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The Queen's Wings
By Jamie K. Schmidt, Robin Haseltine, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Jamie K. Schmidt
All rights reserved.
First Rule of Dragons: Always blame the human
I had a date with a dragon. Only it wasn't a fun going-out-for-drinks-and-dinner kind of a date. It was more of an honestly-I'm-not-crazy — I-know-I'm-going-to-shift-into-a-dragon-any-minute-now appointment.
"Poor, deluded human," a handsome dragon near me said.
Just because I was human, didn't mean I was deaf.
I sat in one of the hard plastic chairs that the Connecticut's dragon embassy had in their lobby to discourage dragon-struck humans from loitering. I wasn't one of the throng of adoring fans who took one look at a dragon and immediately decided he was my one true purpose in life. I actually was a dragon. Except no one believed me. And since I couldn't shift my form to a giant flying lizard or anything, I was generally written off as one of those.
I tried not to listen to the two males in their human form talk about me under their breath. I flipped through the latest Rolling Stone magazine. Sure there were some human bands in there, but the cover story was about a Mexican winged serpent, a Quetzalcoatl named Casimiro. The picture showed him in his human form, dazzling handsome. You could almost feel the emotion wafting off the picture of his soulful brown eyes. He was crooning out love ballads while a bunch of female fans screamed, cried, and fainted. It wasn't fair. Dragon studs were like catnip to human women.
"She thinks she's going to shift? At her age?"
Their snickers felt like a baseball bat in the teeth. I slapped the magazine down and picked up another one. Of course, you could resemble an underwear model and still be a raging asshole. Beauty being only skin deep, the two studs sneering at me were beautiful jerks. Being twenty-two was time to call AARP with this crew. If you weren't hatched from an egg, then you shifted into a dragon at puberty. Otherwise, you were a human and would always be one. Since I passed puberty (thank God — or Nidhogg as the dragons called him) about ten years ago, no one believed me when I told them I was a dragon waiting to shift.
Flipping through the pages in a gossip rag, I enjoyed the compromising positions they caught the CEO of Renaissance Computers in. He was flexible even for a dragon. I craned my neck at one picture that just had to be airbrushed. Then I fanned my flushed face with the magazine. Hoo boy. Dragons sold magazines and newspapers and pretty much everything else. Ever since the Treaty of 1099, when dragon slaying became as illegal as razing villages unless the villagers offered a virgin sacrifice, dragons became beings of great stature and admiration.
I didn't want anyone to worship me any more than I wanted a virgin. I just wanted to fly.
The receptionist, my friend Jane, gave the dragons a lethal glare when they continued to insult me. Well, it would have been lethal if she was a dragon with a laser-beam-like gaze. Instead, she was a lithe blond with green eyes rocking some killer heels to go with her short skirt and low-cut blouse. Because she was human like me, the glare just bounced off the dragons' Armani suits. I was underdressed in my T-shirt and jeans, but I never could pull off the ice-princess routine like Jane. The best I could do was slouch and pout, which intimidated no one.
The elevator eventually came, and they went inside. One of them flashed a toothy smile at me and winked. Dragons are gorgeous, no matter what form. You never see an ugly one.
However, most of them were dicks.
"Don't let those undersexed drakes get to you, Carolyn," Jane said, dismissing them with a sniff.
"It's not like I haven't heard it all before," I said and tried on a smile. But it wasn't fooling Jane.
She pushed away from her desk and came over to sit next to me. "They don't want to get their hopes up that there might be a new Queen. Not that I'm defending those jerks to you."
"I know it doesn't matter what they think. I'm going to shift into a dragon. I dreamed of flying again last night."
"I believe you, honey." She tucked a lock of hair dangling in my face behind my ear. "Did you fly over strange and exotic places?"
"I ate a cow."
Jane made a small noise. She was a vegetarian.
"And then I woke up naked, clutching my chimney with wet leaves stuck on my ass."
"That's poetic," she said and went back to her desk.
I glared at the elevator where the drakes disappeared. It would serve them right if I was a Queen. There were only five left in the whole world. If I shifted — when I shifted — I wouldn't let them near me. Jerks. Still, they had a point about my age, even if it was rude.
"Why do you think I didn't shift when I was a teenager?"
Jane shrugged. "I'm not the one going for her PhD in parazoology. Why do you think you didn't?"
I thought about it. I wasn't any closer to the answer than all the doctors who poked and prodded me. I had anomalies in my system that in a younger girl would point to a shift. But that shift never happened. "I've always been a late bloomer. I didn't get my period until I was fifteen."
"Is it TMI day today?" Jane wrinkled her nose at me.
"Sorry." I turned back to the magazine choices, but truth-fully, I was a little sick with all the dragon worship going on. It was bad enough the dragons had all the money, the important jobs, and managed to treat us humans like little more than playthings. The fact we went out of our way to be treated like that bothered me. When I was a dragon, I wasn't going to act like I was better than anyone — except maybe my older brother. He is a pill.
"Do you want to go out for some Ethiopian food for lunch — if you're not too full from a thousand pounds of beef?"
I rubbed my chest. "I kind of have heartburn."
"Meat will do that to you."
Her buzzer sounded. "Send her up," a tinny voice commanded.
"You heard the man," she said and jerked her thumb toward the elevator.
"Wish me luck."
Jane glanced away, but not before I saw the pity in her eyes.
The elevator ride just made my stomach pains worsen, and I clawed in my purse for some antacids. Sinking against the wall, I let out a huge burp that echoed back a few times. My mouth tasted like sour milk and my head throbbed in time to the Muzak. The door opened to a large waiting area lavishly decorated in a modern art style. I staggered to the watercooler for a quick drink and a few deep breaths.
"Ms. Donovan, come in, please. I do not have all day."
"Sorry, Mr. Zhang." I hurried into his office and sat in another uncomfortable chair. This one was facing a large, antique desk and a huge window overlooking the city skyline.
He was sifting through my file. I know this because his lips were pursed and his eyebrows rose at a few points. Zhang always reminded me of Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon. I could have been projecting a bit, but the goatee and the silk robes were a little over the top, even for a dragon.
"Ms. Donovan, you've been coming here for about a year now."
"Right when the symptoms first appeared."
"Shortly after you moved into your new house, which you think is haunted."
"It is haunted. The guest bedroom's walls bleed, but it's gone in the morning."
"Yes, I see. Bleeding walls. Yet, when the parapsych-iatrists —"
"Psychologists," I corrected and then shrank under the glare he gave me.
"Their instruments didn't come up with anything. The only one who has seen this phenomenon is you."
"She's shy." I was trying not to get defensive.
"She? Ah yes, your ghost is a she. And puts thoughts into your head?" He arched an eyebrow at me and I heard Queen's Flash Gordon theme song in my head.
Flash! Ah AH!
Focus, Carolyn. I told myself. "That doesn't have anything to do with me shifting into a dragon," I said aloud.
"Oh, I think it does."
"I'm not crazy. I can tell a dragon on sight."
"So can most humans if they know what to look for."
That was true. But with me, it was like they smelled different. I'm not saying they had BO. It was more like a tickle in my nose, evoking a feeling. Zhang smelled like green tea and grass. The two drakes in the lobby smelled like knock-off Drakkar Noir and beans.
"My nails have shredded my sheets. They're sharp." I swiped the air.
"Let's pass on your basic hygiene, shall we?"
"Then you don't want to hear about my roar?"
"Your belches? No, and kindly refrain from demonstrating."
"It's not human normal. It's rather ..." I stared up at his disbelieving face. "Virulent," I finished in a whisper.
"And now you're claiming you dream of flying."
"It's not just a dream."
He slapped his hand on the file. "Ms. Donovan, we have spent the better part of the year studying you. You've graciously submitted to blood and urine tests and nothing."
"My psych exam came back normal."
"Yet, you see a therapist."
"Everyone sees a therapist."
"I don't," he said.
"Do dragons have therapists?" I asked.
"Some should," he acknowledged with a small smile. "But the fact of the matter remains, Ms. Donovan, there has never been a female dragon in modern times that did not hatch out of an egg. And sadly, very few of those."
"But human males have shifted into dragons."
"At puberty, and if I might be so rude, Ms. Donovan, you are well beyond that."
"I'm twenty-two not one hundred and two. I feel I am a dragon. I dream about it. I believe it." I hated the desperation in my voice, and the sadness in his eyes.
"You are not alone," he said. "But it doesn't mean it is true. I've kept your file open because we are desperate for more females. But I feel I am misleading both of us. This will be our last appointment."
"But what happens if I shift?"
"You won't." He closed the file.
"But if I do. I'll be all alone."
"Your file says you work with Niall at Yale. He can contact me directly if he feels I need to revisit your case. Now, if you don't mind, I have a full schedule." He slid my file into a folder in his desk drawer. At least he didn't toss it in the trash.
I stood up, numb. He didn't understand.
I was on my way to the door when an ice pick stabbed me in the back of my neck. Or at least that's what it felt like. I whirled around. But Zhang was still at his desk.
He glanced up, frowning at me. "I believe we've said all that there is to say."
There was no one in the room but us. I peered over Zhang's shoulder out the large plate-glass window and saw three massive red dragons. They had spiked heads and long tails pumping them in hard and fast. In attack formation they bore down on the embassy.
"Oh no," I gasped as they stretched their long necks back to ignite their breath.
Zhang moved so fast he flickered, slapping a hand on the control to close the blinds. He pressed an alarm. The lights dimmed and made a powerful hum. "The force field won't hold for long. Take the stairs." He jammed a thumb drive into his computer.
"Is there anything I can do?" I asked as the two drakes from downstairs rushed in.
"We're under attack," Zhang said, ignoring me. "Kristoff, lock down finance. Markus, start the evacuation."
"I don't think so." One of them shot him with a hand cannon, rendering me deaf.
Zhang flew back into the shielded blinds. His body spasmed when the drake shot him four more times. Because he was a dragon, pieces of him didn't explode all over the office. But he was knocked out. He lay on the ground in a puddle of silken robes.
"Mr. Zhang," I lunged forward, but the other drake tossed me into the wall.
Ow, that was going to sting.
"Grab the paperwork," Kristoff, the drake that shot Zhang, ordered the one who tried to play racquetball with my head.
That would make the shitheel Markus, who hopped to it, sweeping his arm across Zhang's desk. What didn't fall into the large bag he carried, he knelt to stuff in.
"And hurry, he's starting to heal."
"Kill him now," Markus said.
"I don't want to take the time to shift," Kristoff said, searching around until his eyes lit on me. He smiled a gorgeous, male-model smile, and the bile swirled in my stomach. So much for the antacids.
"Are you still here?" He hit the button to power down the force field. The blinds opened, and a wall of flame hit the building.
I burped and a noxious gas hissed out of my mouth. My stomach lurched, and the acid came up.
"You're not going to get sick, are you?" He sounded half amused and half disgusted. "Weak, little human. I'll just kill you now." He raised the big pistol up at me.
If I wasn't a dragon — and the evidence seemed to point in the other directions — this was going to hurt. So I did what I could under the circumstances. I closed my eyes and threw up.
His screams and the fact I wasn't dead opened my eyes. Kristoff's arm was covered in a clear liquid, which was smoking through the metal of his pistol and most of his hand.
Did I do that?
Markus dropped the bag of papers. "What the hell just happened?"
"It burns," Kristoff cried and his skin flaked away. He was going to shift, space for it or not.
I turned and ran.
"Stop her! Don't hurt her," he said. Which I thought was mighty generous.
Pushing open the heavy door leading to the stairwell, I pounded down the stairs. My heart was beating so fast I half expected it to jump out of my mouth. I did not want to find out what they had planned for me.
Markus leaped down a flight and bared his teeth in a snarl in front of me. My scream echoed down the stairs. Would anyone hear me? Would anyone care about the dumb old human?
"Back you go," he said. "What was that you threw on Kristoff?"
"I've got more of it for you," I bluffed.
"I don't think so," he said and climbed toward me. "Why couldn't you have been a good human and die?"
I stumbled back up the stairs, scrambling for the door. Markus just advanced slowly. Glass shattered as the windows imploded on the floor above us. I tripped and landed hard on my knees. Markus smirked. After pulling myself to my feet, I ran back into the office. The sprinklers were dousing the room, and I was instantly drenched in dirty, black water. I crunched over glass to get to the elevator and pounded on the buttons. It was coming up, but too slowly for me.
Kristoff roared. He was completely shifted. He looked like a Komodo dragon on steroids. Green scales bristled and shimmered as the sprinkler doused his flanks. His teeth were hard and flat — made for crushing — and his nails clenched on the carpet, shredding it as he advanced on me. Drakes were wingless, but made up for it in foot-long talons. I had a really good look at them as he stalked me.
"Shit." I jabbed the elevator button as fast as I could. Maybe it would sense the urgency of the situation. Maybe I was going to get pulverized. "Sorry about your hand." Not really. But if I stalled, Zhang's wounds might regenerate enough that he could step in and rescue me. "I'm not sure what happened."
The drake's breath blew hot over me before he spoke. "And here I thought the greatest treasure we would find is Zhang's hoard. But we have a little Queen."
"A Queen," Markus said, exiting the stairwell. "That's impossible."
I put my back to the elevator when Kristoff smashed out the doorway to Zhang's office with his tail. "She spit at me."
"We can train her not to spit," Markus said. "A Queen of our very own."
"First we'll have to train her to obey. Tie her up. We're taking her with us."
"No," I screamed as Markus grabbed my arm and started dragging me away.
The elevator doors opened, and two dragons dressed like commandoes burst out. A swarthy, dark-haired one brandished a crackling baton. The other, a redhead, cracked his knuckles and took in the scene.
"She's a Queen," Markus said to them. "Let us go, and we'll share her."
"Bullshit," Red said. He tackled Markus and all three of us went down.
"Zhang's been shot," I said, wrestling away from them.
Markus head-butted the other dragon in the nose, but Red drove his fist into his face three times, fast as a jackhammer. Markus's neck lolled back.
"Reed, Zhang's still alive," Red said and went back to beating Markus until he was broken, bleeding, and unconscious.
I sidled into the elevator, but the doors wouldn't shut. The building shuddered like there was an earthquake going on. Stepping out quickly, because I didn't really want to be trapped in the large metal box ten floors up when the building came down, I stumbled over to the stairwell again.
Reed fought Kristoff, without changing into his dragon form. I stopped and gaped. It was stupid and breathtaking, but Reed was winning. Kristoff was twice as big and had the weight advantage, not to mention his snapping mouth and swiping claws. Yet Reed was never at the receiving end of them. The baton pulsed energy whenever it struck Kristoff.
Part of me would have loved to stay and watch. Reed was fascinating — wide shoulders, a noble profile with an aristocratic nose, all muscles and deadly skill. The other part of me — the I-can't-believe-you're-drooling-instead-of-running part — was whispering, Get out. Get out. Get out.
Excerpted from The Queen's Wings by Jamie K. Schmidt, Robin Haseltine, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Jamie K. Schmidt. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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