Read an Excerpt
Fanning the Flames
A Going Down in Flames Novel
By Chris Cannon
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Chris Cannon
All rights reserved.
Bryn waited outside the Directorate's offices on the top floor of the library at the Institute for Excellence, aka, shape-shifting dragon school, on what had to be the world's most uncomfortable couch. The black leather antique looked like it would be comfortable, but the seat angled back and the cushions jutted forward, throwing her off balance. Given the Directorate's controlling nature, they'd probably had the couch custom made for this very purpose. Asshats. She worked at keeping her temper and her fire under control. Red dragons, like her father, were known for having bad tempers. Controlling her fire when she was angry wasn't always easy. You'd think her mother's Blue dragon genes would've evened out her temper, but that didn't seem to be the case. Sure, she could breathe ice, but fire was her dominant element. Now that both her parents were dead, her maternal grandparents had taken her in, and they expected her to act more like a Blue.
Valmont, her knight and secret boyfriend, sat next to her, shifting around and frowning. "There is something fundamentally wrong with this piece of furniture. I feel like it's mocking me."
Jaxon huffed out a breath. "It's meant to make you uncomfortable, in order to give whoever is waiting to interview you the upper hand. The longer they make you wait out here, the more uncomfortable you become and the less likely you are to have all your faculties when they finally agree to see you."
Suspicion confirmed. "Asshats," Bryn muttered. Despite the fact that the Directorate was the ruling body of shape-shifting dragon society, they seemed to have a twisted sense of humor.
Jaxon snorted but didn't respond. He paced back and forth in the tenfoot waiting room they'd been stuck in for the last thirty minutes. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Bryn reached out and grabbed his forearm. "Can you stop pacing? You're just making the situation worse."
Frost shot from his nostrils. A Blue dragon losing control of his breath element meant he was just as annoyed by this situation as she was. Good to know.
"I can either pace, or I can rip someone's head off. Which would you prefer?" "Can we choose whose head you rip off?" Valmont asked. "Because that might affect our preference."
Bored, Bryn focused on her fingernails and turned them a deep plum color. She was skilled at manipulating Quintessence, her life force, to change her coloring. She used it in place of makeup and nail polish and even used it to color her hair. Medics channeled Quintessence to heal people, and that's what Bryn wanted to do with her life.
The door to the office popped open. A Directorate member gave a smug smile. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"Come this way."
Bryn entered the conference room, followed by Valmont. Jaxon came in last.
Jaxon's father, Ferrin, was the Speaker for the Directorate. Bryn liked to think of him as "the Asshat Extraordinaire." He sat at a long mahogany table flanked by other Directorate members. Bryn's grandfather sat to the right of Ferrin. He acknowledged Bryn with a nod. She nodded back and waited to see why she'd been dragged out of bed at six in the freaking morning on a Saturday.
Ferrin gave a condescending smile. "Thank you for joining us at this early hour."
As if we had a choice.
"After some discussion, the Directorate has decided to appoint Jaxon Westgate and Bryn McKenna as Student Body Directorate Liaisons. Other students can come to you with concerns. If you feel those concerns deserve our attention, you may contact one of us to address the matter."
Holy crap. She didn't think the Directorate would ever allow a female, her in particular, to hold a position of authority, no matter how slight.
"Jaxon, I know you won't bother us with petty concerns," Ferrin stated in his holier-than-thou voice, "but we've drawn up these documents for you to go over with Bryn, since she's more than likely uneducated in the important matters we deal with."
"He just couldn't play nice, could he?" Bryn said to her grandfather.
The corners of her grandfather's mouth turned up for a fraction of a second before they slammed back down again. "Bryn, it is true you are less familiar with the Directorate, but I trust you will read through the manual and follow the Accords set out by the Speaker for the Directorate."
"Of course I will," Bryn said in a mock serious tone.
Jaxon leveled a glare at her. Right. Like that look works on me.
"As I was saying, I trust Jaxon will make appropriate choices and guide Bryn to do the same." Ferrin set the two-inch thick manual on the table and pushed it toward Bryn.
Valmont put a hand on Bryn's arm. "Allow me." He retrieved the manual and rolled it up like he planned to swat a fly. Ferrin was a pest. She doubted whacking him with a rolled-up manual would do any good, but it might be fun to watch.
"There is also some confidential information we'd like to share." Bryn's grandfather pushed to his feet. "We believe there are other hidden doors in the vaults below the library, similar to the one Bryn and Valmont discovered using Blood Magic and their dragon-knight bond. We've spoken to the authorities in Dragon's Bluff, and they've given us a short list of townspeople who would volunteer to become a dragon's knight in order to facilitate finding these doors."
The population of Dragon's Bluff was comprised of humans descended from knights who had vowed to fight side by side with dragons, if the need arose. They carried latent magic in their blood. If any adult human stepped in to perform an act of chivalry protecting a dragon, the spell activated, creating a magical bond between the knight and the dragon. This was not something to be taken lightly.
"Who volunteered?" Jaxon asked.
"Those who lost loved ones in the attack on Dragon's Bluff." Bryn's grandfather cleared his throat. "We have informed them that they might be putting their lives at risk, and they still want to help. Given the personal nature of the bond, we thought it best for the volunteers to meet dragons they'd be suited to work with. So, it's your task to find students who are willing to participate in the project. We'd start with the select few you vouch for."
"Are you only using student volunteers?" Bryn asked. "Or will adults be volunteering, too?" It didn't seem right that students would be the ones taking all the risks.
"We're starting with students," her grandfather said, "and we will insist on pairing females with females and males with males to avoid any awkward situations."
And now it felt like everyone was staring at her like she was involved in some sort of sordid relationship. She turned to Valmont. "I didn't think we were that awkward."
"Perhaps they're referring to your landings," Jaxon said from her other side.
She turned to him and smiled sweetly. "I tend to concentrate on speed while I'm in the air, rather than sticking the landing."
"You're free to go now," Ferrin stated.
Valmont grabbed Bryn's hand and pulled her toward the door. "Let's run away while we have the chance."
Good idea. They dashed from the room to the stairwell and down three flights of stairs. When they reached the ground floor, they bolted for the exit. Without discussing it, Bryn shifted to her dragon form. She didn't even have to think about shifting anymore. It was innate.
She moved her tail around so Valmont could climb onto her back. Once he was settled between her shoulder blades, she pushed off into the sky, basking in the sensation of the air flowing over her body like cool water.
The one benefit to being up psycho early on a Saturday was a wideopen sky with no air traffic. Flying with Valmont made her feel at peace. Like all was right in her world.
And given how screwed up the world had become lately, it was a nice reprieve. After the attack at the Valentine's Day dance, everyone seemed to be jumpy, and rightfully so. The hybrids that had kidnapped Rhianna, and forced Zane to become her knight so they could locate a hidden door in the vaults of the library, were still at large. Seeing Zane murdered right in front of them had affected them all. Thank goodness Rhianna had released him from the dragon-knight bond before he'd died.
Still, it had taken more than a month for Rhianna to start smiling again. During this time, Jaxon had been surprisingly supportive and patient with his girlfriend.
"It's like we have the entire school to ourselves," Valmont said, interrupting Bryn's thoughts.
"It's nice." Now that it was April, the dogwood trees on the school grounds were in full bloom. Green shoots were poking through the flowerbeds. "I bet the flowers will be beautiful in a few weeks."
"It's funny. No matter what type of turmoil is going on, the Directorate still makes sure to keep the grounds immaculate."
"It's all about appearances around here." There was no better example of this than Rhianna being declared unfit to marry Jaxon, due to the limp she'd developed after one of the attacks on campus. Even though the injury wasn't genetic and couldn't be passed on to their future offspring, Jaxon's father had insisted on voiding the arrangement. And that had led to the nightmare of a situation she currently found herself in. A lineage check had determined that she and Jaxon were compatible. Bryn's grandfather had submitted a petition for Bryn and Jaxon to marry. If the Directorate approved the union, Bryn would have to marry Jaxon after graduation. No matter how many times her grandmother explained that marriage was a business contract which produced children and love had nothing to do with it, Bryn couldn't get on board with the plan.
"You're too quiet," Valmont said. "What are you thinking about?" She didn't want to burden Valmont with thoughts of her possible arranged marriage. They'd hashed it out and decided they could still be together, even if she married Jaxon, because Jaxon planned to continue his relationship with Rhianna. They'd buy a ginormous house where she and Valmont could shack up in one wing while Jaxon and Rhianna lived in another part of the house. Still, they'd have to pretend to be married whenever they went out in public. And that would totally suck.
"I was thinking it's time for breakfast." No harm in a white lie. Right?
"Didn't you grab a bagel before we went to the meeting?" Valmont knew that wasn't enough food for her. He was teasing.
Trying to lighten the mood, she played along. "Haven't you ever heard of second breakfasts?" "I thought that only applied to Hobbits."
"Nope. It works for shape-shifting dragons, too."
They descended and landed outside the dining hall. Bryn dug her talons into the grass in an attempt to smooth out her landing. This resulted in hunks of sod being ripped out of the ground as she stumbled forward.
"Dang it." Why couldn't she figure out this landing thing?
Valmont chuckled but didn't comment.
After he climbed down, she shifted to human form, and together they stomped the hunks of sod back into the ground.
Inside the dining hall, Bryn wasn't surprised to find the tables mostly empty. Maybe she could scarf something down and then go back to sleep.
Valmont yawned and stretched. "I vote for carry-out and a nap."
"You read my mind."
"Bryn, I'm so glad I ran into you." Garret walked toward her with his left arm hanging limp in a sling. He'd also been injured during one of the attacks on campus when giant hailstones had ripped through his wing. Since his injury had been beyond what the medics were able to heal, he was no longer able to fly.
"Good morning, Garret. What's up?" She hoped it was something quick so she could put her nap plan into action.
"Why don't we eat breakfast while we talk?" Garret suggested, as he moved toward the buffet and picked up a plate.
Well, crap. There went her plans for a mid-morning siesta.
"Sure." Bryn loaded her plate with a little bit of everything and then followed Garret to the table where he normally sat with his Green dragon clan. It seemed odd to eat at a different table with a different view. For the entire time she'd been at school, she'd always sat in the same place with her best friends, Black dragons Clint and Ivy.
Garret stirred cream into his coffee. "Thanks to your grandfather's generous donation, I've been working on the prototype for the prosthetic wing, and I think we're ready to test it."
"I'm glad you think so, since I hoped you'd help us test it out."
"Sure. What can I do for you?" Garret pulled a folded up piece of paper from his shirt pocket and passed it to Bryn. She opened it and saw what appeared to be half of a hang glider.
"That's a rough sketch of the prototype for a dragon who still has one functional wing, like me. I'd strap it around my flank like a saddle, sliding my injured wing inside the two layers of fabric. It's more like hang gliding than true flying, but it's a start."
"I think it's a wonderful idea."
"I'm configuring a pulley mechanism which would allow the wearer to flap the wing, but it's still a work in progress. If you'd spot me during the trial runs, I'd feel better than going solo. With your speed, if anything goes wrong, I figure you have the best chance of assisting me."
"If you attached the wing to an actual saddle, it would give me something to grab onto if you needed help."
"A handle is a good idea." Garrett scribbled away on his piece of paper, jotting down notes and drawing plans.
Valmont shoveled in his scrambled eggs and bacon and gave her puppy dog eyes. She inhaled her omelet in record time and stood. "Let me know when you need me."
"Aren't you going to eat?" Garret looked at her plate and then blinked. "That was like some sort of magic trick. One second the food was there and then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone."
"It's my special skill," Bryn said. "I make food disappear."
Garret went back to scribbling on his paper. "I think we'll be ready to run trials by the end of the week."
Bryn backed away from the table and gestured for Valmont to follow. "Sounds good. Talk to you later."
Valmont grabbed her hand. As they exited the dining hall and descended the front steps, he laced his warm fingers through hers.
"Don't you want to fly back to my room?" Given a choice she'd choose flying over any mode of transportation.
"No," Valmont said. "It's a beautiful morning, and I'd like to enjoy a leisurely stroll. Walking seems more peaceful."
"Oh, okay." Strange. She'd fly everywhere if she could, but he preferred to walk. If he were a dragon, he'd choose flying. Walking was the best alternative humans had. Whack! That thought was like a smack to the back of her head. She froze.
"What?" Valmont drew his sword and turned in a circle like he was searching for the enemy.
Bryn shook her head. "Sorry. I had a weird thought."
"About?" Telling him that for the first time she'd thought of herself as a dragon, not a human, seemed odd and trivial. She was a dragon, but she'd always thought of herself as a person. Thinking of herself as a dragon and Valmont as human was strange.
"Nothing important." She moved forward, tugging him along. "I need to go back to sleep. My brain isn't working properly."
"A nap would do us both good."
They walked in silence through the front door of the Blue dorm. A few dozen Blues were up and about, reading on the couches or eating at the restaurant in the back of the main floor. Bryn nodded at the Blues who acknowledged her and ignored the ones who pretended she was invisible. The good news was, about forty percent of her fellow Blue dragons now begrudgingly accepted her.
When she reached her room, Bryn found an envelope shoved partway under the door.
She heard Valmont groan.
"It's probably just a note." When she'd first come to the school, she'd received many threatening notes and letters, but that seemed like a lifetime ago.
"Allow me." Valmont retrieved the envelope while Bryn unlocked the door. They crossed the room and sat on the couch together. Valmont held the envelope up to the light like he was trying to see the contents. "Doesn't look evil."
"Go ahead and open it." Bryn yawned. "I don't think evildoers are up at this ungodly hour on a Saturday morning."
"You're probably right. Bad guys do prefer to skulk around at night." He pulled open the flap and extricated a piece of notebook paper.
Can we meet for lunch? And I'm sending a note so Jaxon won't hear me call you and insist on accompanying me. You're welcome, Rhianna "She must have dropped this off while he was in the meeting with us." Bryn walked over to the phone but paused before picking it up. "What are the odds Jaxon is with her right now?" "Ninety to one hundred percent. Pretend you're calling about something else. That way if he overhears, he won't know what's going on, because I've had more than my fill of his delightful personality for one day."
"Agreed." And she knew just what to say. Rhianna answered on the third ring. "Hello, it's Bryn. I thought maybe we'd get together later today and go to Suzette's for lunch. Jaxon is welcome to come along, of course."
Rhianna laughed. "That's a wonderful idea. I'll ask him."
Excerpted from Fanning the Flames by Chris Cannon. Copyright © 2017 Chris Cannon. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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