Stoneskin Dragon (Stone Shifters #1) by Zoe Chant

Reive





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.