When I set out to write A Dragon Will Rise at the end of 2021, it was after spending the first half of the year on the long, gruelling book that was Blood of Dragons and the second half of the year creating the updated editions of Spirit of the Dragon and The Dragon’s Eye. It was an exhausting year even if, for the last half of it, I wasn’t technically writing a new book. But after officially finishing the Yokai Calling series, I had a sense of creative freedom for the first time in over a year. I wasn’t limited by the fact that I had to wrap up a gazillion plot threads by the end of Blood of Dragons to create a satisfying end of the series, I wasn’t limited by revamping parts of a story that had already been written (and therefore still needed to be close to the original, just better).
A Dragon Will Rise came from that feeling of infinite possibilities, the first of three planned tales to bridge the gap between the Yokai Calling series and the Wyvern Wars Saga, the first book of which is planned for either late 2022 or early 2023. And though I started writing this book with a spring in my step, expecting every word to come out easy as pie, expecting it to be a simple story where I wouldn’t have to agonize over every edit… boy, was I wrong.
I’d planned to write and edit it in a month. But here we are, swiftly approaching the end of month three.
The novella ended up being about 20,000 words longer than I had originally planned it to be. The story, although relatively focused, took on a life of its own. While I don’t believe it’s anywhere near as complex as the story encompassing the four books in the Yokai Calling series, it definitely was not an “easy” book.
But I still adore it. For the first time, I had the opportunity to write a single POV tale focused on one of my beloved characters, and I’m very excited to go on and write similar stories for Hidekazu and Masanori next.
For now, though, I’m so excited to provide you with an excerpt from A Dragon Will Rise, which comes out officially on March 29th. You can pre-order it right now!
Aihi creates dragons with her hands. Her constructs are animated, and yet lifeless without the essential ingredient of life: a spirit.
Artificial spirits should be impossible. But shortly after she’s made aware of the world-changing discovery, assassins eager to take the artificial spirit strike after her life. They interrupt her wedding plans and endanger her future husband and wife.
Once used, the spirit can’t be separated from its host. She could use the spirit to bring one of her dragons to life and stop the threat. However, she could also heal the damage done to her brother’s spirit when he inadvertently became a war hero.
But what if he doesn’t want to be saved?
Azure whirls of energy curled around Aihi’s fingers, extending out as streaks of light before solidifying into a thin, snakelike creature. The tiny dragon floated into her palm, yawning and nestling into the divot. His sides heaved with each breath until they softened with sleep.
“What a wonder you are.” Aihi brushed her fingers along the scales that glittered like sapphires beneath the high sun. “But so small, far too small. Why won’t you grow larger?”
A thread of ki linked her spirit to the dragon cradled inside her fist. His heartbeat undulated within hers, so fragile that a mere ripple against the surface of a pond could snuff out his life. The small sapphire dragon was the weakest of the conjurations Aihi had made, yet this was nowhere near her first attempt at using her abilities to design such creatures.
Perched atop the gazebo roof, Aihi watched a different dragon construct of bark and branches flutter across the pond’s surface. Oval leaves ruffled around the creature’s sinuous form in place of scales, swirling about like a floating bush. A leaf detached from the dragon and drifted into the water, only for another creature of clear liquid to emerge and consume the leaf as if it were prey.
The leaf appeared crystalline in the water dragon’s transparent body, drifting between watery membranes before the creature collapsed back into the pond to swim with the koi.
While the plant and water dragons occupying Aihi’s personal gardens were among her successful attempts at creating life these past few months, they were fragile, temporary, incomplete. No matter the size, they frayed like a worn rope and dissipated into ash, in time. They were much like she had been since her return home from war.
The dragons who hadn’t been feeble were those summoned when fighting for her life on the battlefield. The first dragon to rise from the elements around her had been a creature of ice and snow, shifting along the hills in the Suidoto province and tackling the wyvern intent on incinerating Aihi.
The second dragon had come to her under similar circumstances. Same wyvern, same magician rider, same life-or-death stakes. How valuable was this skill if the dragons only came to her in force when she feared for her life?
With a sigh, Aihi released the thread holding together the tiny dragon’s essence. Energy popped in her closed palm, and when her fingers curled open, all that remained was crushed sapphire dust. She let the powder flow away with the cool breeze.
She longed to recreate the stunning beasts hewn from stone and root and snow that towered over her and her army of bushi. Filled with the honey of life, living and breathing as an extension of her spirit and ki. Not these delicate husks that were, although incredible, only living as far as Aihi maintained their essences with a direct connection to hers.
Unfortunately, the dragons she summoned became weaker and smaller, the opposite as expected after a year of consistent effort.
A component critical to her success was missing, but she had not stumbled upon the necessary ingredient. Not that Aihi had much time, per se, to inundate herself in theories and possibilities beyond these private moments in the garden at the break of dawn. Sooner or later, a stampede of servants always came to greet her and rush her along to perform her duties as Seiryuu’s shōgun.
The sliding doors into Aihi’s bedroom flew open.
She leaned over the ribbed edge of the gazebo’s roof to catch a glimpse of who had the unfortunate responsibility of ushering her into the day—specifically, preparing her for another verbal battle with the emperor. She expected one of two potential faces: her actual servant, the young girl Rika, or one of Aihi’s secret lovers, Taniya.
The woman who emerged was neither. Aihi knew before she spotted the woman’s face: the telltale click and hiss of a metal leg gave her away. This new limb must have been a more recent iteration of the previous design, which was far noisier the last time Aihi met with Zahra Nazari.
“Exalted Shōgun?” Zahra called into the garden.
Aihi pulled on the threaded ki hanging in the air, commanding her dragons to stay out of sight. The water dragon dipped back into the pond, burbling beneath the surface, while the leaf dragon clung to the nearest tree. Although she had no reason to avoid Zahra today, Dragon’s Month was swiftly approaching, along with a thousand questions regarding the betrothal scheduled for pronouncement on Aihi’s twenty-second birthday.
Zahra was garbed in one of her iridescent chiffon wraps, a mesmerizing swath of colour accented by the plethora of grease stains and other unrecognizable substances. Her work as the Head of Research and Fabrication at the Jyutsu Laboratories had a habit of spitting her out looking like this.
She held her hands behind her back. “I see one of your dragons clambering through the maples. I know you are here. If you truly wished to avoid today, why would you hide in such an obvious place?”
“Because I do not circumvent the day ahead, merely postpone it in favour of more time unravelling the puzzle that has tortured me this past year,” Aihi mused.
“Are you on the roof? Goddess, how ever did you get up there?”
Aihi slid down the slope to peer over the tiled edge at an angle where Zahra could see her. “One of the perks of being able to summon artificial dragons from my fingertips.”
She held her hands outward to emphasize that statement, and a ripple of energy coursed up the crimson dragon tattoos adorning her olive-skinned arms. Aihi called to the ki pooling inside her and drew it outward, flooding into her palms as a whip of fire.
As the rope formed, the irezumi inked on her chest heated up as well to inject a tiny sliver of her spirit into the flames.
And from the sparks came a sinew of life. The fire expanded into the size of a small cat before burning toward Zahra, amber tongues of light licking the space around her in a way that mimicked curiosity.
The creature hung suspended at a safe distance, but as soon as the dragon curled around Zahra, its translucent body glowed brighter.
Both women averted their gazes, and the energy used to create the dragon rebounded back to Aihi, scorching her fingertips. She shook the heat from her hands, and with a hiss, she dismissed the volatile conjuration. Though blessed with the capacity to summon all four elements, fire and dragons, in any form, did not seem to mix unless her intent was destruction.
Aihi wiped a bead of condensation from her forehead. “As you can see, this skill is a work-in-progress.”
With a flick of her hand, she beckoned the leaf dragon to her side. The creature unravelled from the nearby tree and stretched its length down the gazebo to act as a bridge. Leaves fluttered around her like hungry butterflies as she stepped onto the skeleton made of branches, using them like stairs to join Zahra on the ground.
“And though I spend countless hours debating why I do not progress as I wish, these early morning hours give me no answers,” Aihi added.
“Yet they must perform some use, otherwise you would not be here practicing rather than preparing for what must be an exciting day,” Zahra said. “Are you not eager for your betrothal announcement?”
“Of course, I am.” Aihi tried to inject some excitement into the response, though her voice didn’t come out quite as confident as intended. She cleared her throat. “While the announcement is soon, I have known who my intended will be for quite some time.”
Zahra’s eyebrows shot up her face. “Truly? I thought your pairing was still undecided.”
“Indeed.” Aihi gave a tight smile. “It has been clear to me who would be the one to earn my hand. Today, we merely discuss the best approach to announcing our decision to the world.”
“Why, that’s wonderful news! Soon we will be able to prepare all the mechanical wonders for your party.”
Aihi’s father—the emperor—and his advisors expected to be the ones assigning her a husband. She had, after all, agreed to back out of the decision-making process because she vetoed the first choice on the roster years ago.
However, their second choice, King Roaki of the Kairese, had been far worse. In her attempts to do her duty to protect her people, Aihi had only succeeded in starting another war. If the council’s previous matches were any proof, their judgement was poor when deciding who would be the best husband to sit by Aihi’s side as she ushered Seiryuu into the future. Whoever their next choice was, Aihi had already made her own plans.
She would be the one thrusting Seiryuu into an era where old stratagems were no longer efficient. The world did not play by the rules of decades past anymore—her experiences over the last five years had made that abundantly clear.
Aihi refused to be chained to traditions that would only hinder their chances of survival. They had only tasted the wars to come.
Now she made her own rules.
“I am always eager to learn more of your inventions, Zahra. What do you have for me next?”
“Oh, let me speculate for a moment, won’t you, about who is your intended?” Zahra said, her eyes alight with enthusiasm.
“Speculate all you like; I cannot tell you until the details are finalized. Whoever the rumours are whispering about this time, I assure you, they are wrong about the identity of my betrothed.” Aihi tilted her head to let leaves from one of the dragons’ sides brush against her cheek as it coiled around her shoulders. “Now, you are not one of my ladies-in-waiting, Zahra. You did not come here to discuss idle gossip.”
Zahra lowered her head in a formal Seiryan bow. “You know me far too well, Your Exaltation.”
Aihi gave her friend a pointed look.
“Then tell me, does this good news involve your improved leg? I noticed the change in machinery.”
Zahra’s gaze dipped down to confirm that her clothes covered the metal leg. “I am flattered that you would notice by sound alone, but no, that news is better saved for another day—I sense you are already approaching the limit of your extra time in these gardens this morning.”
Two servants hovered by the veranda leading back into the palace. Their expressions were pinched with anxiety for how little time was left before her meeting with the emperor.
She had intended to convene with her betrothed beforehand if the need arose for strategy. Still, it was better for Taniya to continue her regular duties and for Chunfeng to stay as far away as possible until they confirmed that it was safe.
Tensions were still high with Sānlóngguó after the Magician’s Guild’s betrayal, and Aihi’s father was likely to enact unnecessary hostility upon the man she had deemed worthy of taking as a husband simply because he was a Sānlóngguón prince. Or upon the woman who would also be Aihi’s wife when her father was acquainted with her intent to claim two spouses rather than one.
Zahra made a come-hither motion, and Aihi leaned in close enough for Zahra to whisper in her ear. “I believe we found the key to strengthening your dragons, my friend.”
A delighted shiver curled up Aihi’s spine, and she gripped Zahra’s arm to keep her from pulling away. “How? I did not think your current research was relevant to my new abilities.”
“Not directly, no; our discovery came on accident. We were comparing ki signatures left by our most recent samples taken from the cleansed energy crystal to the originals we made after the aki was first purified.”
The aki hidden within the Jyutsu Laboratories was one of the few raw sources of the Goddess’ divine energies: ki. This earth crystal, in particular, was corrupted but had since been healed by Aihi and her adopted brother, Hidekazu.
Zahra licked her lips, drawing out Aihi’s anticipation as if she was a xintíng dealer, not a renowned ki-engineer. “You have allowed your spirit to extend into your creations, yes?”
“Doing so has proven to be a necessary part of the process,” Aihi agreed.
“That is what makes them ‘alive’ in the sense that they are. But” —Zahra’s eyes flicked to the dragon draped over Aihi’s shoulders, and its leaves ruffled with curiosity—“they are not thinking creatures; they cannot communicate with you or anyone else.”
“They are extensions of myself, acting on my subconscious thoughts and desires or my explicit commands, nothing more; they lack a spirit of their own, therefore do not possess agency.”
“But what if we could give them one, Aihi?”
Spirits were the intangible essence of life that forged a living being’s identity, connected them to the Dragon Goddess, Shirashi. They were wells deep inside living beings that allowed the use of ki, the primordial elemental powers of the universe, to be one with the land and the world. Even in death, spirits gave humans and creatures the capacity to pass to the Goddess’ realm upon death, reunifying themselves with the elements they’d sprung up out of.
“A spirit cannot be made by anyone but Goddess Shirashi. Even for your skills, I fear you dream of the impossible; what you suggest could only be accomplished by reclaiming a spirit from the deceased and placing it within a construct,” Aihi said. “But that would not be giving these dragons life or a mind of their own. They would still be the human—or the creature—whose spirit is implanted within.”
“Not if we make those spirits. Using the samples, we—”
“Apologies to interrupt, Your Exaltation and Esteemed Nazari,” the young serving girl, Rika, interjected. “However, we have little time to spare if the Exalted Shōgun is to attend her meeting with the emperor and his advisors. I assume this is not an event that can be postponed any longer, yes?”
The urgency in Rika’s voice hardly registered above the potential Zahra posed: An artificial spirit.
Spirits were sacred. Experimenting with them was an affront to Seiryan beliefs and the goddess. As the source of their ki, spirits were an integral part of spellcasting, but that was different than using one outside of its natural context. Experimentation on living spirits risked irreparable damage to the subjects, which they were not prepared to amend should any tests go horribly wrong.
Not too many years ago, they had seen it happen with the kan’thir who slew countless young Seiryan women and sacrificed their spirits to the aki that had since been cleansed. Experiments with spirits, or corrupted energy, were not tolerated whatsoever.
As such, Aihi’s instincts said to shut Zahra’s idea down. But in the years Zahra had worked by her side, she had found Zahra to be eccentric, not diabolical. The strange engineer from Adazüyük had drawn moral boundaries where many others had not.
After all they had accomplished together, Aihi was sure that Zahra and her team understood how important it was to follow protocols that did not violate their sacred laws. She wouldn’t suggest using an artificial spirit unless she was certain Aihi would approve.
“After my meeting, you must tell me everything,” Aihi said.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Zahra bowed and took her leave.
A Dragon WIll Rise will be available in just a few short days. Be sure to pre-order the book if you haven’t already, otherwise I can’t wait to hear what you think about the book!