execution, shapeshifting assassin, Dahlia Nite, flees her world
to hide in the human realm. As payment for the shelter they
unknowingly provide, Dahlia dedicates herself to protecting humans
from what truly lives in the shadows. Moving from town to town, she
hunts the creatures that threaten an unsuspecting human race; burying
the truth that could destroy them all.
City is threatened by a series of bizarre brutal murders, light is
shed on what should never be seen. The secrets that have kept
humanity in the dark for centuries are in danger of being exposed.
killings while simultaneously working to conceal their circumstances.
But with each new murder, the little bit of peace she has found in
this world begins to crumble. Each new clue leads her to the one
place she thought to never go again. Home.
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can tell the difference between monsters and humans, it’s
Dahlia Nite. For nearly a century, she’s hunted one to protect the
other; safeguarding humanity from the creatures that slip through the
torn veil between the worlds—creatures like her. But the lines are
blurring. As people begin mutating and combusting on the streets,
Dahlia realizes a strange affliction has descended upon Sentinel
City. The mysterious ailment strikes all walks of life, from the
posh, high-end nightclub district to the homeless community. Its
victims, driven to random acts of savagery, are drawing attention too
fast to cover up.
investigate the deaths. But all they have are questions and bodies,
and a public on the verge of panic. Working behind the scenes with
her self-appointed sidekick, Casey Evans, Dahlia struggles to
discover what, or who, is behind the alarming transformations. As the
violence spreads and the mystery unfolds, she wonders: are the
victims still human? Were they ever?
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small Kansas town on the Missouri river, C.L. Schneider grew up
in a house of avid readers and overflowing bookshelves. Her first
full-length novel took shape while she was still in high school, on a
typewriter in her parent’s living room. While her main focus is adult
epic and urban fantasy, she also pens the occasional science fiction
or post-apocalyptic story.
installment in The Crown of Stones Trilogy) was Schneider’s first
published novel. With the trilogy complete, she is excited to be
embarking on a new path with her urban fantasy series, Nite Fire.
I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be afraid. I’d outgrown the nightmares of my
youth long ago. Burying the events that sparked them, locking away the images, I’d dismissed
the power they held over me. But I still remembered…
Waking in my dark den, throat raw, fire spitting from my fingertips; in those first few
moments before sleep released me from its clutches, I’d sworn the creatures’ hot breath was still
on me, their barbed tongues darting out, smelling my fear on the air. In every shadow, I saw the
black blur of their shifted forms, circling me. Every heartbeat bore the promise of pain as the
razor-like teeth of the savage nageun shredded the meat from my bones. Every night, I waited for
the creatures’ bites to penetrate, for their venom to flow in and my blood to spill out.
Those moments were far behind me. The nightmares were gone. Experience had made
me stronger and wiser. Determination and training had pushed my fear of their slender, stunted
reptilian forms to the depths of my mind.
Now they were crawling out.
They were stepping from my past.
The dark swarm was closing in, and the nageun’s pursuit of me was as real as the cold
fear burning in my veins; twisting like a frozen blade with each pump of my legs as I ran.
Shifting out of my human form, crimson scales erupted to spread beneath the malleable
confines of my uniform, covering breasts, stomach, thighs, and back. Muscles increased in size
as my slender nose widened. Rounded jaw hardened. Cheekbones and forehead became more
distinct as my full lips darkened. I dropped to all fours, back arched slightly, and the forest floor
sunk beneath my weight. Claw tips extended, digging in, releasing the aroma of damp soil and
moldy undergrowth. With a rustle of leaves, I pushed off.
Night birds scattered in haste at my swift trespass. Woodland creatures stirred and
scurried. My unmistakable smell, an arousing amalgam of human female and dragon, had them
skittish as I dove headlong into the clog of downed boughs and scrub. My agile hybrid form
slipped through the labyrinth of timber with minimal effort. Arcs of fire crackled off the ends of
my hair as it fluttered out behind me.
I was too conspicuous. I needed to blend.
Without breaking stride, I shifted the strands and their composition changed. From scalp
to ends, human hair emerged, and doused the visible fiery heat wafting off the lengthy red
waves. It wasn’t camouflage even close to what my pursuers were capable of creating. Their
ability to shift into shadow, nearly erasing the edges of their bodies—little more than whip-like
tails, long flat jaws, and serrated teeth to begin with—was one of the creatures’ greatest
It wasn’t easy to kill my kind. Death by nageun was a long, tortuous mutilation there was
no coming back from. Picturing it, I tore deeper into the forest.
I tried to run and not think. But my mind was spinning, desperately seeking to
understand, to conceive how a normal assignment on a normal day had landed me on the wrong
end of an execution. With a single hesitation, my hopes, my future—my life—was over. The
Guild was all I’d ever known. They’d plucked me from my den-mates, sheltered, fed, and trained
me; promoted me to the coveted role of Executioner. They’d shown me the rewards of a life in
service to our dragon elders. Dahlia Nite was a name respected in the ranks. I was known to all
the tribes, decorated for fealty and bravery. Now, all had turned against me.
I carried the order through. I did as I was told. I’d just needed more time.
If the child hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t…
What? I thought bitterly. I still didn’t know what happened. Only that her emotions had
been strong beyond explanation. They’d been tangible, slithering over and in me, affecting me in
an impossible way. I hadn’t been merely sympathetic to the human child’s terror. Her panic had
brought me to my knees. I’d felt the violence of the moment, the violence I’d been sent to inflict,
in a way I never had: as a victim. I’d seen it, growing around her ankles like a black wet fog.
Stunned, I’d lost hold of my fire and faltered. Pausing, even just a moment, had created a
memory; a record of my uncertainty, and, therefore, a death sentence.
In a society where not even our thoughts were private, no mistake was overlooked. No
performance could be embellished or hidden. Our mission reports, our kills, were pulled straight
from our minds by the highest authority: Naalish, the Exalted One; mother of all firedrakes and
Queen of the Elder Dragon Tribes of Drimera.
Telepathy was common in female elders, but Naalish was said to possess a superior mind.
It was also rumored she’d ripped the heart from her predecessor and ate it, consuming her soul to
gain her power. I’d never believed it. Naalish was the most beautiful and majestic of all the
dragons. Even hours ago, standing before her wrapped in chains, I’d been in awe of her presence.
Deference and pride had kept me silent as she ordered my execution. I hadn’t even thought to
plead for mercy. I was better than that. I was a hybrid, a shifter, a lyrriken. The product of a
human female and an elder male in human form, both human and dragon existed within me. It
was by the grace of the elders alone that I lived. They had every right to judge and punish me.
It didn’t matter that I’d gone before the Queen confused, that I’d needed help and she’d
called for my arrest. Mercy was a not a common dragon trait, and I would never have shamed
either of us by begging. I took her condemnation with my head held high.
It was after when my outlook changed. After, as I sat in my cell, with the blood of that
human child drying on my hands, as I dissected my actions and tried to comprehend—I watched
the walls go inexplicably fluid and gray. And I saw her. I saw it all again: the clearing where her
home sat, the woods surrounding it, the charred body of her headless father on the ground.
Stretching out like a hand from the grave, the child’s terror, stronger than anything I’d felt
before, had gripped me anew. It dominated everything. My status, my honor, my duty to die as
commanded, had no value. My squad, not even my lover mattered. Suddenly and inexplicably, I
cared for one thing.
No one had challenged my escape. They had no reason to expect such a bold move. Even
facing execution, no Guild-trained lyrriken would dare defy the Queen. We would stay and take
the death that was given us.
Yet something had crawled inside me that didn’t want to die.
Something that wanted to live more than it wanted to obey.
Now the coin had flipped, and I was the target. I was the one striving to outrun the
oncoming death on my heels, clinging to life even knowing the odds of surviving. Fleeing was
foolish. My impulse to do so was puzzling, but I couldn’t stop. Even now, with my cell in the
depths of the Citadel far behind me, with the lights from the City of Spires dim in the distance,
the sounds of the child’s scream rang as strong as the wind in my ears.
I’d left her alive too long. Her noise had brought the nageun out of the forest. My
hesitation, my compromised aim when I recovered, had left her not quite dead when the horde
descended. She’d watched them swarming. Felt their teeth puncture and tear. I’d backed quietly
away, out of their view, listening to the foul crescendo of the cracking of bones and the slurping
of organs as soft human bodies were reduced to strips of meat and puddles of viscous matter.
They were to die, anyway. It had been my duty to kill them.
But not like that.
I’d botched the entire job, and I still couldn’t fathom how. How could one little human
melt away my years of training, one mistake label me weak and untrustworthy?
Now, in fleeing, I’d earned another brand. Traitor.
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