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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The Dragon King: Hadie

410 United Era

The sun crept over the troubled sea, reflecting brilliantly off the water. Its light illuminated the remains of a once-dense forest. The fire-blackened trunks stood guard over the eastern shore of the Southern Realm, warning any who might come from the east of impending death. However, no one ever came; the ever-present cyclones swirling in the distance barred the way.

Empty cities stood abandoned, surrounded by leagues of failed crops, browned and withered by the sun’s growing oppressiveness. Mansions that had once housed those worshipped by the masses now gathered dust, ignored even by those who had chosen to remain once their stores were picked clean.

As the sun’s light raced west, the destruction became less evident. Cities and towns gradually became inhabited. Crops survived, but with diminished yield. Empty lakes gave way to lakes with deep water lines, and dry riverbeds began to flow. By the time the growing light illuminated the nearly identical palaces of Hantlo, all except the nearly continuous wagon train moving north appeared normal.

Hadie stood before the familiar mirror in Sonja’s room. Her room. The feeling of disbelief at how easily her plan had worked still overwhelmed her. None of the women who worked for Sonja owed Hadie anything, and yet they had unanimously pledged their loyalty to her, knowing what she intended to do.

She examined herself in the mirror while Ursella selected her clothing for the day from the armoire. She decided that if she was going to do this—be a madam—she would not pretend to be someone she was not. She would not alter her being simply for the sake of pretending to be someone the Blessed desired.

“Dorlan and the other regents aren’t nearly as picky as Drenan,” Ursella said.

“Yes, but what if he returns?”

“It will not be done at his palace, so if he wishes to participate in Dorlan’s revelries, he will have to partake of what Dorlan provides.”

She’d had Ursella get rid of all the corsets with pockets for the water-filled pouches made from sheep stomach. They were used to alter the appearance of one’s breasts, and she wouldn’t permit any of her whores to use them. They were who they were and wouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Ursella selected a yellow corset with flowers embroidered on it, and slipped it around Hadie’s chest. While Ursella cinched it up, Hadie wondered whether she was still pretending to be someone she wasn’t. Never in the time she worked with Sonja had she felt as though she was being true to who she was. She wasn’t a whore. She’d gotten pretty good at pretending to be one, but it wasn’t who she was. She wasn’t a madam either.

“What is it?” Ursella said with a look of concern.

“I’m just wondering—”

“You are who you decide to be,” Ursella said.

And I have decided that I am Madam Sheena.

“Thank you, Ursella,” Hadie said. She took as deep a breath as was possible in a corset. “I couldn’t do this without you, you know.”

Ursella smiled up at Hadie. She finished cinching the corset, then retrieved a pleated skirt from the armoire.

When the skirt was in place, Hadie admired her new self. She held her hand out, and Ursella handed her her knife. She had decided to keep the knife she’d bought in Portstown instead of Sonja’s slender blade. She slipped the blade into the sheath Ursella had sewn to the inside of her corset, bottom left side. Satisfied, she turned and walked out of the room. Ursella followed close on her heels.

Hadie walked each hallway as she made her way down to the lobby, and knocked on every door. At the beaded lobby entrance, she turned to address the crowded hallway. “Today is a big day,” she began. “Word has reached the blessed ears of His Highness that Sonja has retired. Word has also reached the blessed ears that there’s a new madam: Madam Sheena.”

The women’s eyes lit up in excitement, and they began to talk excitedly with each other.

While Hadie waited for them to quiet down, she thought about the visit she’d received last night from Dorlan’s servant Sethlan. “We have been summoned to His Highness’ court today, so please—”

Another murmur overtook them.

“Girls! Girls!” Hadie shouted. “Please!” The women quieted down. “So, please, don your finest.”

The women dispersed back into their rooms. Hadie parted the beaded curtain with her hand and walked over to the chair in the back corner of the lobby, where Sonja used to supervise the goings-on of her brothel, and sat.

Ursella had already ordered the carriages that would take them all to the palace, so while she waited, she reflected over the past few days. She really couldn’t have done any of it without Ursella. She had gracefully taken up her old position as Sonja’s aide and served at Hadie’s side. When she wasn’t tending to Hadie’s needs, which weren’t many, she was tending to the patrons, serving them wine and lowering their inhibitions.

“Can I get you anything while you wait, Madam?” Ursella said.

“Some tea would be great.”

While patrons moved in and out of the lobby throughout the evenings, Hadie sat in her chair, sipped wine, and studied each patron carefully. When Sonja had made her prepare the guests, she didn’t want to know the least bit about them; she’d barely wanted to look at them. Now, she needed to know whom she served. She needed to know who it was that could afford to solicit the most elite of brothels in the entire Southern Realm. When Ursella had lulls in her work and came to stand beside Hadie, Hadie asked her about those who particularly piqued her interest. If they were successful in killing the Blessed, someone would need to rise and replace them. As much as she hated the idea, those best qualified to lead the people—at least initially—were her clients. They at least had the means.

Last night, after Sethlan’s visit, she had overdone it with the wine. Ursella handed her a hot cup of tea, and she took a sip, hoping her headache would abate before she had to stand before the chancellor.

“Does the chancellor know you?” Ursella said.

Hadie shook her head from behind the cup poised at her lips.

“Then why are you so nervous?”

“I guess…” Hadie began. “I guess it’s because it’s not every day one gets summoned by the Chancellor of the Southern Realm.”

“Relax,” Ursella said. “It’ll be fine.”

Hadie sipped her tea, hoping Ursella was right.

* * *

Sethlan sat at his desk at the top of the dais in Dorlan’s throne room, mindlessly recording another transaction. He scratched his head, trying to remember how he knew the woman who referred to herself as Madam Sheena. He knew he recognized her, but couldn’t quite place her.

With Dorlan’s mind preoccupied with his crumbling realm, he had barely reacted to the news of Sonja’s sudden retirement. However, it had shocked Sethlan. Drenan would not be pleased when he returned from Onta. But what had shocked Sethlan more than Sonja retiring was Sheena’s sudden rise. All proprietors were required to present themselves for the blessing of their province’s regent, and even though that didn’t typically fall under Dorlan’s responsibilities, Sethlan still heard about them. It was his job to know what was happening, not only in the Hantlo province, but in the whole realm. However, in his experience, it typically took months before he heard about new businesses. With Sheena, it had taken only days.

Which made him even more curious about who she was.

“Madam Sheena!” he called out.

A group of women wearing orange corsets—sensual attire from the Northern Realm—led by a woman wearing a yellow one walked forward from the back of the throne room.

The absence of Drenan had placed a heavy burden on Dorlan—and on himself, as Dorlan’s servant and scribe—but for the first time since Drenan left, Sethlan didn’t mind. Sheena’s identity had been bothering him since Dorlan had sent him to visit her last night.

The whores sauntered to the front of the throne room and stopped at the foot of the dais. They spread out side to side with Sheena in the middle, giving Dorlan a view of them all. An excellent view, Sethlan thought to himself, looking down at them.

Sheena bowed deeply, along with all the other whores, then said, “It’s a pleasure to stand before you, Your Highness.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Dorlan said.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the great void left in Hantlo by the sudden retirement of Madam Sonja,” Sheena said, “I know how much respect she earned from years of dedicated service to the Regency. If it pleases you, Your Highness,” Sheena said with a bow, “I request the privilege of filling that void. As you can see,” she said, gesturing to her left and right, “I have under my employ the very same whores who faithfully served Sonja.”

Sethlan’s eyes lit up. Not because of her offer, but because he had remembered who she was. He didn’t know her name, but she was the woman traveling with the man who’d attacked Drenan.

What is she doing here?

“Despite whom you may have under your employ,” Dorlan said, “respect must be earned. Prove yourself a loyal subject of His Blessed Highness, Drakonias Irigwin Draeko Drake, Emperor of the United Realms, as well as to myself as Chancellor of the Southern Realm and the Regent of Hantlo, and I will consider your offer.”

Sethlan watched the woman flinch slightly at the mention of the Regent of Hantlo. He looked over at Dorlan, who looked to have missed it.

“Yes, Your Highness,” Sheena said with a bow. “I am but the most faithful of subjects, and it is my pleasure to meet whatever needs you might have. Thank you for your time.” Sheena bowed again, as did the other whores, then turned to leave.

Sethlan made some notes in the ledger, then filed the other piece of information away in his mind for future consideration. It might be worth something to his true employer, Jorgan, at some point.

He looked at the list of the day’s petitioners—they were only about halfway through them—and called out, “Walton Brythe!”

Yet another travel-worn man separated himself from the crowd with his equally ragged family and approached the dais.

* * *

Ursella shut the door to Hadie’s room, and Hadie plopped into her plush chair.

“How do you think it went?” Hadie said.

“I thought it went well, Madam.”

“He seemed… hesitant.”

“Well, what did you expect? For him to give you the same treatment as Sonja without ever having heard of you before?”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“I think he will warm to you quickly, Madam. And who knows, your name might be on the list for entertainment when next he plans a gala.”

“That’s another thing I’m worried about,” Hadie said. “One doesn’t have to be Blessed to know things aren’t right. I have a hard time believing the Regency would continue their debauched ways when the realm is falling apart around them.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that. Their debauchery has no end.”

“I hope you’re right,” Hadie said.

She had done what she needed to do with Dorlan. There was nothing more to be done except wait to be summoned for services, so she turned her attention to other matters that needed tending to; namely, she needed to procure more of the poison that was on the pin she was going to use to kill Drenan. And since she didn’t know how to make it, she would need to buy it. She doubted buying poison was cheap, so before she even thought about where she might buy the poison, she needed to have an idea of how much money she had at her disposal. At her desk, she flipped open the ledgers that Ursella filled out daily and looked them over.

Hadie pointed at a figure and said, “Is this right?”

Ursella walked around the desk and looked at where Hadie pointed. “Yes, Madam.”

Hadie added up the numbers in her head again. “We made nine hundred drakes the first night we were open?”

“You made nine hundred drakes, Madam. It went up to twelve hundred the second night and fourteen hundred the third.”

Hadie was beside herself. “That’s unbelievable!”

Procuring more poison was not going to be a problem.

“Where is it?” Hadie said.

“Madam Sonja always kept the gold at one of the depositories in the city. I opened a new account there the morning after we opened. It’s not safe to keep that much gold here.”

“Thanks,” Hadie said, still in shock at how much money the brothel brought in nightly.

“Do you require anything else, Madam?”

“Not at the moment,” Hadie said. “Thank you.” When Ursella turned to leave, she added, “If you have the time later, I’d like to review the client list for the night.”

“Yes, Madam. I’ll return before they begin to arrive.” Ursella curtsied and walked out.

When the door closed, Hadie opened the top left drawer of the desk and removed the poisoned hairpin. A small flower adorned it, made from tiny yellow and red gems. She turned it over, looking for clues as to who might have made it, but didn’t find anything. She returned the pin to the drawer and shut it. Her plan would be worthless if she couldn’t get several more of them.

Still recovering from too much wine the night before, she went over to her bed and lay down. A good nap would be the perfect thing after a stressful morning before the chancellor while nursing a throbbing head. She closed her eyes, and while she waited for sleep to overcome her, she thought about who Sonja knew in Hantlo who sold poison. It didn’t take long for sleep to arrive.

* * *

“Madam,” Ursella said, shaking Hadie gently by the shoulder. “It’s time.”

Hadie sat up on the bed and rubbed her eyes. Thankfully, the throbbing had stopped. She went over to the washbasin and used the cool water to wash her face and under her arms. Then she sat in her seat and listened to Ursella review the list of clients who would be visiting tonight.

“Stop there,” Hadie said when Ursella read the name Phenor Morrigan. “I don’t need to know any more about him.”

Ursella looked at her askance. “Madam?”

“I already know everything I need to know about him.”

“You know Phenor?”

“I do,” Hadie said.

“How? Next to Drenan, he’s probably the wealthiest man in Hantlo.”

“Because he’s my father.”

Ursella stared at Hadie with a blank face. “Your father is—”

“Yes.”

“What in Draego’s Fire are you doing here?”

“It’s a long story that’s not important. What is important,” Hadie said, suddenly realizing what she was going to do to replace the Regency once they were gone, “is what sort of influence I might still have with him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s just say that when he sees me, he won’t be pleased. Now, let’s get downstairs.”

Hadie stood and led the way out of her room and down the stairs. “What time is he supposed to be here?” she asked as they walked through the beaded curtain.

“Ten, Madam.”

“And who is he coming to see?” Hadie asked, taking her place in the corner.

“Ylonna.”

Ylonna? Hadie thought with a shake of her head. She did not want to think about the women her father was bedding. “Good,” she said. “Please have her come see me.”

“Yes, Madam.”

Ursella brought her a glass of wine, then disappeared through the beads. While she was gone, Hadie moved to a couch and thought about what she was going to say to her father when he arrived.

Ylonna appeared through the beads before she could formulate any thought. Ylonna curtseyed and said, “You wanted to see me, Madam?”

Hadie gestured next to her and said, “Have a seat.”

Ylonna sat.

“Tonight, you’re going to have a particular guest. And when he arrives, this is what you’re going to do…”

Hadie took the next few minutes to explain what she wanted Ylonna to do. When she finished, Ylonna curtsied again and returned to her room. Hadie looked at the clock on the wall. She had plenty of time to contemplate what she was going to say.

The night wore on, and her mind remained blank. She could think of nothing to say to her father except to yell at him for bedding women behind her mother’s back. When the hour arrived and a familiar face walked through the front door, Hadie watched the middle-aged man dressed in a trim brown suit walk over to a vacant couch. He unbuttoned his coat, which was probably stifling to wear in the prevalent wet heat of the south, and sat down with his back to her. A spike of fear surged through her veins, and she knew she couldn’t confront him. She gestured to Ursella to come to her.

“What?” Ursella whispered.

“When you take him back, please inform Ylonna I’ve changed my mind,” she whispered back.

Ursella nodded then quickly retrieved a glass of wine.

Hadie watched Ursella saunter over to her father and hand him the glass. When Ursella leaned in as she had once taught Hadie to do, Hadie watched through clenched teeth as Ursella prepared him for Ylonna. She took a deep breath and breathed out slowly when Ursella led him through the beads.

Ursella returned all too quickly and said, “What happened?”

“I wasn’t ready.”

“You won’t be able to do that the day we go to the palace, you know.”

“I know,” Hadie said. Feeling angry with herself for letting fear control her, she said, “And don’t speak to me with such impudence again.”

“Yes, Madam,” Ursella said with a curtsy. “I’m sorry.”

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The Dragon King: BEFORE

BEFORE

 

389 United Era

Orwyn stood in the burning tavern, Harachin sword in hand. He anxiously watched the wall of flames inch closer. As he waited for Jax to return from the kitchen, he looked down at the two bodies clad in black leather at his feet and considered his options. He couldn’t check the exit in the kitchen himself, so he’d sent Jax. He needed to maintain mental acumen at this crucial moment, and he knew the sight of Elen would shatter his concentration.

I should have sent her away with the boys.

The moment the entire front wall of the tavern erupted in flames, he’d known they were in trouble. The true extent of their peril became apparent when the flames began to creep unnaturally across the floor.

Draego’s Fire.

Jax returned from the kitchen gripping the tattered cuff of his cloak in his hand. “The door’s jammed. A trap?”

Orwyn nodded. With one less option to consider, he watched the flames creep closer and made up his mind. “They have us boxed in.”

“Then let’s fight our way out!”

“Jax, you know as well as I that the Sodality is out there in force. And they do not underestimate those they’re sent to eliminate. The moment we attempt to open that door”—Orwyn looked from the unnatural flames moving toward them to the kitchen door—”they will attack us with everything they have. We wouldn’t make it two steps out of this building, and you know it.”

“What do you suggest, then? That we stay here and die?”

“Our only hope is that they don’t know you’re here as well.”

“I’m not leaving you here, Orwyn.”

“It’s our only option, Jax. I’m getting you out of here.”

“No!”

“There’s no other choice.”

“We should’ve left when we had the chance.”

“I know,” Orwyn acknowledged. His decision had cost him his wife. He didn’t know if he could ever forgive himself. She didn’t deserve this. “But I’m tired of hiding.”

“Orwyn, no matter what, we’re in this together. I’m not abandoning you here.”

Orwyn forced himself to look away from the assassins. They’d killed his wife. He looked intently at his friend. “If you stay here, we’re both dead. And I won’t permit it.”

“Then I’ll stay,” Jax said.

“No. You know they’re here for me.”

“Orwyn, if I had brought you—”

“Jax!” Orwyn shouted. “This isn’t about that! The Regency’s wanted me dead since the war. Now listen to me. Please. Go upstairs and position yourself by the window in my room. I’ll create a distraction to draw them in. Wait until I strike. When you see them close in on the back door, flee out the window.”

“Orwyn—”

“I’ll catch up with you in the Mindons.”

Jax hesitated. He stroked his beard and looked intently at Orwyn. Then he put his hand on Orwyn’s shoulder and squeezed it tightly. “See you in the Mindons.”

Orwyn knew when he said it that it was a lie.

He walked calmly into the kitchen as Jax positioned himself upstairs. He looked down at his wife lying in a pool of blood. He knelt beside Elen and moved a strand of hair so he could see her face one last time. He tried to hold back the tears welling in his eyes, but when he blinked, he set them free.

Orwyn took a deep, shuddering breath and stood. He drew deeply from the Harachin sword. Using Synthesis, he forced the door open.

When the first black-clad soldier appeared through the opening, he acted.

The kitchen wall exploded and sent bodies flying.

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The Astronomer Part 1

The Astronomer is a short story set in the world of Dradonia.

It is three parts, the first of which takes place in the year 245 of the United Era, 165 years prior to the present narrative told in the Blessed of the Dragon series. Parts 2 and 3 take place about fifty years after part 1.

The story actually started out as three chapters in the upcoming third installment in the series, The Dragon King,  but I decided the chapters didn’t fit in the narrative. The story is important, it just didn’t fit. I’ve told backstories in The Path of the Synthesizer and The Island of Kvorga (and am doing something similar in The Dragon King as well), but the difference is in these instances the stories told are told by people already in the narrative (Jax and Deanna). The astronomer, whose name is Vashon, and the Chancellor of the Northern Realm (at the time), Drashon, are not actually in the present narrative, so giving them POV chapters seemed out of place to me, so I cut them. I still want the reader to know what happened, so instead of deleting the chapters altogether, I’m presenting them to you as a separate story, sort of a companion piece to The Dragon King.

Part 1 of the 3 part series is below. To read the rest of the story you’ll have to buy The Dragon King when it comes out in July. 😏 The whole story will be published in the back of the book.

Until then, happy reading!


THE ASTRONOMER

PART I

245 United Era

Drashon’s Auto came to a halt and the humming of its motor ceased. The weeklong journey from Tieger to Kyinth was finally over. Travel weary, he looked out the darkened window at the emperor’s looming palace. He craned his neck, just able to make out the balcony high above.

While he waited for a guard to descend the palace steps, he reflected on the message from the emperor that arrived by condor seven days ago. He still had no clue what the emperor felt was so urgent that he needed to discuss it in person. It’s not like he just sat around all day charging dragon bones for more important people. He was the Chancellor of the Northern Realm. He was more important. And he was very busy.

He removed the timepiece from his coat pocket and flipped the lid open. After checking the time, he opened the small latch on the back of the timepiece, revealing the sliver of black bone. He drew Energy into his Core from a bone inlaid in the armrest of the door and transferred it into the tiny bone, replenishing the power that kept the timepiece running. He closed the latch and tucked the timepiece back into his coat.

Guards finally emerge from the palace and start down the marble steps.

About time.

The guards reached the bottom of the grand steps and arranged themselves outside the Auto in two long rows. The gilded sheaths hanging at their hips shimmered in the sun, as did their gray armor. The captain of the guard, identified by the white scale covering the left breast of his armor, walked through the two rows of guards and opened the door. “Chancellor,” the captain said with a bow. “His Blessed Highness is awaiting your audience.”

Drashon once again removed the timepiece from his coat, flipped it open, and gazed at the time. He flipped the piece closed, returned it to its place, and stepped out of the Auto. Ignoring the captain’s bow, he hastily made his way up the steps. The captain rushed to catch up to him and took his place at Drashon’s side. The rest of the guard trailed behind in two uniform rows.

“How are things, cousin?” the captain said.

Drashon looked tersely in the captain’s direction. He wasn’t interested in engaging a cousin so far removed he’d have to refer to the official annals to determine their exact relation.

He entered the palace, briefly taking in the grandeur of the enormous atrium as he walked around the gilded statue of his father. He crossed the atrium with long strides and made his way down the Hall of Relics, directly opposite the entrance. The hallway was uniquely adorned with tapestries reflecting the various cultures under the collective rule of the empire. As he proceeded, he passed relic upon relic on display at interval, all of them protected behind glass casings. The halls were open to the populace, so it was necessary to safeguard against thievery—though he couldn’t fathom who would be audacious enough to steal from the emperor.

Drashon paused halfway down the hall at a display case that routinely drew his attention. He looked through the thick glass at the crown and armor of the previous ruler: The Dragon King. His grandfather. The gold crown was fashioned in the shape of a dragon. The front was a dragon’s head turned upwards, about the height of a hand. Flames spewed upwards from its mouth, doubling its total height. The dragon’s long neck curved down and around, its body wrapping around in a circle, forming the crown. The front legs and claws were situated so that they would extend down over the left ear of whoever wore the crown and the back legs over the right ear. The tail continued around and joined the dragon’s upturned neck, finishing off the body of the crown. Intricately carved scales covered the body and individual teeth were visible in the dragon’s open mouth. The claws were razor-sharp and looked as though they would slice open the scalp if not placed carefully on the head.

The armor had a dragon emblem on the left breast. It was golden in color, fashioned from the skin of the rarest variety of dragon. As far as he knew, there had only been one yellow dragon. Each of the scales that fashioned this intricate suit shimmered in the light. Anyone wearing this work of art would be truly regal.

“I always thought the crown looked odd without wings,” the captain of the guard said.

“Yes,” Drashon answered, not taking his eyes off the display. “The design was flawed. Just like the man who wore it.”

“Chancellor,” the captain said, “I wish we could stand here and discuss the Dragon King’s character, but we really must continue. We mustn’t keep the emperor waiting.”

Drashon turned from the display and followed the captain down the hall. They turned left at the throne room’s gilded doors, down to another door at the end of another short hall. He impatiently waited while the guards searched him for dragon bones. They found his timepiece and took it from him. Whatever they thought he could do with such a tiny bone he didn’t know. But he was used to it and didn’t argue. Then, he followed the captain into the small room with a metal door on the opposite side. The captain pushed the button next to the door. When the door slid open, Drashon stepped into the Lift. The captain followed him in and pushed the button on the inside. The Lift rose quickly, taking Drashon to his father’s personal chamber. Thankfully, the captain didn’t try to engage him in further banter.

The door slid open and he stepped into the emperor’s quarters. He didn’t bother searching the chamber but rather, he walked briskly past the pair of spiral staircases leading up to the emperor’s bedroom and out to the balcony. He knew where his father would be. He found him standing by the railing looking west, toward the setting sun. Drashon walked over to him and knelt, saying, “I’ve arrived, Your Blessed Highness.”

The emperor did not respond.

Drashon stood back up and joined his father. He looked over at the emperor, who still didn’t acknowledge him. Instead, he stared straight ahead, off into the distance, at the sun. He wondered what his father’s urgency was since now that he was here, he didn’t seem to be in a rush to speak. He didn’t want to be impertinent, so he waited.

Drashon shielded his eyes from the setting sun so he could see the city below. It was humming with activity. The streets were rivers flowing with Autos of many different sizes. Trains and Autos were his ideas. Even after more than two hundred years, no achievement had benefited the empire more than Trains and Autos did. It was his to claim. They quickly became integral to the Regency’s ability to govern efficiently. Both connected the empire like never before.

“I’ve made a terrible mistake,” Drakonias finally said.

Drashon turned from the river of motorized transportation to his father standing beside him. He was surprised to hear him speak in such a manner. The emperor was still staring directly ahead, not even shielding his eyes from the brightness of the setting sun. When had his father ever admitted being wrong about something? “Mistake?” he said, tentatively.

“Something’s happening that I don’t understand.”

“What do you mean?”

“For a while now, I’ve been plagued by this feeling that something wasn’t right. I’ve had this… itch. But I could never place my finger on it,” Drakonias said. “And then… I finally realized what it was.”

Drashon waited patiently for Drakonias to explain himself. However, his father still didn’t seem to be in much of a rush. He just stood there, hands clasped behind his back, staring at the sun. He wanted to draw some of the warmth in to burn away his travel weariness, but he didn’t dare Synthesize in his father’s presence.

When the sun dipped below the horizon, Drakonias lifted a dragon-shaped bone off a stack of parchment sitting on the marble railing. He handed the top piece to Drashon and set the bone back on the remaining piece.

Drashon read it eagerly. But the further he got the more his eagerness changed to fear and dread.

“What is this? I mean, I know what it is, but I don’t understand why.”

He didn’t have to understand, he knew all he had to do was obey. But this… this demanded an explanation.

“The war did something to the sun,” Drakonias said, still staring at the horizon.

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know, but it’s changing.”

“What do you mean?”

“We must have done something to it.”

Drashon looked the parchment over again. “So you’re banning astronomy?”

“Yes.”

“And ordering the execution of all astronomers?” Drashon again looked at the parchment. He wanted to make sure he’d read it correctly. “And their families?”

“And anyone known to be associated with them: friends, priests, it doesn’t matter.”

“But why?” Drashon said. He was being borderline impertinent, but he didn’t care. What the emperor was suggesting… no commanding… was the execution of hundreds, if not thousands of people. And he wanted him to be in charge of it. Draego’s Fire… if he was going to do this he was going to know why.

“Because news of this cannot spread.”

“News of what? That’s what I don’t understand.”

Drakonias finally turned to look and him and tersely said, “Neither do I.” He turned back toward the horizon. “But if anyone will, they will.”

“So you want me to kill them? All of them?”

“Not all of them.” Drakonias retrieved the second piece of parchment and handed it to Drashon. He gave Drashon time to read it, then said, “I need you to find out what’s happening.”

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