Of Wings and Shadows
Of Cinder and Bone #5.5
by Kyoko M.
Genre: Science Fiction, Contemporary Fantasy
In a modern-day world teeming with marauding dragons, there is only one solution: The Wild Hunt.
The United States government has decided to hold a tournament called The Wild Hunt to determine who will be responsible for the capture of wild dragons by the Knight Division. The four challengers Noah Wilson, Charlie Howard, Su Jin Han, and Beowulf have to catch five deadly dragons alive if they want to win the tournament and become the new Knight Division dragon hunters. Their journey will take them through the mountains of South Carolina, the seas of Key West, the caverns of Ruby Falls, the Redwood forest, and finally, the murky bayous of Louisiana. Will they succeed against their competition, or will the dragons of the Wild Hunt be too wild to tame?
Of Wings and Shadows is the sixth book in the Of Cinder and Bone series. It takes place in medias res of Book Five, Of Claws and Inferno. It follows Of Cinder and Bone, Of Blood and Ashes, Of Dawn and Embers, and Of Fury and Fangs.
Su Jin Han had caught plenty of dragons, but oddly enough, this was her first time meeting one.
After landing at the airport, Su Jin had been introduced to her flying companion for the afternoon—an Appalachian forest dragon nicknamed Draco because of his similar scale color and patterns to the famous talking dragon from the movie Dragonheart. He was just over five-feet tall with scales the hue of tree bark, spines running down his back, and eerie yellow eyes. He had a single horn at the tip of his nose and horns protruding from the edge of his jaw and at the crown of his head. The dragon had been found as a hatchling on a local farm in Alabama where they had raised it until it was too big to continue keeping and relinquished it to the Knight Division. They had socialized the dragon and taught it how to follow simple commands much like the dragons they used for capture, so it was all ready for the task ahead.
Ruby Falls saw plenty of visitor traffic, but things had ramped up considerably when the mercury dragon had first been spotted on the grounds. Unlike some of the other dragons on the tournament list, it had claimed no victims and hadn’t had any incidents with tourists just yet, and they aimed to keep it that way. Historically, the mercury dragon had first been discovered in a silver mine in Mexico, as the miner who discovered it thought the name silver dragon was too on-the-nose for such an extraordinary specimen. It was a notoriously swift reptile that was often hard to catch even with its flashy colored scales making it easier to spot in a cave system. It was for that reason that Su Jin had asked for an accompanying dragon; Ruby Falls had plenty of nooks and crannies that would be good places for the dragon to hide. The likelihood that she needed to be airborne to catch it was high and the Appalachian forest dragon was an excellent flier as well as being a capable digger.
The accessible part of the falls had a well-lit walking path for her and Draco to get started instead of open water or a massive forest. She had a map with each area clearly marked as well as the additional data from the Falls’ curators. The cave had been cleared ahead of her arrival, though there were plenty of excited onlookers when she arrived to get started. The Wild Hunt was very much underway; she’d already corresponded with Agent Okamura, who let her know that the opposing team had caught the dart-backed wyrm, the scavenger dragon, and the bone dragon so far. Kamala’s hunt of the hydra dragon would be underway not long after she’d get started. Charlie’s hunt had taken longer than they had wanted, so it was important she got her capture done quickly.
Like Noah, she’d be hunting alone with all eyes on the capture through her bodycam since the cave could be rather cramped and it might impede any cameramen, especially if she needed to take flight to catch the dragon. The entrance to the Falls was through an elevator, which she was a bit hesitant about given the live dragon at her side, but hopefully it wouldn’t feel too claustrophobic once inside. The average cave walk could be completed in an hour and twenty minutes, meaning she had a lot of places to search.
“How are you feeling, Su Jin?” Yusuke asked over the comms.
She smiled. “Like Bilbo about to walk into the Lonely Mountain.”
The agent chuckled. “Well, let’s hope this goes a lot better than that with our would-be Smaug inside. We should be able to stay connected since Ruby Falls has wi-fi, but I understand if I lose you at certain points. Based on the security cam footage, the mercury dragon comes inside the caverns to rest or refresh itself.”
“I’m not half as concerned about that as I am how to get it out of here,” she admitted. “There are several points in the cave walk that get pretty narrow, so I’ll be on high alert to keep from getting cornered.”
“Agreed. Rely on Draco if need be; I’ve been told he has excellent night vision.”
“Got it. I’m going to try and get it on the same level as me with some wild hog meat and then dart it from afar once it’s on the ground.”
“Good strategy. I’ll keep quiet on comms so you can have the element of surprise, but don’t hesitate to reach out for advice.”
“Yes, sir. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck, Miss Han.”
Su Jin glanced at the dragon by her side. “Let’s go into the belly of the beast.”
Draco made a chittering noise as if he’d understood her, which made her chuckle, and she hit the Down button on the elevator. They stepped inside once the doors opened and rode it down into the cavern system of Ruby Falls.
They walked through a small antechamber with low ceilings before reaching the first stop on the tour: an area with screens talking about the history of the Falls. The stone walls around them were craggy and colored various hues of grey, white, yellow, and light brown, spotted with stalactites and stalagmites. She continued forward without pausing to look; she knew the dragon wouldn’t be in this part of the cave due to the bright lights and the noise from the looping video screens.
After going through a narrow passage way, they passed by several markers with plaques naming the different unique cave formations. Some spots had extremely high ceilings that were brightly lit and she paused to examine them just in case, but her tracker didn’t see anything yet.
“Boy,” she muttered to herself as she clicked on her helmet’s flashlight and ducked around a protruding wall. “It’s a good thing Noah didn’t get this assignment. Poor guy would be banging his head left and right.”
Interestingly, when they reached the section of the cave called Dragon’s Foot, she spotted the first signs of the mercury dragon: fallen scales. She knelt as she noted a small trail of them along the path, gleaming like freshly polished dimes. They were almost exactly halfway through the cave walk, which meant she was due for a sighting shortly.
As they rounded the bend, they came up to an area brightly lit with blue and purple lights called Angel’s Wing. The tracker lit up with activity, indicating that the mercury dragon was up ahead at the very end of the cave in the Falls Room. The cave walk ended at the cascading waterfall with a pool surrounded by a guard rail. The top of the falls was extremely high up, which meant the dragon had a lot of room to maneuver. Su Jin kept her steps as light as possible on the approach, occasionally reaching back to pat the dragon to let it know everything was fine.
Once they reached the Falls Room, Su Jin spotted the mercury dragon inside the five-foot deep pool bathing itself much like a giant silver bird. The mercury dragon was the size of an adult black bear with a crown of spikes and black claws. It hadn’t spotted them yet, so she stepped to one side and guided Draco to lie down. She opened one of the pockets on her utility belt and withdrew fresh wild hog meat. Then she crept forward and placed it in the middle of the walking path so the dragon could catch its scent. She retreated to Draco’s side, then withdrew the tranquilizer rifle and lay on her belly looking through the night vision scope.
The mercury dragon shook itself a final time and then flew up onto the guard rail. It cocked its head and its nostrils flared. Draco shifted beside her when the mercury dragon turned its head in their direction and she reached out and patted his shoulder to soothe him.
Through her scope, the mercury dragon’s eyes glowed eerily as it crept forward cautiously toward its free meal. It nosed the pork and smelled it before swallowing the slab of meat whole. To her surprise, the reptile continued forward, sniffing the ground, but definitely heading towards the two of them. She pushed onto her feet as the creature came close, unsure of its intentions. Draco stood as well, his wings rustling as he shifted a few steps back. Su Jin offered her hand to the dragon and it smelled her fingers and palm, its forked tongue flicking out a few times. It raised its head and looked at her as if trying to reconcile something.
Then it occurred to her what connection the dragon might have made in its mind: she smelled like the fresh meat it had just eaten. It wasn’t too hard to reason that the dragon now thought she was part of the meal, albeit alive and well instead of dead and chopped up.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Su Jin muttered as she slid her hand towards her utility belt. The mercury dragon lunged forward and tried to bite her forearm.
Kyoko M is a USA Today bestselling author, a fangirl, and an avid book reader. She has written the Amazon bestselling Black Parade urban fantasy series as well as the Of Cinder and Bone science-fiction dragon hunting series. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Lit degree from the University of Georgia, which gave her every valid excuse to devour book after book with a concentration in Greek mythology and Christian mythology. When not working feverishly on a manuscript (or two), she can be found buried under her Dashboard on Tumblr, or chatting with fellow nerds on Twitter, or curled up with a good Harry Dresden novel on a warm Georgia night. Like any author, she wants nothing more than to contribute something great to the best profession in the world, no matter how small.