Claire Visits The Dragon, Part 1
Hi, folks. Got any Halloween candy left? I missed out on trick-or-treat this year. My son is fourteen and has outgrown the activity. (I mean really outgrown. He stands about 6’1” and scares the bejeesus out of me sometimes, even without a costume.)
I miss taking him out like I did when he was little. And I miss eating all the candy rejects, the stuff he didn’t particularly care for. This year he went to a party, dressed as a banana.
I wasn’t invited.
I’m moving into some uncharted territory on the blog the next few weeks. I’m going to continue to share the background story of Clifford and Claire, since folks started asking about it even before the first Red Wolf novel was finished. But so far, I’ve been telling it in excerpts from the upcoming Red Wolf Rising (projected for Spring, 2014 publication). The next little part of the story is still being written. It’s the first draft, and I’m not even sure it’ll end up in the book. Readers of my blog may be the only ones to ever know.
What I’m Currently Reading…
…was a hard choice after just finishing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith. I loved his writing and the whole conspiracy-theory premise behind the book (which will resurface as part of a future blog post, I’m sure). I mentally prepared myself for a letdown while perusing my TBR list. After all, not every book is such a gem.
Then the first book in Skye Callahan’s new Darkness Bound series popped up free on Amazon, so I snatched it up. A sister team of paranormal investigators? The pace seems pretty good. I read the first few pages after I downloaded it onto my Kindle and almost got sucked in, but I was running late for a meeting and had to put it down. I’ll let you know what I think later.
A little background to the background…
An important element in the saga of the rise of the Red Wolf of Prophecy – one of the contributions to Clifford Crane’s resistance to his destiny – is discovering that his former lover knew of the prophecy all along. In fact, Claire Deerfoot was the very one to receive the prophecy from The Dragon five hundred years before. Yet, in all the time she and Clifford were together not once did she mention it to him, and she took the knowledge with her to her grave. Why?
Well, it turns out that just before she brought out his wolf she paid another visit to The Dragon. Here’s what happened…
Claire Visits The Dragon, Part 1…
Claire Deerfoot stood alone on the outcrop of rock. She was panting from the exertion of the climb. Foggy clouds rose from her snout like steam from a locomotive that had just rolled into the station.
She wasn’t sure this was the place. It looked much different than it had five hundred years before. It had been virgin forest then. And the deer path she’d followed way back when was now a recreational hiking trail.
She lowered her nose to the ground and inhaled the faint scent of scorched rock. It could just be from an old forest fire. Or, it could be dragon’s breath. No matter. She’d find out soon enough. In a few minutes the moon would rise over the trees. If this was the place, and the magic was still around, moonlight would reveal the path to the eyes of her wolf.
She sat on her haunches. She took in the scents and sounds of the forest at night. Her mind wandered, as it often did lately, to Clifford Crane.
She’d been spending a lot of time with him, almost every day since she’d revealed her dual nature. She’d let him know from the beginning he had a standing invitation to become a werewolf, but she’d tried not to appear too eager and had not mentioned it since.
In fact, she’d become conflicted about the whole idea, questioning her motivations. Cliff was a nice guy, he had enough problems already, and she didn’t want to be responsible for making things worse for him. She’d been unable to make a decision, and time was running out. Desperation had driven her here, to The Dragon, for answers.
Which is a mistake, most likely, she sighed. She’d left his lair last time with few answers and many more questions.
The first rays of moonlight peeked over the tops of the trees behind her, and a faint luminous mist was revealed, marking a hidden trail on the far side of the clearing. This is the spot, alright. She raised herself to all fours, trotted across the rock, and followed the mist into the underbrush.
The trail descended for a ways before she encountered a fork, the glowing mist leading off in two directions. She nodded to herself, remembering the lair had a number of entrances. After only a brief hesitation, she took the right fork from memory. The track began to ascend gradually at first before taking a sharp uphill turn.
The going got tough. A deadfall covered the trail, and she had to scramble and wriggle among the tangled branches and underbrush. There was no scent to follow, just the glowing mist. But it lit the way well enough, until she spent a good five minutes digging out a space under the trunk of a huge downed oak only to bump her snout against a rock wall.
Damn. The trail ended here, which meant that one of the lair’s entrances should be very nearby. Probably at the top of this cliff. But how to get there? And did this mean the entrance had been covered or damaged and was no longer used? Had the Dragon moved his lair? After all, it had been five hundred years.
She backed out from under the tree trunk and surveyed the area. Moonlight barely filtered through the tangle of branches, but she thought she could make out a ledge on the rock about thirty or forty feet above, and a faint glowing mist.
Crap. Tree climbing was not a werewolf’s forte. She’d have to change, which would mean she could no longer see the magical mist that illuminated the way. There was no other choice.
When the change was complete, she stood naked and shivering and immediately cursed herself for not taking more time to map out a route with her wolf vision through the tangle of branches. Jeez, she could barely see her hands in front of her face now.
Oh, well. She felt for a hand hold, then a foothold, and began to climb. An unseen branch wacked her in the head. Ouch. A seemingly sturdy limb gave way under foot, and suddenly she was swinging by one hand in the dark, her shin burning where the skin had been scraped away. Damn.
She wriggled back against the tree trunk, found another foothold, and managed to work her way upwards a few more feet, where she emerged from a tangle of growth into the moonlight. This is much better.
The going got a little easier by the light of the moon, and she kept the scrapes and bruises to a minimum as she made her way steadily upward. She began to perspire. Great. If I don’t keep moving it’s gonna get cold as shit. Wish I’d brought a jacket with me.
Whatever storm had brought these trees down had happened a few years back. Some had re-rooted already. There was new growth all over the deadfall. It added credence to her growing suspicion that this entrance to The Dragon’s lair might no longer be in use. If so, what then? Go back the way she had come and take the other fork? After all this work?
Eventually she’d climbed as far as she could go. She found herself standing on a bare limb jutting from a large pine that leaned at a sharp angle above the tangled vegetation. She had to wrap one arm around the trunk to keep from falling. The rock ledge loomed at least ten feet above her. Tantalizingly close, but too great a leap for her human legs.
“Oh, give me a break,” she muttered. It was a phrase she’d picked up from Clifford, and she giggled briefly at the memory of the first time she’d heard him use it. She shook herself. What now? Change back and try the jump in wolf form?
A chill wind set the pine to swaying and her teeth to chattering. Her perch wouldn’t serve as a stable launch pad for her much heavier wolf. But maybe there was enough play in the top of her little tree to get her close enough to the cliff wall to jump, grab a hold, and climb to the ledge.
She began to rock back and forth. The tree swayed in an ever-widening arc, each swing bringing her closer to the wall. This might work.
Then, at the height of her backswing, there was a loud crack as the trunk broke in half. She threw both arms around it and held on. For a split second, she and the tree hung motionless in the air before dropping like a stone. She watched wide-eyed as the mass of vegetation below rushed upwards toward her. She prepared herself for impalement on one of the sharp, broken branches. Oh, shit. This is gonna hurt.
But her descent was halted abruptly as the trunk of the pine snarled in the fork of one of its neighbors, and she found herself again dangling in the air. When the trunk settled securely into its new location, she pulled herself up slowly and sat straddling it. She looked up at the ledge.
It was impossibly far away now. She was tired from the climb, cold, scraped and bruised, and there was pine bark in her butt crack. She raised her face to the moon and howled.
It wasn’t a proper howl, since she was in human form, but it served its purpose. It vented her frustration, and she felt better immediately. She took a deep breath and let out another. Then one more, for good measure.
She was startled by a voice from above. “Ho, there!”
She turned towards the sound. A huge man, sporting green hair and a blacksmith’s apron, stood on the ledge above.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “Claws-On-The-Foot! Is that you?”
More to come next week in part 2. Until then… Happy Reading!
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