Quin is the newest generation in a long, proud line of knights, but he less than lives up to his legacy. To earn his knighthood and escape the looming disapproval of his father, he accepts a mission far in the North. There he runs into Arria, an ancient dragon newly awakened, and Keeva, a half blood dragon whose word is as dubious as her birthright. The violent encounter with Arria and her servants leaves Quin’s mentor dead, and him stranded far from the safety of the Knight’s Guild. Keeva is his only ally, but she has a past she cannot escape. Quin finds a kindred soul in Keeva, but their growing friendship holds danger as well as hope.
Arria, her mate slain by Quin’s ancestor, clings to the only thing she has left: grief-stricken revenge that threatens the survival of knights and dragons alike. With Keeva’s help, Quin must dig up a truth long buried and secrets that were never meant to be found. Both knights and dragons need to fight together to defeat Arria, but in his attempt to unite these enemies, will Quin commit the ultimate sin for a knight? To fall in love with a dragon.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
~ Oscar Wilde
The tap of Quin’s boots on the worn stone floor was drowned out by the familiar clash and ring of steel. Master Elimon must have moved his students from wooden wasters to steel. He passed by the sparing room, a tall arch marked with two crossing swords at the top, weaving his way through the long dining tables to the main hall. His feet followed the familiar path to the first lesson room on the left. The dark wood door hung ajar and Quin could hear Renon’s smooth voice within. He slowed his pace and peeked quietly inside.
A group of nearly a dozen children sat in a half circle on the floor. A large round lamp hung in the center of the room casting its light on the faces below. There were no desks in this room, only large tapestries and paintings depicting everything from dragons to trolls and werrs. Next to the monsters were faces of many important knights from history, starting with Vaeon himself, looking on the children’s lesson room with a hard, watchful gaze.
But none of the students were looking at the walls. All eyes were fixed on the young brown haired man sitting in the middle of them. Renon was in his early twenties, as was Quin; tall and lean, almost gangly if you compared him with Master Elimon’s swordsmanship students. His bright honey brown eyes and long expressive face caught and held the attention of the children.
Quin smiled. Even if Renon was still just a journeyman, he was a natural teacher.
“All right, so we all know about trolls, but who here knows how to tell how old a dragon is?” Renon asked as Quin leaned a shoulder against the door frame, the cold stone grating against the material of his tunic.
“You look at their horns,” one youngster piped up.
“Yes, some times. But the horn length is also determined by the dragon’s rank in their Flight. What other ways can we tell?” The children fidgeted as Renon scanned their faces looking for the answer. He spotted Quin in the doorway. “Ah, Quin. I’m sure you know the answer.” His smile was warm and familiar.
“Color,” Quin said stepping out of the shadows. “Young dragons are silver, then age to copper. When a dragon is very old its scales start to turn green.”
“Precisely. And I think that is where we will end the lesson for today. Quin and I have to get to the Meeting Hall,” Renon said, gesturing to the children that they were dismissed. They jumped up, but didn’t make their customary rush for the door.
“Will one of the Knights call you?” one boy asked, eyes big with excitement.
“Are you going to be sent really far away?” asked another as he bounced up and down on his toes.
Renon laughed. “I certainly hope not, or you will be getting a new teacher. Now get, all of you, and if you’re going to get in trouble, don’t get caught.” He winked at them.
Quin smiled at his friend as the children rushed past. “Looks like you have quite the following here.”
“Pha. They’re just glad I replaced Aton. You remember how scratchy his voice was.”
He grunted. “Gravel and sandpaper.”
“You should really be teaching, Quin. Or out with a Master.”
“I don’t have time to teach. I’m assigned too many other lessons.”
His brows drew down. “I thought you were going to cut back?”
Quin shrugged one shoulder. He didn’t really want talk about it.
It was Renon’s turn to grunt. “You don’t need any more training. You’re more than qualified to be a Script.”
“But not a Bane.”
“So? Not everyone needs to be able to kill dragons.” Renon rolled his eyes.
“Tell that to my father,” Quin mumbled under his breath.
“I would, but you’re the one that needs to say it to him.”
Quin pressed his lips together, trying not to snap at his friend. This was not the first time they had argued over his father’s wishes and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Renon was soft spoken, but behind his words ran a stubborn streak. Still, it did their friendship no good to argue over things neither of them could change.
Renon sighed, sensing Quin’s mood. “Fine. I’ll let you handle it, but you’re going to have to talk to him sooner or later.”
“I will,” Quin assured him.
“And talk to Master Turntos. See if you can start teaching. You’re certainly sharp enough to do that.”
“Too bad his swordsmanship isn’t as sharp,” a voice said from behind them.
Quin took in a breath and let it out slowly before turning to face Fanus. The tall man stood with his normal swagger, dirty blond hair tussled without making him look messy. One wrist rested on the pommel of his sword, green blue eyes studying Quin and ignoring Renon. Students, even journeymen, weren’t normally allowed to wear more than a dinner knife in the Guild Hall, but he was Master Elimon’s favorite and Fanus never let anyone forget that.
“Missed you at sparing today,” Fanus cocked his head to the side, a half smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
“I think we better be getting to the Meeting Hall,” Renon cut in, pulling Quin along by the sleeve.
“Hey, Quin. If you need more sparing practice I could help you out. Maybe give you some pointers,” Fanus said smoothing his voice and face into sincerity.
Quin knew he meant it. Swordmaster Elimon’s favorite student was always generous when giving pointers to less skilled students. He had a whole flock of younger boys that followed him.
Some of the masters said this showed leadership. Quin always thought it showed how much Fanus liked being in control.
“I’m just trying to help,” Fanus said, seeing the look on Quin’s face.
“Right, let me think about it.” Quin tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. The last thing he wanted was more fencing practice and the last person he wanted to do it with was Fanus.
“Come on. We’re going to be late,” Renon gave Quin’s sleeve another tug.
Quin lengthened his stride as they hurried past the last of the lesson rooms, all churning with activity, toward the meeting hall. Already the rumbling murmur of voices echoed as people gathered and found their places on the long wooden pews.
The Meeting Hall was set at the far western side of the Guild Hall, the widest and longest of all the halls by far. Pillars sprouted from the floor on either side, widening above and curving out to form long arches that supported the ceiling.
Between the pillars to the left were doors leading into the Masters’ rooms set deeper into the mountain that the Guild Hall was carved from. To the right glimmered the colored light of dozens of stained glass windows. At the farthest end sat the crescent shaped table of the High Council. It was still empty, so they had time to find their seats.
On the wall stretching high above the council table hung the skull of a dragon. Despite the spells protecting it from the wear of time, it was yellow and brown with age. Old stories told that it was the skull of the first dragon, Calem the Deceiver, slain by the first Knight Vaeon himself, over two thousand years ago. A reminder of darker times when dragons openly attacked cities and burned entire villages to the ground. Quin was used to the morbid trophy, but many newcomers to the Hall found the sightless eyes of the beast unsettling.
Dragons were scarcer nowadays. Whether that was due to smaller numbers or the fact that they simply didn’t bother humans anymore, no one knew and few cared.
“All right. Settle down,” Master Turntos called, waving his hands in the air as if that could quiet the excited cacophony in the room. The wiry Master looked rather lost in the center of the churning mass of people, his thick spectacles sliding down his nose until he had to push them back up. The Script Master was better suited to the quiet library and the kind of students that gathered there, not the ruckus of the whole Knights’ Guild packed in one place.
Quin, Renon and Fanus took a seat near the center with the other journeymen; the seats in front of them held full rank Knights and behind sat the crowd of apprentices first through third level in order. The back seats were reserved for any of the public who wanted to come see the Knights called to their new assignments.
Quin settled as best he could on the hard wooden bench. The smell of metal, leather and wood oil mixed in the air as the Knights took their seats as well.
It was going to be another long meeting. At least the sun was shining today. The light flowed through the stained glass windows and splashed the floor in distorted shapes. It colored the eager faces of the other journeymen and Knights, reflecting into the shadows of the arches above.
The Council emerged from their private meeting room, each man taking a seat at the head table. Quin’s father, Cyrus, was with them, looking as regal as ever in his long crimson Councilman’s robe, pressed and creased to perfection. Not a wrinkle in sight. Short brown hair combed to the side, brown eyes cool and collected.
High Councilman Trulan remained standing as he looked out over those present. If compared to his father the Council Leader looked almost messy, his robe slightly faded and worn, black hair combed, but not to the perfection of Cyrus, but there was an air of easy control and power that shone out from him. Without Councilman Trulan saying a single word the crowd grew quiet. Even the youngsters in the back stilled beneath his gaze.
“You all know why we’re here,” he said, his voice carrying to the back of the room. “Let’s start. Sir Marus Itemin. You are to go to Agiton. They are complaining of a new family of trolls that are attacking travelers. You know what to do. Choose your assistant.”
As was custom, Sir Marus stood from the front row with all the other full Knights, calling on Solin Oscibin to go with him. Quin nodded to himself; Solin was a scrawny young lad, but he was quick with a brush and could draw out spells as fast as Master Trulan.
Still following tradition Solin stepped up and retrieved the vellum message scroll from Master Trulan, bowed respectfully then took a seat again next to Sir Marus.
And so the hour wore on. One Knight after another was given an assignment and called on an assistant from the ranks of trainees.
“Fanus Mergin,” one of the Knights called and Fanus stood from his seat next to Quin. He flashed Quin a bright smile and strode confidently down the isle to retrieve the message carrier from Master Trulan.
“Well, at least he’ll be gone for a while,” Renon whispered. “Too bad he’s going to Sol Albi.”
Quin gave his friend a sidelong glance. “What’s wrong with Sol Albi?”
“Nothing. My uncle lives there. Very nice place. It just would have been more satisfying if he had been sent to some backwater hovel of a town.”
Quin chuckled. Yes, that would have been more satisfying.
“Sir Custos Stimatin,” Master Trulan called, drawing Quin attention back to the front.
“Vaeon’s teeth, they’re sending out Custos? How old is the man?” Renon whispered with a frown.
“That’s Sir Custos to us. And obviously he’s not that old or they wouldn’t be sending him out again,” Quin whispered back.
“You are to go to Amyan Idda in the north. They have sent word of some creature stealing from their herds. They think it’s a dragon. Since we haven’t had trouble with the dragons in those parts for years, it’s probably just a big Werr, but it is better to be safe than sorry,” Master Trulan continued.
“Can the man even ride a horse anymore?” Renon chuckled.
Quin tried to hold back his smirk. “I bet he could still whip your hide if he heard you say that.”
“Quintus Aquorin,” Custos’s rumbling old voice called out.
Quin froze. Had he heard them talking? Couldn’t have. They were a dozen rows away.
Several faces turned to look at him.
“Get up there, Quin. You’ve been called,” someone said from behind him.
What? That couldn’t be.
With shaky legs, Quin rose from his bench and walked down the now silent room. Every tap of his boots sounded like a thunderclap in his ears as he approached Master Trulan. The man eyed him and held out a message scroll. Quin took it, trying to hide the shaking of his hands as he took his seat next to Custos.
Quin glanced over at him, but Custos still had his eyes on the Councilman’s table.
“That’s the last. I wish all of you a safe and fair journey.” And with that all the masters rose and filed out. The room exploded in a buzz of voices and activity. Custos rose from next to him, straightening his tunic before glancing over at Quin.
“Get ready. We leave at dawn,” he said, informing and dismissing him at the same time.
“Yes, sir,” he said, still numb with surprise, but the man had already turned to leave.
The flicker of red robes caught his eye and Quin saw his father disappear into one of the side doors. He followed after, elbowing his way through the crowd. He caught up with Cyrus just as he was opening the door to his private room.
“Father!” he called before he could close the door. “Please don’t tell me you had anything to do with this?” He didn’t bother to hide the irritation in his voice.
Cyrus glanced back at him, not hiding his irritation either. “Quintus, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He pressed his lips together instead of blurting out something he would regret later.
“You should look at this as an opportunity.” Cyrus said, matter of fact as he straightened the edge of his robe so it lay flat across his chest. “Custos is one of the most experienced Banes here. You could learn a lot from him.”
He followed his father in and shut the door behind him. The room was immaculately clean, as usual. Bed made, white clean papers neatly stacked on the left side of his desk, brush and ink on the right. Not a speck of dust to be found anywhere. He resisted the urge to rip the covers off the bed and splatter ink all over the walls. Anything to break up the seamless perfection.
“What if I don’t want to be a Bane?” Quin’s voice hung in the silent room for a long moment. Cyrus turned and his stomach dropped at the expression on his father’s face.
His voice was dark and tight with control when he spoke. “Do not be ridiculous. The sons of our family have been raised as Dragon Banes for the last two thousand years. We can trace our roots all the way back to Vaeon’s eldest son Sir Deren Aquorin. What other family can do that?”
“I know. But what if I’m just not cut out for it?” The confession tasted bitter in his mouth.
“Would you disgrace the entire family? Your grandfather? Me?” He laid a hand on his chest.
“No.” He had to look away from the disapproval in his fathers eyes. “I just think I might be more suited to be a Script Knight instead of-”
“Pha! Smoke and mirrors. You would be one of those conjurers?” His hand flicked up as if shooing an annoying bug.
“I’m good with magic, father. I’m nearly as strong as Master Turntos.”
“What good is magic against dragons? They are creatures of magic and can cast a spell as easily as breath.” Cyrus turned away, dismissing Quin’s argument.
“I know I just-”
Cyrus turned back sharply. “You will learn steel, Quintus, just like I did and my father and his father before him. And when you get back I want you to practice with Fanus. He’s a fine swordsman. If you could learn half of what he knows you could earn your Knighthood easily.”
“Is that why he offered to practice earlier? Did you get him to do that too?” His lips pressed into an angry white line as he waited for his father’s response.
Cyrus drew himself up straighter. “I might have mentioned it. Really, Quintus. If you would choose your friends better you might be a Bane already. Fanus is a fine lad. He has a bright future.”
The temptation to shout at him itched beneath his skin. He turned away rather than give into it.
Cyrus laid a hand on his shoulder. “I have faith in you, Quintus,” he said, giving him a gentle squeeze. “I know you have it in you to become a great Bane. The noble blood of our family runs deep. Sooner or later it will surface. You’ll see.”
Quin bit his lip, pulling away from his father and leaving the room.
~ * ~
Keeva landed silently on the balls of her feet. The stones were cold beneath her and slick from the water raining down over the entrance of the cave. Her pale blue jeweled eyes took in her surroundings. The large cave seemed to be deserted, with the exception of a few bats sleeping above her. The muted thunder of the waterfall echoed from every wall making the air vibrate with sound.
She shook the drops of water from her scales and wings before shifting to her human form. The familiar feeling of dark hair brushed her cheeks and neck as it cascaded down her back. She stretched her fingers. Too bad she couldn’t keep her claws in this form.
Back to business. She took a deep breath of humid air and followed the slope of the cave as it narrowed. Stalactites hung in her way, kissing their mates that grew up from the floor. The cave turned, leaving the light behind. She rubbed her hands together, drawing magic from the Miryan script on her shoulder. The tattooed letters flickered as she formed a glow between her hands. She molded it into a ball and set it to hover above her head. The ball followed her as she moved deeper into the cave.
Soon the passage was so tight she had to turn sideways to fit through the fissure. If this was another dead end she was going to sear the hide from Yamin’s backside. He didn’t pay her enough to get trapped in a bat infested hole.
The way grew tighter then she suddenly stumbled into a large open space. The air there was dry and still. The contrast from the falls making her cough. The light, still hovering above her head, didn’t touch the ceiling high above. The floor beneath her feet was smooth. Too smooth to be natural to the cave. This must be the place.
She shone her light back along the passage and saw the tumbled pile of boulders that blocked the way to her right. To the left the passage ran on, disappearing around a smooth cut corner. She moved with silent steps down the path. A light dust was on the floor and a few broken pebbles lay here and there, but for the most part the way was undisturbed. Pretty good for two thousand years old.
After the main entrance had collapsed, she doubted anyone had come through this way. There weren’t even the tiny footprints of rats or mice to break the smooth layer of dust.
As she turned the corner she saw a light shining softly from above. Coming under the glow she looked up a long shaft drilled straight up through the rock, allowing light and air to trickle into the passage. Handy, if pilgrims still visited the place.
Thousands of years ago villagers would come from miles around to ask the favor of the dragon that lived here. She was said to be powerful beyond compare. Forming spells of power that no one had thought of before. She was known as Am’Ati, First Mother, in all the legends and that was what she was, the mother of the whole dragon race. She and her mate had been the first.
Keeva didn’t much care about myths and ancient legions of dragons. Being a half blood, she was more concerned with full blood dragons and how many different ways they could kill her if they caught her. To them, the only good half blood was a dead one.
The passage continued on for nearly a mile through the earth. Some parts were half collapsed and she had to wriggle to get through the small gap to the other side, but most of the tunnel was sound.
Finally the path broadened and she came out into a round room. A tall broad archway was carved into the stone face across from her. She stepped up to it, her fingers tracing the runes on the solid stone door. Even thousands of years old she could feel the power etched into the stone, deeper than the flowing script written there.
She couldn’t read the scripts, not really. She had only been able to pick up a few words here and there over the years. Most humans she ran into who knew magic were too fearful to be willing to teach her. Mages were always skittish about teaching others. The Knight’s Guild, even if they couldn’t completely stop mages, kept a close, disapproving eye on them.
Even if she didn’t know the letters, she did know the feel of each spell. That was her gift. No matter what spell it was, she could feel it and knew what it did. A very handy skill for a part time thief. There was no lock she couldn’t pick. No guarding spell she couldn’t find a way around. Or at least that was what she liked to tell herself.
Ah, there it is. The spell crumbled as she pressed on the weak point, collapsing it like a house of cards. The doors shuddered, then swung in. Stiff stale air seeped out toward her like breath from a long dead corps. It made her shudder and cough until it cleared. The rusty hinges shrieked in protest, only opening wide enough for her to squeeze her way through.
Another room lay behind the door. She frowned at the opposite wall. Until then everything had been carved out of the stone of the mountain, but the wall that rose before her was made of grey stone slabs layered tightly together like it had been bricked up after the rest of the room was made. A door was set in the center, smaller and plainer than the first door, but she could feel the tingle of spells even from across the room. She approached cautiously. These spells weren’t like the first door. There was a cold deadly edge to them that made her skin itch and every muscle in her body scream for her to run.
What was she thinking, stealing from a dragon? Her very existence depended on not being noticed. She nearly took a step back the way she had come, but she stopped.
Don’t be silly. This dragon has been dead for two thousand years. The Knights saw to that personally.
She forced herself forward, focusing on the door and what she would have to do to get around it. If there were two thousand year old dragon bones inside, fine. She needed this job too much to back down now.
The door’s surface was smooth except for a wicked looking cage work of intricately wound metal in the middle. The knot of metal was just a little bigger than her fist, a long thick needle pointing out from the center.
A legacy lock. Only blood from the right person or their descendants could open it. As she forced her feet to shuffle closer, she noticed a strange dust lying on the floor. The way in had been dusty, but nowhere near this thick. She shone her light down to see a mound of pure black dust heaped on the threshold.
That wasn’t normal. She bent and ran a finger through the dust. The cold feeling of death met her touch and she pulled her hand away. How could dust have the feeling of death? Unless it hadn’t always been dust.
A shiver ran down her spine, there was just about enough there to make a person, maybe more than one. Her eyes came back to the door. What had Yamin gotten her into? Guarding spells that deadly were rare, reserved for only the most precious treasures. Or the most dangerous.
She ran her tongue over her dry lips. Yamin’s information better be good. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a tiny vile no bigger than the nail of her little finger. Dark red liquid sloshed around inside as she gently worked off the cork. She took a steadying breath and tipped the vile until a single drop of blood clung to the lip of it. The drop shook as she moved it closer to the tip of the needle. As soon as the liquid touched it the metal began to glow, pulsing with power. A high pitched shriek filled the air and Keeva dropped the empty vile with a curse. She scrambled back, kicking up clouds of black dust from the floor. The shriek grew louder, more intense. Cracks in the stone spider webbed out from the metal lock, she had almost reached the other doorway when it exploded. Rocks pelted her from all sides, but she kept her head down until the rumbling finally stopped.
Silence filled the room, broken only by Keeva’s labored breaths and the ringing in her ears. She stood, shaking rocks and dust from her clothes. The wall where the door had been was gone, only a gaping hole remained. Cautiously she stepped forward leaning through the gap to the room behind it.
The floor ran smooth and flat away into the darkness. Keeva shone her light into the black. The face of a dragon peered back out at her, jaws wide in a menacing snarl.
She stumbled back, her heart thundering, but stopped as she realized that the dragon wasn’t moving.
A drop of sweat trickled down from her temple to her jaw as she stared at the dragon’s grey teeth. Grey? The teeth were made of stone, as was the head they were set in. A statue?
Ready to flee in an instant, she inched closer. The dragon was certainly life-sized. Bigger than any dragon she’d seen before. Almost thirty feet long, twice Keeva’s length in her dragon form. A shiver ran down her spine as she looked into its face and saw that both eyes were gone, leaving only empty gaping holes in their place.
Who would put a statue like this here? The Knights? They were bastards, but they didn’t have that sick a sense of humor, did they?
It didn’t matter. She wasn’t there for a statue. She just had to find the stone, find the door, get out, get paid. End of story.
It shouldn’t be hard to find the dragon’s treasure in here, since the room was practically empty. There were nooks and shelves all over the walls, but nothing sat on them but dust. The Knights had done a good job cleaning the place out before they bricked it up. Why did Yamin think they would have left anything as valuable as an Eye Stone here? Still, he had given her the right blood to get in. He must have known something that she didn’t.
A sharp glint caught her eye and she crouched down, shining her light along the floor. There, beneath the head of the dragon, was a large green emerald as big as her fist.
Damn Yamin to the third hell. It was the Eye Stone he wanted. It lay on the floor right beneath the statue’s empty eye. The sight creeped her out and Keeva rubbed her arms, trying to brush away the goose flesh that had risen there.
For a long moment she thought of leaving the damn thing and just getting the hell out of there, but a job was a job. If word got out that she wouldn’t follow through, or worse, if Yamin thought she’d pocketed the stone for herself…
She crouched down and inched slowly closer to the dragon’s stone fangs. Alive or not, being that close to one made her blood cold. Her fingers brushed the edge of the emerald. A gust of wind blew past, stirring echoes as it went. She pulled her hand back, feeling like ghosts were dancing on her grave.
Ah, to hell with this. She knelt down and snatched up the emerald, quickly scurrying back from the dragon.
It didn’t move.
Her heart thudded in her chest as she shone the light around, finding another doorway in the back. This one was broad and tall. Easily big enough for two dragons to enter side by side. Swirling script was carved in the center forming a simple spell lock. She glanced back at the dragon behind her before crouching in front of the lock. Her hands shook as she searched for the trigger point. This would be so much easier if she could read.
There it was. The door shook and rattled as it swung inward. She moved out of the way as brilliant rays of light came shooting into the darkness. A fresh breeze swept in pushing back the dead air.
Finally. Yamin was going to get an ear full for not warning her about this one.
A long slender head snaked in and Keeva barley had time to gasp before the dragon was on her, pinning her down with razor sharp claws. She thought of shifting forms, but she knew the dragon could slice her to ribbons before she had the chance.
“The Eye Stone. Where is it?” the creature’s dark, feminine voice demanded.
“Here,” she held up the emerald. Sorry Yamin.
Two more dragons entered on the heels of the first. One stopped by the entrance turning back, apparently as a look out. The other approached her and the dragon that pinned her to the floor. With as smooth a change as she had ever seen, it shifted to a tall copper haired woman, jeweled eyes shining a pale jade lighter than the stone in Keeva’s hand. She snatched up the stone, rolling it in her fingers.
“Finally.” She glanced down at Keeva. “You’re as good as Yamin said you would be. You have no idea how long I have been waiting for this.” Digging into her pockets the woman drew out another emerald, a perfect match to the other. Both jewels shone brighter as she held them close. She felt the claws of the dragon above her slacken as both full bloods stared in wonder.
She didn’t waste her chance. With a sharp kick up, she hit the copper dragon in the stomach, right where she knew the scales were weakest. With a yelp of pain the dragon pulled back and Keeva slipped out from underneath her, rolling to the side and slipping between two thick stalactites that hung down just outside the door.
She held her breath for a long moment, still wedged tight behind the two natural stone pillars. She heard the sound of claws on stone, but the second woman’s voice cut in.
“No. Let her go. We have more important matters than a half blood.”
A snort blew into her hiding place, but the sound of claws retreated. With slow steps She crept toward the light and her way out of the cave. If she was lucky she could slip out without them seeing her again.
She reached the edge of her hiding place and glanced back into the cave.
The woman stood by the head of the dragon statue, stroking its muzzle with gentle fingers. “You have been asleep far to long, Arria.”
She took a stone in each hand and placed them into the eyes of the stone dragon. The ground rumbled and light began to dance in the emerald eyes. She stood rooted in place, unable to take her eyes off the scene.
The emerald eyes blinked, then blinked again. The grey of the stone began to turn copper and green, flickering along the dragon’s scales. Keeva’s heart was in her throat. She had to get out of there.
What once was stone now moved with flesh and fangs. The dragon straightened, joints creaking. Her wings spread wide, mouth still open in a snarl. A moment later her voice returned and a loud scream split the air of the cave. She struggled to block out the sound, covering her ears with her hands, but it still rattled her bones. Dust and large chunks of rock fell from the ceiling. She ducked her head from the falling debris.
The dragon swung around looking at the intruders in her cave.
“Who are you?” the old dragon’s scratchy voice began to smooth as she spoke.
“Mother Arria, I am Iraa, descendant of your daughter Raama.” The woman bowed respectfully.
The first dragon took a step forward. “I am Miryaa and this is my sister Amyaa. We are the blood of your daughter Nima.” Both sisters bowed together.
Arria eyed them silently for a moment. “How long have I been asleep?”
“A long while, Mother. A very long while,” Iraa answered. “We have been searching for years to try and find a way to wake you.”
Arria sighed, a tired look in her emerald eyes. “Where is Calem? I need to see him.”
Iraa faltered for the first time.
“Mother Arria, I thought you knew. Calem was murdered,” she said.
The dragon shook her head. “No. That can’t be. He must be imprisoned somewhere like me.”
“I’m sorry, but there is no doubt that he is dead.”
Arria’s voice shook as she spoke. “When? How long ago?”
Iraa glanced back at the other two dragons before answering. “He died almost two thousand years ago, Mother.”
Arria’s body wrinkled and shuddered finally collapsing down to her human form. Long black hair hung down to her waist and around her face, sticking to the tears that flowed from her emerald eyes.
“No,” she cried, half sobbing. “He can’t be dead! He can’t!” Her fingers rubbed at the white tattoo on her arm, two lines curling to wrap around each other. “How did he die? Who killed him?”
“He was killed by Vaeon and his sons. They were trying to murder your daughters. He died so Raama and Nima could escape,” Miryaa said quietly. “His skull still hangs in the Knights’ Guild Hall.”
Arria let out another sobbing wail covering her tear streaked face with her hands as she wept. Keeva felt her heart pull for the woman. Whoever she was, it sounded like she had lost everything.
Arria’s hands dropped from her face and she lifted a fallen boulder from the ground, hurling it across the room to shatter against the far wall. She screamed again, but this time with hatred and fury coloring her grief.
“That bastard, Vaeon! He promised me!” Arria stood, hands trembling as she wiped the tears from her face.
“Tell me about the Knights’ Guild.” The quiet venom in her voice chilled Keeva even more than her scream earlier.
Enough stalling. With silent steps she inched to the cave mouth. She leapt from the cliff there, shifting mid-fall to catch the breeze in her silver wings.