*NOTE ADDED JUNE 17, 2018* Please note that this serial is no longer available to new mailing list subscribers. BETROTHED TO THE DRAGON has been released here and according to the Terms of Service with Amazon Kindle Unlimited, I cannot make it available anywhere else.
Do you like free fiction?
I’ve been serializing the author’s cut of my upcoming release to my newsletter subscribers in weekly installments. That’s right, if you’re on my newsletter, you get the
the whole story
If you’re curious, I’ve included Part I which was sent out a few weeks ago. There’s still time to sign up and you’ll get links to all the subsequent pieces of the story.
It is the COMPLETE story, however:
-It is the UNEDITED, UNPROOFED draft that I just sent to my editor. You get it as raw as I wrote it.
-To comply with laws in various countries aimed at restricting access to mature content from minors, NO sexy time scenes will be included in this newsletter serial. (you’ll have to buy the book for those).
-Since this is the UNEDITED version, obviously it will not have any additional scenes that my editor tells me that I need to include.
Again, because this is a serial, you will receive an email from me every week until it is complete. You can choose to unsubscribe afterward or remain on my 2-3x a month mailing list.
Note: Please don’t post or upload this anywhere. If you have friends who you think would like this story, just ask them to sign up for my newsletter at this special link and they can get it for free too.
Here’s PART I.
Hope you enjoy!
BETROTHED TO THE DRAGON – PART I
“What do you mean I’m betrothed in an arranged marriage?”
I glanced at my phone, and saw all the connection bars filled, indicating full service. Still I must have heard her wrong, because it was the kind of statement I would have expected from a movie about some third world country where women weren’t allowed to drive or own property. Not from my Chanel-suited, pearl-necklaced, bitcoin gambling grandmother.
“Let me call you back,” I said. I teetered on the stupid heels I had bought for today, dancing around a pile of dusty books resting on the floor, and carefully navigated around the cubicle maze. The museum, built in the early twentieth century was gorgeous in its details from the hand carved woodwork windows, Italian marble floors, but sadly, lacking in space particularly in the room where us doctoral students shared desks. Grandma was known for playing games, but still, I didn’t fancy Josh from Etruscan pottery listening in on my conversation.
I hurried out of the museum, my heels clicking on the floors, nodded to Mohammed, the guard manning the metal detector and made my way through the crowds to the stone steps in the front of the museum. I could have gone to one of the side entrances for privacy, but I had learned that sometimes, the best kept secrets were those told in crowds.
Fat gray pigeons glared at me, barely dodging my footsteps as I made my way down the great expanse of stone steps. Grandma loved playing games. Once she had played politics with the fate of empires and now she channeled that love into stocks and virtual currency. I hit redial on my phone and she picked up almost immediately. “You lost a bet right? You know, I’m pretty sure it’s not legal to put up your grand daughter’s hand in marriage as stakes.”
Next to me, Chinese tourists were having a heated discussion about the best pizza places in SoMa. Grandma exhaled. “No Sophie. I made the deal so that we would be allowed to come to this country. It was a different time.”
I had tried to assimilate and adapt to human life in America, with blue jeans, chicken nuggets and a PhD in Museum Conservation. All of it was because it was easier than remembering what I truly was: the reason why my entire family had died.
I paced back and forth trying to release the nervous energy of an all too familiar tense frustration. “I wasn’t even a year old. There’s no way that will hold up in court.”
Grandma’s voice had that particular kind of calm she always had when she was trying to explain something she knew I didn’t like, but needed me to understand, like when I was six, and released my pet parakeet to give it fresh air, and expected it to come back. “Not legal by human standards, no. But by that of our people, yes.”
As much as we pretended to be human, ultimately we were not.
Shit. My new shoes rubbed and pinched my feet. Grandma’s timing for this news was of course, impeccable. “That’s barbaric. We just elected a woman president. Six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are women. I’m not going to agree to marry someone I don’t even know on the basis of —“
Grandma made that harrumphing barking cough she always made when she was done listening to me whine. “Sophie, I’ve tried to let you live a life of freedom and to make your own choices as much as you could. But my ability to protect you is fading. I need to know you are safe. And marriage into his family will protect you.”
Grandma didn’t say anymore. She didn’t need to. I had to be protected. I couldn’t do it myself. Unlike my grandmother, my mother and my father before me, I had no magic.
I stopped pacing, and squeezed my eyes shut.
“You are the last of our line.” Her voice hardened. “Even if your power hasn’t manifested, the potential of your blood is still there. This is the only way to keep you safe.”
I was a black belt in Krav Maga. I had had extensive firearms training from a grizzled old ex-Army Ranger sniper who said I had potential.
None of it mattered.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me this before?” I clenched the phone in my hand tighter.
“I had been hoping that some of the plans I made, the champions I sent against the monster would succeed before it would come to this.” There was a note of sadness in her voice. “But each time it fights, it learns. And every day it grows more and more powerful.”
My phone’s alarm vibrated, startling me into dropping my phone. I tried to catch it as it fell from my hand, but it was too late. When I picked it up, there was a hairline crack on the screen. Wonderful.
I picked up the phone turned on the speaker, hardened my voice. “Grandma, I have to get ready for my talk.”
“Good luck on your talk, Sophie.” She hung up, because she knew I was in no mood to say goodbye. The picture of Grandma and me appeared on my phone.
We looked so different, her and I. Grandma with her white skin, straight hair, and me with my dark skin and wavy hair. The only thing we shared was our eye-shape that humans called Asian. In school, I always I had checked off whatever box felt more convenient at the time. African, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, I had convincingly claimed them all. Grandma scoffed at the idea of labeling ourselves according to human ideas of ethnicity. “Our family spans the earth,” she had said. “A shen does not identify themselves by the tribal groupings of humans anymore then a lion distinguishes itself by the particulars of ant kingdoms.”
As much as I spent my life pretending I wasn’t, I was shen. We were the first intelligent life forms on this planet and connected to the deep magical nodes of the earth. Humans had many names for us: fae, yokai, rakshasas, gods, demons and monsters, but ultimately, we were shen. But years and years of intermingling with humans had dissipated most of the legendary shen magic.
And for the remaining shen with magic? None of it was enough to fight the Devourer when it entered this world, seeking new victims.
Including my parents.
They had died to save me, not knowing how they had thrown their lives away, because as a shen I was unforgivably flawed.
I had no magic.
My phone buzzed again, the alarm I had set to prepare for the one event I had been dreading and anticipating for the last six months.
My post-dissertation fellowship talk on religious motifs in East and Near Eastern art at the museum.
For some reason, giving the public lecture as required by my fellowship, put worms in my stomach so more than actually defending the actual dissertation itself in front of a panel of peers and experts. I had to simplify things, touch upon other areas that weren’t necessarily my specialty and make the topic more appealing to the general public because even I could admit that a discussion over the proper application of persimmon juice in scrollwork conservation could get pretty dry, so to speak.
I swiped at the tablet in my arm, changing the slide display. A collage of a Tlingit wooden carving of a woman with closed eyes, surrounded by mouths and dripping with blood was juxtaposed with that of a Heian Japanese scroll painting.
“And as you can see, in particular, the image of the Devourer is one that is found across several cultures from ancient Rome to Heian Japan to the totemic carvings of the Tlingit peoples of the First Nations of Canada.”
I clicked through the slides, kept moving, kept talking, even as I tried to ignore the striking gaze of the man in the back of the room. He had entered about five minutes into my talk and I couldn’t figure out why I was so aware of him.
It was foolish of me to include the Devourer. But I had felt a strange streak of defiance that Grandma had said was the lot of the young and reckless.
And yet she had, oddly enough given her blessing for me to speak of the monster.
Little fox, as difficult as things are, I want you to bloom as you can, not in fear.”.
He couldn’t be working for the Devourer could he?
Once upon a time, there was good reason for people to say that one should not call the names of gods or monsters in vain. In a sense, I was doing that here.
I walked across the stage, my heels clicking loudly across the floor.
“Of course, it is not only the only common motif across cultures. Dragons are another common motif…”
Of course, the fear all came to naught, because for all my painful anticipation and worry, it ended rather quickly. At end of the talk, I was congratulated by my future boss, the assistant curator of highly regarded Manhattan museum. She spoke at length on things I honestly should have been paying more close attention to.
But through it all, I was strikingly aware of the tall broad shouldered man in the crowd. He looked a bit out of place in his well-tailored business suit, but the open collar, loose tie spoke of a man who had decided to take a lunch break at the museum, which wasn’t all that uncommon.
When the crowd dissipated, I felt my heart speed up as he approached me.
“Hi.” My voice came out higher pitched than I intended and looked up at him. “Did you have any questions about the talk?”
He looked at me with golden light brown eyes. I had the strangest feeling that his gaze was stripping me, not just of my clothes, but to some hidden inner invisible core. My muscles felt unreasonably tense, ready to fight or flee, maybe both at the same time.
His smooth bass voice rolled across my skin like a caress. “I have many questions. But none of which I have time to ask.”
“Well, umm, there’s going to be another talk in, umm,” I glanced at her watch, even though she knew precisely when the next talk would be. “About an hour?” Dammit, why did I make that sound like a question?
The corner of those full lips quirked up into a smile. “Will you be leading it?”
“A shame.” He turned, stopped and nodded his head at me. “I enjoyed listening to you.”
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