A dragon falls in love with a slayer who hunts her. Both hide secrets: One seeks death, and one a cure. Can love defeat the curse? #PitProm
THE DRAGON’S SUICIDE is a dual-POV YA fantasy novel complete at 78,000 words. It combines the hunter vs. hunted elements of TO KILL A KINGDOM with the dragon slayer culture of THE LAST NAMSARA.
In the kingdom of Florent, anyone can succumb to the Ignition—a monthly solar event where the sun god’s magic turns an unlucky human into a dragon. Seventeen-year-old dragon slayer Abel Estellio knows first-hand that slayer families are no exception. When he hesitated to kill his little brother, he lost his parents, home, and reputation. With his name now synonymous with failure, Abel is broke and desperate for work.
Claire Belgard spent the last year searching for a slayer she can afford to hire. When her drunken pickpocketing attempt leads to a run-in with Abel, they form a perfect client-slayer match. On paper, that is. To Abel’s frustration, Claire insists on accompanying him on the hunt. The dragon she hires him to kill decimated her hometown, and she wants to watch it die. The last thing Abel needs is a client with a death wish—but her presence is more significant than he thinks.
Abel doesn’t know that Claire hides a tragic secret. She’s the very dragon she wants to see slain. Since dragons can’t die in human form, only Abel can give her the death she seeks. But in the pages of his journal, Abel has a secret, too. He performed experiments on his brother’s dragon form in pursuit of a cure—experiments that looked a lot like torture. If Claire and Abel grow too close before the next Ignition, Abel might choose to renew his experiments--on her.
I’m a freelance manga translator. A previous draft of this novel was longlisted for the 2019 WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award. One of my other manuscripts was a PitProm 2018 finalist. I’ve participated in workshops with Lorin Oberweger, Donald Maass, and Quressa Robinson. In my spare time, I like to convince horses not to send me to the hospital. (Again.)
Thank you for your time and consideration!
FIRST TEN PAGES:
I remove my glove and run two fingertips along the windmill’s charred frame. No heat. Little residue. Muddy ash squishes beneath my leather boots. Yesterday’s rainstorm is the only reason half the town of Bourlin survived a dragon attack without a slayer.
I slide a hand through my hair and sigh up at Noctu’s constellation. The October chill turns my breath to fog and clouds the arc of stars that outline the owl’s left wing. The Night Watcher hasn’t favored my hunt as of late, and it seems that’s not likely to change. There’s less than a month until the next Ignition. If I don’t catch up to this dragon, people will die.
I scan the scorched hillside for a glimmer of gold fur. “Lucy?”
Lucy zigzags through the vineyard’s remains, sniffing for leftover embers. Tinderfoxes are notorious sneaks. With the smell of smoke everywhere, I don’t trust her not to run off.
She perks up, ears pointed toward the buzz of voices atop the hill. Then she darts up the pebbled road leading to the two lampposts that mark the entrance to Bourlin’s famous Night Market.
I curse my pack’s weight and bolt up the hill after her. A passing cart driver’s horse spooks. A scorched body rolls off the cart and thuds to the ground. I cringe at the string of insults from the driver. “These bodies are on their way to the cemetery! Show some respect!” I wish I could pay my respects, but Lucy has plans to disturb the living.
Cold air scrapes my throat as I pass the crumbling remains of stucco-walled shops, mourners lighting candles and humming hymns near the melted stained glass that must’ve been a church of the Watcher Gods. Some inns and taverns sit smoke-stained, but otherwise intact. In the crowded market, I chase Lucy’s white-tipped tail past merchant stalls with wine barrels, cheeses, and stale baguettes. I bump shoulders more than once. Customers shout over spilled drinks, more concerned with drinking their sorrows than rebuilding.
When I see the bonfire burning scrap wood in the market’s center, I slow to a walk and run a hand down my face. There’s no stopping what happens next.
Lucy springs nose-first into the flames. Firewood collapses under her weight. The impact spews sparks and ash at the patrons enjoying its warmth. Her teeth gnash together as she eats the flames, her stolen snack sending red-hot ripples through her coat.
“Whose tinderfox is that?” an aproned salesman snaps. He swats embers off his table of assorted cheeses. A barmaid with soot-smudged skirts whispers in his ear and gestures at me with a handful of dirty wine glasses. I grimace. The silver slayer badge pinned over my heart—a crescent moon encircling twin suns—is a dead giveaway. Fire-eating tinderfoxes are obvious familiars for slayers.
That’s when the ridicule starts.
“Thanks for showing up,” a woman sneers.
“The dragon tax is wasted on you,” says another.
“King Francis should stick your neck in the guillotine.”
I take my walk of shame to the bonfire’s stone perimeter. On the way, I spot a young woman—a girl, really—through the sparks. The fire, and perhaps one too many drinks, flushes her pale skin. Raven hair falls in waves past her chest. Brass buckles line the front of her suede, swallowtail coat. Silverwolf fur pads her hood, and a leather satchel hangs at her hip. Expensive taste. A tipsy townsman, easily twice her age, straightens his frock coat and clinks his full glass of white wine with her dwindling red. She spares him a glance, unbothered.
In a word? Stunning. But it isn’t her beauty that catches my eye. It’s the two parallel scars on the left side of her face. They run from her jaw to the curve of her cleavage. Scars from a dragon’s claws.
“Are you dense?” the aproned salesman hollers. “That thing is getting ash everywhere!”
Ash already is everywhere, but I don’t engage. If it weren’t for my late arrival, he’d hail me as a hero.
I fling a copper coin his way and mutter apologies in passing. Lucy prances out of the weakened bonfire and perches on the perimeter with a replenished glow to her coat. Her eyes narrow sleepily—full stomach, no doubt—then widen when I scoop her up. She whines in protest. Her coat’s heat, heightened from engorging herself, warms my face as she squirms.
“No, Lucy,” I warn, squinting through the bonfire smoke for my potential lead, lest I lose sight of her. Lucy’s tail smacks my face. “Luciole!”
With a final whine, Lucy curls up in the space between the back of my neck and the dragon skull helmet mounted on my travel pack. Her favorite sulking spot.
I’m circling the bonfire to ask the girl about her dragon encounter when the man next to her takes a lock of her hair and smells it. Stomach turning, my steps quicken. I’m mid-reach for his wrist when a second drunk man stumbles between us to wave a clumsy finger at the girl’s face.
“Thief!” he slurs. “I bought you a drink and you stole my coin purse!”
The girl’s eyes widen, voice unsteady. “Monsieur, I—”
“Don’t yell at the lady,” the first man growls. He shoves our interrupter into a barmaid behind him. She drops her tray. Wine glasses spill their contents on the interrupter, soaking his back with red to match the anger in his cheeks.
A small leather coin purse falls to the ground at the first man’s feet. The girl picks it up and offers it with a timid smile. “You dropped this, Monsieur.”
With a bellow, the interrupter tackles the first man onto the glass-scattered ground, startling me and nearby patrons away from the scuffle. “It was you!” He reels a fist back. Semi-sober men shout at them to stop. A few struggle to drag them apart.
It happens so fast, I almost miss the girl empty the coin purse, tuck the coins down her bosom, and toss the leather into the fray with a smirk worthy of a tinderfox. She sips her wine and watches the fight, clearly proud of herself.
I snort. This girl doesn’t need a hero. If anything, I should watch my pockets around her.
Our eyes meet. Her smirk vanishes. Then she offers a flirtatious smile and struts my way, tugging my sleeve to drag me through the crowd. She pushes me up against the brick exterior of the nearest inn. Hardly the approach to a new lead I had in mind.
She cuts me off with a finger to my lips, swallowing her last mouthful of wine. “What’s your name, Monsieur?” she coos.
I push the girl’s hand away. “Abel. If I may, I’d like to ask—”
Beside us, an elderly innkeeper with a broom opens the inn’s front door. One sweep of ash out the door and she’s squinting at me, as if I’m the one pinning this drunk girl to a wall and not the other way around.
“Who’s your friend?” The girl presses her glass into my hand and reaches over my shoulder to scratch Lucy’s chin. Lucy sniffs the smoke on the girl’s skin. I flinch out of her reach, but my bulky pack hits the wall. I don’t like this thief’s hand anywhere near my pack’s pockets. Especially not near my journal. My research is too important to lose.
The innkeeper stops closing the door to glare. I try not to look guilty.
“There’s nothing going on here—” I start.
“Is that so?” The girl’s fingertip skims down my chest and traces my slayer badge. Then she turns away with a wink over her shoulder. “C’est la vie, Monsieur Abel.”
My lead is walking away. Swaying, in fact. How much did she drink? I wrack my brain for a way to get the girl to stay.
First rule of dragon hunting: Consider the bait.
“Her name is Luciole.”
“Luciole?” The girl turns around, smiling like she knew I’d stop her. Heavens, she must have. It took two minutes for her to whittle my thoughts down to nothing but dragon hunting techniques. I’m flirting with her using the slayer’s handbook. Watchers save me.
“Lucy for short.” I run a hand through my hair. “Want to hold—”
Lucy leaps off my shoulder and into the girl’s arms. With a satisfied whine, she buries her face into the girl’s scarred chest and curls up in her embrace.
“Ah. ‘Firefly.’” The girl giggles and kisses Lucy’s forehead. “Bonjour, ma Luciole. I’m Claire.”
I frown. Only slayers and scholars of the Watcher Gods study the Old Tongue. A few expressions float around, but the meaning of Lucy’s full name isn’t common knowledge. This thief’s familiarity with dragons and the texts behind their existence runs deeper than her scar.
Claire—if that’s her real name—shifts Lucy to one arm and reaches over my shoulder, toward my pack. “What else you got?”
“Wait—” I stiffen as her… sizable chest presses up against me. The wine glass slips from my fingers and shatters on the ground. My eyes dart skyward, hands up in defense. But when Claire grasps the horn of my dragon skull helmet, my senses rush back to me.
Second rule of dragon hunting: Establish limits and keep the target within them.
I grab her wrist, spin us around, and push her up against the wall. “I know you stole that man’s coins,” I say, voice low. My boots crunch the broken glass. “I’ll keep quiet if—”
Standing on her toes, she peers over my shoulder. Her loopy smile vanishes. I follow her gaze and double-take at the sight of the two men who fought over the coin purse. They walk together through the stalls, all busted lips and black eyes. One struts toward a man wearing a red coat and tricorne. He carries a musket. Embroidered on his coat’s upper back is a circle of six gold stars. A Watchman. He’s patrolling the Night Market.
“Let’s take this elsewhere.” Claire smiles suggestively. “Before I get too sleepy?”
She’s not subtle about conning me out of a hotel room to escape the authorities.
I grit my teeth. Without releasing Claire, I lean to check the prices chalked into the board on the door: Fifty silver pieces per night for the cheapest single bed. I cringe. That’s almost half of my savings. I’ve been hunting and camping for a reason. I can’t afford this.
Then again, thief or not, this girl is my only lead. Since her scars are healed, the chances are low that the dragon responsible hasn’t been slain yet. But any lead is better than nothing. If I don’t find a dragon, countless people could lose far more than money.
Great. Looks like I’m helping a criminal run loose.
“Up, Lucy,” I mutter. Lucy latches onto my coat and climbs obediently to her sulking spot. Claire wobbles, eyelids drooping. What convenient timing.
“Hey. I know you’re acting.” I release her wrist. Her arm falls slack as she leans into me. “Wake up. I’ll get you a room. I won’t try anything. I just need infor—”
I catch her under the arms before she collapses onto the glass. I crane my head for a look at her face. By the Watchers. Did she actually pass out?
I sling her arm over my shoulder, ignoring Lucy’s nippy protests. When I open the inn’s front door and find the innkeeper at her front desk, I almost don’t duck from the gold-tipped quill she flings at my head. It thuds into the door behind me like a dagger.
The innkeeper swipes up the broom and thrusts it in my face. She’s a head shorter than me, but that wrinkled glare would make even a dragon shrink a few inches.
“You have ten seconds to tell me your intentions for that girl, slayer,” she says, “or this broom goes so far up your rear, you’ll be chewing the bristles.”
Across from my bed, the fawna trophy head mounted on the wall stares at me. Pink flowers bloom from the buck’s antlers, preserved in wax.
Abel sleeps sitting beneath it. Gold curls, olive skin, light stubble… If it weren’t for his uniform, he’d strike me as a handsome farm boy. Not a highly-trained, highly expensive dragon hunter.
My head throbs. It takes all my focus to sit still in these sheets, rubbing my temples. I was careless. Tipsy Mademoiselle is my most effective persona, but the mask turned real when I smelled the charred bodies piled behind the plaza. You’d think I’d be used to dragon-made carnage after seeing it three times, but no. The sight had me flirting for free drinks all night—and not in the fun way. The last thing I remember is those two sleazy men searching for me. That, and the slayer I’d been so relieved to meet. Every other slayer I approached told me I was below their pay grade. Last night was the first time one of them gave me the time of day.
At the foot of the bed, Abel’s pack leans temptingly against his dragon skull helmet.
Carefully, I lift it and sort his items across the comforter: a journal, waterskin, tent, a map of Florent, and a roll of ratty camping furs. Odd. Slayers are wealthy. They earn so much, there’s a dragon tax to pay them. They don’t camp.
My breath catches when I find what I’m looking for: A moondagger.
Moonstone weapons require slayer licenses. That’s why I’ve been looking for a slayer. To get close and steal a weapon. Now that I have one, my grip trembles. Finally, I can kill--
“Looking for this?” Abel says.
I flip the moondagger up my sleeve and startle on purpose, kicking his waterskin to the rug. The diversion isn’t necessary. His eyes remain closed. He doesn’t move, except to lift a coin purse from its hiding place inside his crooked elbow.
Aww. Cute boy thinks he outsmarted me.
“You undressed me. That’s assault,” I say coolly. I’m wearing a new chemise, my dress and coat nowhere in sight. “A crime for a crime, Monsieur.”
“You got drunk, stole a man’s coins, framed another, got him assaulted, targeted me, then faked falling asleep to con me into renting a room with you to avoid getting arrested.” He drops the coin purse. It lands lightly, more leather sound than metal. “Don’t insult my morals. I didn’t do a thing to you.”
“You still undressed—”
“No, I didn’t. You vomited on yourself in the lobby. The innkeeper changed you into clean undergarments from a rather expensive outfitter next door and took your clothes to the laundry. The only reason she didn’t call the Watchmen is because I explained the circumstances—minus your thievery—and showed her my slayer badge. She still hammered on the door every hour last night to ensure I behaved myself. Thank the Watchers this was the last room available or she would’ve charged me for an additional room.” He opens one tired eye, sizing me up. “You owe me seventy silver pieces, by the way.”
My pride takes a kick to the stomach. That’s enough coin to purchase a decent saddle.
“Where are my belongings?” I challenge. Besides my clothes, I had a satchel. It held my coin purse, a map of towns I visited, a flask, riding breeches, and sleep powder. I can’t leave without my sleep powder. That’s a black-market sedative. It could be months before I track down another dealer.
“The innkeeper took them. Apparently, I looked like the thief between us.”
He’s starting to strike me as the righteous type. What if he turns me in to the Watchmen? It’s too risky to stick around.
I clench the moondagger’s hilt. Calm down, Claire. You may not need him at all. If I can find an opportunity to use this dagger--
“There’s one way you can pay me back. If I like what I hear.” Abel props an elbow on his knee and aims his sharp blue stare at me. “Tell me about your scar. I know a dragon wound when I see one.”
I resist the twitch that pulls at the corner of my mouth. He’s handing me an out on a silver platter. I’ll give the cute boy with the gentleman’s moral compass the damsel he wants.
I lower my gaze and hunch my shoulders, revealing a deeper look at the scar tracing the curve of my breast. A tiny change to feign vulnerability, with a touch of seduction to chip at his logic. The trick is not to overdo it.
“About one year ago, a dragon killed my boyfriend. It slashed at me before it burned down my village.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Which village?”
“Chevalier.” I allow myself a small, sad smile. The best part about this act? I don’t even have to lie. “My hometown.”
“Was the dragon slain?”
I shake my head. “That’s why I approached you last night.”
“The way you acted suggests otherwise.”
“I apologize. I was drunk and desperate.” I give him a sharp stare of my own. “I’ll do anything to put that dragon’s head on a spike.”
He tilts his head. “You want to hire me.”