Authors: Mari Mancusi
Thank you for purchasing this eBook
At Sourcebooks we believe one thing:
BOOKS CHANGE LIVES
We would love to invite you to receive exclusive rewards. Sign up now for VIP savings, bonus content, early access to new ideas we're developing, and sneak peeks at our hottest titles!
Also by Mari Mancusi
Copyright Â© 2015 by Mari Mancusi Beach
Cover and internal design Â©2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover digital illustration Â© 2015 by Tony Sahara
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systemsâexcept in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviewsâwithout permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Fire, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Fax: (630) 961-2168
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Smoked / Mari Mancusi.
Sequel to: Shattered.
Summary: “When Team Dragon finally rescues Emmy--now a full-grown dragon--they think the future is safe. Until Emmy reveals a secret: she's laid two dragon eggs, and her offspring may bring about the fiery apocalypse they've all fought so hard to prevent”-- Provided by publisher.
(13 : alk. paper) [1. Adventure and adventurers--Fiction. 2. Supernatural--Fiction. 3. Dragons--Fiction.] I. Title.
To Mark and Ana Beach, for your continued dragon-sized support and love! You are the best in-laws a girl could have and I feel privileged to have you in my life.
Year 190 Post-Scorch
“Emergency. Emergency. Dragons incoming. Please proceed calmly to the nearest flame shelter. This is not a drill. I repeat: this is not a drill.”
Sixteen-year-old Connor Jacks watched as the hallway erupted in chaos, doors bursting open, bodies spilling out everywhere, not a single soul seemingly interested in proceeding with any level of calm whatsoever. Instead, hands were clawing and eyes were bulging as howls of panic nearly managed to drown out the warning sirens above. All around, red lights flashed angrily, effectively capturing the mood as neighbor shoved neighbor, friend trampled friend.
In the dragon apocalypse, it was every man, woman, and child for themselves. A crush of the worst humanity had left to offer.
“Dragons incoming. Estimated arrival time: fifteen minutes,” droned the computerized female voice over the loudspeaker, not exactly helping matters. “Fourteen minutes fifty-nine seconds. Fourteen minutesâ”
“Move, damn it!”
Large hands shoved Connor in the back, out of the doorway he had been standing in and into the violent sea of people who crashed over him in waves and knocked him off balance. His hands slammed against the concrete floor first, followed by his knees, and he oomphed in pain as heavy boots trampled his fingers without apology. Biting his lower lip, he struggled back to his feet, grudgingly allowing himself to be swept along with the mob.
He felt a pulse at his side, a slight heat indicating an incoming message on his transcriber. His eyes darted around the hall, finally settling on an empty doorway a few feet ahead. Lunging forward, he managed to traverse the mob and dive through, landing in the entryway of a now-empty home of some Strata-C family. Like most Strata-C homes, this one was small, carved out of rock, and contained only the most basic of belongings. A crude kitchen table and chairs. A few cabinets. Hammocks to sleep in. Only a small, pink plastic teddy bear, abandoned in the middle of a concrete floor, gave any indication of the makeup of the family who might have called this place home.
Well, that and the giant full-color poster of Connor himself, one of the limited edition “Dragon Hunter Heroes” series that the Council had released a few months back and given to school children under the age of ten. He made a face. The artist had exaggerated his physique to the point of caricature, as well as the size of the gun-blade in his hands. The caption read
Vista, Dragon Spawn!
âwhich they'd embarrassingly assigned as his catchphrase even though he'd protested that he'd never say anything so corny in real life. But the Council had insisted catchphrases increased morale, and so what could he do? Whatever gave these poor people hope, he supposed. Though if the fate of the known world really was relying on catchphrases, the world was totally screwed.
He pulled his transcriber from his belt, running his fingers across the smooth side. A hologram popped up, and an image of his friend and fellow Dragon Hunter Troy looked back at him, his face pale. “Jacks!” he cried in a hoarse voice. “Where are you? Are you anywhere near Subterra A? Damien up at the watchtower counted five headed your way, and we're all stuck over at E, working the peace rally you bailed on. We're headed back now, but we won't be there in time.” Troy scowled, and Connor couldn't help but remember his friend's catchphraseâ
lucky, dragon punk?
“The Council is recommending nukes.”
Connor cringed. Of course they were. He pressed the record button to send a reply to his fellow soldier. “Tell them to stand down,” he barked. “I'm not far. I'll handle it.”
He sent the message then reattached the transcriber to his belt. Brushing his hair from his eyes, he exited the home and stepped back into the hallway. The once-crowded passage was eerily vacant now, with all the people of Strata-C hopefully safe and sound in the flame shelters below. Waiting for him to get the job done so they could get back to their everyday lives.
Connor ran down the hallway, his footsteps pounding to the rhythm of the flashing red lights as he made his way to the surface 'vator that would take him where he needed to go. But as he took a corner too quickly, he found himself nearly tripping over something on the floor. He looked down.
Make that some
The little girl couldn't have been much older than six, and her grubby face was stained with tears as she sucked on the end of a messy pigtail. She looked up at Connor with wide, awestruck eyes.
“Are you one of them?” she asked in a tiny voice. “Are you a Dragon Hunter?”
Suddenly her fear seemed forgotten as she rummaged through her filthy backpack, pulling out a trading cardâsize version of the poster Connor had seen in the house. She studied it for a moment, then looked back up at him. “It
you!” she cried excitedly. “Can you sign my card?”
“Where's your family?” Connor demanded. He needed to get moving. But he couldn't rightly leave the girl out here, exposed and unprotected and alone. These quarters weren't far from the Surface Lands and could go up quickly if the dragons weren't stopped.
Or worseâif the Council did pull out the nukes.
The girl dropped her hand, looking dejected. “We got separated. And then they closed the 'vators,” she warbled in a thin voice. “They wouldn't let me down.”
“What?” Connor frowned. This was, of course, completely against protocol. The 'vator operators were supposed to do a complete head count before closing down to make sure everyone in the strata was accounted for. But that didn't mean it always happened, especially during a major panic like this one had been.
“What's your name?” he asked.
“Salla,” the girl whispered. “My name is Salla. And I'm scared.” She stuck a grubby thumb into her mouth.
“Okay, Salla, I'm going to get you to a shelter.” Connor scooped the girl into his arms then switched directions, once again traversing the empty hall with as much speed as he could manage. Thankfully the girl was a light load.
He grabbed his transcriber with his free hand, pushing on it to call Damien above. “I'll be there in a second!” he told the Watcher.
“Hurry,” Damien's voice crackled back. “It's bad up here.”
It's bad down here too.
They reached the 'vator, and Connor lowered Salla to her feet so he could rummage for his key card to summon it. Soon the two of them were shooting down into the earth below. When they reached floor negative 23, containing the last flame shelter one mile beneath the surface of the earth, the doors slid open, revealing two guards standing watch.
Seeing Connor and the grimy girl, they barked, “No room.”
But there was plenty of room, Connor saw. In fact, he had never seen a more roomy emergency shelter in his life. The people inside, dressed in finery, sipping sparkling beverages, chatting as if they were at the social event of the season, not hiding out from monsters. He thought about some of the other shelters he'd seen a few levels up, where there was barely room to turn around. He'd heard rumors of these placesâwhere guards accepted bribes and turned others away. It made him sick to his stomach to see it for himself.
He reached into his shirt and whipped out the badge that hung from a chain around his neck. He didn't like to pull rank, but at the moment, he didn't have time to screw around.
The guards' eyes widened as the badge flashed under the fluorescent lights. They looked at one another and then back at Connor, nervous grins erupting on their faces.
“So sorry, sir. We didn't recognize you,” babbled one.
“Of course you can come in. Anything you need. It's an honor toâ”
He waved them off angrily. “This girl is under my protection,” he stated, forcing his voice to stay even. “Take her and make sure she has water and something to eat.”
“Of course! Of course!” the first guard assured him hastily. “I'll treat her as if she were my own daughter.” He reached for the girl. Salla looked back at Connor with terrified eyes.
“Don't leave me!” she cried. “Please, Mr. Dragon Hunter!”
“You need to be brave, Salla,” Connor commanded, hoping he sounded cool and confident and not the least bit afraid. “I've got to go. I have to fight the dragons and make things safe for you.”
Salla thankfully seemed to get this. She smiled at Connor. “Hasta la vista, dragon spawn!” she cried, raising her fist in a cheer.
He smiled back weakly, then forced himself to repeat it, trying not to blush too hard as he did. Then he gave her a last salute before running back to the 'vator.
It was time to go slay some dragons.