July 18, 2018 at 12:00 PM EDT

The following is an exclusive excerpt of Wrath of the Dragon King, the much-anticipated second book in Brandon Mull’s YA fantasy series Dragonwatch, which centers on the war between dragons and humans. In the new installment, Kendra and Seth must stop Celebrant, King of Dragons from taking control of the dragon sanctuaries. Read on below, and pre-order the novel ahead of its Oct. 23 release here

Chapter 6

Kendra sat rigidly in her griffin saddle as Didger the dwarf buckled in her legs. The creature shifted beneath her, saddle creaking, plumage ruffling near the neck. She patted the feathery shoulders, powerful muscles rolling beneath her palm.

Didger went to the head of the griffin and took the reins. “Steady, Sheba, the girl is already nervous.” He handed the reins to Kendra.

“Should you tell her that?” Kendra asked.

“She can smell your fear much better than I can see it,” Didger said. “Fortunately, with Sheba, your worry makes her gentler. She’s our oldest griffin, and the most considerate of her rider. Gave her to you for a reason.”

Kendra looked over at Tanu and Seth on their own griffins. “And the others?”

“Sage for Seth, since she is faster and more maneuverable than some but still obedient,” Didger said. “He wanted Tempest, but her temperament is too volatile for a peaceful mission where she will be stabled by strangers. And Tanu rides Titan, our strongest griffin, since the potion master is, well, larger than some.”

Tanu caught Kendra staring and gave a little salute. She smiled back, then, jiggling the reins, glanced down at Didger. “How do I steer?”

“Hold the reins loosely,” Didger advised. “The griffins know the way. When you leave the feast, Tanu will assist you into the saddle. Just tell Sheba ‘home.’ She’ll do the rest.”

“All right,” Kendra said.

“Straps feel snug?” Didger asked. “Can’t pull your legs out, can you?”

Kendra squirmed, but her legs were immobilized. “I’m stuck.”

“Perfect,” the dwarf replied, his smile showing a couple of gaps in his teeth. “When you’re ready to dismount, pull the release down, right, and away like I showed you.”

“Got it,” Kendra said.

Somebody patted her leg, and Kendra turned to find Grandpa and Grandma Sorenson on the opposite side of the griffin from Didger. “You take care and watch out for your brother,” Grandma said.

“I will,” Kendra promised.

“Be polite, and make no agreements with Celebrant,” Grandpa reminded her.

“But don’t take any of his sass,” Grandma said.

“I’ll do my best,” Kendra promised.

“You come home safe,” Grandpa said. “Stay near Tanu.”

“I will,” Kendra said.

Grandpa and Grandma moved on to Seth, who was drinking a potion. Kendra knew the courage effects would let Seth and Tanu interact with dragons for about eight hours. They each carried two extra doses just in case. Once the doses were gone, Tanu lacked some of the ingredients required to make more.

“Come on, Mendigo,” Kendra called. “Time to meet the dragons.”

A featureless wooden humanoid with hooks for joints, Mendigo stood his ground, which was peculiar. He always obeyed direct orders. Kendra had brought the animated puppet to Wyrmroost after Agad had restored him to her, and he had generally stood guard over her ever since.

“Mendigo, come,” Kendra said.

The limberjack held up both palms and shook his head.

“Agad,” Kendra called. “Can Mendigo be afraid?”

The wizard approached Mendigo. “What is the problem?” he asked.

“Mendigo doesn’t want to come with me,” Kendra said.

“That doesn’t seem right,” Agad said. “He is an automaton. He follows commands. Mendigo, go to Skyhold with Kendra.”

The puppet shook his wooden head again.

“I’ve never seen him scared,” Kendra said. “When Seth and I fought Siletta, her poison nearly destroyed him. Only his hooks remained. Do you think he remembers?”

“Perhaps at some level he does,” Agad said. “Animating objects is a peculiar form of magic. As you bestow enough intelligence to follow commands and make simple choices, you risk bestowing some degree of individuality. Mendigo was created once by the witch Muriel, and then the wizard Vernaz helped me reanimate him from his meager remains.”

“Won’t you come protect me?” Kendra asked Mendigo. The puppet shrugged and shook his head.

“There could be some residual trauma from his previous demise,” Agad said. “He could be starting to develop a modest will of his own.”

“It happened to Hugo when the fairies resurrected him,” Kenda said. “He started developing free will. But that came from their magic, I think.”

“This new quirk was not deliberate,” Agad said. “But a fear of dragons seems to have taken hold. Best to leave him behind on this venture.”

“Watch out for Grandma and Grandpa,” Kendra said.

The limberjack immediately headed toward her grandparents, lingering nearby. Apparently he had not stopped obeying orders altogether.

Although the sun had just gone down, Kendra felt too warm in her heavy coat and gloves. Didger had warned that it would get colder at higher altitudes.

Didger snapped his fingers, and Sheba followed him to the center of the courtyard. Agad joined them there. As the other griffins drew near, the wizard raised both hands, addressing all three riders. “Sadly, by the time you return, I will be gone. There are other crises to deal with.”

“You’ll keep looking for Bracken?” Kendra asked, squeezing the reins, her throat constricting with grief.

“He is alive,” Agad said. “The horn of his you carry confirms that.”

Kendra reached down and touched the horn strapped to her side in a sheath like a knife. “You can take it if it would help you nd him.”

“Alas, I already tried,” Agad said. “I could sense he is alive. But I could derive no guess of where he is being held. I do not expect that will change. He wanted you to have it. If by chance he gets an opportunity to reach out, he may try to link his mind to yours using the horn. It should stay with you.”

“All right,” Kendra said.

“Good luck at the feast,” Agad said. “You are doing an extraordinary job here. Tanu, I will miss your company.”

“See you soon,” the potion master said.

“Seth, stay out of trouble,” Agad said, “and far from the Blackwell.”

“I will,” Seth promised.

Kendra knew there was a deep pit full of the undead beneath the keep. Agad had warned Seth on multiple occasions to stay away from it, out of worry that her brother might try to communicate with some of the undead denizens and somehow unleash them.

“We will see you later tonight,” Marat said. “Fly safely.” “Griffins away!” Didger cried, waving his arms.

“Griffins away!” two other dwarfs called out.

Wings sweeping downward, Sheba leaped into the air. The griffin continued to rise, wings heaving to gain altitude as Kendra wobbled in the creaking saddle. Seth ascended off to the right, Tanu to the left. The three griffins climbed steadily, turning Blackwell Keep into a toy model behind them. The sunset gradually reversed until Kendra was squinting in the sunlight.

“It’s still day up here,” Seth yelled.

Kendra waved to show she heard him, but quickly dropped her hand back to the saddle because letting go made her feel unsteady. Meanwhile Seth had both arms raised like he was riding a roller coaster. Kendra tried to enjoy the cool air in her face and the spectacular view, but when she looked down at the tiny trees beneath her, she couldn’t help shivering at the thought of the enormous fall.

She knew she was strapped to the saddle. But what if some of the straps broke? How old was the saddle? And how competent were the dwarfs who had cinched it on? What if it came loose? Didger had mentioned that Sheba was the eldest griffin. Still gaining altitude, her wings worked hard. What if the griffin had a heart attack? Did that ever happen?

Kendra tried to stay calm. This was going to be fine. The worst-case scenarios in her mind were far-fetched. She would arrive without incident. To panic about imagined hypotheticals was silly.

Under most circumstances she would have also worried about running into dragons. But the invitation to the feast included a promise of safe passage through the skies if she chose to arrive by griffin. Was it possible for the dragons to break their word? Or for one of them to go rogue? Or for some other creature to bother them?

She checked the bow Seth had acquired for her, secured to the saddle. If something did choose to attack, at least she could give it three hundred arrows in the face. The sack of wind could come in handy as well. Henrick had been impressed with the items Seth had gotten from the storerooms, so Kendra knew they must be effective.

As they flew higher than some of the nearest peaks, the chill intensified from cool to cold. Kendra became grateful for the heavy coat and gloves, and she ducked her chin to better hide her face from the wind. As different scenery flowed by beneath her, Kendra gained a greater appreciation for the sheer size of Wyrmroost. She knew the sanctuary was protected from detection by a distracter spell, but it still amazed her that such a large piece of land could go unnoticed by the outside world.

Kendra hunched forward, head down, letting her hood block the wind as her cheeks became numb. Jagged mountains and ridges scrolled by below. After soaring over a high saddle between a pair of particularly tall peaks, she saw an enormous mountain, the entire top half carved into a gigantic castle.

Heedless of the frigid air in her face, Kendra stared at Skyhold in astonishment. Several dragons circled around the rugged towers of the gargantuan stronghold. The closer she flew, the more she appreciated that the vast castle was meant to house dragons, not humans. Huge entrances yawned behind oversized balconies. Dragons roamed spacious terraces open to the sky and perched on long ridges; one waded in a wide, shallow pool. Though the castle had walls and towers, she saw no brickwork or mortared stones—everything seemed to have been shaped by shaving away portions of the mountain. She assumed the top of the highest tower had once been the peak.

A large dragon with bright red scales glided toward them, then wheeled around to guide them. Kendra watched the last of the direct sunlight disappear from the top of the highest tower. Sheba descended to a great opening at the base of the castle, about halfway up the mountain. The griffin landed smoothly on the rocky shelf, and hardy goblins in clean livery and powdered wigs hurried to help Kendra down from the saddle. They unbuckled her so quickly that Kendra didn’t have to work the release on her own, and as soon as her feet hit the ground, the attendants were leading the griffin away.

“Wait,” Kendra called, following Sheba.

The goblins pulled the griffin to a halt.

“I need my bow,” Kendra said, loosening a strap and pulling the bow from where it had been secured. She also grabbed the small quiver of eight arrows meant to disguise the ability of the bow to produce arrows spontaneously.

“This place is big,” Seth said, coming alongside Kendra.

“Has to be,” Tanu said. “Think how huge our castles are, and they only house people.”

“The fancy goblins crack me up,” Seth said. “See the wigs?”

Kendra hushed him. “We don’t want to offend anyone.”

“We’re protected, aren’t we?” Seth asked with a smile. “Might be fun to ruffle some feathers.”

“These are dragons, not chickens,” Kendra reminded him.

“Remember what I told you,” Tanu said. “Err on the side of caution tonight. The potion will protect you from dragon fear, but it could also impair your judgment, make you overconfident. Don’t say and do everything you think.”

Seth shrugged. “I can be as dull as we need.”

“Where are they taking the griffins?” Kendra asked.

“I saw stables over that way as we were landing,” Tanu said.

A large raven swooped toward them, hovered near the ground, and expanded into a gaunt old woman with moss and slime in her tangled hair. Prominent veins snaked around her thin, bare arms like leafless ivy. Bedraggled clothing hung like becalmed sails on her spare frame. Her lips had shriveled almost out of existence, and her small eyes failed to look directly at Kendra or Seth as she spoke.

“The new caretakers,” she said abruptly. “Puppies in a weighted sack.”

“Excuse me?” Kendra asked.

“Lobbed into a river,” the old woman said. “Never had a chance.”

“Are you Vatka?” Seth asked.

“Lowly Vatka, at your service,” she said, inclining her head.

“You can turn into a crow,” Seth said. “What else can you become?”

“This and that, at need,” Vatka replied. “Sad to see innocence abused. Funny too. The sludgefolk wish you well. Not that wishes can help.”

“Do you know something?” Kendra asked.

Shuffling away, the woman cackled, then spoke in a higher voice. “Yelp, yelp! We’re drowning! Yelp, yelp, yelp.” She gave a strangled little howl that dissolved into laughter.

“She’s cracked,” Tanu said. “Remind me to never become queen of the Sludgeholes.”

“She thinks we’re doomed,” Seth said.

“Then she may not be very crazy,” Kendra said. “Come on.”

Kendra led the way to the large opening in the wall of the castle. No door covered the cavernous entrance. A goblin guard in a furry hat stepped forward and croaked a single word: “Invitations.”

Tanu produced the invitation, and the guard looked it over. He touched the sword hanging at Seth’s side and ran a hand along Kendra’s bow. Seth spoke in a garbled language, and the guard spoke back, waving them through.

Beyond the entrance Kendra found a vast hall that took up a lot of the space inside the mountain with a single room. The immensity of the cavern seemed to shrink her enough that she wondered if she was having an experience similar to that of an ant entering a sports arena.

Gold dust glittered on the walls and ceiling, giving the entire room a metallic shimmer. Complex grooves carved into the walls were either decorative patterns or perhaps some elaborate form of writing known to dragons. No furnishings interrupted the tremendous space except for a pair of long tables toward the center, sized for humans, set for dinner, with goblin attendants standing ready, white wigs in place, white gloves on their hands, brass buttons polished. Many guests were already seated in the high-backed chairs.

An impressive assortment of dragons prowled the room: an oily purple dragon with a face like a mass of squirming tentacles; a bulky dragon with scales like armored plating, huge horns like a bull, and a club tail; a sleek, white dragon with crystal blue eyes; a dark gray dragon with two heads; a golden brown dragon with long quills bristling atop the head, down the neck and tail, and all over the bulky body. Kendra counted sixteen of the giant reptiles in total, which probably spoke more to the enormity of the room than any other detail.

At the far end of the room awaited Celebrant on a raised platform. Only his head and neck had been visible when Kendra had interacted with him on the Perch. She had never really had a chance to appreciate the grand scale of his entire form. A flawless armor of gleaming platinum scales adorned every visible inch of his anatomy. From the majestic horns on his head to the tips of his razor claws, the Dragon King was glorious and lethal. Kendra could not help noticing the shining crown circling his head at the base of his horns, made from some metal more intensely bright than silver and studded with scarlet gems.

A goblin with exceedingly fleshy cheeks stepped forward and blew a bugle. The brassy notes reverberated across the otherwise quiet hall. “Kendra and Seth Sorenson have arrived, with their manservant,” he announced. “Also Lowly Vatka of the Sludgeholes.”

Celebrant raised his head. “The guests of honor,” he said, his voice as resonant as a men’s chorus speaking in unison. “Welcome, my fellow caretakers. Mingle with the other humanoids and please enjoy the food. We’ll get to the more formal portion of the evening after you are fed and settled.”

“Does the manservant get to eat?” Tanu mumbled with a small smile.

With a surprising rush of wind, Raxtus landed beside them. “Greetings, Seth and Kendra. We’ll talk more later. For now, just follow instructions.” He sprang away before Kendra could reply, gliding to the side of the room.

A squat, plump goblin with a deeply indented face led them to the table and pulled back a chair for Kendra. Lord Dalgorel of the Fair Folk rose to greet her, impossibly handsome in his dressy uniform, complete with a sash, epaulets, and several polished medals.

“Greetings, Kendra Sorenson,” Dalgorel said. “And Seth, of course.”

“Are those medals of neutrality?” Seth asked.

“Charming as ever,” Dalgorel replied. “Not all great deeds occur on a battlefield, though some of mine did, long ago. You remember my daughter, Eve.”

Kendra noticed Seth staring at Eve in her simple but gorgeous gown. She was about his age and as exquisite as any of the Fair Folk.

Seth walked up to her, took her hand, and kissed it.

Kendra gaped in astonishment. She glanced at Tanu, who watched with wide eyes. She knew it must be the courage potion.

“How did you get to come?” Seth asked.

Eve waved an arm at the rest of the room. “I’ve always wanted to see dragons. Father needed a companion, and Mother hates journeys.”

“It’s amazing,” Seth said. “I’ve only seen more dragons than this a couple of times. Never so many so close. Some are so weird.”

“The porcupine one!” she whispered loudly.

“And the one with a noggin like a hammerhead shark,” Seth replied. “The fear doesn’t bother you?”

“Father tested me,” Eve said. “I passed. I’ve always been brave.”

“We should sit,” Dalgorel suggested, motioning Seth away from his daughter to the seat on the far side of Kendra. Seth followed the recommendation reluctantly, and Tanu sat just beyond him.

Kendra took her seat beside Dalgorel and spread the silky napkin on her lap. Across from her sat a little man with a bulbous nose and a gray beard that ran along the underside of his chin. “Well met, caretaker,” he said, his voice rather high.

“The Grand Imperator Karzal,” Dalgorel introduced.

“Good to meet you,” Kendra replied in Gnomish.

Karzal’s eyes widened and his eyebrows raised. “It has been many cycles since a caretaker bothered to learn our tongue,” he said in Gnomish.

“I’m honored to meet you,” Kendra said, pleased by the good impression she was making. She reached for the nearby plate of beef ribs.

“Wait a moment,” boomed a deep voice powerful enough to vibrate the glassware. It was the bulky dragon with the bull horns. “Before everyone gets too comfortable, I formally challenge Celebrant the Just for the kingship.”

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