The cast of the Sleeping Dragon is an ensemble one, featuring five misfits bought together by circumstances beyond their understanding, who swiftly realise that only by working together can they work out just what the hell’s going on and, more importantly, just how the hell they can get out of it.
In this post we look at the man who like the bards of old, supplies this particular group of adventurers with their musical heart.
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As lead lutist of Northern Fire, the biggest rock band on the planet, the Storm might appear to have it all: fame, money, and the adulation of fans. But a decade spent touring the Empire in a battered wagon to reach those heights, and then a further decade and a half trying to stay there, takes a toll on a man’s spirit. The music still makes sense. But little else does.
Gekk looked over at him, a sneering smile on his face. “What? Trying to say you can write the songs instead of me? Dream on, mate. You’ve either got it, or you ain’t; and you ain’t.” He didn’t wait for the Storm to answer, but instead tapped out a line of herb on the dressing room counter and carefully snorted it up one nostril. He sniffed twice, and then smiled. “Stick to lead lute, mate. It’s what you’re passably good at.” He looked around at the others, an unnatural shine in his eyes. “We going on then, or what?”
One by one, the band rose and walked through the dressing room’s open door. It was only a short walk down a bare corridor to the stage; much shorter than some nightmarishly maze-like arenas they’d played at – although contrary to legend, and a few close calls aside, they’d never actually got lost on the way.
Then they were there, on stage, plugging in their instruments and launching straight into the first song, “Warriors of the East”. The Storm crashed into the intro with Eddie’s drums backing him up and Gekk coming in on the aurabox; all of them feeling more than hearing, sensing the change in the crowd. As always, the Storm found himself in awe at the effect music could have: uplifting, transforming, empowering. Fifty thousand faces were lifted towards them, a hundred thousand entranced eyes. A sea of waving hands that soothed nerves and fired the soul.
Arguments. Addictions. Money. None of it mattered when they were together on stage. This was what they did, and damn they were good.
The rock star isn’t the most active member of the team; he is after all, inhabiting a mid-forties body that’s suffered a couple of decades of hard living, and is nursing a pretty big herb addiction, as well as suffering from doubts about his place in all of this. But he does offer the team a pragmatic, if cynical, view that can often prove useful:
The Storm thought for a moment as he zipped up his flies. “Didn’t the god-prophet Muna once steal a loaf of bread from a tax collector?”
“Well, I think you’re drastically simplifying the theology behind–”
“Muna’s the patron-god of grifters,” interrupted Dani.
“Yeah?” replied the Storm. “Never knew that.”
And as events progress, the Storm forges a friendship with Blade, the two men united by the shared experience of a life lived in the floodlight of publicity.
The Storm nodded. “Family’s the thing you miss, once you haven’t got it anymore.”
Blade gave him a “go on” type of nod. The musician paused for a moment, and then continued.
“I never really knew my dad. It was my mum who bought me up. She scrimped and saved to get me lute lessons because she was convinced I had some sort of talent.”
“Well, she was right!” said Laliana, who was sitting on the sofa next to Blade with her feet curled up beneath her. “Look at what you achieved with Northern Fire.”
The Storm gave her a wan smile. “I don’t think Northern Fire was what she had in mind. Anyhow, she never lived long enough to see it, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”
She leaned over and gave his knee a quick pat and him a quick smile. “At least you got to know her. I don’t remember either of my parents.”
“Yeah. Dani told us. Sorry.”
She shrugged. “It’s okay. Never miss what you never had and all that.” She paused for a moment. “What about you, Blade?”
This wasn’t something Blade normally dwelled upon. Serious A-Sport fans generally knew his family history anyway, and made sure not to ask. “My dad was in the game,” he told them. “Pretty good, but not great. So he decided that what he couldn’t do, I would. Drills, practice, and games from when I was four years old.”
“Is that so bad?” the Storm asked. “Look where he got you.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t a son to him, I was a project. And my mum just left him to it. Only real family I ever had was Toozie and the kids, and I sure screwed that up.”
Laliana gave him a reassuring smile. “Maybe when this is all over, you might get a chance to try and make that better?”
“You think this is going to get better?”
Laliana fixed Blade with a stern look. “Well, if this Toozie was so great, why’d you screw it up?”
It was a question Blade had asked himself a thousand times, but one he’d never had the guts to actually answer. He looked at the Storm for support, but only got a not-so-helpful shrug in return. “I was eighteen when we got together, she was seventeen. Things were different then.”
The Storm answered while Blade was still thinking. “That was before you were famous, right?”
“Yeah. I was just an apprentice; a trainee on a youth feeder team trying to prove that I was more than just my father’s son. I think most people figured I was only there because he’d pulled strings. No one thought I’d amount to much, including him. Then I met Toozie, and she didn’t care who my dad was, or what I could do in an A-Sport arena.”
“So what went wrong?”
What had gone wrong? They’d been an item within a day, soul mates within a week, and living together in a one-room hovel within two months. By his nineteenth birthday Blade had graduated to the junior warrior’s slot on a senior team and they’d moved into their first proper home, a two bedroomed apartment on the edge of the canal district. Blade had once heard it said that life was wasted on the young, and he now knew that to be true. Those years in that apartment had been the best years of his life, but he’d let them slip through his fingers like sand in the surf. Too young to appreciate what he’d had; too stupid to realise that he’d never have it again.
“So what went wrong?” Laliana asked again.
“What he said,” Blade told her. “I got famous.”
As the story progresses, the Storm finds himself tested in ways he would never envisaged, and a truth will be revealed: that there is more to this rock star than a gaudy costume and a rollocking riff.
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Just for fun, I created some mocked up RPG-style character sheets for Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists. Here’s the Storm’s:
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The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.
The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.
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