At The Fantasy Review, I am happy to introduce a newly released fantasy book, The Sunset Soverign: A Dragon’s Memoir by C.D. Houck, with a book excerpt from Chapter 1.
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About The Sunset Soverign: A Dragon’s Memoir
When a dragon finds an assassin sneaking into his lair, he tells her of his life’s work and his soon to be final chapter.
For the past thousand years, the dragon Vakandi has watched the people of Vakfored grow from a wandering band of refugees to a glorious city of art and magic. Under his protection, the city has survived monsters, floods, and wars all without building an army, dam, or even a wall. But time changes everything and now the citizens of his beloved city want him dead.
Vakandi spends his last day telling his assassin why he loves them, and why it’s his time to die.
Chapter 1: The Hunt
The gold coins with the engraved heads of lords, kings, queens, or creatures of old and long forgotten were in piles and covered in dirt. Swords of monster hunters left abandoned in their sheaths or scratched up from use and being stepped on. Hollow armor laid about with the bones turned to dust. Piles of fortune that could have saved the nation during times of struggle laid covered in dirt and abandoned with time.
Sisal had not burst into flames yet, her soul was pure enough to enter the cave. Now she needed to be adequately light-footed to stalk her target.
The deep breath of the monster exhaled out, the smell of sulfur heavy in the air. Sisal held her breath to prevent coughing. She had to get a stealth attack to have any sort of advantage in this fight. She would finally free their nation from this fabled beast. It all started with her creeping into the cave and sliding along the wall. Fifty-fifty odds on which way to go, and she chose the wrong side of the first cavern. Across all the dried up stalactites and stalagmites, a closed, deep blue stone door sat on the other side of the cave, way too small for the monster to go through. It was too late to move. The creature was coming out of the archway that led to another cavern in the back.
She spent weeks researching and spent all her gold to prepare for this mission the Guild Adventures gave her. The rumor of “Bare yourself to the Beast to receive what you seek” was the reason she equipped herself with light leather armor and gear. She had to stay fast enough to avoid the beast’s breath, their claws, their tail, and the very sharp teeth, none of which her armor could stop. A dragon could be quick, but its size did not make it as agile as her, especially this early before sunrise. The beast was still sleeping.
She gasped out the breath she held on to, instantly covering her mouth in regret. The rhythmic sound of the monster’s breath stopped. The floor shook beneath her feet as the fabled beast moved. Eyes darting around, she looked for shelter and dived behind a statue of a burnt red dragon. Quickly, she tightened her bowstring, two arrows strung on it. She brought an entire quiver full of dragon scale heads made from her grandfather’s dragon scale he found as a kid out near the Black Forest.
The ground shook more when the creature entered the wide gold filled chamber. Research mentioned a weak point on the back of her target, and worse case she knew of one more, the eyes. They were always the weak point on any creature, like the yeti she killed.
The ground stilled. She peeked through the underside of the dragon statue, with pigment dark red flakes falling off. The target’s stature was large, she knew it was big, but seeing something the size of the palace saunter into the first cavern put a different meaning to the word big. It made the dragon statue look like a miniature meant for child’s play. The empty chamber suddenly felt too inadequate to hold such a mythical sized creature. Smoke stacks sprawled out of its nostrils as its head twisted around, looking. Its dark brown claws glistened, the dark red scales giving it a strong armor against a simple dagger attack. The wings were darker than the rest of it, tucked in at its sides. If only she had remained quiet earlier, she could have set up the explosives on the ceiling, but now she had to go with a different plan. A few stalagmites had their tops flattened and with ceramics displaying the dragon were everywhere, more places she could hide in a fight. Quickly she ducked her head as the monster’s golden eyes looked low, pausing at the statue for a moment, before turning around and going back to its chamber.
The long spiked tail swung back and forth. Strong plates, some as thick as tree trunks, ran up its back. But one was missing, a narrow pink scar. Narrow when compared to the size of the dragon, something Sisal could shoot and hit. Research said freeze spells were the dragon’s weakness. From her bag, she pulled out the ice spell into her arrow heads. The spell would last only an hour, but all fights with any monster were over in ten minutes. In order to get a clear shot, she moved out from her hiding position, careful to avoid stepping into the gold coins, pulled the string taut and launched the arrows.
They hissed through the air, a white streak of frosted air following their path. The noise was too loud, and the dragon paused and turned too slowly. The frosted arrows hit its backside. Cracking blue-white ice spread out over the dragon’s back near the exposed area. The beast roared in pain upward into the roof of the cavern. It let out a hot breath and shook the ceiling. Shards of stone fell down on the piles of gold coins. Sisal chased after the iced over area on the dragon. She had to get another hit in to cause damage. An injury on the back of the beast would give her the upper hand needed in this fight. She was a human facing a dragon larger than the palace of Vakfored. This was like a fight between a beetle taking on the kitchen cat. She grabbed another iced dragon arrow head, pulled it back, and shot into the beast’s iced up back. A deafening roar erupted from the beast. Her ears rung and the surrounding environment shook, threating to trip her. All of it was a distraction from the attack of the monster’s tail that swatted her into a pile of coins. The gold coins scattered about as she took in a deep breath and rolled out of the way before another smack down of the jasper tail nearby. The currency glistened like glitter off the beast’s tail.
Sisal grabbed for her bow but came up empty-handed. Her eyes darted around, trying to find a solution, but in this ancient cavern, any bows that had lasted this long would have snapped, and she had no string available. Throwing dragon pottery at her target would do nothing. There were no more long distance options. She drew her sword from the sheath as the next best thing. Sword out, and she snapped her wrist to call upon the magical shield hiding in her bracelet. It could survive three hits. The shop owner said it could even stop magical attacks. She spent every coin on equipment for this mission.
Four very short inhaled breaths came from the dragon, its tail slithering around. It rolled its shoulders, threatening to stretch out its wings.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve felt physical pain.”
The voice resonated power that she felt in her bones. Its mouth stretched open, revealing the large jagged teeth. Many heroes and warriors had died inside its mouth. Sisal knew she would not be the next one. She was ready with her Iridium dwarven crafted sword, honed to withstand any fire attack. The King himself gifted the sword to her once she accepted this mission, the ruby in it to match her ferocity and hair. Since the day she could walk, she constantly had to prove herself to others that she would be strong enough to do this mission. Now, she had the equipment to stop the monster that threatened Vakfored, her home.
Grabbing at a small pouch of dust in her pocket, she threw the purple powder up in the air and ran through it. The chrome and mushroom smell covered her. For the next twenty seconds, she would be invisible to the beast. A trick she used before on the yeti monster, but a dragon was a different game.
Its eyes, the color of its hoard, narrowed and looked around. “Little human, that’s very clever of you.”
Sisal knew she couldn’t stay still and ran toward the belly of the dragon. It took eight seconds to get there. Some of its scales were as tall as her, while others were only as big as her abdomen. No wonder it only took one scale to make all the arrowheads. The tail swung at the gold pile where Sisal visibly stood last. She remained underneath it, staying light on her feet as she looked for the gap in its scales where she could cut it. Rumors mentioned an injury near its heart. Being next to the dragon, it was easy to predict all its movement.
Except for a forward charge. It was unfair that a creature so large could still move so explosive suddenly. As the beast ran forward, it swung its tail like a hunting hound finding the scent of prey. She tried to stay on the underside, near the middle. Her stride was too small compared to the monster. Its tail scraped up against her, knocking her over. The invisibility dust was no longer on her, and she used up one hit of her shield. Facing such an intelligent beast over a millennium old, it was a fool’s dream to think some simple tricks would outsmart it. But even the most intelligent person falls for the simple shoulder tap joke. She tossed more dust into the air, but instead of running to the beast, she slowed her walk. Stepping lightly around the jewels, pottery, and garland covered stalagmites. Finally, she arrived at a small alcove in the wall, still too far from the door she originally sought, but the powder would end soon.
The dragon sighed, smoke dissipating out of its mouth. It lowered its head, chuckling. Large rings wafted out and then a stream of smoke filled the low area. It was going to smoke her out. Its golden eyes were still towered above her, out of reach of her sword even with the beast’s head on the ground. The fire tongues coming from its mouth illuminated its eyes. The smoke grew and tendrils reached out to her.
Gingerly, she reached down and grabbed a handful of gems and coins. These coins just had a simple sketching with an outline of dragon wings on them. The dragon statue, coins, and even the pot next to her had images of a dragon on it. With all the coins here, she actually could count the size of its ego. She threw the coins and gems at a clay pot standing on a pedestal with glowing orbs wrapped around it. It tipped over, and it fell down onto the pile of coins nearby. The dragon flung around and swung a giant claw toward the pot. The back of the stubby leg created a chance for her to run up it and charge toward the golden target, its eye.
Sprinting up the scales of a dragon was easier than she had expected, as long as she landed right where the ridges were. The metal of her sword glistened icy blue, magic sizzling along as it charged the attack to pierce the dragon’s eye and cause the most critical damage. Her heart pounding, she climbed, grateful for the lack of heavy armor as she was nimble, and agile, racing toward the glass eye. She pulled her sword back and prepared to jab.
The eye closed, the sword pierced through, and the sparks went flying. She gripped on for her dear life as the dragon swung its head about, roaring in pain. She was going to succeed. Her bracelet still had two hits, and she had more tricks. Her thumb reached over to twist a ring on her finger to increase her strength for the next few minutes.
The air whooshed by as the dragon quickly lowered its head, tilted until her feet were touching the ground. One of its front limbs stuck out with its claws, pinching to hold the orange pot from before.
“I believe you’ve finally found the path of Vakfored.” It chuckled and tilted its head slowly. “Go on, let go, and pull your stinger out, too.”
The laughter of the beast only enraged her more. It was not trying in this fight completely. She let go of the sword and reached into her pouch but froze when the dragon clicked its tongue, a sound forcing hot air steaming over her legs.
“Take the sword out. It hurts.”
The beast had admitted it hurt, but it was so calm about the pain, a sense of foreboding filled her as if a worse storm would arise if she left the sword in. She tried to push it, but the monster moved its head to counter her action, causing the sword to slice more. Letting go of the sharp edge, she snapped her wrist to prepare another shield in time as it swatted at her with its claw.
“Vakfored never listen.” It mumbled. “Take the sword out, now. Then we talk.”
Sisal still had time on her strength spell, but she was losing advantages quickly. The dragon was calmly talking to her, even after she attacked it, and she only had one more shield hit left. If the dragon wanted to talk, she could find a better advantage. She yanked the sword out. Dark red and purple glistened off her weapon, the eyelid seeping. Proof that she harmed it.
Instead of doubting her advantages further, she raised back the sword. As it came down, the attack cracked into a tooth as the monster raised its head back up, a small grunt emitting from its mouth. Again, the dragon calmly ignored the damage.
“Good. Now clean up and you can join me in the back chamber.”
It gently fixed the fallen pedestal from their fight and put the orange ceramic pot on it. Fractured lines ran around the lip. It was more worried about the pot than this fight.
She willed for another type of dust bag to come to her from her pouch. A rumble emitting from the throat of the dragon, its neck glistening brighter as a fire threatened to burst. “Unless you want to be roasted, I suggest you stop. You were victorious.”
The dragon straightened the statue nearby with a sigh and then sauntered back to the cavern through an archway. “I hope you like soup, because that’s all I have ready this early in the day.”
Sisal paused, sword in hand, studying her target. Its eye and back were bleeding. Two severe hits landed on it, and it acted as if the injuries were nothing but mosquito bites at a picnic.
And it just invited her over for breakfast. Walking past the ceramic pot, it showed a terra sigillata design of a dragon and wheat around it. This place had multiple items made with the dragon’s likeness on it. Rubies, jaspers, garnets, even veins of red marble carved to look like the monster. The beast was greedy and narcissistic. For years, the people of Vakfored gave tribute to the dragon named Vakandi Foreldri. It hoarded their precious materials and art and devoured those who disobeyed it. The monster only gave fear to the city. It was the same as the criminals that demanded protection in the worse districts of Vakfored.