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 I

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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Cover Reveal #3

J Caleb Design did it again! Another amazing cover! I’m more and more impressed with each cover Jake makes.

This cover posed some challenges regarding certain details but Jake was once again able to condense a particular scene down to its true essence. There are specific details that he captured and preserved, but I won’t spoil them. You can discover them when you read the book!

Dragon King eCover

The Dragon King will be available for your reading pleasure on July 21st! Until then, The Path of the Synthesizer and The Island of Kvorga are available to order at your favorite independent bookstore. They are also available in ebook on several different platforms.

Happy reading!

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POV #3: Javen

Batting third, and the last of my primary point-of-view (POV) characters in The Island of Kvorga: the second son of Danavin… Javen Thornhill.

I won’t say a whole lot by way of introducing Javen except to say that he is very much a character of conflict.

All characters, whether primary POVs or secondary POVs, antagonists or protagonists, good or bad, are to one degree or another, characters of conflict. Would there be a story if there was no conflict? Yolken’s conflict continues to get fleshed out in this sequel to The Path of the Synthesizer. So does Hadie’s. In The Island of Kvorga, their personal conflicts force them to travel down paths they don’t want to go down. Neither wish to be where they are or where they’re going. They just want things to be back to normal. Yolken, you will find, often wishes he can just go home. Almost annoyingly. But Javen… He ends up exactly where he wants to be and yet he is not free of conflict. And whereas Yolken faced a difficult decision at the end of The Path of the Synthesizer–a decision that potentially forever altered the path forward for his life–Javen finds himself facing a similar decision in The Island of Kvorga.

I won’t say anymore. Perhaps I’ve said too much. I don’t want to spoil the story after all.

With that I invite you to enjoy Javen’s opening scene in The Island of Kvorga.

Happy reading!

Javen’s eyes opened and he stared blankly at the wooden planks above him. He sobbed in relief—the nightmare was finally over. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a vivid dream. Over and over Astora died any number of horrible deaths. Despite his efforts, he was never able to save her. He was always one step too slow. For a moment he thought only of the rough wood over his head. Then, all too quickly, images of Astora’s lifeless body flooded his mind: her pleading eyes; the way she choked on her own blood as she gasped for breath; the horrible wound on her neck. He tried to push them away, but they continued to haunt him even though he was awake, as vivid dreams sometimes do. Then he realized he wasn’t looking at the ceiling of the carriage Dorlan gave him back in Matis.

He tried to sit up, but his body protested. He became acutely aware of the aches in what felt like every muscle in his body. Worse, his head pounded as if he’d spent all night drinking Yolken’s strong ale, and his hands and forearms itched. Slowly, he was able to coax his legs onto the well-worn planks of the floor and sat up. He scratched at his arms and weakly said, “Hadie?

His head pounded so he squeezed his eyes closed and pressed the palms of both his hands into his skull, just above his temples. He tried to remember what he’d spent the previous night doing, but he had no recollection of drinking. When the throbbing eventually abated, he opened his eyes and looked around.

He was alone in a small room. The floor and walls were of the same wood as the ceiling. An unlit oil lantern swung from the ceiling. There was a small desk against the wall to his right and an armoire to his left. He rose slowly to his feet and realized he was naked. He stumbled over to the armoire, which had clumps of grapes and vines carved throughout the wood. Inside hung three shirts and three pairs of pants, none of which belonged to him. They all swayed slightly on their hangers. Javen looked at them curiously, then the floor heaved beneath him.

Javen shoved the armoire doors closed and held onto the knobs. What in the world? he thought as he tried to steady himself. Am I on a ship? He had never been on a ship before, but he could think of no other explanation for why the floor beneath him might be moving. The floor lurched and threw him backward. He held onto the knobs and his momentum pulled the doors open. He fully expected to pull the armoire down on top of himself, but it didn’t fall—it held his weight as he pulled against it. As he held on, arms outstretched, he noticed that the pigmentation of his hands and forearms didn’t match the rest of his arms. They were pale, like they were after a winter of wearing coats.

What in Draego’s Fire?

When he regained his balance he carefully stepped back over to the bed. The floor lurched again, forcing him to grab the wooden bed frame. He climbed onto the mattress and looked out the round window above the bed.

Water.

Except for hazy mountains way off in the distance, water was all he could see in both directions.

He was definitely on a boat.

“What in Draego’s Fire,” he said, sitting back down on the bed. Had he drunk so much he just couldn’t remember getting on a boat? That would explain his pounding headache. But he was nowhere near water. The caravan was still days away from Portstown, which was the nearest body of water. And where was Hadie? He struggled to remember the last thing he’d done, but the only thing he could remember was… Astora.

It started coming back to him.

Fear.

Anger.

Desperation.

He remembered Drenan emotionlessly drawing a knife across Astora’s throat. Drenan told him to heal her. But he couldn’t use his gift. And Drenan knew that. Javen remembered begging Drenan to save her life while he tried to stop the blood flow. But Drenan had goaded him instead. “Your brother, when confronted with a dying girl, used the gift that was his birthright and healed her. Are you telling me he is better than you?” Javen remembered Astora’s eyes pleading for help as she struggled to breathe. He remembered watching her life slip away and then Drenan callously walking away, telling him to return the next day for another lesson. And after that… he couldn’t remember.

But the images of Astora overwhelmed him. As he scratched at his hands, a familiar feeling that accompanied too much drinking caused him to slide off the bed. He doubled over on the wood flooring and vomited. More and more he was beginning to think he had tried to drink away his grief. For a while, he didn’t move. He just stared at the mess on the floor, spitting in it occasionally as his mouth filled with saliva, and tried not to think of Astora.

Javen wiped his mouth on the back of his hand when the nausea passed. He went back to the armoire and selected a shirt and a pair of pants. When he was dressed, he went to the door and tested the knob. It turned. He cracked the door open and peered out into a narrow, dimly lit hallway. He pushed it open further and saw another door directly across from him. The door was open, so he stepped across the hallway and peered in. At least a dozen rope hammocks hung from the ceiling. There were also barrels in each corner as well as several small wooden chests. There was a third door at the end of the hall. It appeared statelier than the coarse doors leading into the other rooms and was adorned with the same carved grapes and elaborate vines as the armoire. At the opposite end of the hallway was a steep and well-worn staircase.

Javen decided to go up above and turned toward the stairs. He held his hands out to both sides, using the opposing walls to brace himself against the roiling of the ship, while he made his way down the short hallway. When he took his first step up the steep stairs, he heard a voice call out from behind him, “Master Javen! You’re awake!” He turned to face a dark-haired man tying a sash around a plush white robe. He recognized the man as the other regent traveling in Dorlan’s caravan: Devin.

“Where are we?” Javen said.

“Two days’ sail from Portstown,” Devin said.

Devin walked the length of the hall with his hands tucked into the front pockets of his robe. Unlike Javen, he didn’t rely on the walls for balance. He was as sure-footed on the ship as Javen was on land.

“Where are we going?” Javen said. His hands and arms felt like ants were crawling over them. He tried to resist the urge to scratch at them but couldn’t.

“The feeling will pass. It’s a side effect from the healing.”

“What healing?”

“And we’re going to Onta.”

“Where’s Hadie? Why are you taking me to Onta?”

“Come, join me in my quarters. There’s plenty of time for questions, Master Javen. But for now, let’s get you something to eat. I’m sure you’re famished.”

The mention of food made Javen painfully aware of the fact that he was indeed hungry. He followed Devin back down the hall and into the room at the end, again using the walls for balance.

The room was considerably larger and much brighter than the other two. There were large windows on both sides of the room, as well as at the back. In addition to all the windows, on the back wall was a pair of open side-by-side doors that led out to a small balcony. A chandelier was mounted in the middle of the ceiling with about two dozen small, unlit lanterns hanging from it. Elaborate moldings encircled the room, adorned with the same carven grapes and vines as the door, and each corner featured an ornate column carved from thick logs. As he stepped further into the room, he noticed the furniture was much more elaborate as well. Everything—the armoire, the cabinets, the desk—was larger and elaborately engraved. Then the table dividing the room captured his attention.

Javen pulled back one of the many chairs surrounding the table and looked at the platters of food. One of them was piled with various fruits—apples, oranges, sliced melon, and strawberries—and the other held a small pig. As hungry as he was, he couldn’t help but notice the curiously dark, almost black, wood of the table. He ran his hand across it, then noticed that the rest of the furniture in the room was made of the same material.

“Made from the finest wood in the empire,” Devin said.

“What is it?” Javen said. He’d never seen anything like it before.

“It’s made from the giant Kvorgan spruce. It’s rare, and rather difficult to procure.”

“It’s very nice,” Javen said, running his fingers over the grains of the dark wood.

“Help yourself to anything on the table.”

Javen picked up a plate, which had a grape motif encircling the perimeter, heaped it with slices of pork, then filled the remaining space with fruit. He set the plate down, then inspected two decanters and a matching ewer sitting next to the platters. The decanters contained wine and the ewer, water. He chose the water.

When Javen sat down to eat, Devin sat on a large, curved couch set in the corner of the room. Javen picked up a green apple and bit into it. Its tartness exploded in his mouth, washing away the taste of bile. Before he got halfway through the apple, movement out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. He nearly choked on the apple when he saw it was a half-naked woman entering from the balcony. She had dark hair and olive-colored skin. Her hands were clasped at her belly and her arms supported a robe that hung openly around her waist, fully exposing her chest. Javen recognized her from Lonely Oak, and from their stay at the Blue Mountain in Matis: Karina, Devin’s wife. He tried not to stare, but his eyes were drawn to her breasts like a moth to a lantern. Hadie would be furious if she knew.

“Greeting, Master Javen,” Karina said as she walked up to him. “I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to wake.”

Javen averted his eyes, looked at his plate of food, and scratched at his arms.

“Rise and greet a lady properly,” Karina said.

Javen looked over at Devin in question. Devin gestured toward Karina with a wave of his hand. Javen hesitantly pushed his chair back and stood, even though he didn’t know the proper way to greet a half-naked lady. He awkwardly turned toward her but kept his eyes on his plate. Karina stepped closer and pressed her body against his. She cupped his chin and turned his head to face her. Then she wrapped her arms around him—one around his back, the other behind his head—and kissed him on the mouth. Javen was beside himself, but with her hands pulling him in as they were, and not wanting to forcefully shove her away, he was powerless to refuse. He felt like he was in one of Hadie’s books.

When Karina finally pulled away, she said, “Caring for you as I have these past couple of days has made me anxious for you to awaken. I’m glad you finally have.” She turned and walked around the table toward the couch, leaving Javen staring after her blankly. She sat next to Devin and crossed her legs.

The two strange individuals began speaking too quietly for Javen to hear so he awkwardly returned to his seat. When it became evident to him that they were done talking with him, he picked up the apple and took another bite. That was really weird, he thought. She’s his wife. Were the stories in Lovers true?

When he finished a second plate and set his fork down, Devin said, “Pour yourself some wine and join us on the couch.”

Javen wiped his mouth with a napkin, then filled a wide crystal glass with wine from one of the decanters. Devin and Karina were sitting together on one side of the curved couch, so he sat on the other side. He ignored the feeling of ants crawling on his arms as best he could.

“Do you know who we are?”

Javen nodded. “Devin and Karina Drake.”

“Dorlan told me you were familiar with the family.”

“My aunt made sure we knew who the Blessed were.”

“Knowledge is a valuable asset,” Devin said.

At the thought of his aunt, Javen felt pangs of remorse. He frowned and looked down at the wine glass he was holding in his lap.

“Dorlan told me what happened. My deepest apologies, Javen.” Devin held his own wine glass up in Javen’s direction and said, “To your aunt.” Javen looked up and Devin took a drink.

Javen took a drink as well. “I wish she didn’t have to die. My parents, either.”

“Justice is often painful. But let us not dwell on the past,” Devin said. “My wife and I were just—”

“Where’s Hadie?” Javen said, regretting interrupting Devin the moment he spoke. Drenan would have berated him, if not worse, for being impertinent.

“Gone,” Devin said, seemingly undisturbed by the interruption.

Gone? Gone where?

“This ‘Hadie’ you speak of—was the woman with you in the caravan?” Karina said.

“Yes,” Javen said. “What happened to her?”

“She was a pretty lass. There were several nights I thought about inviting the two of you to spend the night in our carriage, but Devin said it was improper.”

“Because you’re married!”

“Actually, it was because you were not under his command. That’s changed now, though, hasn’t it?”

“So they’re true?”

“Is what true?”

“The books Hadie read.”

“What books are those?” Karina said with a wink.

Javen blushed and looked at Devin.

“Please,” Karina said. “I truly am curious.”

Javen looked back at Karina and said, “The Lovers of Onta.”

“Ah, yes.” Karina placed her hand on Devin’s thigh and said, “We’re familiar with Rongin’s work. What did you think?”

“Truthfully?”

“I hope for nothing less.”

“I think half the reason Hadie insisted on reading them to me was that she enjoyed how much they embarrassed me.” Javen tried to keep his eyes on Karina’s. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do.

“Why? Are you not experienced in the art of proper bedding?”

“Proper bedding!” Javen exclaimed. This really was too much. He looked away from them, feeling his face warming. He couldn’t take any more of Karina’s overt display. He took a deep drink of his wine.

“Well,” Karina said, standing, “it sounds as though you gentlemen have a lot to discuss, so I’ll leave you to speak in private. But worry not, Master Javen, I’ll be just out on the balcony.” Any confusion he might have had about what she meant was gone when she bent over in front of him and leaned in until her mouth touched his ear. With nowhere to avert his eyes, he squeezed them shut. “Perhaps one day Rongin will write a Lovers featuring the two of us,” she whispered into his ear. Javen’s eyes popped open in complete disbelief, but her breasts were mere inches from his face, so he immediately closed them again. She kissed him on the mouth, then said, “See you soon, Master Javen.”

Javen breathed a sigh of relief when she walked away. She refilled her wine glass at the table, then sauntered back out onto the balcony.

“I suppose you’re wondering what happened to your arms and why you’re on a boat sailing for Onta,” Devin said, continuing their conversation as if what had just happened was perfectly normal.

Javen tore his attention from the open doors Karina had walked through. He looked back to Devin and nodded.

“Dorlan has placed you into my care.”

“I thought I was under Drenan’s care?”

“You were. However, after what happened, Dorlan saw fit to transfer your care to me.”

Javen thought about the sole horrifying time he’d met with Drenan for a lesson. The unsettling feeling in his stomach started building again, so he quickly changed the subject. “What happened to Hadie? Where is she?”

“You need not concern yourself with her.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that she’s gone.”

“She left?” Javen said. Suddenly, he was afraid she’d heard what happened and didn’t want to be with him anymore.

“It was never Dorlan’s intention for her to be with you in the first place. So he sent her away.”

“What do you mean he ‘didn’t intend for her to be with me’?”

“Drenan was sent back to Lonely Oak to retrieve whomever it was that had Synthesized. You were obviously of interest, but why he went out of the way to bring her along as well, he has yet to say. Knowing my brother, his plans for her were likely similar to those for that other lass.”

Javen cringed at the thought. Even though he hadn’t originally planned on seeing Hadie for any longer than the time she stayed in Lonely Oak, he had grown attached to her. “Doesn’t it matter what I might want?”

“Apparently, according to Drenan, she is the disgraced daughter of a Silk. A regent would never associate with the likes of her. You’ll find that there are many more suitable choices once we arrive in Onta.”

Javen hadn’t realized that. He wondered why she never mentioned her parents were Silks. “But I’m not a regent.”

“Presently, no.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that if you’re training is successful, I will escort you to Kyinth to meet the emperor.”

Javen stared at Devin in disbelief. Was he dreaming? He couldn’t even begin to explain what was happening to him. First, waking on a ship headed for Onta, not knowing how he got there; then the weird way Karina had acted; and now this. He had so many questions but didn’t know where to start. So he simply said, “Why?”

“You succeeded in accessing your gift,” Devin said. “So he wants to meet you.”

Javen stared at Devin, dumbfounded. “I Synthesized?”

“Let’s just say that you came into your ability… explosively. Which explains the new skin on your arms.”

Devin explained to Javen the events that had taken place over the last several days—specifically Javen’s response to Drenan killing Astora, and why he didn’t remember anything that happened after.

“But I still don’t understand why the emperor would want to meet me,” Javen said.

“Your father was a rebel, but he was also a powerful Synthesizer. Naturally, the son of such a person would pique the curiosity of His Blessed Highness.”

“But what would he want to have to do with me? I always thought the Regency dealt swift punishment to anyone associated with the rebels.”

“Were you associated with the Order?” Devin said.

“No.”

“Then there you have it.”

“So then what does the emperor want with me?”

“As the head of the empire, Drakonias is the only one with the authority to elevate someone to the status of regent.”

Javen’s eyes went wide.

“Don’t be so surprised,” Devin continued. “That’s how it’s been done since the beginning of the empire. If you wish to become a regent, then you must stand before Drakonias.”

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