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Authors: Alyc Helms

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BOOK: The Dragons of Heaven
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“We can still–”

“No. We can't.
I
can't. I came here to learn to be an adventure hero. Guess I should get around to being one.” I forced myself to meet his eyes. To not care. “Goodbye, Lung Huang.”

Turning away, I crossed the bridge back to a world I didn't belong in anymore.

FIFTEEN

Fallout

N
ow

A knock sounded at my bedroom door. I rolled over and pulled the covers over my head. “Go away.”

The door opened. “No.”

Shimizu. I parted the covers just enough to give her a baleful glare. “Why can't you respect my need for privacy?”

“Because the last time you were like this, you made me promise to never let you go more than three days without showering. You're on day two, Masters.”

The last time I'd been like this. The last time I'd returned from China. In many ways, this time was worse. Last time, I'd just felt disconnected from my life and everyone in it. This time, everywhere I looked I was reminded of my failure. It was made all the worse by almost everyone insisting that I – or Mr Mystic – was the hero of the day.

Fucking Skyrocket. What a blabbermouth.

“If I had just let David Tsung go through that ward–”

“Then he would be Lung-whatshisface's champion.” Shimizu yanked away my covers and poked me until I sat up. “And Mei Shen would fight even more with Mian Zi to protect her boyfriend. Probably end up working for Lung-bad-guy, and definitely end up with a broken heart.”

Her no-nonsense assessment, no matter how insightful it might be, did little to make me feel better. Neither did her bustling. I batted her hands away when she tried to smooth my sleep-rumpled hair. “I could have done something else–”

Shimizu huffed and planted her fists on her hips. “You stopped World War III, and that's not enough for you? I give up. Wallow all you want. I just came in to tell you that there's someone here for you.”

She was letting me go back to wallowing? I crossed my arms. It was a trick. “There is no one in this world or any other that I can imagine wanting to see.”

But she'd perked my curiosity. Who would cause her to brave my surly hermitage? Not any of the housemates. Not Jack, who'd already left me dozens of messages about everything from private security contract offers to movie deals. Not Johnny Cho, who would just barge in himself if he wanted to see me.

“Who?” I took the yoga pants she handed me.

“I guess you'll have to go up to the parlor to see.” She left me with a wink and a grin.

She was too cheerful for it to be anything but a ruse to get me mobile and back in the world. I almost climbed back into bed. Dressing seemed like too much of an effort, even to satisfy my curiosity. It better not be Sylvia Dunbarton or anyone from Argent. But no, they wouldn't know to look for Mr Mystic here, even if it was his old house turned intentional living co-op.

OK, maybe I was curious enough to get dressed. I pulled on the yoga pants, pulled my dirty hair back with a hairband, and shuffled upstairs into our rarely-used parlor.

I froze in the doorway. Never in a million years would I have guessed this visitor.

“I'll just give you guys some alone time,” Shimizu said. She squeezed my hand on the way past and shut the door behind me.

Jian Huo dressed as he always had, in rich robes out of some
wuxia
fantasy. He should have looked out of place standing in the Victorian parlor, but he was one that made the parlor look out of place, a cheap, gaudy stage for something out of legend. Light from the stained glass windows dappled his robes with roundels of blue and violet.

I sat on a nearby fainting couch before I could faint across it. “I suppose you came to yell at me?”

He moved away from the window and sat next to me, his knee touching mine. He took my clammy hands in his warm ones. I stared at his hair, the long tail snaking across the Turkish carpet to coil in the stained glass sunbeam. I couldn't look him in the eyes.

“Do you wish me to yell at you?”

“I screwed up. I got cocky.”

“You found yourself in an untenable situation, and you did the best you could.”

“You trained me better than that.”

He released my hands to lift my chin, forcing my gaze up. “I have not been your teacher in some while. You are a student of the Tao, remember?”

“Is the Tao going to show up and yell at me?”

Jian Huo choked on a laugh, which made me grin despite the grimace yanking on the corners of my mouth. I frowned harder. Everything was ruined. I shouldn't be smiling. He shouldn't be laughing.

“Last time, you learned that my brother could be bested. This time, you learned that he cannot
always
be bested. In the final balance, I still trust that you will prove a better student than he has.”

Strange, how such a simple absolution could make me feel better about the whole mess. As long as Jian Huo didn't lose faith in me, maybe I didn't entirely suck.

“About last time…” I started, and then wasn't sure where to take it. I wasn't talking about Lung Di anymore. He knew that, right?

“Yes. About last time. I did not say what I should have said.”

“Which is?”

“You asked me if my purpose in our union was to supplant my brother.”

I held very still. “Well… it was.” And it had Lung Di scared enough that he'd pulled out all the stops to arrange his
détente
. I had to give Jian Huo props for effectiveness.

Jian Huo's hands rested over mine. “Perhaps, but it was not my
only
purpose. And I should have told you. I can plot against my brother and still love you. The two are not exclusive. I am sorry that I did not share my plans, that I did not allow you a say in the decision, that I left you doubting my love. That is what I should have said.”

All the things he'd been pissed at me for doing to him when I went after Lung Di on my own. I sighed and twined my fingers with his. “Yeah. Me too.”

I watched the sunlight move across the carpet, then dim as a cloud passed over the sun. I didn't want to break the fragile moment, but one of us would have to, eventually. “How are Mei Shen and Mian Zi?”

He grimaced. “Not speaking. You may soon hear more than you want to of Mei Shen's side. She has declared her intention to move here. To be close to Mr Tsung, no doubt. Mian Zi… does not approve.”

That made two of us. Three, because I couldn't imagine that Jian Huo approved, either. I sighed.

Jian Huo brushed my hair back. “Mei Shen and Mian Zi are young,” he said. “They must grow apart before they can come back together.”

I leaned into him; his arms came around me, chin resting on my head. I closed my eyes and breathed in sandalwood.

“I've missed you,” I whispered. Maybe I should have been stronger. Nothing had changed between us. Except that time had given me some perspective. I was right to leave him. It didn't mean I had to hate him.

“I cannot stay.”

“I know. But I've still missed you.” A breath warmed my scalp as he buried his nose in my mussed hair. I probably stank from days of wallowing. Damn Shimizu for not making me take a shower.

“I have something for you.” He pulled back and dug through his robes, drawing out a familiar strand of gleaming pearls. “You didn't take them when you left.”

For so many reasons. I didn't want the reminder of Jian Huo; I couldn't face the possibility that I would give them to someone else as my grandfather had done. I'd kicked myself ever since for leaving them behind. “It didn't seem right, given… everything.”

“And how does it seem now?” he asked, still holding the pearls out. I wondered if I only imagined that hitch in his voice, the slight tremor of his hand.

I took the pearls, fastened them around my neck. “Like a second chance.”

Acknowledgments

N
o writer creates in a vacuum
, and I am deeply grateful to all the people who supported, encouraged, inspired, or just plain put up with me through this journey.

First thanks go to my family, and especially to my grandmothers Diane (a librarian) and Bettie (an English teacher). If love of books is genetic, I got it from them. Special thanks go to my mother, Conna, who is my biggest (and least discerning!) fan and supporter, and to my brother Devon, who taught me that the bonds between brothers and sisters might get a little bendy, but they never break.

Second thanks go to the players in Jason Pisano's Sunday Afternoon Comics Stack game. You guys helped me crawl out of some pretty dark shadows, dragging Missy behind me. Thank you to Emily Dare for the use of Skyrocket. The story wouldn't be the same without Tom's Colgate grin. I'm only sorry to all of you that I wasn't able to work in a reference to Dr Chaos' favorite charity: Orphans. Orphans with Diseases (see what I did there?!).

The support of my found family of writers and friends was vital to keeping me going during the revision and submission process. I'm grateful to my littermates of Clarion West 2012 for grounding and centering me through all the angst and uncertainty, and to the extended Clarion West community for helping me achieve and celebrate my victories.

This book went through many permutations before reaching its current form, and it would be a lesser creation if not for the beta readers who offered critique throughout the various drafts. Thanks to Marie Brennan, Jason Pisano, Avery Liell-Kok, Emily Dare, Claire Balgemann, Henry Lien, Georgina Kamsika, David Higgins, SL Knapp, and the folks in my WisCon Writers' Workshop for all their helpful comments. Thank you to my agent, Lindsay Ribar, for giving me wonderful feedback and multiple chances to get it right.

I feel so lucky to be an Angry Robot author, and my deepest gratitude goes to Michael Underwood for running around the World Fantasy Convention at Brighton in an attempt to slam me into Amanda Rutter. Thanks to Amanda for being Mr Mystic's first official supporter, and thanks to the rest of the Angry Robot team – Marc Gascoigne, Phil Jourdan, Caroline Lambe, and the rest of the staff – for the hard work you've put into making my book shine. And to Amazing15 for that wonderful cover, thank you. It feels trite to call you amazing, but it's true!

Finally, thank you to my foundational authors. To Anne McCaffery who made me into a dragon-girl. To Mercedes Lackey who fed my id on a diet of pure squee. To Meredith Ann Pierce who skewered my perception of how fairy tales are supposed to end. To Katherine Kurtz who saved my life, inspired me to take up Highland dance, and taught me that villains have valid perspectives. To Jessa MacBeth, who provided me with a whole host of friends and guides. And to Connie Willis, who taught me that feminist can be the least scary word in any story.

I'm certain I've missed folks, and it isn't for lack of gratitude. This has been a long journey, and I neglected to take notes on who helped me along the way because when I started, I had no idea where I was going. I'll do better next time!

About the Author

A
lyc Helms did
her graduate work in anthropology and folklore, which makes her useless for just about anything except writing. She lives and writes in a dilapidated beach bungalow outside San Francisco, USA, near a horse trail, a troll bridge, and a raptor preserve (hopefully of the veloci-variety).
The Dragons of Heaven
is her debut novel – soon to be joined by
The Conclave of Shadow.

teleidoplex.com • twitter.com/teleidoplex

A
NGRY ROBOT

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C
opyright © Alyc
Helms 2015

C
over by Amazing15

Set by Epub Services

D
istributed
in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York.

A
ll rights reserved
.

A
ngry Robot is
a registered trademark and the Angry Robot icon a trademark of Watkins Media Ltd.

T
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

U
K ISBN 978
0 85766 432 7

US ISBN 978 0 85766 433 4
Ebook ISBN 978 0 85766 434 1
BOOK: The Dragons of Heaven
3.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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