SOME DREAMS ARE MEANT TO DIE
An engineer craving to become a warrior. A majyu with his future bound in filial piety… and a dark sorcerer who steals women into the night.
Genshu Hidekazu and Masanori swore their lives to defend, giving up their family’s warrior legacy as their parents did before them. Hidekazu is the family’s dutiful scion, preparing to take his father’s place, and Masanori studies as a ki-engineer, carving himself a future in a world that looks down on those unable to access the Goddess’ power: ki.
Yet when a dark sorcerer kidnaps their best friend, and they learn she is only one of many, they refuse to let their parents’ way of life stop them from doing what’s right.
Hidekazu and Masanori must learn to fight, even if it means betraying their parents’ ideals. Otherwise, the good they swore to protect will fall beneath the fist of darkness, their friends with it.
Masa and Hide’s journey begins in Spirit of the Dragon, the first of four novellas prefacing the Wyvern Wars series: an epic fantasy adventure inspired by selections of Japanese mythology and folklore.
Sapphire and ivory paper dragons spiralled through the Tsukiko market, suspended within translucent clouds of blue. Dancers leapt through the dragons’ elegant coils, and Genshu Masanori cringed as the procession and its guards passed him. He couldn’t risk being recognized, not with a blade at his side.
Despite the cool evening, the stolen katana’s unnatural warmth made him sweat under his haori. Masanori scanned the swell of people applauding the dancers, searching for Aihi among the festivalgoers. Nobles in azure and gold kimonos strolled toward the Crimson Gardens, and teens in casual yukata robes crowded around street food stalls.
Sword thief or not, no one paid attention to him. However, if his mother discovered he had her katana…
Masanori turned from the musk of people, fried fish, and baked sweet potatoes and stalked toward the stone likeness of the Dragon Goddess, Shirashi. Water flowing from her indigo mouth drifted a misty prism over her serpentine body and over the bench where Hidekazu, Masanori’s twin brother, was reading a book.
Once a month, the twins snuck away from the capital with princess Aihi to train in secret. They often met at the tamashii tree on the cliffs north of Tsukiko, but this time, she asked to meet in the market during the festival. Yet almost an hour later, they still waited. Aihi was never late.
Masanori’s clammy hand closed around the hilt of his mother’s sword, Jouten, as he paced in front of the fountain. A warrior’s katana. Former warrior. Golden, dancing dragons adorned the enchanted blade, so fine it wouldn’t dull in a thousand years.
And if something happened to Aihi, he wouldn’t hesitate to use the katana.
“Your anxiety is contagious. Patience shouldn’t be so exhausting,” Hidekazu said, his voice almost drowned out by the market’s noise. His ebony hair was tied behind his neck, his wiry frame hidden by the oversized, sky-blue haori sporting the Genshu family crest of dancing ravens.
He waved his book at Masanori, and the gilded script on the cover, Basic Combative Ki Techniques, caught Masanori’s attention.
“Says the one who—” Masanori lowered his voice. “You’re not the one hiding a stolen relic.”
“No one compelled you to lift the weapon from our mantelpiece,” Hidekazu said, his eyebrows raised.
“I didn’t have a choice, unlike you.”
Hidekazu snapped the book shut. “You mustn’t speak on matters you don’t understand, Masa.”
Their shared dream of becoming bushi had died when their parents abandoned their family’s warrior legacy. Instead, Hidekazu trained as a Guardian—a shugo—and Masanori as a ki-engineer. When their father decided to let Hidekazu study for the Majyutsushi Exams, that dream had been reignited. Or so Masanori had thought.
Hidekazu was hiding something.
Masanori’s gaze flickered past the array of dragon-shaped paper lanterns hanging over the square. Still no sign of Aihi among the mass of early festival attendees.
Nothing thrilled Masanori more than sneaking away from the palace and breaking his parents’ rules, regardless of the punishments involved. Getting caught meant they’d stick a guard on him for a month, or worse. Yet, over the last few years, the trips became less about disobeying his parents and more about spending time with Aihi.
When Masanori glanced at Hidekazu again, he was chewing on his bottom lip. There had never been secrets between them. Did something change, and Masanori never noticed?
Like every other majyu, Hidekazu must have grown tired of associating with someone who didn’t have a single strand of ki—the power of the Divine Goddess. Masanori thumbed the leather cord around his neck, weighed down by the pouch below his collar. Good thing he never told Hidekazu about his new invention. The secrets nudged Masanori’s jealousy to the surface, even if there were likelier explanations.
The market cleared for a group of majyu wearing dragon masks with silvery manes. Their cloaks of faux scales floated behind them, and scarlet sparked from their hands as they summoned silhouettes of tengu and hulking oni to frighten children. And still no Aihi.
“We’ll waste the day waiting. Let’s leave without her,” Hidekazu said.
The dancers and majyu passed, leaving the market to refill with excited shoppers. Charcoal from a nearby grill tinged the air, and Masanori breathed deep.
“No. What if Aihi’s hurt?”
“Aihi? Please. I fear for the health of anyone foolish enough to cross her.” Hidekazu grabbed fistfuls of his haori. “She must be caught up in other affairs.”
“Did you two get in another fight?”
At nineteen, Aihi, the Imperial Exalted Dragon Princess of Seiryuu, was two years older than the twins. Though not their real sister, Hidekazu, Masanori, and Aihi had grown up in the palace together and sometimes fought like siblings. They were between Aihi and Hidekazu, for the most part, since they were the majyu, and Hidekazu liked to think he knew everything.
“Nevermind.” Hidekazu indicated behind Masanori with his chin. “She arrives.”
Aihi’s raven hair was looped into a messy top knot, and she wore a plain grey kimono and hakama. Her obi sash was uneven and crinkled, like tying it had been an afterthought. In Nagasou, Aihi never wore masculine outfits, and especially not trousers, because of the strict dress code. During their outings, she justified the change as a disguise, but being late, with her appearance less-than-perfect, was unlike her.
“I began thinking something happened to you,” Masanori said.
“Nothing bad.” She grinned, a little mischievous. “I convinced Torra to come to the festival with us.”
“The festival? I thought we were going to the tamashii tree to spar and come back for the fireworks.”
“We will duel in the morning instead. Torra’s father is being paranoid again and won’t let her leave the city.”
Torra pressed through the crowd to join them. Like Aihi, her outfit didn’t display her usual care; she wore a mismatched pink floral yukata with a black and gold sash. Her short, inky hair was frizzy, her bangs pushed to one side.
She bowed in greeting, but Masanori didn’t return the gesture in an effort to resist frowning. Torra’s father always worried about political conspiracies and rumours of demons lurking in the rice fields, but he used his fear to keep Torra on a leash. She had to know her father’s intentions, yet chose to obey. Why couldn’t she be like Masanori, breaking unfair rules meant to make them complacent? This was supposed to be their training day.
Masanori looked to Hidekazu for support, but he still wrung his haori, though Aihi didn’t seem bothered at all. Maybe they hadn’t fought.
“Fine, we can go tomorrow,” Masanori said.
The women shared a silent cheer. “It’s been months since we last went to a festival together, ne?” Torra said.
Hidekazu, Masanori, and Aihi lived in Nagasou, a two days ride away, so their visits with Torra had become infrequent. Each had their growing list of responsibilities, and Aihi, who was being groomed to take the place of her father, the Emperor, had fewer opportunities to sneak away with Hidekazu and Masanori. Often, they marvelled at how her parents let her out of the Cedar Palace at all.
When Hidekazu didn’t move, Aihi pulled him to his feet and linked arms. “You cannot escape the festivities, dear Hide.”
“I expected not,” he said. Despite his strange behaviour, he resigned himself to being dragged around by Aihi.
“We’re going to watch the fire dancers,” Masanori said. The fire dancers were his favourite show from the midsummer festival, and after Aihi and Torra insisted on changing their schedule, Masanori refused to do anything else first.
Hidekazu perked up. “I must examine their technique.”
“Seriously, Hide? Do you do anything but study?” Torra snickered, covering her face with a black folding fan printed with silver cranes.
“You’ve got your nose stuffed in a book just as often, dear Torra,” Aihi said, nudging Torra’s side before taking her other arm. She spun the group toward the Crimson Gardens, where the dancers always performed. “That’s where you both get your charm. Fear not, dear Masa, you have charm aplenty, in your own way.”
Masanori smiled despite not believing her. Although he’d gained a reputation as an excellent ki-engineer, the quirk was less impressive than being a majyu. Still, he had larger concerns than contradicting Aihi.
Once behind the trio, Masanori touched the leather pouch under his kimono. No one had recognized Masanori so far, but keeping his mother’s sword visible remained an unnecessary risk.
He focused on the katana in one hand, the bag in the other, and he pulled ki from within himself and the air around him. Mechanical ticking whirred at Masanori’s fingertips, and a shimmer travelled down his arms, rendering the katana’s lacquered sheath almost invisible at his side.
Sweat trickled along his spine at the effort. The disguise would last a few hours at most, long enough for the crowd to thicken and darkness to settle.He caught up with Aihi, Hidekazu, and Torra at the edge of the market. Colourful stalls filled with sparklers and oni masks broke off into the Crimson Gardens, which was lined with a high bamboo fence. Unlike his companions, Masanori wasn’t a majyu. He couldn’t call on the Goddess’ power, ki, at will, and under normal circumstances, he had none at all. But this new device allowed him a few tricks, at a cost.
The sheer number of people obscured the fire dancers’ stage, so the four of them skirted the edge of the garden, careful to avoid azalea and hydrangea bushes in search of a better view. Sulphur tinged the air, and crimson sparks whizzed above the crowd, transforming into birds and exploding in showers of light.
“We’ll miss the show.” Masanori craned his neck to try and glimpse the dancers, but there were far too many people in the way.
“We won’t,” Aihi said. She dragged Torra and Hidekazu in the opposite direction. “I have an idea.”
On the other side of the garden, Aihi stopped in front of a tree surrounded by boulders. She lifted her arms, and her aura glowed golden brown while she painted symbols in the air. The symbols, kigou, allowed majyu to use and manipulate ki, but Masanori had never studied them.
On completion, the kigou fell into four of the largest rocks, giving them a faint inner light.
“A genius plan,” Hidekazu said. He, Aihi, and Torra sat, but Masanori hesitated. He hadn’t imagined viewing the show from a levitating rock.
Firecrackers popped behind them, and Masanori shoved aside his worries and took his place at Aihi’s side. She glowed as she created another string of indecipherable symbols. When she swung her arms up, the rocks beneath them jolted.
Masanori clutched his seat as they rose, but he relaxed when the experience ended up more like sitting on the edge of a high balcony than floating. A gentle breeze caught his haori, and the silk billowed around him before he pulled it back against his sides.
Hoops of amber light spun around two dark figures on the distant stage. Flames sparked around the rings as they twirled, reaching toward the sky like a miniature tornado. One dancer flipped through the blazing circles, flares falling around them in long ribbons.
“This view is phenomenal.” Torra fluttered her fan. “I can’t believe we’ve never tried this before.”
“We normally run a habit of being punctual, dear Torra. Perhaps we should consider tardiness more often,” Aihi said.
Torra giggled, and she and Aihi sat close, whispering. Masanori bristled. So far, Aihi had spent more time with Torra than him and Hidekazu. The pair didn’t see each other often, and few others had earned Aihi’s friendship, but Masanori didn’t enjoy being ignored.
A dancer jumped between fiery coils, nimble hands outstretched to meet the other performer on the stage below. For a moment, the momentum suspended the dancer midair before they flipped away, fire parting around them. They landed in a crouch, only to bounce into the sky, soaring higher like a graceful bird.
Ki buzzed through the garden, caressing Masanori’s skin, locking him in each moment of the performance. Strips of fire swirled behind the dancer, wrapping around them and extending until the bands grew into a serpentine body. Crimson sparks burst from the dancer’s outstretched arms, and flames folded and twisted to shape a dragon’s head. The beast looped through the night sky, the dancer in its jaw, trails of light following behind. A roar shuddered from the dragon’s throat.
Ki hit Masanori at full force, and he wobbled in place. Aihi and Torra shrieked with laughter as they fell back on the rocks.
“Aihi!” Masanori grabbed her arm to keep her from falling. He hefted her up, but she brushed him off.
“I’m fine, dear Masa.” She kicked forward, and her foot hit something solid and invisible.
Masanori settled down and tried to enjoy the show, but next to him, Aihi and Torra huddled together and continued whispering. On their other side, Hidekazu scribbled notes with a brush, glancing at the dancers between strokes. Watching the fire dancers had been Masanori’s idea, but out of the four of them, he seemed to appreciate the performance the least.
In the few moments he’d looked away, a dragon of water and ice crystals had joined the show, the second dancer suspended inside. In all the shows Masanori had seen, there’d never been two dragons at once. The dancers recaptured his attention, and he sat at the edge of his rock, entranced.
The ice dragon twinkled like thousands of stars in fiery light before the dragons slammed into each other. They curled around one another, their claws locked as they writhed in place. Water boiled along the blue dragon’s body, crystals dying and extinguishing tiny flames along the red dragon’s sides. Their bodies wound together in a tight rope of crimson and sapphire light until they merged and exploded.
Crystalline cranes of fire and ice fluttered around the dancers as they descended. Their feet touched the ground, and the birds disintegrated into shiny dust.
Masanori whooped, almost as loud as the crowd below, but Hidekazu, Aihi, and Torra weren’t as enthusiastic.
“A stunning performance, ne?” Torra said.
Aihi tapped her lip. “Beautiful, yes, but inaccurate.”
“Inaccurate? They’ve never had two dragons,” Masanori said.
“If accurate, the dance would have been forbidden,” Hidekazu said. “The red dragon was supposed to be a wyvern, at least, per all accepted versions of the Shirashi and Ozeki creation story.”
No one cared about myths anymore, did they? Masanori wanted to protest; inaccuracy didn’t make the show any less amazing, but he decided against making the night any worse. “The fireworks should be soon,” he said.
“Food would be a welcome addition to our next viewing. Let’s peruse the stalls before choosing the proper vantage point for the night’s splendour,” Aihi said. Her arms glowed, and the rocks descended, slow like drifting feathers.
People scattered through the gardens after the performance ended, most drifting toward the market. A deep plum spark drew Masanori’s eye to the shadows around a nearby bridge. Two figures struggled in the darkness, blue smothered by the purple.
“I sense strange ki nearby,” Hidekazu said.
“Down ther—” The energy smacked Masanori as he pointed.Ki brushed across his skin, slow and thick like cold syrup. Pinpricks travelled up his arms. The light flashed again, and dark ki snaked through the air, wrapping around the second person, who thrashed in place.
“We need the guards,” Torra said.
“We’re needed now,” Aihi said. Their descent quickened, and she jumped before the rocks landed. Masanori leapt, and as soon as his sandals hit the ground, he raced after her.
And that’s it for the Spirit of the Dragon excerpt! The full book is available for free on most online retailers, but if you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll get the book plus a subscriber-exclusive bonus! So definitely take a look at that.