Word count: 30,578
When I started blogging about the process of writing my new fantasy novel (the first post on the subject is way back here) I told you I might let slip a few spoilers along the way. Well, I’m going to stick my neck out and go one better. Below you’ll find the first 1,000 words of the book.
Why share this now, I hear you ask? Am I rewarding patient fans with a snippet of new fiction or gaining sadistic pleasure by teasing them with something that has no guarantee yet of getting published? Am I genuinely inviting feedback or just cynically trying to drum up interest in my latest work-in-progress?
Okay, it’s probably all those things. But I think the real reason is that, by posting this extract so early in the game, I’m raising the stakes for myself on the project as a whole. If I start telling you the story here, I’ve no choice but to make sure the rest of it gets told, one way or another.
It’s only recently I’ve started journalising my writing like this. I don’t know how interesting the process is to others, but that’s not why I’m doing it. What does fascinate me is that it’s becoming part of my writing routine, a way of gauging whether or not what I’m composing has value. Writing is all about looking inside. Glancing out occasionally can help you keep track of where you are, and where you’re going. So far it’s working for me. If I get sick of it, you’ll be the first to know.
So anyway, here it is: the first draft of the first section of the first chapter of The Spiral Skull – Book One of The Last Dragon Cycle. Make of it what you will. I don’t think reading it will spoil what’s to come in the rest of story … but I do hope it leaves you wanting more.
The Spiral Skull – First Draft
Copyright © Graham Edwards 2011 All Rights Reserved
Chapter 1 – Arilla
Pyx opened his eyes into a glaring sky. Cloud ribbons wrapped the high sun, thickening even as he watched. The clouds were tinted yellow, rich with toxic sleight. Not surprising. Sleight had a way of creeping up when you least expected it. Almost as if it was seeking you out. Even the sun could be caught by surprise.
Pyx flopped his head sideways. Desert fled into the distance, flat and white, featureless but for one thing: far on the horizon was balanced a pillar of fire. It was orange, flecked with red. The top of the pillar mushroomed wide, spreading until it merged with the gathering cloud. An unnatural thing.
Pyx stared at the fire, mesmerised. He’d seen such things before. Exactly where, and when, he couldn’t quite remember. He couldn’t remember much at all actually – how he’d got here, or even where here was. But he knew his head ached and his mouth was dry and if he lay here much longer the sun would make cinders of him. The fire on the horizon was a puzzle for later. First things first.
He tried to roll from his back on to his belly, but something was holding his wings down. He contorted his neck and saw bright blue knots of charm piercing the tips. He’d been stapled to the ground. The charm bubbled, spilling little beads like liquid lightning.
Panic surged through him: fear of being trapped, and of the charm for its own sake. Charm scared Pyx, always had. It was nothing he understood. He yanked at his glowing bonds, expecting pain. But his wingtips were quite numb. The sun crushed him with its heat. He’d been pinned out to die.
He tugged harder. Freedom was worth a couple of ripped wing membranes. But he had no strength. His thoughts came loose in his aching head. Gasping for breath, he gave up, tried to slow his pounding heart. Tried to remember what had happened.
‘You fly well,’ said a voice, low, guttural. ‘Even if you only use wings.’
Pyx turned away from the desert. A dragon was hunched over him, wings cupped high to shelter him from the sun. Hungry eyes. Black and green scales. Prominent ribs. Sores around his mouth. Two more dragons huddled behind him, looking equally sickly. Nearby, three towers of red rock clutched at the sky like the talons of some giant creature trying to escape the earth.
A shudder run the length of Pyx’s body, all the way from the tip of his snout to the end of his tail. The situation was horribly familiar. The face of the black and green dragon swam, became the face of another. Memories crashed in and, for an instant, Pyx was convinced he’d travelled backwards through time, one whole year, and that the looming dragon was the very one who’d sent him into the desert in the first place. His father.
‘I’m not a thief,’ he said. The same words he’d used with his father. Only this time his lips were cracked and didn’t work properly.
The black and green dragon cocked his head. Again, just like his father. Was it his father? Pyx shook himself, trying to shed the dreadful sense that he’d somehow slipped into his own past.
‘We have harsh penalties for theft,’ said the dragon.
Pyx tried to speak. But he was paralysed. He’d always felt paralysed in the presence of his father. Lonely too. He was the son of a Judge, so loneliness came with the territory. But there was worse: whenever his father was around, Pyx had always felt condemned.
But this couldn’t be his father before him now. Could it?
‘I only took some …’ Panic rose again as he tried to remember what it was he’d stolen this time. Hilarious, that the son of Judge should turn out a petty thief. Or inevitable – it was hard to tell.
The dragon let out a series of wretched, barking coughs. His ribs jabbed through fleshless skin. Pus pooled at the corners of his eyes.
While his interrogator was distracted, Pyx tugged at his bonds. But they remained strong. He found he was shivering, and wondered how he could be cold. Then he realised it wasn’t temperature making him shake but terror.
The dragon’s coughing fit subsided. He raised his head again. The sun made harsh angles of his face, revealing the skull beneath. He looked monstrous: old and exhausted and, beneath those two things, ruthless. Relentless too, just as Pyx’s father had been. He advanced, licking his lips. Behind him, his two companions followed suit.
Pyx screamed out his despair, and felt a sudden, blissful release. Not of his bonds but his memory. At last he remembered where he was and what he’d stolen. Of course this wasn’t his father. How could he have thought such a thing? This was just a dragon, a strange dragon he’d come up against out here in the desert. A dragon he’d stolen from and defied and been outwitted by. And now here he was, pinned out under the sun, no doubt in preparation for some dire punishment. A year ago, when he’d been branded a thief, the sentence had been exile. At the time it had felt like the end of the world.
He probed his fear and found it gone. He was calm. This wasn’t time travel after all but mere coincidence. He was simply in trouble again, as he had been so many times before. Story of his life. Still, he couldn’t help wondering what they did to thieves out here in the desert.
The dragons loomed, yellow teeth bared. With sudden clarity, Pyx knew what the punishment would be. What else, when he’d been captured by cannibals?
These dragons were going to eat him.