Stolen (Heart of Dread)

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9780147515728: Stolen (Heart of Dread)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Blue Bloods and Isle of the Lost (a Disney Decendants novel)--the powerful trilogy that’s been compared to Game of Thrones continues in this sequel to Frozen!

Nat and her drakon are the last of their kind—sworn to protect what their enemies seek to control—and she’s risked her life for their reunion. But fighting for the majestic Blue meant saying goodbye to Wes, breaking both their hearts. Back in New Vegas, citizens are threatened by the resurgence of magic and declare war on all the marked. Wes and his team travel to the extravagant indoor city of El Dorado looking for his sister, but when they are caught on the wrong side of the RSA’s strict new laws, Wes is forced to do the unthinkable—surrender and rejoin the military's quest to uncover the magical source, the same land Nat is struggling to protect. Now he and Nat find themselves on opposing sides of a war that could potentially destroy what’s left of the world.

“As fearless as a futuristic Game of Thrones.” —Margaret Stohl

“A thought-provoking novel, part epic fantasy and part social commentary.”—Entertainment Weekly on Frozen: Heart of Dread, Book One

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About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Publisher's Weekly internationally best­selling author of many critically acclaimed novels. Her Blue Bloods series has sold over three million copies and the Witches of East End series is now an hour-long television drama on the Lifetime network.
 
Michael Johnston is Melissa’s husband and heretofore “si­lent partner.” He is co-creator of the Blue Bloods and Witches of East End series. Melissa and Michael live with their daughter in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Men say they know many things;
But lo! they have taken wings,—
The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances;
The wind that blows
Is all that any body knows.

—HENRY DAVID THOREAU

Come hell

—THE DECEMBERISTS, “THIS IS WHY WE FIGHT”

THE FIRE
AND THE THIEF

THROUGH THE FIRE, THROUGH THE SMOKE and flame, she saw the boy and the girl huddled in the corner. Twins. She hadn’t known there would be two children. Which one? The boy looked afraid, but his sister stared back boldly. The girl had sapphire eyes and a swirl on her shoulder. A weaver.

It was the girl.

A decision was made.

She was the one.

The one they had come to steal.

Part the First:

You drop a coin into the sea, and shout out, “Please come back to me”

—STARS, “THE NIGHT STARTS HERE”

Chapter 1

FIRE IN HER THROAT. FIRE IN HER LUNGS and chest. Nat breathed and the drakon breathed. She exhaled and the drakon exhaled. The drakon roared its fury and the flame was everywhere, a blaze as bright as the noonday sun.

Natasha Kestal was a drakonrydder. She was Anastasia Dekesthalias, the Resurrection of the Flame. But neither words nor names could capture the incredible floating, flying, gut-twisting, hair-raising sensation that filled her entire being. Being a drakonrydder was only part of it. Nat was the drakon. She was a piece of the creature’s soul, a limb that had been torn from its body as surely as a wing or a claw, but now, reunited, they were one as they glided through the clouds, skimming across the water, the wind in her face and hair, its fire burning in her throat. The drakon’s fury, its rage, was her rage, and she breathed that rage upon the drone ships that flew the flag of the Remaining States of America, setting the entire ocean aflame.

Not everything was so simple. The battle in the Pacific had been only the first victory, as the enemy’s might was far more formidable and vast than she or the Council of Vallonis had anticipated. Since the first battle, armadas hidden around points of the globe had tracked and assaulted every possible gateway to the Blue. They’d come with their guns and their rockets, following her with radar and satellite, sending drone aircrafts to track her position and battle cruisers to fire their missiles into the drakon’s hide. Like wasps stinging a hound’s coat, Nat thought. But if stung enough, the hound will fall.

It was her job to keep that from happening. But her drakon had suffered many injuries already and it had been a while since they had been able to truly rest.

All the oceans were the same—the frothy waters toxic and black—with the Tasman Sea as blighted as the rest. The gate of Arem had closed, but navy spies discovered the new doorway located north of New Crete that the people of Vallonis were using to rescue their sick brothers and sisters from the dying world. Nat had been patrolling the skies at dawn when she spotted the hulking supercarriers steaming their way to the island.

She urged her drakon downward and they dove through walls of smoke and ash, bursting through flame; a Valkyrie and her mount. The wind from its wings created white-crested waves that sent the fleet’s smaller vessels tumbling in the tide, capsizing the drone ships and filling their hulls with black water that pulled them down into the murky depths, all while Nat and her drakon rose upward on a plume of hot air, disappearing into the dark skies and preparing for another volley.

Higher, she urged. Faster. Fly ahead of their bullets.

Drakon Mainas flapped its leathery wings, the air gusting like a hurricane, each mighty wing beat scattering the clouds and creating a vortex, a hole through which she could glimpse the remnants of the latest fleet, the gleaming cruisers and destroyers of the RSA, floundering and nearly obliterated in one breath of the drakon’s flame.

One more and they are done.

Nat inhaled. She felt the hot air churning in her lungs, the fire building, heat swirling, rising. Make this blast the greatest yet—a heat so intense, it will roast their ships into dust. The fire pulsed in her veins; it climbed up her throat. She let the flame grow until she couldn’t control it anymore. The drakon’s black and ashy scales glowed hot, red and orange. Nat screamed and a violent blue fireball erupted from its mouth, intense and white-hot in the center, onto the remaining drones.

Now all the ships were burning, their hulls blackened, and they were sinking into the ocean, steam rising and hissing as they slipped into the dark waters. Scorched. Defeated.

Nat felt a fierce swell of joy and triumph, but she had survived enough of these campaigns to know it wasn’t over quite yet.

Up, she said to her drakon. Into the sky, our hunt continues.

Higher and higher they climbed, rising up until they were above the clouds, above the gray mist. Nat hovered, listening for the engines of the remaining aircraft—the gray drones that swarmed the air above the coast of New Pangaea.

Like the humming snore of a great, sleeping beast, she thought. Or . . .

A flock of sleek warbirds ripped through the clouds, their engines screaming, targeting mechanisms whirling, heading straight for them. Only seconds away, a few drakon-lengths at the most.

Dive! Now!

The drakon tucked its mighty wings to its back and fell straight out of the sky, toward the rocky cliffs along the shore. They sailed down into a wedge-shaped valley, passing so close to the stone that Nat thought she saw animals scurrying across the rocks, running away from the great rush of wind that preceded the drakon. But the buzzing drones still followed close behind, and she could see their black-tipped noses from the corner of her eye. Faster, she urged her drakon. Down and down they fell, breaking stones and branches, sending rocks and leaves spiraling into the air, coming to a halt a hairsbreadth above the river at the valley’s base.

The drakon beat its wings right before they struck the water, and they rose once more, flying in a wide arc before angling up toward the lip of the gorge.

The unexpected move sent a few of their pursuers crashing into the water or the rocks, but others maneuvered faster and continued to trail behind them, spitting out gunfire, and Nat had to dodge the bullets that streaked toward her. She brandished her sword, holding it aloft to direct the drakon’s flame, while the bullets bounced harmlessly against her shield.

Get us out of here. Find cover.

There! Nat spied a granite pillar, a tower of rock where they could hide. Soon the drakon was already turning toward it, diving again to an open chasm. The drakon landed on the far side of the rock, talons gripping the stone, breaking chunks from the granite. They hung there, hiding, blending into the dark, listening closely as the roar of the drones’ engines filled the canyon.

Shrieking like banshees, wailing like lost souls, the unpiloted drones dove into the valley. Now. Let’s fill this canyon with flame.

Nat inhaled deeply and the drakon stretched its neck, reaching around the stone to unleash an epic roar, breathing fire into the gorge and turning the rocky crevice into an inferno. One by one the drones flew into the canyon, their engines whizzing, buzzing like enormous insects, searching for Nat, only to find themselves trapped in a heat intense enough to warp their wings and melt their engines. Three crashed into the walls of the cliff while the last one merely sputtered and fell to the valley floor.

It’s over. We did it. The canyon was engulfed in drakonfire, and Nat marveled at its beauty, how it swirled around her, dancing. The fire fell like warm rain on her shoulders, as soothing as a cocoon.

She let the flames dim. The battle was finished, or so she believed; she’d been through enough of these to know when it was over.

But just as she exhaled in relief, a lone gray drone soared above the cavern, its dark wings wide as the valley, nose as long as the highest tree was tall, dropping bombs from its belly. It was a grayhawk, the deadliest aircraft in the RSA’s arsenal, as large and fearsome as the drakon itself—stealthy and silent, a death machine in the sky.

She could feel the drakon’s fear. Like her, it was afraid of iron, of the steel in their bullets and shells. Like her, it was afraid of the grayhawk.

Climb!

They rose from the canyon, wings beating. Nat’s heels digging into the drakon’s side, urging it upward, explosions and smoke chasing them from the gorge as they burst out into the sky, flames nipping at their tail.

Come and get us. Nat waited for the grayhawk to find them in the clouds and smoke, meaning to meet it head-on, to torch it like she had the others.

Come and I will show you what it means to burn.

She waited, but there was nothing but dark smoke that hurt her eyes.

Nat blinked and suddenly she was staring into a black expanse that wasn’t ocean or sky, but asphalt—a road with cars racing across its surface. She wiped the tears from her eyes, thinking she was hallucinating, but the vision of the racetrack persisted.

And there, inside one of the cars, was Wes, his face tight with tension, his mouth set in a frown, dark circles under his eyes.

Ryan Wesson.

How long had it been since they had seen each other?

Too long.

He was driving and didn’t see her as he maneuvered his car across the track, nearly colliding with another driver but swerving gracefully just in time. Then he looked up, and his brown eyes widened in acknowledgment as they met her green ones.

Nat?

She could hear his voice in her head, and her heart ached and the fire burned white-hot inside her.

Wes! she cried. What was she looking at? Where was he?

But just as quickly as he’d appeared, he was gone. The track and its cars vanished into the mist.

There was only the fat belly of the grayhawk hovering above, its rockets pointed straight at her, and so Nat flew up to meet it, her throat filling with flame, ready to exhale.

Chapter 2

WES SLAMMED HIS HEAD ON THE CEILING of the Mustang, and when he opened his eyes, the racetrack was gone.

Murky dark water littered with ziggurats of trash the size of icebergs filled his vision. A burnt battle cruiser slowly sank into the waves while a grayhawk drone hovered in the sky. When he blinked again, the roar of a car engine pounded in his ears, closing in fast from behind. A white Lamborghini slid past his side mirror, sending a drift of snow over his windshield, blocking his sight.

He turned the wheel sharply to clear his windshield, and when he blinked, there it was again: the churning waves and sinking ships. But now he saw something else as well—a great black silhouette with wings and a tail, soaring through the gray sky, breathing fire.

Another bump, and Wes was back in the race, past the bend and into the straightaway. If one of the other drivers was going to pass him, now was the time. They would approach from the inside and try to force him toward one of the outer lanes. Fine. Let them. He wasn’t trying to win the race, after all. Winning was the last thing he wanted to do. Mostly, he just wanted to stay alive.

Screaming around the turn with the track opening up before him, Wes didn’t have to blink this time to see the bow of the drone ship again, and the creature in the air. And this time he saw her.

Nat on her drakon, wielding a sword, looking like some kind of god, like a story from a fairy tale, like a hero from the book of legends, her long dark hair streaming like a ribbon in the sky.

Nat!

Wes?

She was looking right back at him, her green tiger eyes flashing in shock and joy.

Nat!

But just as quickly as she appeared, she was gone.

It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. Was it a memory? But Nat looked different—her hair was longer, and she was wearing different clothes. Armor? He could have sworn she was wearing a suit of leather and black chain mail, similar to the black scales of her drakon. It had to be a dream.

But it felt so real.

And his feelings for her were as real as the day they’d said good-bye.

He’d done what he promised. He’d taken her out of New Vegas, across the ruined Pacific to the Blue, her home. Together they survived slavers and traitors, chaos and death. Wes had taken her right to the gate of Arem, where she and her drakon had turned the entire Pacific fleet into ash in order to defend their homeland.

An Aston Martin crashed against him with a thunderous crack, sending his car spinning, and Wes quickly refocused on the track. He flew ahead of a pair of black Ferraris, the white Lamborghini close behind. Good. He would lead them for a few laps, before letting them overtake him. The guys in the exotic cars were the ones who were supposed to win, paying top dollar for the privilege. Execs from as far as Xian and New Kong came to the New Vegas track for a chance to race in the last international no-rules speedway. Drivers like Wes were part of the entertainment, to lend authenticity to the experience; he gave them someone to pass, to beat, to outrun, someone to splash with a cloud of snow, someone to send spiraling into the snowbanks. If he made the mistake of actually winning the race, he wouldn’t get paid. It was a risky business, driving cars, causing accidents, but it was the only work he could find. He was already blacklisted by a few of the casino bosses for refusing to torch a rival hotel, and then by the military for refusing to patrol the black waters.

His thoughts drifted back to Nat. She had looked at him. She had seen him. Her presence made him feel warm for a moment, the way it had on the slavers’ ship, when she had kept them both alive. He hadn’t thought to question it before, but there was no way they would have survived the subzero weather if one of them hadn’t been made of drakonflame.

But she wasn’t here anymore. He was alone and the car was cold. The heater on the ’77 Mustang didn’t work. They’d let him borrow an old heat suit for the race, but the jacket wasn’t working, and he was so cold, he could hardly keep his hands on the wheel.

Maybe it was the cold that made him think about her. He’d left Nat at the door to the Blue, left her behind, left her to fight her battles alone. He’d left her to find his sister, Eliza. The girl the RSA had stolen as a child. Eliza was family; Eliza was blood. It had been months since he’d said good-bye to Nat, and during that time he had searched for Eliza. There had been leads here and there, but none of them had led to his sister.

He shivered.

Wes pushed Nat from his thoughts.

The road ahead was open, the track clear. Black pavement stretched in front of him. Wes opened up the gas and floored it, exhilarated from the speed and adrenaline. As he rounded the turn, he saw a mechanic in an orange heat suit waving the checkered flag to signal the end of the race. The finish line was near.

But there was no car in front of him.

Ice. I hadn’t meant to do that.

He was about to win the race. He’d let his memory of Nat distract him, and now he was still ahead of the other drivers. His opponents—the heat elite, the global ex...

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