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How to Drive a Dragon Crazy
By G. A. AIKEN
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 G. A. Aiken
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe orders from their queen had been direct and to the point: Stop the Ice Land dragons from regrouping and attacking the Northland dragons on their coast.
The Northlanders had been holding their own for years, pushing the Ice Land dragons, called the Spikes, back to their territorial lines and holding them there. Yet the Mì-runach were the ones who stopped the Spikes from ever really gathering enough forces in one place, at one time, to push their way back into the Northlands and putting the dragon warlords' territories at risk.
It had not been easy, though. Not for them. For they were the Mì-runach and they were all Fire Breathers trapped in one of the harshest lands known to dragon or gods. The Ice Lands with their hard winters and their even harder people. But that's why the Mì-runach had been sent here. Because among their own, the Mì-runach were considered hard and harsh. They didn't belong. They were the outcasts, the troublemakers, the pit fighters. They were the ones you didn't want setting up camp near your cave, but if you'd run out of options ... then they were the ones you called.
They were the ones who killed. For their honor. For their queen. And because they were all really bloody good at it.
Mì-runach Legion Commander Angor landed on the mountaintop and watched his troops move in. As he'd trained them, they moved quick and quiet. Dragons they might be, one of the largest beings in the world, but that didn't mean they had to stomp everywhere. Not like the Spikes who let their snow-and-ice storms hide their presence. But the Mì-runach didn't let storms or being outsiders or anything else get in the way of their queen's orders.
Angor smiled a bit when he saw a flash of blade and then, as if from nowhere, a blue claw caught the Spike leader's head by the hair and yanked it back. A broadsword rammed through the neck, cutting off the Spike's chance to do anything but look stunned.
The Spikes, who had been rallying around their leader to begin their flight into enemy territory, froze, blood splattering their white and silver scales. Then the Mì-runach attacked, coming up from under the ground where some of them had been hiding for days.
He watched and waited while his troops decimated the Spikes. It didn't take long. They'd been trained not for battle but for massacres. That's what they did best. They struck with no warning, no negotiations, no prisoners. There were only sixty-six of them total, but they could do—and had done— the work of a full-size legion. They were the Dragon Queen's deadliest weapon and were hated and feared amongst the dragon world—and for very good reason.
Angor sat back on his haunches as his squad leaders landed in front of him.
"We're done," one of them reported. "And I sent out my team to strike down any stragglers."
"Good. We'll be heading back to the south in a few days."
"Really?" another asked, but he wasn't the only one thinking it. The queen had kept her Mì-runach in the Ice Lands off and on for years, but it wasn't for him or the rest of the Mì-runach to ask. Merely did as they'd been ordered by their queen.
"Really." He jerked his head to the side. "You lot. Get ready to move out for the night. Wait," he said to the one who'd killed the Spike leader. "Not you. Not yet."
Angor waited until the others had gone back down the mountain before turning to the dragon he'd trained himself.
To be honest, he'd had no hope for this one when he'd been forced on Angor nearly a decade ago. He'd been uselessly angry and astoundingly bitter. He'd refused to do even the simplest of tasks and put himself and his brethren at risk more than once during important assignments. But Angor had been able to see past all that rage and he'd kept the young dragon close to him and trained him hard from day one. Beat him when necessary, praised him when deserved. And now ...?
And now he was the most heartless, vile, and murdering bastard many of them had ever had the displeasure of knowing, and the most loathed dragon in all the Ice Lands.
For he was Éibhear the Contemptible, a Southland prince, and one of the dreaded Mì-runach Squad Leaders. He was also blindingly loyal, incredibly smart, and as close to a son as Angor ever had since he and his mate had never wanted offspring of their own.
The only problem with the royal? He read a lot, which Angor thought added to a lot of his problems. Who needed all those bloody books anyway?
"What do you need?" the blue dragon asked.
"We've stopped these Spikes from moving into Northland territories and meeting up with that young leader from the Ice Land tribe. But I want you and yours to go in, strike that leader down, so that them Spikes will understand this ox shit is over."
"Just your squad. The others will come with me."
"You'll find them near that territorial line by them Mountains of Depression or whatever."
The Blue chuckled. "I think you mean the Mountains of Pain and Suffering."
"Yeah. Whatever. You go. You kill the leader, end this. That way we can head home without worrying about it."
"Consider it done."
"Then you can go back to your kin, Éibhear the Contemptible. You go back and see your mum."
The dragon stopped, blinked. "What?"
"Go home. See your mum." "Um ... why? Is something wrong?"
"Other than you being an ungrateful son? No."
"Ungrateful? I've destroyed dragon after dragon in her name."
"You enjoyed it."
He shrugged. "That's true."
"It's been ten years. Your mum should see you."
"I see you're still drawn to my mother."
"I am loyal to my queen. Do you know why?"
"Please not this story again," the Blue begged.
"Because when that bastard father of yours wanted to have me executed for insubordination—"
"That was probably because you'd come after him with an axe when he gave you an order."
"—your mum said no. She saw me worth. For that I'm loyal to her until I breathe me last. So take your ungrateful blue ass and go home."
The Blue studied Angor. "So you're kicking me out then?"
"Once Mì-runach, always Mì-runach, boy. You should know that by now. But you can't avoid your kin forever."
"I haven't been avoiding anything." He gave a small smile, showing one side of his fangs. "Not anymore."
"There's truth to that. So go home. See your mum. Make her happy. For me." Angor turned from the younger dragon, moving toward some Ice Land oxen he'd seen earlier. Watching his warriors kill always made him hungry.
"And my squad when we're done in the Northlands?" the boy called out. "Should I send them on ahead to meet you?"
"Don't you dare. Take those mean bastards with you. No other squad will have them anyway." He flicked his claw in the air. "Go home, Éibhear the Contemptible. See your mum. See your kin. Spend some time with those who raised you. Think of it like a holiday. Then remember why you left in the first place, and return to the Mì-runach. We'll be camped near the Western Mountains. Waiting to do what we do best."
"Kill?" the blue dragon asked Angor.
"Some would say," Angor muttered on a chuckle. "Some would say."
Chapter TwoÉibhear the Contemptible—once called Éibhear the Blue—walked up to his squad. The Mì-runach were broken up into four-to-six-member squads. Angor was commander of them all, but it wasn't a job any of them envied.
For one to become Mì-runach he not only had to be a mighty fighter, he also had to be a vicious, heartless bastard who couldn't take basic orders. Although they'd been around for centuries in different forms, usually brought together during a specific war or battle, the Mì-runach really had come into their own when Éibhear's grandfather, Ailean—the shining example of a dragon who couldn't take orders but made himself worth the trouble during a battle—joined. Of course, they didn't have a name then; instead, they were just known as those "unreliable, heartless bastards" who were too good as warriors to dismiss completely but too much of a bother to force some poor commander to have to tolerate while trying to manage scores of other soldier dragons during a heated battle.
In the Dragon Queen's army, not taking orders made a Dragonwarrior a dangerous liability. But among the Mìrunach, where one's strengths were used to benefit, it made that soldier a useful servant of the queen. For the Mì-runach handled that which many would not. It took some time for Éibhear to figure out exactly what that made them, but he finally did.... They were a death squad.
Like they'd just done with the Spikes, the Mì-runach would sneak in during the cover of night and slaughter soldiers in their caves. Or they'd burrow underground and strike in the middle of a battle, killing the leaders and then decimating the rest of the army, if necessary. Many dragon soldiers in Her Majesty's Army considered this type of fighting dishonorable. But to the Mì-runach, who needed honor when there was ale? And pubs? And females to entertain? Who needed rank and orders and rules and a bunch of daily tasks when they could sleep all day and drink all night until called to do what they did best?
It wasn't rank and power that kept the Mì-runach returning to battle day after day, night after night. The gods knew, it would never be rank. It was the love of blood and battle and destruction. It was knowing that they were the ones their Queen's enemies feared because they had reason to fear.
"Well?" asked Aidan the Divine, a Gold whose royal family hailed from the Western Mountains.
"We're heading out for one final task in the Northlands."
"Aye. Kill Spike leader Jorgesson's son, since the boy seems to think he can take his father's place."
"Which he probably thought he had to do because we killed Jorgesson."
"True. Once we're done with the boy, we're heading to Dark Plains. Angor wants me to go home for a bit."
Aidan blinked, dropping the dragon whose neck he'd just crushed. "Home? You?"
"Why do you say it like that? You've been away from your kin longer than I have."
"I loathe my kin as they loathe me." Aidan slammed his fist into the Spike on the ground although it seemed unnecessary. "You seem to like yours, but I'm not sure you returning home will make that better or worse."
"I do like them." Éibhear thought on that a moment. "Well, the females. I like the females ... mostly."
Uther the Despicable, a cranky Brown from mountains near the port cities, grunted and snarled—as he snarled at most things—"And what are we doing while you're playing happy families?" He gritted his fangs and pulled on the legs of the Ice Land dragon he held in his arms. The screaming during this was a tad unpleasant. "Joining another squad?"
"After what you lot did last time?" Éibhear asked.
"That was not my fault!" Caswyn the Butcher argued, yet again. "He shouldn't have tried to push me around. I may not be some fancy royal, like you and pretty boy over there—"
Aidan grinned. "I am so very pretty."
"—but that don't mean some Red bastard can just walk all over me."
"By 'walk all over me,'" Éibhear cut in, "do you mean ask you to do your job?"
"Didn't like his tone, did I?"
"So you tore his arms off."
Caswyn's head lowered a bit, his black wings bristling. "Don't much like your tone either."
"Yeah, but you already tried to tear Éibhear's arms off," Uther reminded him. "You were in a coma for weeks."
"It was more a deep rest."
Éibhear rolled his eyes and said, "You all will come with me."
Uther's head snapped up. "Will your sisters be there?"
Imitating his eager tone, Éibhear quickly replied, "They will! And so will my father!"
Uther's face fell. "Oh."
Reflective, Aidan stroked his chin while pounding his back claw into the head of the Spike lying in front of him. Again ... still seemed unnecessary as that Spike was already quite dead. "How did your father not become Mì-runach? He seems ruthless enough."
"Oh, he is," Éibhear agreed. "But he can take orders."
"Aaaaah," the others said.
"So if we go with you," Caswyn asked. "What do we do?"
Éibhear shrugged. "It's Garbhán Isle. There'll be drink and pussy. What more do you need?" Garbhán Isle was the seat of power for the human queen of the Southlands, Annwyl the Bloody. Insane monarch and mate to Éibhear's eldest brother Fearghus, Annwyl was adored and loathed in equal parts, but to Éibhear she'd simply become one of his sisters.
"Nothing," Uther said. "But that makes me sad."
"But first we take care of the Spikes leader in the Northlands."
His squad groaned.
"I'm tired of snow and ice," Caswyn complained. "I'm tired of shades of purple and white. I want to see grass again. And trees. Birds that aren't crows."
"We won't be in the Northlands long. Just long enough to do a little killing. You lot like killing. Remember?"
"I do remember. But you seem to have forgotten that the Northlanders hate you," Aidan reminded him.
"Not more than the Ice Landers do."
"Only because you haven't been there for the last decade. Trust me, if you had, they'd only hate you more."
"I want to see my sister Keita. As far as I know she's still with Ragnar in the Northlands."
"A little elegance among the barbarians." Aidan sighed. "I guess that's worth something."
"So finish killing this lot," Éibhear said, gesturing to the Spikes trying to crawl away. He really had to work on that with his team. They disabled, sometimes tortured, then killed, but the disabling and torture were just time consuming. They needed to kill faster so they could move to the drinking and females quicker. Honestly, one would think they'd know that already. "Then we head out."
Éibhear turned, saw a Spike fighting with one of the other squads. He pulled his sword and headed over to assist. Aidan caught up to him.
"Oy," his friend said.
"You know what might be waiting for you back at Garbhán Isle, don't you?"
"The loving warmth of my mother, the admiration of my father, and the caring of my dear brothers?"
"Are you going to be serious about this?"
Éibhear chuckled, then rammed his sword into the side of the Spike. It was an easier way to attack an Ice Land dragon since they had those bloody spikes going from the top of their heads, down their spines, to the tips of their tails. He twisted the blade while using his free claw to push the Ice Lander down by the side of his neck.
When the dragon took his last breath, Éibhear pulled out his sword, nodded at his fellow squad leader, then faced his friend. "Yeah. I know what might be waiting for me."
"And nothing. That was a long time ago ... for a human. Besides, I apologized."
Aidan frowned. "When? You haven't seen her in nearly ten bloody years."
"Remember? I sent her a letter."
"Oh. The letter. Right." Aidan looked off. "Yeah. I remember. The letter."
"Although she never did answer me. Rude cow."
"But I'm sure she's over it. There was a healthy amount of groveling in that letter. She likes groveling."
"I'm sure she does."
"So there's nothing to worry about." Éibhear patted his suddenly quiet friend's shoulder. "We'll go. We'll spend some time with my kin. Then hit every pub between Garbhán Isle and the Western Mountains as we go to meet up with Angor and the other squads. It'll be a lovely holiday that we richly deserve."
Aidan finally looked at him. "But first the Northlands?"
"First the Northlands. Deal with the new Spikes leader for those poor Lightning bastards."
"Can we call the Northlanders that when we see them? I'm sure they'll just love it."
"Then I'll check in with Keita before we head south."
"Check in with Keita while still in the Northlands? Sure that's wise?"
"Come now," Éibhear dismissed his friend's worry. "It's been ages. I'm sure Ragnar's forgiven me by now."
"Right." Aidan snorted. "I'm sure he has."
"We challenge you," the Spikes' leader had called out, bright white wings extending from his back, white spikes going from his head, down his spine, to the tip of his tail, white and silver hair braided up like a horse's mane touching the ground. "Let's decide this now and end it."
So it had been agreed. The Spike's champion against theirs. But there were rumors coming in from Ragnar's spies that all this was merely a fancy ruse. The young leader's idea to get the Northlanders to think the war was over and head home, so that this leader's troops and another Spike's legion could come over territorial lines and into the Northlands unmolested. Because unlike the Spikes, honor was all to the Northland dragons.
Excerpted from How to Drive a Dragon Crazy by G. A. AIKEN Copyright © 2012 by G. A. Aiken. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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