“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.