We have just one month to go before the fourth novel in the Of Cinder and Bone series, Of Fury and Fangs, hits bookshelves! Here’s the final excerpt. As always, spoilers ahead.
Several pounding knocks on the door to her suite awoke Dr. Kamala Anjali from slumber.
The 5'4'' scientist groaned into her pillow, but lurched from her bed and shuffled across the carpet to open the door. When she did, she was met with an attractive black man in his thirties. He had a goatee and wore a gun-metal grey Kevlar suit with a helmet tucked under one arm, and he was beaming down at her with excitement.
"We've got a live one, doc," Bruce Calloway told her. "Get dressed."
Kamala sighed. "Now? I only finished my last analysis four hours ago, Calloway. I've just barely gotten any sleep."
"Oh, I know how to put the pep back in your step." He leaned in slightly. "It's a mimic dragon."
Kamala's honey-brown eyes widened. "What?"
"Yep. Someone called it in about fifteen minutes ago and dispatch sent word just now."
"Have any of the hunters caught word of it yet?"
"No. We're first on the case."
"I'll be ready in five," she promised, and then shut the door. She scurried over to her closet and ripped off her boyfriend's oversized MIT t-shirt and shimmied out of her shorts in favor of grabbing an armored suit nearly identical to the one Calloway wore. However, hers was much smaller and tailored to fit her curvy frame. She zipped it up and checked that the pouches on her utility belt were all snapped shut before slipping her phone into one, snatching up her helmet, and rushing out the door.
"Where?" she asked Calloway as they hurried down the hallway of the barracks towards the hangar.
"Farm on the city outskirts," he said, punching in some coordinates in the digital interface built into the forearm of his suit. Kamala's suit beeped and then she brought up the information he'd transmitted. "Guy went to go check on his herd when he heard an uproar and found the mimic dragon inside munching on a calf. Scared him half to death, so he called it in and holed himself up in the house with a shotgun just in case."
"Good man," she said. "I'm glad some of the civilians aren't trying to go after them on their own. I can't believe it's a mimic dragon. They've never been seen in North America before."
"Exactly," Calloway said as he hit the button for the elevator. "Civvie said that he didn't want to open fire and cause a stampede, and that after he calmed the cattle, he couldn't find it again."
"Incredible," Kamala said. "Aren't they the size of a large dog?"
"Or bigger, from what the history books say," he agreed. "So the chameleon thing must be real. But it begs the question where those clowns even found the DNA to replicate it. Like the arctic dragons, mimics are incredibly rare with less than a hundred ever sighted in the wild before the worldwide extinction."
"If we get one thing right in this endless mission, I hope we find out just how the Apophis Society is gaining access to those DNA samples," Kamala growled, watching the numbers on the elevator click up to the launch pad level. "They are insanely well connected. We've been keeping tabs on nearly every source of dragon DNA on the planet and yet we're always one step behind. Did you hear the rumor that some remains of an intact diablo dragon went mysteriously missing?”
“Yeah,” Calloway sighed. "Them's the breaks. Especially when your evil global organization has access to pretty much all the money you'd ever need to fund your illegal cloning operation. I just pray they haven’t had a successful trial. The diablo dragon’s the second deadliest species on Earth and we’ve already got out work cut out for us.”
The elevators opened onto the roof of an enormous hangar. It was the wee hours, so there was only one helicopter on a designated pad with its console lit up. Spotlights bounced off its polished steel and illuminated the white emblem on the side that depicted a heater shield with the initials K.D. upon it.
Calloway and Kamala climbed inside to find the pilot waiting. He was tall, olive-skinned, and mid-thirties with a thick beard and a winsome smile he aimed at his teammates as they boarded.
Calloway gave him a grin and a fist-bump. "Yousef, my man. Who did they drag you out from under to come fly us out?"
The pilot laughed. "Shit, they offered me time-and-a-half so I told her I'd buy her breakfast when I got back."
Calloway shook his head. "Incorrigible. Got your coordinates already?"
"Hell yeah. Let's kick the tires and light the fires, kiddies."
Calloway and Kamala strapped in while Yousef did the pre-flight check and made sure their gear had already been loaded as well, and then the helicopter took off into the night sky.
"When's the last time you checked the feed for any hunters in the area?" Kamala asked over the roar of the helicopter rotors.
"About fifteen minutes ago," Calloway said. "It's quiet so far, but we both know that doesn't mean shit since any pissant can give it a go these days."
"Tell me about it. I will never understand why they endanger themselves for money and the pretense of fame."
"That's because you're a grownup, doc," Calloway snorted. "Most of these ‘hunters’ are kids. Either adrenaline junkies or rich little Youtubers trying to increase their follower count. Until we get the legislation in place, it's a damned free-for-all."
"As if our job isn't hard enough. You'd think the death toll would dissuade them by now."
Calloway shrugged a shoulder. "Get rich or die trying. Emphasis on the die part."
Kamala shook her head. "Every morning, I pray that this world returns to some form of sanity before my daughter is old enough to have to participate in society."
Calloway gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Who are you kidding, doc? The world was never sane to begin with."
She gave him a regretful smile in return. "Touché."
The ride wasn't terribly long--just under fifteen minutes, and mid-April meant a cool night in the Midwest. They came up on a mid-sized farm with plenty of open acres, its grass and forests already green from the beginning of spring. Yousef found a flat stretch in the field to touch down and they climbed out. Calloway strapped a net launcher across his back and Kamala activated her dragon tracker as they approached the barn.
"Shit," she muttered as she examined the interface. "The interference with the cattle is pretty bad. It's throwing off the readings. Plus, they're almost in a frenzy. We've got to get it out of there before they all go berserk."
"Roger that," Calloway said as he tugged his helmet on and slid the launcher around to his hands. "What are you thinking?"
"Strobe lights," she said. "The noise of the cattle is too loud to try an audible distraction, but it's probably dark in there and it'll be attracted to light. I'll be the bait. Just be ready."
"Yes ma'am." He offered his fist. She bumped it and then took a deep breath before continuing forward on her own.
The farmer had left the barn's side door unlocked for them, so Kamala carefully pushed it open to reveal the large space with its dirt floors and iron bars where the cows were corralled daily to be kept at night. By now, she'd gotten used to the stench of the livestock; after all, the smell pervaded the air for miles and she'd gotten a whiff as soon as they left the helicopter.
The cows shifted and mooed in protest with nervous energy, their eyes glowing from the few spotlights in the ceiling. It was almost completely dark inside and the constant shifting of the frightened cattle made it difficult to concentrate, but she managed as she shut the door behind her.
The iron bars that held the animals were securely posted in the ground, but she knew if all the animals panicked at once, they could trample them or bend them out of shape. She walked forward slowly with a small, military-grade flashlight in one hand and her tranquilizer gun in the other. She had hoped the cattle had grouped together in one spot to avoid the predator, but they were scattered throughout the enclosure and seemed just as confused as she was of its whereabouts. The stench of gore and spilled guts reached her and she glanced to her right to see the corpse of the calf the dragon had already devoured. Most of its internal organs were gone, leaving a pool of blood and torn fur behind. She suppressed a shudder and slid into the pen to examine the area.
She checked the claw marks in the dirt and glanced up to see that one of the skylights had been shattered. The dragon had dropped down from above much like an eagle scooping up prey and had killed the calf on the spot. The cattle had run to the other side of the pen to avoid being mauled as well, and currently were bumping into each other to stay away from the fresh kill. She spotted a trail of blood leading away from the corpse and squinted at the cattle. A few of them had scratch marks on their pelts. The dragon had likely gotten spooked by them, or by the farmer when he entered the barn to check on the noise, and would have attacked in self-defense.
Kamala lifted her flashlight to the walls of the barn, going slowly, and checking it against the dragon tracker built into her suit. She didn't see anything on the ceiling or on the walls. There was a chance it had left the barn again, but her gut told her otherwise. She continued towards the cattle and checked among them for anything unusual, but she didn't spot the dragon trying to hide among their ranks. With a frustrated sigh, she turned to head back to the door.
Then, her tracker beeped.
There, not three feet from the shredded calf, lay what she had thought was a pile of hay and dirt. The heads-up display in her helmet switched to a different field of vision to reveal that it had been the mimic dragon in camouflage the entire time.
Kamala froze and swallowed hard. "Maa ki aankh."
And just as she recognized it, the dragon opened one grey eye and stared directly at her.
"Calloway," she whispered. "I've spotted it."
"Atta girl," he said over the comm-link. "Are you coming out of the side door or do you think it's going to make a break for it out of the skylight?"
"Not sure," she replied. "No scarring. Based on its lack of aggression, it may never have interacted with anyone since it was cloned. We know there are different sites out there, not just the ones planted by the yakuza and the Apophis Society. Did the farmer say it tried to attack him?"
"No. It gave him a warning, but he's not hurt at all."
"Then there is a good chance that it will simply be attracted to the light instead of attacking. I'll try and get it to come out of the side door."
Kamala muttered a quick protection prayer before she switched the flashlight from a constant beam to a strobe setting.
The mimic dragon opened both eyes, and its scales changed from the dark brown and light-yellow imitating the dirt and hay to a light green with mottled dark green patterns along its back and down its tail. It was roughly the size of a North American wolf, just as she'd suspected; big enough to be dangerous, but not impossible to catch if one had the know-how. The dragon unfurled from a ball and shook out its wings, staring intently at the flashing light. Calf blood dripped from its fangs and dribbled down its mandible as it walked towards Kamala, its nostrils flaring as it took in her scent.
Behind them, the cattle mooed loudly in fright, and the walls of the barn shook as they tried to pack themselves against the far side. Kamala eased out of the pen and took slow steps backwards. The dragon followed her as if hypnotized. "We're coming out now, Calloway."
She pushed the door open with her heel and walked through it backwards, her gaze never leaving the creature as it trailed after her. She needed just a few more feet to give Calloway a clear shot and then they'd be home-free.
Just then, a strange buzzing noise sounded overhead.
Frowning, Kamala glanced up to see a drone appear from over top of the barn. "What the hell?"
Before she could move an inch, the drone shot a blast of glow-in-the-dark ink at the mimic dragon. The reptile snarled and shook out its wings, then leapt into the air after it. The drone flitted away into the night sky like a bat out of hell.
"Shit!" Kamala snarled. "Someone else is out here."
Calloway swore. "It's probably leading the dragon to whoever owns that damn droid. Come on!"
They booked it through the field after the fleeing drone and the angry dragon, heading towards a line of trees near the border of the property. Kamala pulled a silver whistle from her utility belt and slid up the visor of her helmet, bringing it to her lips. She blew hard.
The mimic dragon swerved mid-flight and circled around, flying towards them instead with a roar of annoyance.
Calloway skidded to a halt and planted his feet, aiming.
"Down in three...two...one!"
He shot the net launcher. The diamond-wire net deployed, but the dragon spun nimbly out of its path and ploughed right into him at top speed. Calloway and the dragon tumbled backwards in the tall weeds in a heap. The dragon dragged the launcher from his grip and slung it several feet away from him. It turned to one side as Calloway sprang to his feet and cracked its tail at his midsection. Calloway brought up a forearm and blocked the blow before grabbing the dragon’s appendage and latching on. The creature wriggled and snapped its head around towards him, much like a captured gator, but he turned counterclockwise out of the path of its jaws.
Snarling, the reptile’s throat bulged and then it spat a fat glob of venom at his head.
“Shit!” Calloway ducked just in time and heard the weeds behind him sizzling as the acidic substance ate straight through them. “Aren’t you just a charmer?”
“Hang on!” Kamala called as she hurried over, but as she did, the drone zipped past her, missing her by mere inches. Bright flashes lit up the clearing as the drone’s camera snapped photos of the beast. The dragon thrashed angrily and lobbed a mouthful of venom at the drone instead, but it veered to one side and kept taking pictures.
The dragon snapped at Kamala’s heels as she scampered past it and dive-rolled in the tall grass. She snatched up the net launcher when she came up on one knee and shouted, “Calloway, down!”
The other dragon hunter released the dragon’s tail and jumped back just in time. A second net shot out and engulfed the dragon. It yelped and fell in a tangled bundle to the grass.
"It's alright," Kamala said soothingly, rolling it onto its belly. "Easy, easy, now."
She retrieved her tranquilizer gun and measured the dosage carefully before injecting the dragon in a soft spot beneath its jaw. The creature's wriggling slowed, and then stopped altogether. She checked its pulse and sighed in relief that it was stable.
Then she stood, reached for her flare gun, and shot the hovering drone right out of the sky.
It exploded in a shower of sparks and fell to the ground in a mass of broken metal and glass. She stalked over to it and dug out the camera attached, which still had a little red light indicating that it was recording.
"Whoever this is," Kamala said, seething. "Do not ever try this again. You are not a dragon hunter. You are a reckless, ridiculous child seeking attention and you nearly endangered my life, my colleague's life, and the life of this dragon. Cease this madness immediately or we will come after you with the full force of the Knight Division and the U.S. government."
With that, she threw the camera to the ground and stomped it to cut the feed.
"Well," Calloway said mildly. "That's one way to make an impression."
"I tire of these fools," Kamala growled as she swept off her helmet and dusted the dirt away. "How many more innocents will die while they play these games?"
"I'm sure a few centuries ago, some folks just like us were asking the same questions," he said solemnly as he signaled Yousef to fly over to them. "Ain't nothin' new under the sun, Kam."
He nudged her shoulder with his own as he removed his helmet and gave her a reassuring smile. "But we're still making a difference one dragon at a time."
"We are, but will it ever be enough to change the tide?"
"Guess we'll find out together. Good work, doc."
She smiled back at him. "Good work, Calloway."
Just then, her cell phone buzzed from inside one of the belt’s pouches. Confused, she withdrew it to find her boyfriend calling. Strange, she thought. It was nearly two a.m. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"Jack? Honey, what are you doing up so late?"
She heard him exhale shakily into the phone. "I know, baby. There's...there's been an accident at the house."
Kamala's blood turned to ice in her veins. "Oh God, Jack, are you okay? Is it Naila?"
"She's fine. We're both fine, but...I need you to come home. It's a mess. Everything's a fucking mess and I need you here."
"I'll be there as fast as I can. I swear it."
"Thanks, angel," he sighed. "Call me when you land."
"I will. I love you."
"I love you more."
Pre-order Of Fury and Fangs for only 99 cents on Amazon! The price will go up on October 25th, 2020. Don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads To Be Read shelf. Join me on Facebook for a live reading on release day October 24th. Stay tuned on the She Who Writes Monsters for our blog tour, which kicks off today.
Kyoko M is the Amazon bestselling author of The Black Parade and the Of Cinder and Bone series.