I’ve been asked on Facebook if I would post an excerpt from LORD’S FALL (Berkley, November 6th), so I’m offering up one here today. This is a segment from Chapter Two.
When [Dragos} reached Manhattan, he spiraled down through the frigid air to land in a large, cordoned off area in a parking lot by Four Pennsylvania Plaza. After he shimmered into a shapeshift, he let go of the cloaking spell and strode toward the main entrance of the massive, round Madison Square Garden building.
He glanced up as he approached. The banner had gone up weeks before. It was several stories tall and very simple. It read SENTINEL GAMES, with the dates for this week down below, along with the simple graphic of a gigantic, crimson dragon rampant.
The 20,000 x 10,000 foot arena seated 19,500 and it had all the latest multimedia technology, with giant television screens to show spectators in close-up the details of what occurred down below. The arena had undergone extensive renovations over the last several months, heavily subsidized by Cuelebre Enterprises, down to and including the Cuelebre Enterprises Executive Suite, which perched above the rest of the arena like an aerie.
All the tickets for the week of Games were long gone. The tickets were for four hour slots and had been free on a first come/first serve basis to any Wyr or resident of New York State who applied. The first ones to go were on the last day, when the final round of contests would take place and he would name his next seven sentinels. A limited amount of seating and suites had also been made available, for an exorbitant price, to any of the other Races who were willing to pay.
And they were all willing to pay. Dignitaries from all the other Elder Races, along with many human nationalities, would be attending.
People would watch the Games for a variety of reasons. Some would be evaluating the strength of the Wyr demesne, and making notes of the personalities involved. The week would showcase a lot of talent, so no doubt some would be head hunting, including Cuelebre Enterprises for a selection of opportunities outside the sentinel positions.
Also, many Wyr would gain a sense of security from knowing their demesne remained strong and capable of handling any threat. Still others would watch for the blood sport, which was barbaric, of course, but Dragos had never made any bones about the fact that the Games themselves were barbaric. They were supposed to be. PETA members were completely outraged and utterly confused.
The week long event would also be televised on pay-per-view cable worldwide, which would help to defray some of the massive cost, but the bottom line was the Games still remained the single most expensive project he had personally sponsored in generations.
In this case, profit was not the point. This was governance, a calculated, lavish display of wealth and an exercise of raw, brutal strength.
Just as humans had many different countries splattered across the globe, all the other Elder Races had different demesnes—in the continental U.S., in Europe, Asia, Africa and other places.
All except for the Wyr. The Wyr had different communities, such as the gargoyles in northern Scotland, the wolves of the Great Steppe in southwestern Russia, the gazelles of the African plains and the mysterious, ancient kraken of the North Atlantic who rarely interacted with others or came to land.
But there was only one Wyr demesne, one Wyr ruler.
Cuelebre, the Great Beast.
And there had been only one event like this in the last thousand years. That had been the first Sentinel Games, when his original seven had fought their way to their current positions. Then, he had recruited the most Powerful of the Wyr throughout the world. They had come together to establish who was the strongest amongst them, and they had fought for the chance to rule by his side.
He had been working toward this point since Tiago and Rune had left positions last summer. This time the worldwide recruiting and screening effort had been conducted electronically. Notices had gone out, job application forms had been posted, and an entire team of recruiters and H.R. personnel had spent the last several months screening and checking references for all the applicants.
They had arrived at a short list of four hundred and forty eight contestants, and most of those were predator Wyr. There were any number of lions, of course, and several gargoyles. Dragos liked the gargoyles. They were community minded, and when they changed into their Wyr form, their stone-like surface was almost impossible to penetrate in hand to hand combat.
There was one of the two other known thunderbirds in existence aside from Tiago, a clash of harpies, and a very interesting, rare individual who was mixed Race but whose Wyr side was strong enough that he could shapeshift. Most interesting of all to Dragos, there was a rare pegasus. While Powerful immortals, as herbivores pegasi were peaceful creatures, and it was unusual for one to seek out such a public, potentially violent position.
All-predator sentinels made for a hawkish group, a fact that was brought home to him when Pia, with her more peaceful outlook, began to sit in on conferences and voice her opinions. It might not be a bad thing to have a pegasus as a sentinel—as long as he could establish his prowess in physical combat. If he couldn’t fight worth shit, there was no point. The pegasus could go push some pencils in a bureaucratic position somewhere. Right here? It was call of the wild, baby.
The shortlist of contestants also included all five of his current sentinels, who had to participate in the Games to prove they were still the strongest and the best, because while the Wyr demesne adopted modern technology, legal concepts, and principles, at its heart it was still a feudal system. It had to be; his sentinels needed to be the strongest and most capable of taking down any other Wyr who might go rogue, and they also had to be capable of leading a world-class defense against any potential attackers.
Might did not always equate with right, but it did provide damn strong security in an uncertain, often brutal world.
Still, the participation of the five sentinels was probably just a formality. Probably. The only stipulation Dragos had made was that they fight other contestants, because the point of their inclusion wasn’t to find out which of them was the strongest against each other. The real question was, were they stronger than anybody else?
Everyone was on edge, and more tempers than just his had flared frequently over the last few weeks. Crews had been laboring overnight to put the last touches on the combat arena. It was a simple area, a huge cordoned off space with a sand-covered floor. The sand could be raked in between bouts to get rid of the blood.
Because there would be blood.
With all the paperwork and formalities out of the way, the Sentinel Games had just one objective: beat your opponent by any means possible. One fight, Wyr-to-Wyr. No weapons, no second chances, no holds barred.
There was just one rule: don’t kill anybody.
At least not on purpose.