Hello, hello! In celebration of finishing Burning Thorns I thought I’d share some snippets. Since I have been (and will be) jabbering on and on about it, the least I could do is show you some of it, right? As always, this is first draft material here, so read at the risk of eyeball injuries.
"Oh." She was silent for all of three seconds before saying, "So what do I call you?"
"Dragon is as good as anything."
"What?" The pattering of feet came to an abrupt halt. "You're the dragon?"
He stopped as well but never once moved his gaze from the path ahead. "Yes."
"But you don't look anything like a dragon."
His hands slid deeper into the sleeves. "How do you know?"
"Well, I mean, it's your, erm, proportions. You seem a bit too small, too human shaped, for a dragon."
An odd sensation tugged up at the corners of his lips, but he quickly squelched it. "Dragons have many different forms."
"Do you like to read?" He glanced down at her, hardly knowing where the question came from. She did need a distraction to keep her away from the Forest and prying through his personal belongings. And somewhere away from him.
She looked up, eyes sparkling. "Oh yes, very much!"
He averted his eyes to the door again and reached to open it with his free arm, unsure why he suddenly felt so uncomfortable when she looked at him. He cleared his throat. "Good. Then maybe you'll have something to occupy yourself with that isn't snooping where you don't belong." He forced his gaze back on her and almost managed a smile. "I think you'll find my library quite satisfying."
Her lips parted and surprise flashed in her eyes. "You mean…you're allowing me to stay?"
He stared at her hopeful gaze for several seconds. A dull ache pricked at his chest and constricted his throat. Trying to swallow it all away, he nodded. "I suppose I am."
The castle surrounded by roses had sat still and silent since it appeared in the midst of the Forest. No movement of wind crossed its path. The nearby trees dared not shudder their branches lest the leaves rustled. Rose petals fell perfectly silent to the earth. It was as if time itself chose to keep its distance from the foreboding structure. Only the dark mist snaked through its shadows.
"Why do they fear you?" Rose asked. Not accusingly, not with bitterness, she simply wanted to know, and yet this confused him all the more.
He looked down at his gloved hand and crumpled the thick leather into a fist. "Everyone fears me." Doubts niggled at his mind, thoughts he pondered every day since she came. He had to know. Keeping his head down, he asked quietly. "Why don't you?" Much to his surprise, she chuckled, and something inside him lifted at the happy sound. He moved his gaze back to her and found the light had returned in her eyes.
She stood and brushed dirt from her dress. "Because," she gave one last flap of her skirts and then looked him straight in the eye, "you're not the beast the stories make you out to be." Her smile and the twinkle in her eyes grew softer, sincere. "You're kind."
Boyish laughter filled the air. Anya's fingers crumpled tighter at the mocking tone, but movement behind the trees distracted her from the irritation. A section of the dark fog spiraled higher and higher until a single wisp detached from the rest. It swirled a few foot above the earth, darting back and forth between the foliage, as if putting on a show, before finally approaching the wall of trees. Hovering at eye level with Anya through a gap of branches, it twirled and twirled, and with each spin, it grew, took shape.
Anya blinked when she found a boy grinning at her between the branches. He took a step back and bowed so low his nose nearly touched the forest floor. "Your ladyship."
Anya straightened. "I'm looking for someone." She did not miss the slight rise of his brow, though his voice kept its mocking tone.
"Ah. A runaway prince, then? Can't blame him for running. You could make a dragon freeze under that glare." His eyes flashed in triumph. "See? It's getting even worse now. I'm shivering already."
Teeth clenched, Anya snatched the flower from his hold before Marigold had a chance to take it and tossed it to the ground. "Enough of your tomfoolery, imp. Where is Rose?"
He glanced down at the flower, blinking, before shrugging it off. "First of all," he said, raising a finger, "I'm not an imp. Thirdly, in the castle."
"Um, you skipped your second point," Marigold pointed out.
"Hm? Oh, right. Numbers were always slippery little things. Secondly, she's in trouble. Thirdly, she's in the castle, thus the troubling part. There."
Marigold wrung her hands together. "What's troubling about the castle?"
"Well, she could break her neck on those floors. They're so polished it's like trying to walk on ice. Seems impractical to me. Oh, or she could be murdered by the dragon that lives there. Either one."
The Beast roared.
He roared until the foyer windows cracked, the walls quivered, the furniture clattered against one another. Until his throat burned and lungs emptied of air. And then he lifted the great high-backed chair and hurled it into the mantel where it broke and crumpled. Eager flames devoured the splintering pieces, growing brighter on its feast. Larger and hotter, just as the fire inside the Beast. The Dragon.
Keeping the blade high, he used his other hand to pull Rose to her feet. "Get out of here!" he snarled, looking left to right at the fae once more closing in. "Go to the castle. Now!"
She immediately sprinted past him and down the muddy path. One of the creatures loped after her but the Beast caught it by the back of its leathery neck and drove the blade into its back. He did not wait to watch the body disintegrate to mist.
Turning to the others, he snatched off his half mask and looked right into their dark, gleaming eyes. They moved back as one, hissing quietly. "Leave!" he roared. "You will not come here again!"
He swiped the blade before them and their hissing turned to screeches. They sunk into the ground and seeped into the shadows, not even leaving a print in the mud behind.
The Beast stood alone, the only sound his own heavy breathing.
He stared at his shadow stretching into the depth of the Forest, casting darkness even upon the bright roses encircling him. He clutched the mask in his hand. No matter how hard he tried to hide it, he was still a beast. No mask could change that.
The Dragon's claws scratched the dusty castle floor with each dragged step.
For days—or had it been a lifetime?—that sound alone bounced off the castle walls.
That and his roars.
He sauntered around broken furniture, shattered glass, doors torn off their hinges. His rage was the only thing that kept him company now.
It was laughable that he once thought he could make this place a home, a real home he might actually be happy in. As if waxed floors and polished furniture would somehow make the curse, his prison, bearable.
He followed her line of sight to the castle tucked between the trees before them. "Unlike you humans, we fae aren't small minded."
"No, just bigheaded."
"Why are we even here?" Marigold asked
"I thought it'd be a nice gesture to visit."
"Visit? The Dragon? And do what exactly?"
"Oh, that sounds like a great plan. Why don't we have tea with him as well? And what for dessert? Charred flesh? Human eyeballs?"
"Their tongues are much tastier." Larke glanced her way from the corner of his eye and bit down on his own tongue to not laugh at her horrified expression.
"Maybe you're really the youngest and just forgot."
This finally brought her eyes away from the fire, and the way they flashed it looked as if long exposure pulled some of the flames right into her eyeballs. "I am not the youngest! I am a year and a half older than Rose!"
"My! A year and a half? Impressive." He took extra precautions to assure the sarcasm made it to her ears loud and clear. "Wait, wait." He held his palms out defensively when she shifted as if ready to lunge right over the fire and to his throat, wounded or not. "Looking young isn't all that bad. I pull it off beautifully after all."
Eyeing him skeptically, she settled back down. "How old are you?"
"It changes from day to day."
Her brow furrowed and she blinked at him for nearly ten seconds before the realization flared across her face. "Ugh, you're hopeless!"
Palms still spread out in front of him, chest heaving, and blood pounding in her ears, Rose looked into his face. "Dragon?"
He blinked, and the untamed gleam in his eye faded. For the first time since he attacked, he looked at her. He saw her.
Rose took a shuddering breath. A thousand words she longed to say stormed through her throat, but only one broke free. "Please."
His black lips parted, trembled, like speaking pained him. His eyes roved over every inch of her face, as if searching for something lost. They gazed deep, piercing, hungry. She could see him now, the man hidden under the beast, so desperately trying to claw his way out.
What was first only one night in the curious castle turned into many days, and those days into weeks, until Rose almost felt familiar with the large structure of shifting halls and dancing murals.
In repayment for his hospitality, she offered the Dragon her cleaning services, but after she nearly flooded the entire foyer with her first attempt at mopping, he declined any more offers.
The shadows tore around the Dragon—both invigorating and overpowering. The flames inside him flared, fed the overcoming desire to take blood. Begged to kill. How easy it would be. Just one eruption of flames and they would all be dead. No more accusations, no more looks of hatred. No one left to control his life. Solitude.
He licked his lips before carefully saying, "Do you? Why?"
She reached for the great white doors and shoved them closed. The moment the last slit of sunlight disappeared, the foyer candelabras crackled to life. Rose turned back to face the Beast and the firelight gleamed off the iridescent fabric of her lavender gown. Standing there in the middle of the foyer, she looked as enchanting as the castle itself, as if she was a very piece of it.
She stepped forward, the flame's light weaving glints of gold down her dark locks. "Because here, away from the slave trader, away from my sisters, from those dark beings in the shadows, I know I'm safe."
Her answer clung to the Beast far after she had left for bed.