December 1, 2021, you can order Dragons of the Ashfall for digital or paperback from Amazon. Before then, you can read the prequel “A Dragon Bigger than My Stories” for free here.
And to see if Dragons of the Ashfall is your type of story… read the first chapter for free, right here:
The night of the riots is kind of a blur. The push of hands and elbows and coats. The clicking of the gears. The falling ash and cold pavement stones beneath my feet. All of it mashed together, constantly moving, more like just little paintings of memories than actual solid knowledge. It’s all like that except for two things:
That night was the first time I saw the Well-Dressed Man.
And it was the last time I cried.
Between the two, everything else is just a long string of maybes.
Mom took me to the riot. I don’t know why. Maybe she wanted the Gear to see the face of a child they were killing. Maybe she thought it would be warmer than our home. Maybe she was drunk. I don’t remember mom much. Maybe she was a drunk. I don’t know. Why else would you take a kid to a riot? A little kid that can’t defend herself from flying bottles or constables on flesh horses or any of those Machines the Gear uses to keep the lowlies in line. And who cares, really? She did it. That’s what matters. She took me there. She took me to the shoving and the anger and the screaming and the people all around pressing in so much that I couldn’t breathe.
Someone told me once that it was the only time the Gear kept coal away from the lowlies. Something about keeping the city running, the machines ticking, and not having enough to keep the people warm. And that’s when the riots came.
Like I said, I don’t remember the riot much. Lots of angry faces. Fists and feet and ashfall, and I heard the hooves. I never saw the flesh horses, but I was terrified of them. Mom always said if I saw a flesh horse to run – run, because it meant the constables were going to hurt the lowlies. My bare feet ached from cold cobblestones. Warmth from nearby factories melted some of the snow into slush piles. Being in the shouting crowd was the warmest I’d been in a long time. I closed my eyes to soak in as much of the warmth as I could.
When I opened my eyes, mom was gone. The crowd pushed and shouted and there was just people people people and hands and hands and hips and coats and smoke and shouting and I couldn’t breathe and then–
Then I fell out of the riot and into something else. My eyes closed as I crashed onto the cobbles. I cradled my head, expecting feet to come crashing down on me.
But no one touched me.
No boots kicked me. No legs pressed against me. No people at all. The voices, the shouting, they were still there, but crisp and distant.
I cracked open one eye. I still lay on the street, but there were no people around me. I opened both eyes.
I lay in a bubble of calm. No one stood here. No angry lowlies shook their fists. No constables threatened. A circle empty of anyone except me.
He wore a long black coat, not a single ash smear on it. His tall hat was dark. No bird crap splattered on it. An iron leaf was pinned to his lapel. And his face.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone happier.
His raised gloved hands welcomed the turmoil. He laughed, wild and free like a gear that just spins and spins with nothing holding it back.
And then he looked down at me. “What’s this?” he asked. “A sprout. Such a delicate one should not be here. No, no.” He clicked his tongue.
I scrambled to my feet. It was warmer in this circle with no people, but it wasn’t the comfortable warm of steam. His eyes slid over me, hungry, but not in a way I could understand. I’d seen the way some men looked at my mom, hungry, but this was a different hunger. “My mother brought me,” I stuttered.
“And what a horrible thing for your dam to have done. Can you not feel the conflict stirring, little one? Ah, here.” He waved a hand at the crowd, and a path formed through the shoving forms. “Go now, sprout. Run on your little feet. We must preserve the children, mustn’t we?” His smile felt wrong.
And that’s when I named him in my head: The Well-Dressed Man.
I don’t remember much more beyond that. I must have run down that alley of calm to the outer edges of the riots. And then I can recall just a few more paintings of what happened.
My mom lying dead on the street. I think that maybe there were constables nearby. I got that image in my brain. She’s got like a dent on her skull and blood coming out of her nose. It wasn’t a pretty sight. But I don’t remember if I cried. I don’t think I did. Not then.
And then Dad found me. I don’t know if he was at the riot, too, or if he was drunk at the pub. Maybe he was working even, trying to earn enough money for coal. Maybe.
He took me by the hand, and we walked through all the streets. Maybe we talked. Hard to say. I don’t think I was saying much. The street was still cold under my toes. I think I said something about the cold. Maybe dad said something back.
Yeah, there’s a lot of maybes about that night.
But I remember when he brought me to the Gray Lady. It was dawn, and the newsboys were out. They screamed in their scratchy voices the Bull‘s headlines: “Countless dead in bloodbath! Coal riots terrify city!” I remember thinking that the newsboys were just as dirty as I was, and they were cute.
We approached one of the gray buildings that lined the street. Girls about my age raced out the door, laughing and shouting. I wondered why their hands were all black. It was like they’d been playing in coal. Mom always yelled at me for that. They sprinted down the street, one stopping just long enough to stick her tongue out at me and giggle.
Dad stopped at the door and knocked. A woman with gray skin opened the door. “Yeah?” she asked.
“I have a girl for you,” my dad answered.
“Don’t need no more girls,” she said.
“She doesn’t have any parents,” my dad said.
And I looked up at him. “Dad?” I asked. There was this funny weight on my chest. I didn’t understand what was going on then.
I do now.
The Gray Lady ignored my question. “No parents, eh? What makes you think I’ll take her in?”
“This’s an orphanage, right?” I remember Dad asking the question, but I can’t remember anything about him. His face is gone. His voice is gone. All I have is the feel of his hand in mine.
And I pulled at his hand. “Dad? Let’s go home. Come on. Let’s go home.”
The Gray Lady finally looked at me. She wrinkled her nose. “She don’t look like much. I won’t pay for her.”
“Don’t have to. Just take her in.”
“Where’s her parents then?”
“Her mother died last night in the coal riot. And her father’s killed himself in grief.”
A shock went through me. Dad, you’re right here. You’re holding my hand. Mom’s dead. I saw her. But it’s okay. We’ve got each other, right? Two gears locked together, you and me. We can do anything. I wanted to tell him, but I don’t think I said anything out loud. The pressure in my chest was getting worse.
“Oh?” the Gray Lady asked.
“Jumped in the river,” Dad answered.
“He won’t come back from that,” the woman said.
“No. He won’t.”
“Well then. Girl. What’s your name?”
I wasn’t listening to the Gray Lady. I was staring up at Dad. He wouldn’t look at me, though. He held my hand. My bones seemed to creak, he was holding on to me so tight.
“Girl!” the woman barked.
I finally looked up at her.
“What’s your name?”
“Patty Rinkin. Ma’am.”
“Ain’t none of my girls got last names. Name died with your folks. You’re just Patty now, got it?”
I looked at my dad. I tugged at his hand.
“Your dad’s not coming back from the river. Get in here. I’ll tell you the rules. Tomorrow you’ll start at the grindery.” She held out her hand.
I flung myself at Dad’s legs. I hung on. Ain’t no way I was going with this Gray Lady. I had my dad. And I had my name. Patty Rinkin. It’s who I was, and he was my dad.
But fingers stronger than the Gears themselves pried my hands off his legs. Arms bigger than anything I’d seen snatched me up. The woman held me fast.
Dad looked at me. I still can’t hear what his voice sounded like, and I still can’t see his face, but the words are clearer than perfect water. “Be good, Patty. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.” And he turned and walked away. The people passing by on the street swallowed him up. He didn’t even look back.
I squirmed. I flailed. The Gray Lady didn’t let go. “You won’t see him again, girl. He’s gone. But he made sure you have a home. That’s better than most broken men.” She carried me into the orphanage.
That was the last time I cried.
Dragons of the Ashfall book one of The War of Leaves and Scales will be available for purchase on Amazon on December 1!