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G. A. AIKEN

Dragon On Top

Chapter 1

Ghleanna the Decimator took another gulp from her battered ale cup and wallowed, quite magnificently, if she did say so herself, in her misery. It was ridiculous, she knew, to still be as devastated by all this as she had been. It would be going on six months and yet she could not move past it. Instead, she sat and she drank and she wallowed and she tried to forget. And this had been the way of things for a long time now. Too long, her kin would say.

This was all her own fault, though. She’d trusted where she shouldn’t have, believed lies when she damn well knew better, and most importantly, forgot the one thing that no one else ever forgot — that her father was Ailean the Wicked. Also known as Ailean the Slag, well-known whore of the dragon and human world.

And, with a single stroke of idiocy, Ghleanna the Decimator had become Ghleanna the Idiot.

Ghleanna the Fool.

Ghleanna the Failure.

Yet perhaps “failure” was too harsh a word. She’d never thought of herself as a failure before. After years on the battlefield, she’d proved herself again and again. But a failure was how she felt now. Like a failure and a fool with no one to blame, but herself. So, in morbid shame and self-pity and with no wars or battles interesting enough to occupy her mind or sword arm, Ghleanna had returned to the safety of her cave home’s ancient walls to be miserable and — if she were to be honest — hide. Venturing out only for food and ale.

Although these last few days she’d mostly just gone out for more ale.

She had no idea what her long-term plans were, but then again, should failures have long-term plans? Since Ghleanna wasn’t sure, she drank more ale until sweet blackness took her and she didn’t have to think about her inherent stupidity and the misery it had caused her anymore.

Ghleanna had no idea how long she’d been passed out, but as much as she might want to, she couldn’t ignore the beating her head was currently taking. She forced her eyes open and watched the blunt end of a steel spear come down to crack her forehead again. She rolled away but the end of another spear hit her on the side of the jaw.

“Wake up, ya lazy sow. Wake up!”

“Leave me be, you mad bitches!”

“Is that any way to talk to your dear, sweet aunts?” “You’re not my aunts,” she lashed back.

“Close enough. It’s better than Great Cousins, isn’t it? Makes us sound old, don’t it, Kennis?” “That it does, Kyna. Now get up before we strip the scales from ya bones.” Pissed that her kin didn’t have the decency to leave her alone to wallow in her ale and drool, Ghleanna sat up and snarled, “What is it, you old hags? What is it you want from me?” “Well, first, you can stop feeling sorry for yourself. Isn’t that right, Kyna?” “That’s right, Kennis. Nothing worse than a mighty dragoness sittin’ around in a dark, dank cave, boo-hooing over some bloody mistake of a dragon.” “I am doing no such thing,” she lied.

“Look at her lying to us, Kennis!”

“I see it, Kyna. Lying to us and thinking we won’t know. It’s a shame.” Kennis shrugged. “I say we hit her again. On principle.” “I agree.”

Ghleanna quickly raised her claws to protect her head. “Go away! Leave me be!” “So you can sit here and continue to feel sorry for yourself? Over him? I’d rather put you down here and now, ain’t that right, Kyna?” “Aye. Like a poor, wounded horse.”

“I hate all of you.” Ghleanna let out a big sigh, dragging her claws through her too-long black hair. She hadn’t cut it in months and it showed. She knew she must look like cold shit, but she’d not give her kin the satisfaction of acknowledging it.

“Hate us? Even though we’re all worried about your worthless hide?” Kyna asked.

“All them brothers and sisters of yours whinin’ about you. Och! The sound of it makes us mad. We had to do something, didn’t we, Kyna?” “Aye, Kennis. That we did. Or kill them all just to make them stop. But that didn’t seem right, did it, Kennis?” “No. Not at all.”

“So you come here to do. . what? Exactly?” Ghleanna demanded. “Besides annoy the bloody fuck out of me?” “You’re lucky it was us come to fetch you, brat. Not sure your wake up would have been so kind if it had been your mother who’d come here instead. Isn’t that right, Kyna?” “Och! Beaten your scales to a different color, she would have. She’s been sick to death with worry over you, only to find out you’re sitting in this cave, drinking your sorrows away on some cheap ale.” “Well, if I’d really wanted to end it all, I would have just used your ale,” Ghleanna sniped.

The spear butt came at her again but this time Ghleanna caught and held it. “Stop hitting me with that bloody thing.” “At least her reflexes are still good. Now we just need to sober her up—” “And bathe her. She reeks!”

“—and we can get her to our queen’s court while it’s still morning.” “Queen’s court? Why do I need to go to Rhiannon’s court?” “Ohhh. Hear that, Kennis?”

“Aye, Kyna. Rhiannon she calls her. Like they’re old friends.” “Best of chums!”

The twin She-dragons cackled and Ghleanna felt the need to start destroying things.

“She’s gettin’ pissy, Kyna.”

“That she is, Kennis.”

“So we better get her up and ready so we can get a move on.” Fed up, Ghleanna nearly roared, “I don’t want to see Rhiannon! So get the fuck out of my cave!” Kyna crouched down low so she could look Ghleanna in the eyes, one side of her snout pulling back to show row after row of deadly fangs, many having shown up as she’d aged.

“Now listen up, little girl. You can talk to your father and brothers like that if you want — but you’ll not talk to us that way. And when the queen gives you an order—” “—you get off your ass and you follow it. Or by the gods—” “—we’ll make you wish you had.”

Ghleanna understood now why the Cadwaladr Twins had been sent to fetch her. Although many of her siblings would put up a good fight, only her brothers Bercelak and Addolgar really had a chance at taking her, but neither would because she was their sister. The same with her father. And her mother was a peacekeeper, not a fighter. So her kin had sent the most feared Dragonwarriors in the land, the Cadwaladr Twins. Old She-dragons they might be, but that only made them more dangerous — and unstable.

“You coming, girl?”

“Yes,” Ghleanna hissed, using her front claws to push herself all the way up. It took a moment for the cavern to stop spinning and another moment for the nausea to pass. But once they did, she was ready to at least get into the lake outside and bathe.

“What does Rhiannon want with me anyway?” she asked, heading outside with the twins right behind her, debating on whether to make a run for it.

“Unlike you, brat, we don’t ask a bunch of questions.” “Our queen asks us to do something, we do it. That’s our job.” “That’s your job,” Kennis insisted.

“Did we not train her well enough?”

“I hope that’s not the case, Kyna. Hate to put her back through training.” Ghleanna winced, hearing the threat in those words loud and clear. “Won’t be necessary,” she muttered.

“Good. You were always one of our favorites, Ghleanna. We’d hate to have to beat you within an inch of your life because you’ve forgotten where you come from.” Kyna caught Ghleanna’s forearm, made her look at her. “And there’s no shame, girl. No shame in who you are, who your kin are, or who you want to be.” “And don’t let anybody

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