.

Rotten Tomatoes gets more than 13 million unique visitors every day.

If Hollywood were honest with themselves, they’d take a hard look at the competition. And I don’t mean just other movies.

They are competing with so many other forms of entertainment that they really have to bring their top game.

 

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Too much truth here, too.

Let’s face it, our choices are more expansive that ever:

  • Reading books
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Video Games – whether phone, console or PC
  • On Demand TV – Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc.
  • Whatever the heck it is millennials do on their phones

Many of these forms of entertainment are “free”. Once I pay for my Netflix subscription, I can watch what I want when I wish.

For my husband and I to go to the movies to see a single movie costs more than my monthly Netflix subscription. Add to that the cost of a babysitter, and the fact if I wait a few months, I can rent it or buy it for less than the cost of going to the theater, and we just don’t go. Especially as home theater systems and big screen TVs have become a whole lot more affordable.

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Way too much truth.

And while Hollywood is bemoaning their “plight” with Rotten Tomatoes, HBO was laughing all the way to the bank as they cashed in on Game of Thrones.

So yes, people are watching “TV”, although the seventy-plus minute final episode of season 7 bordered on movie-length.

Yet, people were lining up to watch it. Waiting in eager anticipation. Talking about it all week before and after the episode. Building enough anticipation that the show has only gotten more popular, despite the gap of a year or more between seasons.

Yes, Game of Thrones has Drogon, and that’s hard to beat.

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But there’s a lot more to the show than Drogon. There’s a list of characters pages long that viewers have come to care about. Come to love. That we tune in to see what happens to them even they aren’t fire-breathing reptiles.

And yes, HBO spent a lot of money of those special effects. But it wasn’t all about special effects. How many of us were right there with Tyrion as he cursed Jamie for being an idiot as he charges Dany?

Perhaps if Hollywood could distill that and give it to us, they could make movies we want to see.

All in, I hope places like Rotten Tomatoes stick around. They give us what we want. If Hollywood would do the same, they wouldn’t have such an issue.

 

How about you? Do you go to movies? Ever used Rotten Tomatoes guides?

 

 

Why Fantasy?

I love science. You see me quote it in my posts a lot. Part of the reason I like it is because it can actually help give us predictable outcomes, make life better for everyone, and it isn’t dependent on opinion.

Science doesn’t care that you want the Earth to be the center of the universe. It isn’t. It’s demonstrable, provable, and repeatable. Anything else is a hypothesis rather than proven science.

If it turns out to be wrong, we change. From Newton to Einstein to Hawking, our knowledge grows and changes. Then the engineers get a hold of it and make fabulous things, like the phone in my purse.

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Given this, why do I love fantasy? Why do I have a character use a teleportation spell when I could use a transporter and the theory of quantum entanglement?

Here are six reasons I write fantasy:

 

  1. Dragons. You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? No matter how hard I try to realistically wrap dragons into a science fiction world, it feels wonky at best. Even in a fantasy world, you have to be careful with how you use dragons, what limits on their power you put, and how to keep them from becoming the god-beings they already see themselves as being. Perhaps FTL dragon space travel…

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  1. The White Knight – This has always been a favorite trope of mine, so of course they feature in my work. Yet, the white knight doesn’t feel right in much of sci fi. While Star Trek, at least TNG, took the high road and showed humans in a more Utopian universe, most of my experience with science fiction doesn’t go this route. It tends to be gritty, filled with anti-heroes, and a very bleak outlook on our future.

 

  1. Aesthetics. – This is tougher to define, but there’s something more fun to me about horses, silk dresses, and castles. Yes, I know the smell was horrible, hygiene lacking, and the castles drafty. I know how women were treated since the advent of the plow. But that’s not what I’m writing about. This is a fantasy world with a different pantheon of gods and a different history. Once we add in magic, the benefit of brawn over brains diminishes. It allows me to experiment with good and evil in different ways.Which leads me to…

 

  1. Good Always Wins – I find this is easier to realistically achieve in fantasy world. Unless…

 

  1. Space Opera – Unless I am looking at writing Space Opera. Which, I have considered. I’ve had a few ideas floating around for alien words on the edge of the galaxy. I’d got he space opera route partially because a big portion of what interests me in Sci Fi is alien worlds, colonization, etc. That means FTL travel, and FTL travel doesn’t mesh with science as we know it. And yes, I do like space opera. Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly. Westerns aren’t my thing, but wow, I loved Firefly. Still mad as anything that they canceled that show.

 

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How about you? Do like sci fi or fantasy? Which do you prefer to read or write? Why?

To Catch a Dragon (Part 3)

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You can catch up on the story at Part 1 and Part 2.

To Catch a Dragon (Part 3)

He awoke to the warmth of a healing spell followed by a most un-Knightly curse.

Ndrek smiled up at Vaiya. “Thank you, though I think Knight Kailis would have preferred you to let me die.”

Knight Kailis balled her fists as she turned on her heel to face him. “What in the seven hells were you doing out here alone?”

A bit of the fire he’d seen in her once was peeking through her paladin veneer, and Ndrek couldn’t help but smile. “Looking for dragons. Alas, I fear they prefer beautiful young virgins. As I am none of those, I might have been more successful if you had joined me.”

“This isn’t funny.”

“I was not laughing.” Ndrek stood and waved his hand across his robes. The mud, sticks, and grass vanished. Though Vaiya’s healing spell had repaired the worst of his injuries, he still felt as if he’d spent the night drinking hellfires and black phoenixes.

“Who attacked you?” Vaiya asked.

He looked at the petite woman with russet hair and jade eyes who seemed all the smaller compared to the Valkyrie beside her. But Ndrek had learned long ago never to judge a person by their stature, especially when they channeled the power of the gods.

“I was not attacked. Not exactly,” Ndrek said.

“Then how’d you end up face down in the dirt?” Kailis asked.

“Some sort of magic force.” Ndrek waved his hand as he stumbled with the words. “Whatever it was, it knocked me aside.”

Kailis tightened a hand over the hilt of her sword. “Magic. But we didn’t feel anything, and none of the townspeople complained of it.”

“How many of them are wizards?” Vaiya said.

“You think it’s targeting magic users?”

“I do not think it cares about magic users,” Ndrek said. “If it did, it would have killed me. It had ample opportunity.”

“Then why attack you?” Kailis said.

“I believe I was an accidental casualty. If you had felt the power…” Ndrek shook his head. “I am not a threat to it. Not even a lich is a threat to it. I have never felt such immense power.”

Kailis frowned. “Do you think it was a dragon?”

“Perhaps. Or an elven arch mage.”

“Those don’t exist either,” Kailis said.

Ndrek shrugged, hiding his curiosity under a bland expression. For the first time since he’d joined Sir Marcus, he felt a prick of excitement. Danger, yes, but finally here was something unknown. Something new.

“What do we do now?” Viaya looked at the Knight.

Kailis fidgeted then looked down at the dragon on her shield. “We follow orders. We go to Kelleran and see if we can find evidence of a dragon.”

“And whatever it was that attacked Ndrek?”

“If it’s after magic users, he’s the only one in the area. It’ll be back, and we’ll be ready.”

Ndrek only smiled. The being may come back, but they would most assuredly not be ready.

 

Ndrek was rather disappointed when they arrived in Kelleran without coming across the source of the immense magic.

Unlike the other villages, Kelleran was quite crowded as people from the surrounding areas and as far away as Aerius had descended on the town in hopes of seeing a dragon. Kailis’s presence confirmed to those gathered that the dragon was, indeed, real.

Still, her popularity meant everyone was telling her what they knew. While the stories varied from improbable to impossible, the trio quickly learned that none of the stories matched. The only thing any of them could agree on was the dragon footprint they’d found near Lake Meade.

“Is the footprint still there?” Ndrek asked.

“Gone,” Kailis said. “Wiped away by rains.”

“Did you see it before it was destroyed?”

Kailis thought for a moment too long.

“You saw something. What was it?”

“Faint outline at best, and the locals had to point it out to us. If it was a footprint, the creature that left it had to be as big as the royal palace.”

“Hard for villagers to forge such a thing, yes?”

“Not saying they made it up, but they might have been seeing what they wanted to see.”

“The sun is still high. Let us investigate this lake.”

“Can’t take another night of weak ale and local gossip?” Vaiya asked.

“I would rather have hot coals placed on my back.”

“You might like that a little too much,” Vaiya said.

Ndrek grinned at her, and Kailis frowned at them both.

After packing a lunch of fresh bread, dried meat, and cheese, the trio followed a cow path to Lake Meade.

Ndrek sucked in a breath as he looked at the massive expanse of water. Lake did not convey the immensity of the body water that extended beyond the horizon. It reminded him of the ocean, but rather than the tang of salt and fish, it smelled like the morning after a rainstorm.

Watching the waves lap the shore and the sun illuminate the water, Ndrek eased his horse to the edge of the lake.

“How deep is this lake?”

Kailis shrugged. “Deeper than most. Mountains further south feed it with spring run-off, and there are several underground springs that empty into it as well.”

“Deep enough for a dragon the size of the royal palace to dive into for a snack?”

Kailis paused. “Yeah. I suppose it is.”

Ndrek nodded. “We should proceed with caution.”

 

To Catch a Dragon (Part 1)

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As I’ve been working through my novels, I ocassionally take my characters on a “test drive” in different scenarios to see how they’d handle them, if there’s any chemistry, etc. I thought I’d share some of those on the blog. Let’s me do some character development, and gives you some (hopefully) fun short stories.

As always, comments are welcome.
To Catch a Dragon

Ndrek sat behind the bar, sizing up each of his mid-afternoon customers. Some had started drinking early, others had rented a room for the night and were just starting their day. Boredom itched.

Now was as good a time as any to start work on the new spell he’d discovered.

As he slid off his stool, the door to the bar opened and the man that entered had to stoop to get under the doorframe. His shoulders matched his height, and the gold dragon on his breastplate seemed to glow in the dim light.

The archetype for the Knights of Valor.

Sir Leopold grimaced at the sticky floor.

“To what do I owe this…” Ndrek paused. “Honor?”

The Knight leaned against the bar, his back to the wall as his faded blue eyes surveyed the tap room. “Don’t believe for a minute you’ve settled down as a barkeeper.”

“That is not what brought a High-Knight to my humble establishment. Perhaps you came for a Fire and Brimstone? My establishment is said to make the very best.”

Leopold looked at the pristine glasses behind the counter. “At least those are clean.”

“Too much cleanliness would scare away my best customers.”

Leopold’s eyes narrowed. “Not what I came to see you about, though I probably should.”

“What has brought you here?”

The Knight reached into his cloak and withdrew a sheaf of papers imprinted with the wax seal of the dragon church.

“A writ?”

“Interested?”

Ndrek sucked in a breath as he looked at the sealed documents. “You have an army of Knights blessed by Dracor Himself. Why would you have need of me?”

“We’ve been issuing more of them lately. Not enough Knights to oversee all of Tamryn and the eastern provinces.”

“Then you need more Knights.”

“That’s up to Dracor,” Leopold said.

Ndrek bit back his quip about fickle gods.

“Figuring you’re getting bored about now. This’ll keep you busy and out of trouble. Pay’s not bad either.”

Ndrek grinned and took the papers, but he frowned as he read them. “This is a goose chase, as you Tamarians say. Dragons have been extinct since before men walked these lands.”

“Locals of Kelleran don’t agree with that assessment.”

“A dragon.” Ndrek rocked back on his heels as he tried to wrap his brain around the thought. “Are you sure?”

“Nope, but that’s where you come in.”

“Would not the followers of the Dragon God Dracor wish to be first on the scene?”

“Already sent a contingent of Knights.”

“Let me guess. They did not return?”

“Of course they did. They didn’t see any dragons, and they didn’t find any proof that there’d ever been any.”

“Then why send me?”

“Found a few things that made some folks worry there might’ve been a dragon. Knights couldn’t tell if it was real or a hoax.”

“Would not the Knights know this best?”

“Dracor might take the form of a dragon, but dragons are magical beasts.”

“No wizard was with the team you sent?”

Sir Leopold shook his head.

“So you think I will be able to tell for sure.”

“That’s the reasoning, anyway.”

Ndrek looked at the bundle of papers, including the generous payout. Far more interesting than tending bar.

Sir Leopold pushed off the bar. “I’ll send Knight Kailis over. She was on the original expedition. And Priestess Vaiya.”

“Was she on the original expedition as well?’

“No, but I figure if you find a dragon, you might want the healing skills of Priestess of Thalia on your side.”

Ndrek frowned. “You think there might actually be a dragon.”

“Doesn’t much matter what I think. It’s what you find that counts. I’ll send Knight Kailis over in the morning.”

Ndrek watched the High-Knight leave and looked down at the papers in his hands.

If Sir Leopold thought it was a goose chase, he wouldn’t be sending Ndrek, a Knight, and a Priestess of Thalia to investigate.

Sir Leopold hadn’t become a High-Knight by being wrong.

 

Where Are the Dragons?

The current books I am writing all take place in the same world. You’ll see the same characters, but each book is stand alone and has its own romance.

To date, I have not introduced a dragon character. Do I have them in my head, you betcha. At the moment, though, the people of my world believe that humans may carry a drop or two of dragon blood in their veins, but that dragons themselves were destroyed by the god that created them.

So, I love dragons, and I want to add them to my story, but a dragon takes things to a different level. They aren’t something you can just add without potentially unbalancing the world.

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As a romance writer, if I add a dragon, I also have to have an appropriate female love interest in the story. That’s a core part of the genre. That means we need an appropriately formidable female protagonist.

I have no issues with this as I enjoy strong female characters. No suitcases, please. But, that adds another layer of complexity if I have two such powerful characters.

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But, I still want them!

Anderantamosien, who goes by Ander to us mere mortals, is all ready to make his entrance. I have a full backstory for him, his character flushed out, and a motivation. I even have an idea for his love interest. The downside is that love interest would be the daughter of two characters whose story I’ve already written. I’m not sure I want to move time along in my world that much just yet. Although, strangely, I already have ideas for the children of other characters whose stories I’ve written as well. Perhaps this is because I already know so much about them and their parents.

What I’m struggling with is giving Ander an appropriate antagonist without becoming too Dragon Ball Z. I need to give this more time, let the thoughts percolate, but I most assuredly need to bring dragons into the world.

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For the moment, I’ve established the Dragon God, a symbol of justice and righteousness. He’s part of the Holy Trinity that includes the Goddess of Wisdom and the Goddess of Mercy. There’s the Unholy Triumvirate to oppose them. There are other gods, such as the god of death, that are part of the pantheon, but not really on the side of good or evil.

So, yes, I have established that dragons once existed. Ander’s story will talk about their fall and their current place in the world.

But I still need to give him a true challenge, a true adversary that could take all he wants. And I’m not looking to retell a Beauty and the Beast tale. Ander can, and does, take human form. Still haven’t decided if that should have an impact on what buildings he can walk in  or if, you know, magic. Because if a dragon has the kind of magic to take human form, of course he can adjust his mass accordingly.

 

How about you? Ever write or read a book with something as epic as dragons? How did you or the author you read handle them? Did you like it? Why or why not? Also, if you know any good romance novels with dragons in them, please put them in comments! I have been searching for books with this done right, and it’s been very difficult to find.

6 Reasons We Love Dragons

We train them, we fear them, and we mother them. These fictional beasts have captured our imaginations.

We all know the real reasons we all love Daenerys Targaryen: Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion.

I have liked dragons my whole life. While other little girls put up pictures of movie stars and rock stars in their rooms, I had posters of dragons. I still remember the first time I saw Maleficent turn into a dragon. I was awestruck. She was so amazing. So cool. I was hooked and a bit miffed when the prince and three fairies killed her.

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It wasn’t until I met DH that my eyes were really opened to everything that was out there. I’d thought I was alone being an adult and still thinking dragons were cool. (I can almost hear your laughter from here. I know. I was naive.)

He introduced me to Tolkien, D&D, and all sorts of other dragon adventures. For someone that had never really known about any of this, it was like seeing a new world. It was my first forray into high fantasy, and I’ve never looked back.

I devoured everything I could get my hands on, but that was mostly books. If there was anything on the screen, we had to settle for cartoon dragons. It wasn’t until the advent of good, okay really good, CGI that the Smaug of my imagination made it to the big screen, or at least close to the Smaug of my imagination.

And CGI gave us Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. Makes me wonder what they could do with the Anne McCaffrey novels I read in my youth.

So why do we love dragons so much? There are lots of reasons.

 

Here are the six main reasons I love dragons. 

1. Flying Mounts – Yes, you get to ride them. Into battle. They might be as large as a house or the size of a mountain. Doesn’t matter. I can’t think of a cooler ride.

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2. Power – Dragons are frequently depicted as strong and powerful. Much like the alpha male trope, just scalier. If you are writing a D&D adventure, the dragon is always the end-boss. If you’re playing a video game, the dragon is that unbeatable end boss that an NPC can call a false diety with a straight face.

3. Magical – whether casting spells, deflecting them, or breathing fire, dragons are inherently creatures of magic. This feeds back into the power of point 2 above, but it’s more than that. There is nothing mundane or boring about a dragon.

4. Ruthless – Dragons play by their own rules. They are going to achieve their ends, even if it means centuries of manipulation. They are not bound by the concepts of good and evil as mere mortals are.

5. Ancient – whether an ancient force for good or evil depends, but there is an ancient wisdom and mysticism to them.

6. Epic – a dragon promises an epic story. Little things like armies do not slow them. They are the ultimate ally or the greatest foe. You can’t introduce a dragon into a story in a small way. There is nothing mightier than being the Dragonborn, Mother of Dragons, or Dragon Rider.

 

What do you think? Do you love dragons? Why or why not? What were your favorite ones?

Dragon Fire

Chunk Wendig posted a flash fiction challenge that the story must include a dragon. As a fantasy romance writer, I took this opportunity to work on an idea that has been percolating for a while. 

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Dragon Fire

“Errand boy. Do I look like an errand boy?”

I like market day. I don’t mind bringing back supplies.

“Only because Kassia brings you sugar cubes. Whoever heard of a dragon with a sweet tooth?” Ceric asked as the cold thin air ruffled his dark hair.

The silver dragon snorted and rolled through the sky.

Ceric cursed and concentrated on staying astride Xensnisir as they soared over the sprawling farmers’ fields, the thick forests, and the high cliffs.

You just wish she brought you sugar cubes. And she would if you’d ask her.

Ceric’s chest tightened as he glanced back toward the cliffs and saw the breeze tangle Kassia’s hair as she watched him and Xensnisir swoop through the darkening sky.

“She’s there again,” Ceric muttered.

She is most nights.

“She should be safe inside her house. The sun’ll set soon.”

She comes to watch us.

The dragon spun through the air, dived, and then darted back into the clouds.

“Show off.”

You would miss her if she did not come. I gave her a reason to keep coming.

“We need to get these supplies back to the Heights, remember?”

We could take her home first to make sure she gets there safely. I would like to feel her on my back.

“I bet you would.” Ceric snorted.

You would like to feel her, too.

He started to argue, but knew it was foolish to lie to a creature that read his thoughts. “She’s Farmer Ennis’s youngest daughter.”

You say that like it means something.

“He doesn’t like dragons.”

No, he doesn’t like their riders. But it’s not him I want on my back.

“It doesn’t work that way.”

It could. You desire her, and she returns your interest.

“Maybe. Possibly. But that doesn’t matter.”

It’s all that matters.

He thought of her luminous sea green eyes and the pretty smile she saved for Xensnisir. Maybe for him, too, if Ceric thought about it. He’d considered offering her a ride on Xensnisir several times, but disapproving looks from her father and Dragon-Captain Corrant’s edict to reduce strife with the locals had stopped him.

Ceric glanced back toward the cliffs where he could see her outline and swallowed back a surge of emotion. “She would be an entanglement, a distraction, one we can’t afford. Especially with our next mission.”

She could be in trouble. Dark Ones have been seen in the area, but they have learned to avoid us.

Glancing at the darkening sky, Ceric cursed, knowing the Dark Ones would be out soon. Thoughts of what they would do to her if they caught her had him turning Xensnisir around. “We’re just seeing her home. No need for another lecture from Corrant.”

If a dragon could grin, Ceric knew his would be.

 

Kassia watched from the high cliffs as Ceric and Xensnisir glided past, and her heart leapt as the dragon somersaulted, dived towards the ground and then soared back into the clouds. Exhilaration flooded her as she imagined slicing through the sky on a dragon’s back with a dragon rider’s strong arms around her.

Not just any dragon rider. Ceric Mason.

A smile curved her lips as she remembered him and his dragon helping with the harvest when the rains came early, and when he’d searched through the night and risked the Dark Ones to bring little Lyra home.

Kassia’s mother warned dragon riders only led to a belly full of child, heartbreak, and shame. Her mother might be right; a dragon rider was purported to be the reason why her cousin Dana’s first child had come only six months after her marriage.

But Kassia’s heart still flew when she saw Ceric.

Foolish to feel anything for a dragon rider. Strong, handsome, and guardians of the lands, they had their choice of partners and were known philanderers. Some said it was the dragon bond that drove them to infidelity, others that they took advantage of their position. Either way, the dragons and their riders were all that stood between farmers like her family and the Dark Ones.

Shivering at the thought, Kassia turned from her perch on the cliff and hurried along the wooded path toward home.

In an attempt to lighten her spirit, she entertained a dozen excuses for talking to Ceric the next time he was at the market and dismissed each in kind.

The encroaching darkness froze such silliness.

The dragon and his rider had come back later than usual, and she’d stayed longer than normal on the cliffs watching their antics. She cursed herself for losing track of time and prayed for Thalia to watch over her.

Darkness fell faster among the trees than it did in the open grasslands by her house.

Things stirred in the shadows, and Kassia’s heart thumped against her ribs as she hurried along the path.

Not too fast, she cautioned herself. Movement lured the Dark Ones almost as much as the scent of human blood.

A branch snapped in the trees behind her, and then a second. The musk of rotting leaves followed her and fueled her fear.

Night sank in around her as the last rays of sunlight painted the land outside the forest crimson. Her breath caught as the sounds slunk closer, and the scent made her stomach churn.

A rustling ahead and to her left. They were circling around her.

Fear slid like ice through her veins.

She ran.

Without thought, without direction, she flew down the path. Going home would only lead them to her family and their livestock. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, do that.

The cliffs. If she jumped, the Dark Ones wouldn’t feast on her, and there was something to be said for that.

As she clambered over a log, it leapt out of the darkness. She raised her arm to shield herself, and its claws raked across her, tearing through muscle and grinding against bone.

She screamed and fell to the ground, the beast’s momentum carrying it over her head and slamming it into a tree.

Blood soaked her shirt and dripped on the ground.

It stood and grinned, its razor sharp teeth glinting in the twilight as its forked tongue licked the blood from its claws.

The smell of rotting leaves intensified as more things shifted and stirred. She wanted to look behind her, but that would expose her back to the one that had already tasted her blood. Her right arm hung at her side, and she balled the tatters of her shirt to press against the gaping wound. The bleeding slowed, but the scent of her blood stained the air.

Surrounded. She could hear them closing in on her.

Dark Ones preferred to eat their prey alive and used the screams to lure other humans, other prey. Thalia hadn’t answered her other prayer, but she said another and begged for a quick end.

She swallowed a scream as a strong arm looped around her waist and a silver sword hacked the Dark One opposite her in half.

The slithering in the forest paused as they assessed this new threat.

With dragon strength, Ceric lifted her and darted back through the forest, using surprise and his inhuman speed to gain distance.

The Dark Ones stirred behind him, snarls and gnashing teeth giving chase.

Kassia’s good arm tightened around him as she buried her face against his chest and thanked Thalia.

They burst through the forest, and she heard a great inhale then felt the whisper of heat.

Shrieks and howls rent the night as dragon fire engulfed the things following them.

More come. The blood calls them.

“I know,” Ceric said as he levered himself and Kassia onto Xensnisir’s back.

“Know what?” Kassia asked.

Ceric shook his head. “Anything we can do?”

If her wound is not tended soon, she will die. We will burn the Dark Ones once she is safe.

“Then get us outta here.”

The dragon obliged, and with two powerful beats of his wings, they were soaring over the top of the forest and back into the clouds.

His heart steadied as the cool breeze tousled his hair and his breathing calmed. Sucking in the cold, bracing air, Ceric cradled her against his chest.

The Dark Ones had almost gotten her. Almost.

A curse stroked his tongue, but he bit it back as he looked into her eyes. Fear made them bright, and she shivered against the heat of his chest. He tightened his arms around her and stroked her butter-colored hair to comfort her.

“If I die,” she whispered, “at least I got to ride a dragon.”

“You don’t get to die. Not on my watch.”

She smiled at the arrogance her father warned her about. But Ceric meant it. He wanted to protect her, to keep her safe, and he was doing everything in his power to accomplish that.

Death stalked her despite Ceric’s efforts, and she silenced thoughts of her father’s recriminations as she enjoyed the rich scent of her dragon rider, reveled in the feel of his strong arms wrapped around her, and exhilarated at the bump of the air currents.

She was flying. With Ceric.

A smile curved her lips as her eyes closed.

Ceric looked down at her slack face, heard her ragged breathing, and felt her blood soaking through his riding leathers. He swallowed back a curse as he held her tightly against him.

The healers in the Heights know how to treat Dark One wounds. Especially Maida.

“Hurry.”

I am.

Impatience nipped at Ceric as Xensnisir raced through the sky. Their trip home took half the time it normally did, but Ceric didn’t notice as they finally reached the Heights.

He half slid half fell off Xensnisir, but he kept Kassia cradled against his chest.

A woman in cinnamon robes stitched with silver embroidery hurried out and examined Kassia’s arm.

“Will she…”

“Seen worse on new riders not careful around their fledglings,” Maida snapped. “Now get her inside.”

He carried Kassia into the bright temple, laid her on the sickbed, and stepped back. Folding his arms across his chest, he leaned against the doorframe and waited for Maida to try to chase him away. She didn’t.

Whispering a spell, Maida touched her hand to Kassia’s chest, and the farm girl’s breathing steadied even as Maida cleaned the wound and rubbed pungent ointments into it. She then stitched it with silver sutures, whispered another spell, and bound Kassia’s arm in fresh linens.

When she was done, she looked at the dragon rider in her doorway and the enormous beast that lurked just beyond. “She needs rest and to keep the wound clean. And no extended dragon flights. I want to see her again in a couple days.”

Ceric nodded and lifted Kassia into his arms.

“She was lucky,” Maida said. “You and Xensnisir need to take better care of her.”

“Take better care of her? She’s a farmer…” Ceric started, but the surprised look on Maida’s face had him whirling toward Xensnisir. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Kassia’s eyes fluttered open, she mumbled something, and then lay her head against his chest as she shivered.

It will wait. Kassia needs you now.

Ceric’s eyes narrowed, but he carried her out to the waiting dragon.

Xensnisir flew them up to their cave and landed as lightly as a cat.

Ceric slid to the ground still cradling Kassia against his chest.

The dragon bowed his head and nudged Ceric’s shoulder. She will be well again.

Ceric rubbed the dragon’s nose. “She will, and then I’ll kill her for being up there after dark.”

Do not be too harsh with her. She was there because of me.

“And you’re going to tell me why Maida thought we should be taking care of her.”

Perhaps.

The dragon curled in front of the entryway to Ceric’s sleeping chambers, tucking his wings into his body as he rested his head on his fore paws and guarded the entrance.

Ceric had never seen Xensnisir so protective. It was unlike his dragon to keep secrets, but Ceric was too tired to pursue it now. The morning, however, would see him getting answers

He carried Kassia to his bed and eased her against the sheets. After gently removing her bloodstained clothes, he quickly tucked a thick blanket around her.

By the Light, she was injured. What was wrong with him?

She is beautiful. I would like to see her naked, too. But not tonight.

“What has gotten into you?”

Xensnisir didn’t answer.

Ceric opened a cupboard and pulled down several more blankets. “Looks like a night on the floor.”

Room enough for two humans. And she will want you close after such a scare.

Exhaustion robbed him of the desire to argue. Ceric stripped out of his bloodstained clothes and slid into bed beside her. Even with a blanket wrapped around her to keep her flesh from touching his, the scent of her whispered around him, taunting, tempting and luring.

As sleep finally claimed him, he could hear his dragon snickering.