The Astronomer – Part III

PART III

295 UE

Drashon stood before the gold-plated doors of the throne room. He stared at the dragon emblems emblazoned on each door while he awaited entrance. Huge tapestries hung on either side of the doors featuring the once common dragons soaring among the clouds. He resisted the urge to pull out his time piece and check the time. He knew it was a nervous tick and he didn’t want to betray his emotions to the guards standing on either side of him.

The captain of the guard emerged from the throne room and, after he closed the heavy door behind him, said, “Chancellor, if you would permit a search of your person.”

Drashon unclasped his coat and held out his arms. The captain signaled one of the guards to search him. The guard patted him down and checked the pockets of his coat, inside and out, looking for dragon bones or Energy powered Machines. The guard found the rolled-up parchment in his inner pocket and briefly examined it without breaking the wax seal. There was nothing suspicious about it, so he returned it to its place. The guard then found his timepiece, took it out of its inner pocket, and showed it to the captain.

“I’ll need to keep this until you’re finished,” the captain said.

The guard handed it to the captain and then, finding nothing else, returned to his place at Drashon’s side.

“Thank you, Chancellor. You may enter.”

The guard to Drashon’s left stepped forward and opened the door.

Drashon took a deep breath. Meeting his father here instead of in his personal quarters made him uneasy. He let the breath out and stepped through the gilded doors. He passed through the entryway with stairs on the left leading up to the viewing area, into the throne room.

At the far end of the room, up the stepped dais, his father sat on his throne, illuminated by the sun. Drashon’s step faltered when he saw that his father was wearing black armor. The dragon statues perched above the throne looked toward him ominously. He forced himself to approach the dais where his father clutched the Dragon Scepter. A golden dragon clutched the scepter, its tail winding down the gilded bone. He wished desperately to fill himself with Energy, but he couldn’t. The shields over the glass ceiling blocked the sun from reaching him. Even if he had access to Energy, it would be a mistake. Watchers would undoubtedly be keeping an eye on him from the balcony.

When he arrived at the foot of the dais, he knelt on one knee, bowed his head, and waited.

“You may rise,” the emperor said.

Drashon stood and clasped his hands behind his back.

“No point in delaying the matter at hand, Chancellor. I’ve waited fifty years for the astronomer to finish. Do you have his report?”

“Y-yes, Your Blessed Highness,” Drashon said, matching the formality his father chose to utilize. “Though, I don’t think you’ll be pleased with his conclusions.”

“Did you take care of the astronomer’s… needs?”

“Yes, Your Highness. The astronomer won’t be sharing his discovery with anybody. The only person that knows what’s contained within his report is me.” Drashon reached into his overcoat and drew out the rolled-up parchment sealed with wax. He held it out and said, “May I?”

The emperor gestured with his hand in a sweeping motion toward himself.

Drashon climbed the steps and squinted when the sunlight shined directly into his eyes and handed the parchment over. As he stood in the sun, he briefly considered filling himself with Energy, but abandoned the thought just a quickly. Instead, he stood helplessly before his father.

The emperor took a few moments to study the report. He looked up and said, “This is much worse than I’d imagined, Drashon.”

“Indeed, father,” Drashon replied, matching his father’s drop in formalities.

“It’s been almost three hundred years since I first sat on this throne, Drashon. And it wasn’t until now that I finally understand the full ramifications of the war.” He paused for a moment and stared blankly at the parchment. “I’ve often wondered why my father surrendered. We fought for thirty years, neither gaining any significant advantage over the other. And now, I think I might understand why.” After another pause, he added, “Perhaps his way would have been better.”

Drashon look at his father, confused, “Father, the war was necessary. What grandfather proposed was—”

“Yes,” Drakonias said. “But this,” he said, shaking the parchment, “proves our actions weren’t worth it.”

“It would be treasonous for me to agree…”

“Son,” the emperor said, eyeing Drashon pensively. “It seems that everything we fought for was for naught. Unless this problem is remedied—if that’s even possible—we’re all going to die.” Drakonias paused again before continuing. “You understand how vital it is that this information not leak out, don’t you?”

Drashon nodded.

“Imagine the wide-spread chaos should this ever escape this room.”

“I agree,” Drashon said. He hadn’t wanted to kill the astronomer, but he understood why it had been necessary.

“I simply cannot allow what’s contained within this report to ever get out.”

“Word of this will never—” Drashon stopped when he felt a familiar warmth enter his body. He looked at his father, confused. The emperor was directing Energy into him. “Father? I-I’m not due for Regeneration…”

“No,” Drakonias said, “you are not.” He rose from the throne with the Dragon Scepter in hand and said, “But this is necessary.”

Drashon panicked when he realized what his father was doing. He turned and stumbled down the steps of the dais as his body filled with Energy. He’d grown accustomed to the sensation from the many times his father had restored his youth, but this didn’t feel quite right. Normally the intense heat dispersed as the Energy wove through his body, undoing the ravages of time, but the heat didn’t abate. It was building. He ran for the doors, pulling the Energy into his Core, but it was building too fast. The heat overcame him, and he stumbled. He fell to the floor a dozen paces short of the exit. He dispersed Energy into the marble floor, but it was too late. The acrid smell of his burning flesh filled his nose.

Drashon writhed in pain. He forced himself to lift his head with the little strength he had left and looked toward his father. He reached out with a hand, pleading for mercy, but screamed as his body burst into flame.

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The Astronomer – Part II

PART II

295 UE

Vashon sat at his desk, and with frail fingers, put the finishing touches on his life’s work. His second life, thanks to the blessed emperor. Despite having lived nearly twice as long as was natural, apprehension and fear gnawed at his senses.

He remembered the day he’d read the edict. He remembered dropping the piece of parchment onto his chart-covered desk and watching it roll back up on itself. He’d stared blankly at it, stupefied, wondering why the emperor would ban astronomy, his trade. It also declared all astronomical implements be surrendered to the Regency. He’d forgone many of life’s pleasantries, including that of a wife and children, so that he could fully devote himself to his studies.

He remembered looking across his study at the Telescope positioned next to the window. It had been but one of many that he’d owned. That particular one he’d used for leisure. His other, bigger, Telescopes were at his observatory outside the city. He remembered the feeling of complete meaningless. What was he to do without astronomy? He’d been too old to learn a new trade.

The knock at the door still rang clear in his memory and drew his attention away from his Telescope. As quickly as his frail body permitted, he’d shuffled along the narrow path that wove around stacks of books. He’d gasped in fear when he opened the door just enough to peer out. The door swung open, forcing him to step back. A man wearing orange armor stepped in. Vashon bowed as deeply as the pain in his back allowed and said, “Welcome, Your Highness.” He struggled to erect himself, then stepped aside to permit the chancellor entrance.

Two guards wearing gray-scaled armor pushed their way in first, knocking over stacks of books, and took up position just inside the door. The chancellor strolled in with his hands clasped behind his back. Two more guards followed him in and closed the door.

The chancellor walked down the narrow pathway between Vashon’s lifetime of accumulated books. He picked one up from a pile, flipped through it as he walked, then set it back down on another pile. He stopped in front of the Telescope and slowly ran his hand down the polished bronze. After inspecting its many parts, he turned to face Vashon, who still cowered by the door.

“The emperor has need of your services,” Drashon said.

“The e-emperor?”

“And with it, comes both riches and immortality.”

The fear that held Vashon frozen by the door melted away. Moments ago, Vashon sat at his desk wondering how he was going to survive. But Draego had supplied. He grinned broadly as he silently said a word of thanks.

And all too quickly, fifty years had passed since that fateful day. He sat at his desk in the twilight years of his second life. As he hesitated to put the finishing touches on his work, he reflected on his solitary meeting with the emperor.

Drashon ushered him to Kyinth on a Train. Along the way, he enjoyed countless pleasantries. The pleasantries increased manifold upon his arrival in the capital of the United Realms. The privilege Vashon felt when he stood before His Blessed Highness was like nothing he’d ever before, or since, experienced. He counted himself as one of a blessed few who stood before the emperor and had the emperor’s sole, undivided, attention as the emperor commissioned him for a great work.

He still clearly remembered that wonderful day when, after accepting the task the emperor laid before him, a strange sensation filled his body. Tingles coursed down his spine. Every day since then he got the same feeling when he thought about the emperor using his gift to reverse times ravages on his body. He remembered the intense burning and the amazement he felt as he watched his withered hands grow smooth again. He remembered the shock he felt when the emperor directed him to an ornate mirror, and he peered once again at his youthful self. He stood amazed, inspecting his reflection. He’d been eighty-five years old, and he stared back in time at his younger self.

After that, he was escorted out of the emperor’s presence and out of the royal palace, never to set foot in it again. But his gift was forever tainted when he returned to Tieger and learned of the horror bestowed upon his fellow astronomer’s and their families. But with time, his greed overshadowed his horror. After all, the emperor was the Blessed of the Dragon—his ways were perfect.

Twice a year, for the last fifty years, the chancellor came to Vashon’s study and received an update. And now, once again old and frail, he was about to present his final report to the chancellor. Did His Blessed Highness remember his promise? Vashon wondered. Even though he had lived two full lifetimes, fortunate to have been bestowed with such a wonderful gift, he wasn’t ready to give it up. He’d grown to love his gift of renewed youth, reveled in every experience he forewent in his first life. But now, he sat in his chair having once again grown old, the end of his life again nigh. With his task completed, would the emperor sweep him aside as a tool whose usefulness was spent? Like he did with the other astronomers?

He imagined he would feel joy and satisfaction after faithfully completing the task given to him, but that didn’t turn out to be so. Instead, the apprehension he’d felt when he first read the emperor’s edict grew stronger the closer he got to completion.

After much reflection, Vashon picked up a pen and inked his remarks. He set the pen down and sat back, his second life’s work now complete. He glanced to his side at the mirror hanging on the wall and gazed at the reflection of the once again frail, gray-bearded man he had for the second time become.

Fear accompanied Vashon’s apprehension. The chancellor saw that Vashon wanted for nothing. Unlike his first life, his second was lived in comfort and luxury. The lifestyle had made him greedy and unwilling to give it up. Worried about what would happen to his support after he turned in the report, he’d been considering his need to possibly look after himself, especially since he was old once again. He turned from his reflection in the mirror and contemplated the bag of gold on his desk. It represented half of what was promised should he make a copy of his report and ensure it fell into the right hands. He stared at the bag and weighed the possibility of a painful death against more than enough gold to live comfortably for his remaining years. He turned again to his reflection in the mirror and decided he was likely to die soon either way. With his usefulness spent, he couldn’t count on the emperor’s gift a second time.

Vashon made up his mind. He turned from his reflection, grabbed a fresh piece of parchment, and began duplicating the report. As he worked, the setting sun began to shine through the window of his study and inched its way across the room. It worked its way up the legs of the desk and onto the surface. When it reached the pale parchment, it reflected brightly, making it difficult to see what he was writing. He set his pen down and rose to draw the shades.

At the window, he paused, and gazed at the sun. For fifty years, at the direction of the emperor, he studied it. During that fateful meeting long ago, Vashon listened to the emperor’s concerns and had, through careful observation and measurement, confirmed them to be true. The sun was changing. In truth, it was dying. The emperor wouldn’t be pleased.At least, Vashon thought, drawing the shades and turning back to his desk, I’ll be long dead before things get bad.

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Final Cover Reveal

There’s an old adage that goes something like “don’t judge a book by its cover”. In today’s digital age, though, I don’t think the adage rings as true as it once did. Absolutely there are amazing books out there with so-so covers. There are also so-so books out there with amazing covers.

I’m hoping my books are somewhere in between. Thanks to Jake at Jcalebdesign , I have an amazing cover. Actually, to quote his tagline, I have a “badass cover”. Whereas I don’t know if I meet the high standard for “badass stories”, I’m hoping those of you who have made it this far at least find my stories better than so-so.

And now, a little more than a year after I started down the self-publishing highway, the end of The Blessed of the Dragon series is nigh. There’s just one more book left to finish the series. Which means I had one last opportunity to join collective artistic forces with Jake to design the final cover.

With each of the first three covers, I was amazed at Jake’s ability to bring excerpts from each book to life. He knew just what details from each excerpt to focus on and which ones to omit, not because they were unnecessary to the scene but because too much detail will bog down the limited amount of space available for a book cover. There’s obviously more going on in each instance but he zeroed in on what was most important and gave the greatest visual snapshop to those who stumble across the book in a sea of competing opportunities. And he did it again with the final book in the series, The Death of the Sun.

The first book in the series, The Path of the Synthesizer, was published a mere eight months ago. It’s cover depicted Yolken, the main character of the series, standing on the precipice of a giant waterfall, facing a decision. With the Blessed hot on his tail, he needed to quickly decide his path forward. Those who’ve read the book would now recognize the significance of the sword Yolken is holding.

The Path of the Synthesizer art

The cover of the second book, The Island of Kvorga, captured another pivotal moment for Yolken. He traveled to the mysterious island of Kvorga in search of help rescuing his brother. There he learned the fate of Dradonia rested on his shoulders. His return was met with his first face-to-face confrontation with the Blessed. Worse, his brother rejected his aid. The purest expression of the Blessed’s magic is fire–Draego’s Fire, to be specific–and they don’t hesitate to utilize it. Fortunately, Yolken was taught how to defend himself. He fought off their attack and, due to a little help–okay… a lot of help–he managed to escape the Blessed’s carefully laid trap.

Island of Kvorga art Wide

The cover of the third book, The Dragon King, captures the moment when Yolken purposefully threw himself into the lion’s den. Knowing the challenge he faced–restoring balance to a dying sun–Yolken sought help from a man who wanted him dead–the Emperor of the United Realms. Yolken willingly put his life on the line in an effort to bring an end to a centuries long war in order to save Dradonia. I particularly like the Dragon Scepter and the dragon’s perched above the throne looking forward ominously. The detail of the emperor and his Dragon Guard’s armor is exquisite.

Dragon King wide

And now…

…the big finale.

The opening scene of The Death of the Sun, the final book in the Blessed of the Dragon series, finds Yolken standing atop the tallest building in the empire–a place he didn’t want to be–pondering a problem he didn’t know how to solve.

Knocked out of balance by centuries of war and greed, the sun was dying. And somehow it was up to him to fix it. But he didn’t know how. The very notion was insane. Impossible. He was just one man. And he barely understand the gift of Synthesis.

The Death of the Sun is the epic conclusion a story I’ve been working on for the better part of seven years so naturally I wanted an epic cover. And Jake was up for the task. What ensues is the beginning of the end of The Blessed of the Dragon. But before you scroll down to see the cover I just want to say how great it was working with Jake. If you haven’t already, hop on over to his website and take a look at some of his other work. And if you are writing a novel that you one day might self-publish, I would highly recommend Jake. I’m already excited about working with him on my next project which I’m tentatively planning on publishing in the spring of next year.

So…

 

…without further ado…

 

…the cover of The Death of the Sun!

 

 

 

Death of the Sun eCover

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The Dragon King: Javen

Javen trembled as he climbed the spiraling stairs, resisting the urge to vomit. He stepped around chunks of marble as he passed Devin and Karina’s floor and looked up at the hole in the spiral. He didn’t want to think about what had just happened, but just as when Drenan had killed Astora, it kept replaying in his head.

The whole plan made him nervous. He’d had a hard time concentrating in the days prior to Yolken and Kaylan returning to Onta. He attended the planning meetings, but hardly paid attention to what Devin and Drenan discussed. The first portion of his role was relatively simple: greet Kaylan to reassure her that she was safe. That had gone as well as it could have. Kaylan wasn’t happy—he had known she wouldn’t be—but she was safe from the fighting. The second part was what roiled his stomach for days, making it so he could hardly eat: confront Yolken. The moments immediately before Yolken arrived in the roundabout were the worst, but when he’d arrived and Javen approached him, a calm overcame him. He did what he could to talk some sense into Yolken—but then Yolken had attacked him! His brother!

Yolken and Javen had had their fights growing up, but never in his life had he thought Yolken would actually hurt him. And now that they both possessed the gift of Synthesis, Yolken had used it to attack Javen. Javen had hoped that Yolken had resisted the rebels’ lies, but now he knew that Yolken was completely corrupted.

He’d been unable to participate in the ensuing fight. Despite knowing that Yolken was lost to him—no longer his brother—he couldn’t bring himself to return Yolken’s attack. He didn’t want Yolken to die any more than he wanted Kaylan’s mother or uncle to die. Instead, he’d lain there on the ground, at the foot of the palace steps, and watched, in horror, what was likely his brother’s final moment of life. Yolken had fought back against several regents—something Javen still couldn’t believe—but Javen had known the regents would eventually overpower him. He was one against many, and the regents had centuries more experience with Synthesis. When Yolken stumbled on a broken piece of marble, he knew Yolken was losing. Like a coward, Javen had looked away. He couldn’t watch his brother die.

But then he’d heard a deep, booming roar overhead. He’d looked up and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a dragon diving toward the roundabout. The dragon had crashed to the ground amid the fiery maelstrom, then carried Yolken away.

When cleanup in the roundabout began, he’d heard about casualties on the east bridge. As Devin made his way back into the palace, Javen asked permission to go inspect the bridge, and Devin had granted it. Javen needed to know what had happened to Kaylan’s mother and uncle. The sight of the first burned bodies was more than he could bear. The anxiety that had been building over the last several days finally erupted in him, causing him to double over and vomit. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then forced himself to inspect every single corpse. Fortunately, he didn’t see anyone he recognized. They survived, he had convinced himself.

When Javen arrived at the final landing, Reago’s floor, it was blocked by a dozen guards. Standing behind the guards, Reago’s modestly dressed servant said something that made them part. “Right this way, Master Javen,” the girl said.

Javen still trembled as he followed her down the hallway. When she opened the door leading into Reago’s quarters, shouting from within greeted them. He paused a moment before entering, but after taking a deep, shuddering breath, he proceeded.

“I insist we give chase!” Drenan shouted as Javen stepped through the door.

“I said no,” Reago said, through teeth clenched on his pipe. His hands were in his pockets.

“They attacked Onta! They’ve never done anything so brazen!”

Javen stood by the door and observed the scene. Instead of meeting on the balcony, which seemed to be their preferred place of gathering, they were in the sitting room, the first room within Reago’s quarters. Are they afraid of being outside?

Drenan and Reago stood on opposite sides of a chaise, and Devin sat about five feet away on a couch. When the door closed behind Javen, the two regents and chancellor turned to look at him. Drenan sneered before returning his attention to Reago.

Reago took the pipe out of his mouth and said, “I permitted you to undertake your fool plan, and you failed. Besides, it seems we aren’t simply dealing with a few weak rebels.” He replaced his pipe, and it spontaneously started smoking. Javen figured Reago had a dragon bone in his pocket.

“So they found a dragon and convinced it to fight on their side,” Drenan said. “We’ve dealt with them before. We destroyed them. I’m not worried about one dragon.”

Reago removed the pipe once again. “We don’t have the Machinery to deal with a dragon in Onta. By your report, it killed two dozen guards at the east gate. Besides, the dragon is not what worries me.”

“What, then?”

“Deanna has aligned herself with them.”

“Deanna?” Drenan said. “Deanna is dead.”

“That was certainly the story Drakonias propagated,” Reago said.

“It’s treason to suggest that the emperor lied.”

“It’s not treason if it’s the truth,” Reago said. “The truth is that she disappeared, and Sheal was unable to track her down.”

“How do you know it was her who attacked the gate?”

“That’s what Javen’s brother said.”

“He was probably lying,” Drenan said.

“What other reason would the Order have for going to Kvorga?” Reago said.

“K-Kaylan said they went there to find her,” Javen said.

Drenan’s eyes twitched toward Javen, who hadn’t moved from the door, then back to Reago, who stood firm, not budging. Then he looked over at Devin, and Devin nodded. Drenan shifted his stance. “So, let me see if I understand you correctly,” he said. “Deanna assaults your city, damages the east gate, the boy attacks you on the steps of your palace, killing dozens of guards in the process, the dragon kills dozens more, and you’re going to simply let them go?”

Reago remained fixed like a statue. “I’ve made my choice.”

“You’re afraid of them,” Drenan said derisively.

“Drenan,” Devin interjected from the couch, “we must accept defeat when it has been dealt. We need to regroup and consult with Father.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Reago said.

“So you’re conceding defeat to the rebels?” Drenan said. “If this had happened in Hantlo I would have—”

“It didn’t happen in Hantlo, though, did it?” Reago said. “And yes, I’m conceding defeat. You said there were several casualties—not only in the tower but on the bridge as well. And none of the casualties were rebels. Only guards under my authority and innocent bystanders.”

“The rebels have never—”

“Haven’t they, Drenan? How’s your wife? What about your daughter?”

Drenan stepped toward Reago and said, “How dare you! Never speak of them!”

Devin stood and moved between Drenan and Reago. “You were assaulted by Deanna, Drenan; Father’s sister. And the boy was much stronger than we anticipated. Not to mention that he has somehow figured out how to Synthesize without dragon bones.” After a pause, he added, “And… Draego’s Fire… they have a dragon!”

Drenan shook his head and stepped back. “I refuse to accept defeat. They assaulted the city, so we must give chase!”

“You assaulted them!” Reago shouted. “They were merely passing through, and you assaulted them. In my city.”

“It doesn’t mat—”

“Enough!” Reago shouted.

Javen hugged the door, wishing he could pass through it.

“I have had enough of your insolence, Drenan,” Reago spat. “You will do as I say, or you can return to Hantlo.”

Drenan stood rigid. “What is it that you propose, Uncle?”

“We will go to Kyinth and consult with Drakonias.”

“We?”

“Myself, Devin, the boy,” Reago said. He gestured toward Javen with his pipe. “And you, if you lose the insolence.”

Drenan glared toward Javen then turned back toward Reago. “Consult with him about what?”

“I believe what is transpiring is much larger than killing the son of a dead rebel against whom you have a vendetta,” Reago said. “It’s time to put behind us the policies of a war that we never should have fought. As evidenced by what transpired tonight, we are still experiencing the fallout of what we did four hundred years ago. We must at last face the ramifications of what we’ve done.”

“Again, you speak treasonously,” Drenan said.

“As I said, it’s not treason if it’s the truth. On the morrow, we will travel to the capital. And, because of the urgency of this… situation, we will use a Train.”

“That is treason,” Drenan said.

“Stay behind if you wish,” Reago said, “but Devin, Javen, and I will leave at first light. Now leave me be. I intend to spend the remainder of the night in peace.”

Devin and Drenan moved toward the door. Drenan eyed Javen icily as he approached and shoved the door open.

When they were gone, Reago said, “See you at first light, Javen.”

Javen nodded, and followed Devin and Drenan out of Reago’s quarters.

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The Dragon King: Yolken

“It’s a trap!”

Jax’s words echoed in Yolken’s mind as he hung helplessly in the dragon’s claw. Onta grew smaller by the second as Deth carried Yolken away—away from the city, away from Kaylan, away from Javen. The rushing wind quickly dried the tears streaming from his eyes. The pain of losing Kaylan and Javen’s betrayal reverberated along with Jax’s words, all tearing him in different directions.

He knew running into Onta by himself had been foolish. How could it not have been a trap? Of all the people leaving the city on foot, the rider on horseback had randomly singled out Kaylan? No. It was no coincidence. And yet he had foolishly gone after her. Jax had tried to stop him, but as he’d done when the bandits accosted Kaylan, he’d ignored Jax. But just as he couldn’t stand helplessly and watch Issa die, he couldn’t just stand there on the bridge and watch Kaylan be carried away on horseback by a stranger. His instinct had called him to action, and he had acted before he’d had time to think through what was going on. He couldn’t lose Kaylan to the Regency like he’d lost Javen.

Javen was in Onta! He’d finally found him.

“Join the Regency, as your brother has done.”

Javen joined the Regency? The words were as astonishing when he thought them as they had been when Devin Drake, the Regent of Onta, had spoken them. Javen was lazy, impulsive, often selfish, but he wasn’t foolish. And he would certainly never betray Yolken. Had he helped Devin lure Yolken back into Onta by suggesting they steal Kaylan from him? Javen would never do such a thing. Would he? “I’m so glad it worked,” Javen had said.

Now Yolken wasn’t so sure. Why would Javen betray him? What lies had the Regency been telling Javen?

And now Deth was carrying him away from both of them. He’d lost the two people who meant the most to him. No… they’d been stolen. “Draego’s Fire!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. He could barely hear his voice over the rushing wind. Since the day he’d healed Issa, all he had wanted was to find Javen and free him from the Regency’s clutches. He’d gone all the way to the Island of Kvorga in search of help. And now that he knew where Javen was, Deth was carrying him away. Well, he was not leaving them behind in the hands of the Regency.

“I love her!” he yelled at Deth. “Why didn’t you help me?”

His words went unanswered. Either Deth ignored him, or he couldn’t hear him.

Relief lurked behind his anger and fear. As much as he hated that Deth was carrying him away from the fiery inferno in the streets of Onta, he was relieved that Deth had decided to leave his cave. Running into Onta without help—and without the Harachin sword—had been foolish, he now realized. He had never faced a regent before—he’d barely survived facing Drenan’s bastard son at the top of the Mindon Falls—and then he found himself confronted by what looked like at least a dozen of them, all standing on the steps of the Onta palace, dressed in violet and blue armor. Worse still, dozens of armored men had surrounded him, preventing his escape.

“It’s a trap!”

He must have allowed Deth’s revelations back on the island to inflate his ego. He was the Blessed of the Dragon. The only Blessed of the Dragon. Everyone else who could Synthesize, both in the Order and the Regency, were just the lucky recipients of a gift given by an errant dragon—Deth. It didn’t belong to them. They didn’t deserve it. That wasn’t true with him, though. He could do what no one else could: He could store Energy in his bones. But did that make him stronger than them? Deth had said his strength rivaled that of the dragons. And at that moment, he must have believed Deth—else why would he have done something so incredibly stupid? It was because he loved Kaylan. He couldn’t stand losing her like he’d lost Javen. But she was gone. Because of his stupidity, she was gone.

“You should have helped me!” Yolken shouted. “Not rescued me!”

As Deth silently carried Yolken into the night, the nearly full moon rose and illuminated the ground far below. The Onta River snaked by below, brightly reflecting the moon’s light. The river split; one fork snaked off to the left, and Deth followed the fork to the right.

Yolken watched the river as it passed silently by. When a cloud moved over the moon and hid the river from view, he closed his eyes and tried to will the undoing of what had just occurred. He couldn’t imagine continuing without Kaylan at his side. Her calming presence was a strength he hadn’t known he needed. With every beat of Deth’s wings, he felt her wrenching absence.

Yolken’s breath caught—he felt like he was plummeting to the ground. It was the same sensation as when he had gone over the Mindon Falls. Deth’s grip was still firm around him, but he was definitely falling. With the moon hidden, he couldn’t see anything. Deth’s wings opened with a loud flutter, causing Yolken to feel like he weighed twice as much as he did. The odd sensation replaced that of falling. Deth beat his wings rapidly, and the strange heavy sensation slowly decreased until Yolken felt his normal weight again. Deth settled to the ground with his right hind foot, then unfurled the enormous claws of his back-left foot, the one gripping Yolken, and lowered Yolken to the ground.

Yolken crawled out from underneath the dragon and looked around. It was pitch black, so he used the small amount of Energy remaining in his bones to light a small fire. He held the flames up high but couldn’t see much. It looked like they might be in the middle of a meadow.

Deth folded his wings along his body. His long tail wrapped along his body and legs like a cat, then he gracefully lay on the ground.

Yolken wanted to yell at Deth again for rescuing him instead of helping him, but Deth’s piercing, reptilian gaze melted the urge away. Instead, he said, “How did you know where to find me?”

“Dragons sense one another,” Deth said. “And I sensed you were in danger.”

“I’m not a dragon.”

“You are the Dragon King.”

The moon came out from behind the cloud. Its light made Deth’s scales shimmer.

“You have discovered your abilities,” Deth said.

“My bones…” Yolken said pensively.

“Yes, you possess all you need to accomplish your task.” Deth took a deep, rumbling breath. “Your fight is not with the humans, Dragon King.”

“They stole Kaylan!” Yolken shouted. The anger that had been melted by Deth’s gaze now surged back to life. “You should have helped me!”

“You would trade the lives of every living thing for that of your mate?” Deth said. His voice rumbled calmly.

“I love her!” Yolken screamed, near hysteria. He turned in circles, wanting to boost his strength with Energy and sprint back to Onta, but he could tell his bones were nearly depleted and he didn’t know how long his Energy store would last.

“As I loved my mate.”

“You hid when your mate was taken from you,” Yolken said. Deth’s head twitched. Yolken knew his words stung the dragon, but he couldn’t leave Kaylan behind. “I’m not going to do that. I have to get her back. Please help me! Take me back.”

Yolken felt a calming presence push into him like a gentle caress. It was the same feeling as when Deth had, at their first meeting, tested his strength in Synthesis. It had been a gentle touch with Energy, unlike Deanna’s Energy probe that nearly burned him to death from the inside out. He took a deep, shuddering breath and let it out slowly. He needed to think through his options logically, not react impulsively.

Deth withdrew his presence from Yolken and said, “Dragons were not meant to die. With the gift of Regeneration, we were created to live eternally. The connections we made with other dragons were not meant to be severed. My relationship with my mate was infinitely more intertwined than anything possible with you short-lived humans.”

“You’re saying my relationship with Kaylan doesn’t matter because I’m not as old as you are?”

“You must accomplish your task, or the life of your mate will not matter.”

How could he possibly think about anything else when he knew Kaylan was now a prisoner of the Regency like Javen? Kaylan consumed his thoughts when he was with her, and now that she was gone… it was much worse now than when she’d left him in the Mindons to train with Jax.

And Javen—was he even a prisoner anymore?

“I’m so glad it worked.”

“I had to get you away from them.”

“They’re the enemy, Yolken.”

“They’ve told me the truth.”

“This time you’re the one who’s wrong.”

“I’m not leaving.”

Javen’s words echoed in his head. Each one cut Yolken worse than any of their childhood fights ever had. Javen had willingly stayed—refused to leave with Yolken. Refused to help him with Kaylan.

“You must restore balance,” Deth said.

Where Yolken’s mind was running around frantically like a cornered animal, Deth remained resolute. He focused his thoughts and tried to understand what Deth meant. It didn’t make sense. Restore balance? “I have no idea what that means.”

“Solarian is the source of Energy,” Deth said. “It is dying because your war disrupted its balance.”

“Whatever you think I’m supposed to do about it is no clearer now than when you said it back in your cave,” Yolken said. He was one simple man, barely learning how to Synthesize. How was he supposed to undo damage to the sun?

“Balance must be restored.”

Yolken was lost. When it came to ale, he’d learned to balance its flavor by how much of the special flower he used in it. If he used too much, the ale was bitter, and if he didn’t use enough, it was too sweet. It had taken experimentation to figure out exactly how much of the flower was enough—to keep the ale in balance. He understood balance, but he had no idea how it applied to the sun, or what he was supposed to do about it. “Yes, but how?”

“What was taken must be replaced.”

Yolken snorted as he stared dumbfounded at Deth. What Deth suggested was impossible. “Replace the sun’s Energy?”

“Yes.”

“I use Energy, Deth. I can’t replace it.” He might be a new Synthesizer with much still to learn, but he knew what Deth was suggesting was impossible. “That’s not how Synthesis works.”

“Dragons create Energy,” Deth said.

“They… you do?”

Deth snorted, almost as though he were chuckling. “How else could I Synthesize in the belly of a mountain?”

“I… I don’t know,” Yolken said. “I thought maybe you had it stored in your bones.”

“For four hundred years?”

Yolken didn’t know how to answer.

“Dragons were made to be like Solarian.”

“If you can create Energy, then why don’t you restore the sun’s Energy?”

“Because I cannot.”

“Why not?”

“I have not the strength,” Deth said. “But you do.”

Now it was Yolken’s turn to chuckle. The very thought was ludicrous. “I can’t create Energy.”

“Yes, you can.”

Deth spoke so matter-of-factly. But Yolken knew what Deth was saying couldn’t possibly be true. At no point since he’d started learning to Synthesize had he ever felt as though he could create Energy. He couldn’t even access it if he wasn’t either in direct sight of the sun or holding a dragon bone. Even after the change since visiting Deth—his ability to store Energy in his bones—he Synthesized the same as he always had. He shook his head. “No, I can’t.”

“Dragons don’t simply store Energy, but also create it.”

“I’m not a dragon!” Yolken repeated.

“All you need to do is ignite the flame.”

Yolken looked up at the flame hovering over his head.

“The flame within,” Deth said.

“What flame?” Yolken said.

“All dragons are born with the ability to Synthesize. However, the flame within hatchlings must first be ignited.”

“And how do you do that?” Yolken said sarcastically.

“Hatchlings begin growing their Core as soon as they are born. When they are strong enough, the Assembly gathers to celebrate. Together, they pour Energy into the hatchling until its flame ignites.”

When Yolken had visited Deth in his cave, Deth spoke about the Assembly and how they refused to intervene in the human wars. He also spoke of how he had gone against the Assembly’s decision when he decided to give Synthesis to the man who would become known as the Dragon King, and how he was wrong and they were right. He’d said the Assembly disapproved of his actions.

“The Assembly were your rulers,” Yolken said, as a statement more so than a question.

“Not just rulers, but the first of the dragons. Draego created Dimras first. Draego blessed him and named him Dragon King. Next, Draego created Dimras’ mate Devrith. Together they hatched six eggs. All subsequent generations of dragons came from the six, but the eight of them became the Assembly.”

“And now the Assembly’s gone,” Yolken said. Yolken’s ancestors had killed all the dragons—except Deth—and turned them into weapons and armor. “Without them, who will ignite the flame in me? You?”

“Only the Assembly had the strength.”

“What about the Council?” Did Deth even know what the Council was? Yolken wondered.

Deth snorted. That answered Yolken’s question: Somehow, he did know. “Their combined strength wouldn’t amount even to mine—and I am many generations removed from Dimras.”

“But you gave Draeko the gift.”

“I simply sparked to life that which was dormant.”

“Meaning what?”

“That all creatures have the gift within them whether they use it or not.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” Yolken asked. “Convince the Regency to join with the Order and try to light a fire for me?”

The dragon breathed deeply. Yolken felt hot air stream from his nostrils each time he exhaled. “You must ignite the flame within yourself,” Deth said.

Yolken exhaled in exasperation. “Are you saying I have the strength of the Assembly of dragons?”

“You are the Dragon King,” the dragon boomed.

Yolken stood silently before Deth. The dragon’s words reverberated in his head. He considered the impossible task that the dragon had put upon him. “Why are you telling me all this now and not when I came to see you in the mountain?”

“Because I often forget the limitations of human knowledge.”

“I had no idea dragons could create Energy,” Yolken said. “I don’t think anyone did.” Neither Jax nor Deanna had ever mentioned anything about it.

The dragon breathed deeply but did not speak.

“If you won’t take me back to Onta, will you take me to Kyinth? Perhaps together we could put an end to the conflict with the Regency. Perhaps together—”

“Your fight is not with the humans, Dragon King,” Deth repeated. “And neither is mine.”

Without warning, Deth pushed himself to his feet and launched into the air. He quickly flew out of the light Yolken was using to illuminate his surroundings, and disappeared into the night.

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