Authors: Victor Milán
Tags: #Fantasy, #Epic
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To my friends whose astonishing generosity and sacrifice made possible not just this book but my continued survival.
I can’t name you all—I don’t even know who all of you are—so I’ll name none. You know who you are.
Neither words nor riches can ever repay what I owe you. My awe, humility, and gratitude will live so long as I. As will my love.
My deepest thanks to my fellow writers of Critical Mass, whose kind wisdom taught me how to write this novel: Daniel Abraham, Yvonne Coats, Terry England, Ty Franck, Sally Gwylan, Ed Khmara, George R. R. Martin, John J. Miller, Matt Reiten, Melinda Snodgrass, Jan Stirling, Steve “S. M.” Stirling, Emily Mah “E. M.” Tippetts, Lauren Teffeau, Ian Tregillis, Sage Walker, and Walter Jon Williams.
I believe there is no other resource like you in the world. (And please forgive me if I overlooked you!)
Special thanks to my old friend Mike Weaver, who told me how Grey Angels Emerged.
To my Dinosaur Army, who helped me spread the word.
And to Wanda Day, who crocheted me a Triceratops head. And for whom Rob’s axe is decidedly not named.
One thing you should know.
This world—Paradise—isn’t Earth.
It wasn’t Earth. It won’t ever be Earth.
It is no alternate Earth.
All else is possible.…
Wars begin when you will,
but they do not end when you please.
BOOK III, CHAPTER 2
. The family to which the largest of the furred, flying reptiles called fliers or pterosaurs belong; wingspan 11 meters, stands over 5 meters high. Lands to prey on smaller dinosaurs and occasionally humans.
—THE BOOK OF TRUE NAMES
THE EMPIRE OF NUEVAROPA, FRANCIA, DUCHY OF HAUT-PAYS, COUNTY PROVIDENCE
Toothed beaks sunk in low green and purple vegetation, the herd of plump, brown, four-legged dinosaurs grazed placidly, oblivious to the death that kited beside sheer white cliffs high above.
Though he lay on a limestone slab with hands laced behind his head, their herd-boy was less complacent. He had put aside his broad straw hat and green feather sun-yoke, intending to doze away the morning. His small Blue Herder dog, lying in the grass beside him, would alert him if danger from the ground threatened the three dozen fatties in his charge. But then he spotted the dark form wheeling hopefully against the perpetual daytime overcast, and all hope of relaxation fled.
He didn’t believe stories about monstrous flying reptiles like this great-crested dragon swooping down on short-furred ten-meter wings to carry off beasts or men. Nobody he knew had seen any such thing. What dragons
do was land and, tall as houses, stalk prey on wing-knuckles and short hind legs.
I’m not scared
, the boy told himself. It was mostly even true. Like land-bound predators from little vexers to Nuevaropa’s greatest predator, the matador, a dragon preferred easy meat. It wouldn’t like stones cast from the boy’s sling, nor the yapping and nipping of a dog far too clever and nimble for it to stab with its sword beak.
The dog hopped up and began to bark excitedly. The boy sat up, feeling bouncer-bumps rise on his bare arms. That meant danger closer to hand.
He sat up to look for it. It wasn’t lurking in the meadow splashed with blue and white wildflowers. That didn’t offer enough cover even for a notoriously stealthy matador.
To his right rose the white cliffs, and beyond them the Shield Mountains, distance-blued, a few higher peaks silver-capped in snow despite the advent of spring. Away to the southwest the land shrugged brush-dotted foothills, then sloped and smoothed away into the fertile green plains of his home county of Providence, interrupted by the darker greens of forested ridges and stream-courses.
Several fatties, still munching, raised frilled heads to peer in the same direction the dog did. Though members of the mighty hornface tribe of dinosaurs, they lacked horns, and might. Meek, dumpy beasts, they grew to the length of a tall man and the height of a tall dog.
They were staring at a dozen or so plate-back dinosaurs that swayed into view in the meadow not forty meters downslope. The beasts’ bodies looked like capital Ds lying down. The herd bull was especially impressive, four meters tall to the tips of the double row of yellow spade-shaped plates that topped his high-arched back, his scaled hide shading from russet sides to yellow belly.
His tail spikes, nearly as long as the herd-boy was tall, could tear the guts out of a king tyrant. The fatties began switching their thick tails, spilling half-ground greenery from their beaks to bleat distress. Plate-backs were placid, but also nearsighted. They tended to lash out with their tails at anything that startled them. Which meant almost anything that got close to them.
The herd-boy was on his feet, dancing from foot to foot, sandals flapping against his soles. His best course was to stay put and hope the intruders went away on their own. If they didn’t, he’d have to chuck rocks at them with his sling. If that didn’t work, he’d be forced to run at them hollering and waving his arms. He
didn’t want to do that.
He looked urgently around for some alternative. And so he saw something far worse than a herd of lumbering Stegosaurus. His dog began to growl.
It strode from the cliff fully formed, Emerging from white stone in one great stride. Two and a half meters tall it loomed, gaunt past the point of emaciation, grey. It lacked skin; its flesh appeared to have dried, cracked, and eroded like the High Ovdan badlands the caravanners described.
He knew it, though he had never seen one. No one had seen one in living memory. Or so far as anyone knew—because most of those who laid eyes on a Grey Angel, one of the Creators’ seven personal servants and avengers, didn’t live to talk about it.
The Angel stopped. It turned its terrible wasted face directly toward the herd-boy. Eyes like iron marbles nestled deep in the sockets. Their gaze struck him like hammers.
, he thought. He fell facedown into pungent weeds at the base of his rock and lay trying to weep without making noise.
Through a drumroll of heartbeats he heard his dog barking furiously by his head, where, both prudent and courageous, she had withdrawn while still shielding her master from the intruder. The acid sound of fatties whining their fear penetrated his whiteout terror and kicked awake the boy’s duty-reflex:
My flock! In danger!
Realizing he was somehow
dead—yet—he raised his head. His fatties were loping away down the valley, tails high. Then fear struck through him like an iron stinger dart.
The Angel was looking at him.
“Forget,” the creature said in a dry and whistling voice. “Remember when you are called to do so.”
White light burst behind the boy’s eyes. When it went out, so did he.
* * *
He woke to his dog licking his face. Bees buzzed gently amidst the smell of wildflowers. A fern tickled his ear.
What am I doing dozing on the job?
I’ll get a licking for sure.
Sitting up, he saw with sinking heart that his flock was strewn out downhill across low brush-flecked foothills for a good half kilometer.
For a just a moment his soul and body rang, somehow, as if he stood too close to the great bronze bell in All Creators’ Temple in Providence town when it tolled. He tasted fear like copper on his tongue.