Teaser The Fractured Soul Dragon Saga Book 4
The wait is almost over! The fourth installment of the Dragon Saga is coming and very soon. Below is an unedited excerpt from the book.
Suzume’s body ached down to her bones. Dragging leaden feet, she staggered down the hall. A frigid wind blew off the ocean and a chill crept up her spine. With winter closing in, the days had gotten shorter, and lately she’d been rising before the sun. An ungodly hour to be certain. What was more shocking was the fact that she did it willingly. Even she was surprised with herself. In the past, she would have only left the comfort of her futon this early kicking and screaming. The constant twinges in her shoulders and ever present exhaustion would have been ample reason to sleep in.
Cracking opening her heavy lidded eyes, she flicked her wrist and cloaked herself in ambient heat created by her spiritual power. Bless Ryuu for teaching her the warming trick, it made dawn practice that much more bearable. Seeing improvement in her abilities drove her. Her control over her power wasn’t perfect, not yet, but each day she was getting closer. And knowing that made long days of practice worth it. But the warmth of her flame did make her sleepier and she ambled down the hall in a daze.
“Watch it!” A Jorōgumo, hung upside down in the hall, her black hair dangling close enough to tickle Suzume’s nose.
Suzume jumped backwards and drew her staff. It had been careless to let her guard down, even for a second. Kaito’s palace was crawling with hostile yokai. And Jorōgumo, half woman and half spider yokai were notoriously vicious. Her top half was that of a woman, with the eight legs of a spider coming from her back.
“Don’t try anything or I will burn you to ash,” Suzume said pointing her staff towards the Jorōgumo. She was wide awake now.
“Don’t you point that thing at me,” hissed the Jorōgumo, “you’re the one who nearly burned all my work with your carelessness.” she gestured towards the glistening threads of her web crisscrossing the hall.”
“Are you sure you supposed to be making webs here?” Suzume asked, taunting her was probably a bad idea, but she wouldn’t let the Jorōgumo intimidate her.
The Jorōgumo opened her mouth revealing pincers behind her human mouth.
“My mistake.” Suzume replied, sheathing her staff once more. On second thought, perhaps it was best to back away slowly. She’d had run ins with spider-yokai before, and that was enough for her. She scurried away, before the Jorōgumo took it in her head to wrap Suzume in that web.
Half asleep as she had been, she’d forgotten for a moment where she was, and what dangers lurked in these halls. While Suzume had trained and perfected her control over her power, Kaito’s and his subjects had been restoring his palace and his kingdom. Every day more and more yokai arrived, pleading their allegiance to Kaito. It still felt unreal as if she had stepped into an alternate world, similar to the one she had grown up in but wholly inhabited by yokai .
Outside the halls of the inner palace, she ran past a group of yokai repairing a roof. A Gashadokuro, a three story tall living skeleton handed materials to a group of Itachi, weasel yokai, on the roof top. The Gashadokuro turned empty cavernous eye sockets in her direction. Suzume looked away and quickened her pace. But the rattle of it’s bones followed her footsteps. Ever since it had arrived at the palace it had given her the creeps, you never knew if he was looking at you or not but you could always hear him coming. But as creepy as it was, the Itachi were far worse. Given the chance they were likely to trip her or change her tea for sea water. It was fortunate they were busy with repairs or she might have become the target of one of their pranks.
She weaved her way through the crowded courtyard, past a Tsubere Otoshi, A floating disembodied head, who balanced wooden planks, and yokai with giant puffed cheeks who blew fire onto forges and while another blue muscled yokai hammered metal with a hammer bigger than Suzume’s skull.
Making eye contact with yokai was inviting a fight and so she kept her head down as she walked. But being this close to so many yokai it set her teeth on edge and her skin crawling. Before Ryuu had taught her how to suppress her spiritual power at will, she would have been sparking uncontrollably.
Even trying to keep a low profile, eyes followed her. When Kaito had declared Suzume as his woman and under his protection, rather than shield her, he’d put a target on her back. At first, it didn’t bother her too much. From the moment she’d discovered her power, she had been a target for yokai aggression. Besides growing up in the White Palace, she’d always lived her life looking over her shoulder. Kaito’s seaside palace wasn’t much different. His courtiers were just much hairier and had sharper claws.
A Hitotsume in silk robes, stood along her path talking to a group of yokai. She quickened her step and bobbed beneath his swinging arms to sneak past him. Weeks ago she had memorized her path to the training ground, down to the steps it took to get there. Just fifteen more… fourteen… thirteen…
A wall of silk stepped into her path. Just great. The Hitotsume singular eye bulged in the center of his lumpy skull as he glared down at her. “Where do you think you’re going, human?” the Hitostsume growled.
Whenever a yokai said human it always sounded like a curse. Well the feeling was mutual, she didn’t like the yokai any more than they liked her.
“I’m in no mood, please step aside.” Suzume said through gritted teeth. Ryuu couldn’t scold her for starting trouble, she’d said please. And besides there were several much more sharp insults she’d rather fling at the mountain of yokai standing in front of her. But as Ryuu liked to remind her, frequently, that only made things worse.
She attempted to side step him, only to have him block her way again. “What if I don’t? Are you going to go running to the Dragon?” The Hitotsume leaned in towards her, the scent of his rotten fish breath wafted over.
Suzume crinkled her nose. Even Ryuu should understand, the Hitostume had left her no choice. She drew her staff, and thrust the end into his fleshy gut. He groaned grasping as his belly, as she twirled her staff and slammed the end onto the ground.
“I don’t need the Dragon to fight my battles,” Suzume said and strode past him.
Two more yokai blocked her path, a squat blue skinned yokai with long yellow claws, and a second who looked nearly human but for the curled horns, pointed ears, and cat like eyes.
It had been a mistake to attack them. The yokai loved to fight, almost as much as they hated humans.
“I’m really not in the mood,” she said as she clenched her staff tighter. She’d gotten stronger, but with a crowd of yokai gathering ready to turn on her, she didn’t feel good about her odds.
“You don’t belong here, why don’t you just leave, if you know what’s good for you,” said the one eyed yokai.
As part of her training, Ryuu had tried to teach her not only how to fight, but when not to. This was one of those times, she was going to have to. She just needed to even the odds. Suzume spun her staff in front of her, flames flickered off the ends creating an arch. Whirling in place, she cast her spiritual energy outward creating flaming barrier between her and the yokai.
“I think I’ll stay.” She placed her hand on her hips, giving the yokai a defiant stare. “You’re outmatched, why not leave before I take it in my head to burn you to a crisp?”
The yokai onlookers took a step back away from the flames.
“Is that all you got?” The Hitotsume said, as he stepped through the flames towards her. “You think a few sparks are going to stop me. I was born of flames.” The Hitotsume inhaled and then exhaled it towards her.
With a swipe of her staff, she dissipated the flames sending them flying into the atmosphere. She was fairly fireproof, but who knew what sort of toxic fumes were in the Hitotsume’s breath.
Him being non-flammable was unexpected, but not something she hadn’t seen before.
“So you want to play that game,” Suzume smirked. She had gotten up early to train after all, this was a perfect chance to use the song she’d been dying to try.
One hand outstretched to the brightening sky, and her staff planted on the ground. Suzume focused her energy calling from the elements.. The energy coursed through her veins setting them ablaze like molten lava. And the words to the song of suffering were on the tip of her tongue, she only needed to gather a little more.
“That’s enough of that,” Kaito grasped her outstretched hand, placing himself between her and the Hitotsume.
The ice of his grip, crept along her skin cooling the flames that had been building there. With a touch he dissipated the energy she’d been gathering, it burst from her like smoke.
“I don’t need your help,” She hissed at him.
“No, but he does, you weren’t really planning on killing one of my subjects were you?” He leaned in close that his lips brushing against her ear. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and her stomach fluttered.
It was too close, too intimate. The yokai already didn’t respect her, and saw her as Kaito’s favored pet. He was only making things worse. She’d tried to keep him out of any disagreement she had with his subjects. In fact, she’d been avoiding him as much as possible for weeks. She didn’t want to be seen as gaining all power through him. She wanted to be his equal. She lurched backwards, ripping her hand away from him.
His smile didn’t falter. Then to the yokai he said, “I thought I’ve made it clear, the humans in my palace are under my protection.” His voice thundered as he spoke and those yokai milling about looked away.
“She’s not just a human, she’s a priestess and a danger to us all.” the Hitotsume puffed up his chest as he faced Kaito.
“And you’re fortunate I arrived in time before she turned you to ash. This time, I’ll let you off with a warning.”
Suzume’s heart stuttered in her chest. Had Kaito just praised her? Albeit indirectly. It wasn’t like him. Was this sincere? Kaito turned his back on the Hitotsume There was a smile on Kaito’s face and she couldn’t help but smile in return while her stomach did backflips. This was why she couldn’t be near him. What was she thinking this was Kaito!
“You’ve let that woman soften you, the Dragon you were before would never–” The Hitotsume called.
Kaito turned to the side, and shot a spear of ice at the Hitotsume. It grazed the one-eyed yokai’s shoulder before shattering on the ground.
The surrounding yokai gasped and muttered amongst themselves.
“You missed.” the Hitotsume stood up taller.
“I didn’t miss, if I wanted you’d be dead where you stand. Test me further and I’ll see your hide stretched out on this courtyard.” Kaito said, coldly.
A chill ran down Suzume’s spine, even her blanket of fiery heat couldn’t keep out. The orange sky of sunrise turned gray as clouds rolled in. Kaito’s arms were in shimmering pearlescent scales, his hands tipped in claws, as he partially shifted into his dragon form. The air crackled with Kaito’s energy, it was fortunate she’d learned to block out his energy, or he would have flattened her to the floor with his spiritual pressure. As it was, she felt it building in her ears.
The Hitotsume grasped his bleeding shoulder, before scooping his head in a bow and scurried away. How she envied Kaito for that. To be able to command that sort of presence and bring a crowd to your bidding with just a glare.
“Shall I escort you to the training grounds?” Kaito said, turning to her with a smile an an arm extended towards the practice yard. The scales and claws were gone, and the sky was lightening once again the clouds disappearing as quickly as they’d rolled in.
“I don’t need an escort.” Suzume said before ducking past his arm and heading towards the training grounds. She was going to have to train harder if she was going to be seen at Kaito’s equal.
The remaining yokai were no longer watching with wary expressions. Kaito’s compliment was quickly forgotten, as his strength and power eclipsed her own. Empty words praising her ability wouldn’t turn the yokai’s feelings for her. To them she was nothing but Kaito’s pet.
“Well I need to protect my subjects from you.” He kept pace with her.
“He deserved it, he picked a fight with me first.” She replied, as she lengthened her stride, in an attempt to get away.
“That’s how Yokai are, don’t you know that by now?”
She was used to his taunting, and knew better than to rise to his bait.
“I am well aware.” The training grounds were in sight now. At the edge of the sandy pit, Ryuu, Kaito’s son and her teacher awaited. Along with him was Souta, the wind of Kazue’s soul, and Hikaru, the earth of Kazue’s soul. Together they’d been learning to resonate and strengthen their combined power in order to face Hisato but all that was missing was the last piece of Kazue’s soul, the water of her soul. They’d been searching for months but had not been able to find them.
“You’re avoiding me.” Kaito said, his voice dipping lower as he leaned in close.
A shiver snaked up her spine and she stumbled. Kaito caught her from falling by grasping her arm and she glanced up at him on instinct. It was true she’d done everything she could to stay away from him. Kaito claimed he wanted to honestly pursue her, that his feelings were real. But there was no time for romance, not when she still needed to get stronger. Not when Hisato was out there gathering an army, not while he had her family in his clutches and the last piece she needed to defeat him eluded her.
She pulled away from him. “I’ve been busy.”
He took a step closer and her heart raced, a smile curled his lips. “Even after all this time, you’re still frightened of me?”
A blush burned on her skin as she thought of the night they’d first met, when he’d held her close, his icy skin pebbling hers, and the threat of power just beneath that handsome mask. But she wasn’t that naive spoiled princess anymore.
“You don’t frighten me.” She jutted her chin forward, and he took another step forward.
He was so close she could run her fingers down his muscular chest. But she dared not, not with an audience, perhaps not ever. The temptation was real but giving into him was like admitting defeat, admitting that she would amount to nothing more than being his property. His pet in a gilded cage.
Staying close to Ryuu made avoiding Kaito easier. Neither man wanted anything to do with the other and they both seemed happy to pretend the other didn’t exist.
“Then stop running from me.” The tips of his fingers grazed her cheek. There sort of kiss flashed through her mind. The memory was enough to make her knees weak. He had kissed her out of necessity, to share his power with her to stop Hisato. But it hadn’t stopped haunting her since, wondering what it would be like to kiss him for real. No other man had quite infuriated or enticed her the way Kaito did.
“Suzume, we’re waiting for you.” Ryuu approached with a somber expression.
Suzume jumped away from Kaito as if she’d been struck by lightning. What was she thinking?
Kaito tore his gaze away from Suzume, and furrowed his brows at Ryuu. The two men squared off. Though they were father and son, there was no affection between them. Before Ryuu had been born, Kaito had been sealed in stone by Ryuu’s mother, Kazue. And from the time they’d met interactions had been chilly.
“I believe you are interrupting us,” Kaito said icily, arms crossed over his chest.
“She needs to train.” Ryuu stepped closer, mirroring Kaito’s body language. At a glance you would never suspect they were father and son. Nothing of Kaito’s features were reflected in Ryuu. But their mutual jealousy and stubbornness exposed their blood ties.
“Don’t you have things to do, you should get going,” She turned to leave and Kaito caught her wrist. Sparks raced up her arm, damn her body for exposing her true feelings.
“I cleared my afternoon for you, come meet me later, I have a surprise.”
Her heart raced in his chest, there was something in his gaze that made her both terrified and excited. What could it possibly be? She should tell him no but he’d piqued her interest.
He let go of her hand and she jogged away before he could detain her further..
Ryuu joined her, jogging at her side. “Is he the reason you’re running late this morning?” Ryuu said with a quirked brow.
She shrugged. “No, there was a small altercation, nothing important.”
They reached Hikaru and Souta who she greeted with quick bows which she returned reflexively. Ryuu stood behind her, arms crossed her arms over his chest. “I told you they’re never going to accept you if you keep fighting them.”
“Well that’s fine with me, cause I have no problem with them hating me.”
Ryuu heaved a long suffering sigh. At times he felt more like a father with his nagging than a teacher.
“What were you two talking about?” Ryuu murmured, his gaze flickering towards Kaito.
Her face heated with embarrassment. “Nothing, really.”
Ryuu gave her a disbelieving grumble.
Kaito hadn’t left as she expect but leaned against a nearby wall watching her. After months of avoiding him, her resolve was starting to crumble. He’d said he would make her come to him, and as much as she tried to fight it, she couldn’t deny the draw she felt. The least she could do was see what his surprise was, it couldn’t hurt could it?
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