The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: <em>The Dead City</em>
Fri
Apr 1 2011 9:14am

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City

“Isn’t it?” Morde said. “Now, captain. What is it you wished to see me about?”

 “Three of my guards went missing in the night, your eminence,” Ealth said, and then held out a roughly hexagonal object, the size of a small plate. “At their station, we found this.”

Morde took it and examined it. “Found it on the wall, you say?” he said to the captain.

“Yes,” Ealth said.

“Anything else?” Morde asked.

“A broken sword hilt,” Ealth said.

“No blood?” Morde asked. “Torn limbs? Severed heads? Curiously placed organs? Notes explaining that the guards had gone for ale?”

“Nothing but this and the sword hilt,” Ealth said.

“Curious,” Morde said, looking at the object again.

“Your eminence,” Ealth said. “I can’t help but notice that it looks like a large reptile sca—”

 “Has anyone seen this but you, captain?” Morde asked, interrupting him.

“A guard named Filbert found it and the sword hilt, and brought them to me,” Ealth said. “I told him to remain silent until I had spoken to you.”

“Very wise, captain,” Morde said. “I will want to speak to this Filbert as well.”

“He’s on duty at the moment,” Ealth said.

“At the end of his watch, then. You and he both,” Morde said, and set the object down.

“Very well, your eminence,” Ealth said. “What should I say about the missing guards? The other guards are sure to ask.”

“For now say they are engaged in a task I have asked of them, about which you may not speak,” Morde said. “That should be sufficient.”

“Yes, your eminence,” Ealth said.

“Very good, then. See you and Filbert in a few hours,” Morde said, returned his attention to writing up the results of his experiment, and made a waving motion with his hand, dismissing the captain. Ealth bowed and retreated. Morde waited until he was gone and then picked up the object again, lightly stroking the dark, slate-like surface. He frowned at the implications of the thing.

“Shall we set up the players again, your eminence?” one of the standing men asked Morde, wiggling his bucket for emphasis.

“What?” Morde said, distracted, and then refocused. He set down the object. “Oh. Yes, let’s.”

“I think I need some time to recover,” slurred the green player, from the ground, as he feebly tried to pull off his leeches.

“Nonsense,” Morde said. “Everyone knows blood spontaneously regenerates after about five minutes. You’ll be fine. In fact, this time, let’s try some bigger leeches, shall we?”

***

There are many legends about the night dragons. You know about three (well, four). Here are some more.

It is said that as fledglings, night dragons are sustained only by the tears of distraught unicorns.

It is said that if you call the name of a night dragon at the exact instant of a full moon, it will come to you. If you then whisper a name into its ear, the dragon will then fly to the exact location of that person and eat them.

It is said that if you bathe in the blood of a night dragon, you will be invincible at caber tossing.

It is said that earthquakes are what happen when two night dragons love each other very much.

It is said that the most hated natural enemy of the night dragon is the lemur, which is a very bad deal for the lemur.

It is said that salt made from the dried tears of a night dragon will take fifty years off your life, so putting night dragon tear salt in the food a 49-year-old is not advised, unless you do not like them.

It is said night dragons can speak to the moon, but don’t because all the moon wants to talk about is how much it likes basalt.

It is said that if a night dragon is caught in the sunlight, it will turn either into a porpoise or a tortoise, depending on whether it is over land or sea, until the sun goes down. Sometimes it turns into the wrong thing. It will then have a very uncomfortable day.

It is said that if you anger a night dragon, you may appease it with cheese. But you better have a lot of it.

It is said that the only way to truly kill a night dragon is to bore it to death.

It is said that the scales of a night dragon are impervious to cutting, chopping and grinding. It is also said that night dragon scale powder is the most amazing aphrodisiac known to man, but given the first part of this legend, good luck with the whole “making a powder out of a dragon scale” thing.

Finally, it is said that night dragons can live forever, but often choose not to, because when you come right down to it, the world isn’t nearly exciting enough to stick around on for that long. Theologians have argued, to great and sometimes bloody length, about whether this means that night dragons believe in an existence beyond this world, or whether it just means that eventually, even suicide is preferable to having to be on the same planet as humans.

None of these legends are true, although some of them are closer to true than others, specifically that most species eventually find humans interminable, and it’s unlikely night dragons would be an exception to the rule.

Here is a true thing about night dragons:

They don’t exist.

Never have. Because—as the apparently doomed Ruell cogently noted—they are biologically impossible. You might as well put wings on an elephant and expect them to pull themselves through the air, and land with anything other than a most discouraging splatter. The largest flying animal anywhere near Skalandarharia was the Great Southern Albatross, the largest example of which had a wingspan longer than two not excessively large men. As impressive as that was—and it is impressive, as Great Southern Albatross could easily beat the hell out of most unarmed humans and enjoy itself while doing so—it’s nowhere as large as a night dragon is supposed to be, since legend has it peeking its head into second story windows.

However, what the night dragons have always been, is a convenient excuse. One used by the Emperors of Skalandarharia when from time to time they find it useful to remove some of the more annoying thorns in their sides. For example, wealthy caravan traders who have begun to balk at the taxes and tariffs imposed on their trade. Or the occasional citizens who have begun to question whether having a hereditary head of state with unquestioned authority is really the best and most efficient way to run a government. Or, from time to time, someone who just annoys the emperor for one reason or another—say, an ambassador who does not show proper deference, a former lover who is not accepting exile from court with the proper gratitude, or a courtier who chews too loudly and laughs with his mouth full.

An emperor doesn’t have to use a cover for such things—what fun is being an emperor if you can’t do whatever you want? You might as well be a king then—but even an emperor knows that from time to time perhaps it’s best not to show your hand holding the knife.

An emperor can’t use the night dragons too often or too carelessly. Use it too often, people will figure it out, because they stubbornly persist in not being stupid. For little things, it’s better to blame vampires and werewolves. But once per reign, more or less, when things are beginning to look a little messy, it’s an option. If you’re the emperor you have to make it count (so make sure you have a long list), and you also have to throw in a little collateral damage here and there just to make sure it doesn’t look too targeted. Among other things. There’s a manual. But each emperor is also encouraged to be creative.

The current Emperor of Skalandarharia was Sukesun IV, and as Skalandarharian emperors go he was near the bottom of the pack: Not as abjectly stupid as Blintin II, who banned Tuesdays and believed that babies came from geese (and goslings from ham), and not as wantonly cruel as Gorsig the Pitiless, whose official cause of death of “sudden perforated bowel” neglects to cover the scope of having an entire coliseum of people come after you in your sky box with knives, including the fruit vendors and the dancing girls, but plenty stupid and cruel for all of that. Now in the twelfth year of his reign, Sukesun IV had amassed enough enemies and troubles that he was advised by his counsel—Imo Morde chief among them—to exercise the option, and engage in the shadow war of the night dragon.

Which was going swimmingly, until three imperial castle guards went missing and Captain Ealth presented Morde with what was a clear, obvious, unambiguous, absolutely no doubt about it night dragon scale. It couldn’t be a night dragon scale, and yet it couldn’t be anything else, either. Everything in myth and legend described it exactly as it was when it landed on Morde’s desk.

How could a thing that could not exist, exist? If it did exist, which of the many legends about it would turn out to be true? What did its existence mean for Imo Morde, for Sukesun IV, and for the city and empire of Skalandarharia?

Therein, my friends, lies a tale. A tale of war. And dragons.

And a dead city.

A tale, which, as it so happens, begins on another dark and stormy night.

 

Cover illustrated by John Stanko

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City (Prologue) © 2011 John Scalzi

81 comments
Ilya Veselov
1. l3xforever
You can ignore this, but I have a secret inside info on the next books in this trilogy (yes, it is at least a trilogy):

The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Two: Dark Blood Magic
The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Three: Dream World of the Fire Wolf

Sadly, I can't say much about any dates, but at least you'll know what will come next :D
Richard Fife
2. R.Fife
My eyes, they bleed. Well played, sirs and madams.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
Why isn't book 2 out already! It's been like, all morning. What's Scalzi doing--just sitting around eating bacon!?!
Christopher Turkel
4. Applekey
I demand the sequel feature pink ponies. Sparkling pink ponies.
Christopher Turkel
5. Applekey
I will add the look on the middle man's face says it all.
akaSylvia
6. akaSylvia
This is the only post today that has truly amused me.
Beth Meacham
7. bam
I love the foil effect on the cover.

/inside baseball comment
Melissa Shumake
8. cherie_2137
highly entertaining for all the wrong reasons... great job mr. scalzi.
akaSylvia
10. kabdib
Second the request for pink ponies. They should sparkle, then explode.
akaSylvia
11. William Seligman
I've only read about 1/4 of this, because I keep laughing every five seconds. I'll work through it by the end of the day, I promise.

"Blind night badger trolls..." I'm giggling again. Soon the neighbors will complain.
akaSylvia
12. Dan Someone
So I heard that Syfy has already started shooting the miniseries, but they renamed it "DINOSHARK VS. SQUIDWOLF."
akaSylvia
13. Terrence Miltner
Epic. Epic reading and I can't buy it soon enough. I believe you when you say it is NOT a prank. If it is, it is well played, well played indeed.
akaSylvia
14. Sean M
You know, I would totally buy this.

Also, the list of legends on page 2 makes me wonder if perhaps the narrator might be the Dos Equis 'Most Interesting Man in the World'....
akaSylvia
15. Mike Kranjcevich
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP (Money truck backing up to Scalzi's front door in Ohio). Apparently, it also contained the Pony and the Glitter.
akaSylvia
16. JimC
OK, it's April Fool's Day, but oh, I so WANT TO BELIEVE...

We can only hope that the protagonist is a 600 year old katana-wielding teenager. Who is also a police detective.
akaSylvia
17. airanw
It's like, how much more black could this night be? and the answer is none. None more black.
akaSylvia
18. p harris
After reading, I still have a question: was the night dark or not?
jon meltzer
19. jmeltzer
"In the tradition of Jim Theis!" - Library Journal
Stacey H. H.
20. geekgirl1970
LOL! How gullible am I? I went straight to Goodreads to look for a release date. Couldn't find. THEN I came here and read the excerpt. *facepalm*
akaSylvia
21. Jared Garrett
Bull hoggly! But marvelous writing.
akaSylvia
22. Nightsky
But I'm already in talks for MY epic fantasy series, "The Shadowy Dragons of the Night Wars"!
akaSylvia
23. moregrey
I nominate this for the Bulwer-Lytton Award! Anyone else vying for the award should just give it up now and consider a career change. The three volumes of this series will OWN Bulwer-Lytton!
akaSylvia
24. Craig Stew
Where is the freaking stew?!!!! I refuse to buy fantasy novels that don't involve stew.
akaSylvia
25. C-Rash
@Nightsky

You seem to be ripping off my upcoming release, "The Dragon Wars of the Nightshadow." Kindly cease and desist.
akaSylvia
26. Scott Forbes
@C-Rash: And you, sir, are ripping off my imminent epic "The War Dragons of the Shadow Knights." My lawyers will be in touch as soon as I can afford some.
Teresa Jusino
27. TeresaJusino
Awesome! :) And the photo of the contract on your blog? Nice touch. :)
Daniel Goss
28. Beren
I would read this. I would read it to death.
Adam Shaeffer
29. ashaef
Those first two sentences are impressive :-)
akaSylvia
30. Dorian
This should be required reading. So much to learn, so well demonstrated.
akaSylvia
31. RobinM
The Author picke the title from the Tor.com decade SFF title survey Right?
Dru O'Higgins
32. bellman
Funny! But now I'm curious to find out what happens next.
akaSylvia
33. Lawrence Person
Methinks you're trying just a wee bit too hard. A nice April Fools prank should start out with low-key veneer of plausibility to draw in the gullible. I know wherefor of which I speak:

http://www.lawrenceperson.com/?p=4449

But that opening sentence would make a fine Bulwer-Lytton entry...
akaSylvia
36. schambers
Magnificent! I would totally buy this!
Jen Hill
37. greybon
There better be an entire chapter devoted to stew in book 2! ;)
akaSylvia
38. NightOwl
Now for the real april fools...it's not just a spoof..the rest HAS to be written and published by tomorrow.... :D
akaSylvia
39. David DeLaney
Compare and contrast with Lawrence Watt-Evans' contribution, The Unwanted Wardrobe, at
http://www.ethshar.com/theunwantedwardrobe001.html .

--Dave
akaSylvia
40. Matthew Graybosch
This sounds like the title of a Rhapsody of Fire album. It's too cheesy for Dragonforce.
akaSylvia
41. Filippo
Such a dark and stormy novel...
James Oliver
42. JOliver
I really hope this isn't a joke. It is terrible, yes, but I am enjoying it something fierce. I'm sad it ended.
Brent Longstaff
43. Brentus
A funny thing about this title (which was cobbled together from the most popular titles of the last decade if you haven't seen that post) is that the Ghost Recon game for the 3DS is actually called Shadow Wars.
Sim Tambem
44. Daedos
Longest. Sentence. Ever.

Smashing. Even better than Old Man's War.
Nick Rogers
45. BookGoblin
LOVE the writing, but it's the young Tony Danza holding the halberd on the cover that truly takes this over the top.
akaSylvia
46. loydb
Fixed:

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons of Shannara, Book One: The Dead City
Tim Gough
47. Geckomayhem
He has a good imagination, I'll give him that. And I'll bet it was a heck of a lot of fun to write this. I wonder just how long it took? ;)
akaSylvia
48. MHB
So help me, I enjoyed this in a very Adams-ian way. You do realize that this trilogy will actually turn out to be five books, as three would be too few to contain teh awesomez.

Bonus ponts for however many "Tough Guide to Fantasyland" references you could sneak in. And careful that writing in this style doesn't break your ability to actually write real stuff!
akaSylvia
49. Glenhurst
The cover art looks like Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind
Luis Milan
50. LuisMilan
And here I thought that, some time ago, when Mr. Scanzi said he would write this book, he was joking.

Boy, am I happily wrong!
James Kehr
51. Jammrock
I don't think I've ever laughed that hard at a book opening before.
akaSylvia
52. Iolar
I know shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but when I see covers that look like a childs idea of what a fantasy cover should be, it makes it easy for me to dismiss the quality of the book. Then there is the whole "Tough Guide to Fantasyland" thing.
akaSylvia
53. Adamanta
I was so annoyed by the paragraph-long sentences that made up the first two paragraphs that I almost didn't read it! But I'm glad I did. Quite clever. But the guy on the left on the cover looks like a really gay Zach Braff.
Rob Munnelly
54. RobMRobM
Word to the wise - All reading this should pay close attention to the day this excerpt was posted.
Dirk Walls
55. dirk
This would have been funnier if the email from Tor announcing it had arrived a week ago.
Pernilla Leijonhufvud
56. Therru
Since I got the email about this a whole week after April 1st, it took me a little time to understand that it was a joke. So by the time I got that, I also got disappointed, because this was hilariously awesome (or awesomely hilarious) and I would have bought the book immediately.
akaSylvia
57. SpeakerToManagers
Hmm ... guards on the castle walls on a dark and stormy night trading stories of supernatural portents. I was really expecting some gossip about the recent death of the king and remarriage of his widow to his brother, followed by a couple of the prince's friends getting offed while spying on him. How disappointing, Scalzi, I think you just missed a great plot there.
akaSylvia
59. Shesomaru
Disappointed, I had expected more but found the story lacking, maybe it is due to a long work day. But I will attempt to re-read it after a night's rest.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
60. tnh
Shesomaru @59: Good idea. How does it look this morning?
Amy G. Dala
61. amygdala11
Excellent! I hope Tor didn't skimp on the pony glitter.
akaSylvia
62. Andrew Ducker
Dammit. I would so read this.

It's reminiscient of The Colour Of Magic, or The Light Fantastic - Pratchett when he was largely engaged in taking the piss out of Fantasy.

Great Stuff!
akaSylvia
63. veganazi
I was delighted upon discovering something new from John Scalzi. After viewing the title, I was like "Seriously?!" Then I read the date. Lol.

I would totally buy something like this, for no other reason than because John Scalzi wrote it.
akaSylvia
64. S. Morgenstern
...and they said it couldn't be done. A sequel to The Princess Bride! Well, no. This isn't it. But it could be! Or something like that. Someone buy the movie rights of this from this kid, fast!
akaSylvia
66. Anansii
Y'know, I think that qualifies nicely as eldritch horror. I do indeed. (snerk!)
akaSylvia
67. shadowsong
All of you who enjoyed this should check out Penny Arcade's "Song of the Sorcelator" storyline, as well as what happened when the PA fans decided to give that storyline a backstory: The Elemenstor Saga.
Madison Brewster
68. MaddyBrewster
John Scalzi seems to overwrite on what doesn't matter and leave out the slightest bit of information on what does matter.
Bernadette Durbin
69. dexlives
"Is it an African or a European Night Dragon?"
akaSylvia
70. Cone
This obviously needs more haberdashery description.....we don't even know what anyone was wearing!
akaSylvia
71. Alex von Thorn
I'll wait for the movie. ;)
Clay Blankenship
72. snoweel
I'm pretty sure that is Tad Williams in the middle.
akaSylvia
73. Stoic
This truly is a difficult read. Maybe I should turn on the light.
akaSylvia
74. pirategirljack
Brilliant!
akaSylvia
75. occula
You had me at Drindelthengenflagenmorden.
akaSylvia
76. Stepovich
...and I was so puzzled at why they'd put Tony Danza and John Malkovich on the cover.

Good stuff :)
akaSylvia
77. >:[
I'm incredibly disappointed to learn that this is just a joke. I was hoping that this was a real book because I'm in dire need of some "so bad it's good" literature.

At least I can, to some extent, assuage my hunger via movies.

bluh bluh.
akaSylvia
78. Touhou42
@ 69 Does it matter? Also, it's a swallow, not dragons.

Pink ponies? Of course! With lots of sparklies.

Now, we just need John Scalzi to join forces with Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchet, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Jordan (or at least his ghost). Then, we release the movie. I'd fund it, but I'm practically broke already.

Still, pretty damn epic story, Scalzi.
akaSylvia
79. Devout Agnostic
Quite an entertaining read, I would love to have a copy of this on my bookshelf. Hell, I might even read it if published. Barring brain hemoraging, or other unfortunate accidents.
akaSylvia
80. YouWish
So, runnon sentences anyone? the black could be blacker because Scalzi mentions it's a "purple-Black" this just sounds ridiculous.. how ever were you published?
akaSylvia
82. giblie
It's been almost three years and I still hope that Scalzi comes out with this. I would love to see his satirical take on fantasy :)

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