Home > Stoneskin Dragon (Stone Shifters #1)

Stoneskin Dragon (Stone Shifters #1)
Author: Zoe Chant




If not for phone maps, Reive Corcoran would never have found it. The Ossowa Public Library was on a tree-lined residential street, surrounded by white frame houses with neatly kept yards. The library building was only one story high, most of it hidden behind shrubs bright with early touches of autumn color. The front parking lot was just big enough for a handful of cars.

He walked to it from the bus station. It was a lovely day, warm and a bit muggy, with just enough early autumn coolness to cut the heat. His leather motorcycle jacket would ordinarily have been too warm for the sunshine, but he was cold inside it, almost shivering.

His right arm hung numb at his side.

He felt out of place in this small town, scruffy and leather-jacketed with his hair—long enough to fall in his face—tied back with a leather cord. He carried a small backpack slung over his left shoulder with a change of clothes and some toiletries.

He was used to traveling light, but he wasn't used to traveling without his motorcycle. He'd had to leave it behind weeks ago. To his infinite frustration, his right hand could no longer handle the controls.

Reive reached absently to rub his aching arm under the leather jacket. A black leather glove covered his hand, and he had to resist the urge to pull it off and examine it again to see if the gray, stony patches had visibly spread. When he rubbed at his arm, he could feel the hard places underneath his sleeve. The rocky patches themselves were numb, but when he pressed at them, pain sparked bright and hot on the burning edges where rock met flesh.

He almost welcomed it. The pain steeled him, gave him purpose. Reminded him why he was here.

He was running out of chances, running out of time.

He'd slept on the bus, but it had been interrupted and restless, as all his sleep was lately, plagued by strange dreams. Not nightmares exactly, but eerie and unsettling—dreams of being buried alive in stone or trapped in an unresponsive body.

If this library didn't have what he needed, he wasn't sure where to go next.

Who would have guessed that the biggest collection of books and manuscripts on gargoyles on the entire continent, possibly in the world, was in a small-town library in Indiana?

There was a pleasant little path, edged with flowerbeds, leading to the library's glass door. Small-town library hours, he noticed: 11-4, Monday-Friday. It was Friday afternoon. He had barely made it before they closed.

His dragon uncoiled inside him, stirring wordlessly. It had been sluggish and quiet as his disease progressed, almost unresponsive; even his shifts were coming with greater difficulty. This was the most interest it had shown in anything in weeks. Reive couldn't help feeling a weary thrill of something that might be reluctant hope.

When he opened the door, the chill of air conditioning hit him sharply, an abrupt change from the end-of-summer mugginess outside. The contrast brought a prickle of chill sweat to the back of his neck, turning into a shiver that ran through him from the inside out. He swayed a little, catching himself on the doorframe.

"Are you all right, young man?"

He looked up, through sudden double vision, and blinked to clear it. The speaker was an elderly woman with a canvas tote of books, looking at him with worry.

So this was what he'd come to. Humans pitying him. He straightened his spine and put on a smile.

"I'm fine, ma'am. Can you tell me where the reference desk is?"

"Over there, but there's only one desk, circulation and reference combined." She smiled. "We've a fine little library here, but it's not a big one."

"Thank you," Reive said politely, and added, "Would you like a hand with those books?" He was a dragon and she was a human, but he'd been brought up to respect his elders.

"Oh, what a nice young man—no, I'm only walking to the car, but thank you."

He held the door for her and then went on into the library. There was the usual library smell of books and carpet-cleaning chemicals. Though not a big library, as she'd said, it seemed to be larger than it had looked from out front—the shelves went on and on. Up front, near the single staff desk, there were a number of displays arranged around various themes. STAFF PICKS was pretty obvious; so was IT HAD A BLUE COVER! One set of books had a tongue-in-cheek collection with punny titles, and another featured books that all had bunnies on the cover.

Reive decided that he liked whoever had put those displays together.

"Can I help you?" inquired another little-old-lady voice. The woman behind the counter was tiny, five feet if she was an inch, with her hair done up in a perfectly neat little bun. Her name tag said MARION.

Reive turned on the charm again, or at least he tried to. He was tired to the bone; just the walk from the bus station had exhausted him.

"I hope so, ma'am. I understand you have a collection of books on gargoyles here."

"We do, but we're closing soon," she said, checking her watch. "We're only open for a few more minutes."

He hadn't realized how much hope he'd pinned on this until panic clutched at his chest and tightened its claws around his throat. Every day mattered. He couldn't wait until Monday. "Couldn't I just take a look at it? A quick look?"

"Well ..." She looked around, tapping the end of a ballpoint pen against her chin. There was no one else in the library except an old man one-finger-typing on one of the library computers. "All right. Just for a few minutes. Are you looking for something in particular?"

"I—uh—it's complicated," he said awkwardly, following her as she left the desk. "I'm doing some research. I think I just need to look and see what you have."

"You know, you're the second person in two days who's come here wanting to see these," the librarian remarked brightly. "But you're so much nicer than the other one."

"Who was the other one?" Reive asked, a thread of ice crawling down his back. No one else knew about his personal mission. No one had a reason to know. Was someone from his clan checking up on him? No, that made no sense.

"A young man writing a book. He wouldn't talk much about it. Very rude young man, if you want my opinion. Always in such a hurry, people that age. No one has any time to stop and talk anymore."

For a person Marion's age, "young" could mean anywhere from a teenager to someone in their 60s.

"Did he tell you his name?" Reive asked. Could it be the gargoyles themselves? He couldn't see how; they didn't know what he was looking for, so they had no reason to interfere.

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