The World War I fantasy novel is progressing nicely now. I’m still working on a proper title for it, but it’ll be something to do with Green/Steel nations, a World at War, etc. Maybe sub-title each book. “The Steel and the Green (Book I): The Fallen Veil”.  Something like that. It’ll come in time I’m sure and isn’t necessary right now.

The Germans are ready to cross the border into France, but have been held up by a raging forest fire that sweeps across the forest that grew under the former Veil, that magical mist that once separated the Green nations from the Steel nations. Now that the Veil is gone, Germany plans to invade to seize back lands they lost long ago and sweep the pagans off the continent, but the fire has halted their advance. And out of the fire comes the unexpected….

Max looked where Luke was pointing. For a moment, he saw only the raging inferno and the smoke in the distance. Then something stirred the black cloud that rose above the forest. A shape appeared, no more than a dark shadow at first glance, until it slid out of the obscuring smoke and into clear air, its wings beating frantically as it pulled up and looked down at the army of men before it. It was long and sinuous, snake-like in shape, and its head curled up and back over its haunches. Its red scales caught glints of sunlight and scattered them like little rainbows. Max could see streaks of dark soot along its flanks and the leathery wings that thrummed loudly enough to be heard over the harsh yells of the men and the crackling of the fire.

“That’s a fucking dragon,” Luke said, his voice cracking in his throat. “Christ, a dragon.”

Werner was the only one who reacted. “Rifles ready, boys,” he said. His voice was firm and loud enough to carry, but there was a note of awe in it that Max detected. Even Werner was not immune to what came out of the land of magic and dreams.

He hoisted his rifle, his hands only a little shaky. He reached with fumbling fingers into his ammo pouch and found one of the strip clips he carried. He pulled it out, nearly dropped it, slapped it down into the receiver, and pulled back the bolt.

The dragon hovered long enough for Max to get a good look at the creature and notice the crest over its eyes and the ridge of spines running down its back. It opened its mouth and it cried at the men, a coughing challenge that sounded more to him like the screech of some vast bird, a falcon or an eagle. Then it folded its wings close to its body and it plunged towards the earth, picking up speed until the air seemed to crackle in front of it.

A sharp crack sounded to Max’s left, then another to his right. The creature flung its wings open again, catching the air, turning its fall into a glide as it swept close to the ground. It came towards them and grew in his vision, ever larger, its teeth now visible through the open maw, each one as long as his bayonet and wickedly pointed. The infrequent cracks grew more numerous and closer together as it threw its cry of challenge once more.

The small knot of men in front of it began to turn and run, throwing down their weapons.  Max stood where he was, frozen, his finger pressed against the trigger of the weapon but not able to pull it. From somewhere nearby he heard the chatter of a machine gun as it started up. Stupid, he thought, they are as likely to shoot us as the beast.

Into the men it swept, scattering their bodies around, it’s feet raking at their fleeing forms. Its jaws closed around one man and Max saw the blood that spurted from his flesh as the dragon bit down, heard his scream of fear and panic turn into a shrill screech of pain that was quickly cut off. Its talons looked like swords. Men were screaming and shouting, and someone was pulling on his arm and yelling into his ear.

He lifted the rifle to his shoulder, automatically, unconsciously. The dragon was close now, only a few wing beats away, and he could see under its half-lidded eyes that its irises were yellow, slitted vertically like a cat’s. He sighted down the long length of the barrel, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. The sounds of battle faded, the roar of his blood drowning out the cries of men, the firing of weapons. His fingers were stiff and he couldn’t will them to move, almost failed to pull the trigger, but he was jostled again and his finger squeezed and the rifle slapped against his body, the recoil kicking the muzzle up slightly.

One great yellow eye exploded into a bloody mess, and the dragon screamed again. The roar of its call smashed against Max and knocked him to the ground, the rifle tumbling from his hands. So this is how I die, he mused. He wasn’t shocked by it, nor even terribly upset. Some part of him accepted the fate that God had dealt him, and wished only that he could see Margareta one last time and tell her goodbye. One last night in her arms. One last kiss.



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