Read A Shadow Flame (Book 7) Online

Authors: Jordan Baker

A Shadow Flame (Book 7)

BOOK: A Shadow Flame (Book 7)
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THE BOOK OF ONE

A Shadow Flame

 

by

 

Jordan Baker

 

 

COPYRIGHT

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and events contained herein are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Other than historical characters, any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright 2014 by Electrum Press and the Author.

All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without express permission of the publisher.

For more information, visit www.electrumbooks.com

 

Kindle Edition: December 2014

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

 

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their contents) that are not owned by the publisher.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

PROLOGUE

 

 

Shadows flickering, swaying darkly beneath the flames, fire bleeding through the cold, grey nothingness, resisting its deathly pull and refusing to succumb.

Raw stillness, the empty discomfort of dead calm rang silently through the unnatural, motionless air, and hollow echoes of steel and flesh, stirring, restless and waiting, punctuated the eerie silence.

Aaron opened his eyes to the blackness of the chamber, a bleak darkness that seemed more grey than black, like a smudge of smoke and ash that filled every space instead of the clearness of night. His skin raw against the silken sheets, he shifted himself uncomfortably under the heavy chains that wrapped around his arms and legs. Aaron glanced up at the dark, glowing crystals that pulled his power from him, each of them attached to the chains and affixed to one of the corners of the bed and he fought the urge to recoil from the cold touch of the dark queen, who slept at his side, her fingers resting upon the cuts on his chest that her sharp nails had scratched into his flesh.

With the few wisps of power that he was able to gather before the chains quickly stole it away again, Aaron let his senses flow, feeling his way through the palace, tasting the stale air, scenting the rotting flesh and hearing the wet scratching of countless creatures scuttling in the dark and worming their way free of their shells. Aaron stretched out further, beyond the palace to the city and he could feel the flows of power, pulsing slowly, sapping the lives of all who lived within it, like so many flies caught in a web, cocooned and paralyzed in a poison trap, unaware of death's impending arrival. Like a cloying stench, the shadow clung to every corner of the city, pervasive like a plague, eating away at life itself, but Aaron could feel the faintest shifts in the energy that flowed to the temple in the city below and he knew that the mages were still at work, seeking to unravel the dark magic that bound the people.

Aaron hoped their task would soon be complete and the people could be set free, for he did not know how long he could resist the power of the dark queen and the shadow that grew inside of him, as his grip upon his own power was beginning to slip. The fire that burned within him raged to be free and the shadow grasped hungrily at it, yearning to feed upon it, and when he could no longer hold back, he did not know what might happen, but he held out hope that the risk was worth the struggle. Aaron felt Calexis stir next to him and he let his senses drift back among the shadows, losing consciousness once more, feeling his power subside a little, a subtle reprieve from the struggle with the shadow, a moment of respite that he knew would soon no longer be a possibility.

Flames flickering in the grey, the inky blackness shifting and moving like a dark mirror, drawing the light, shadows following the fire, in a dance, wavering closer, moving as one.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Lexi knelt down and touched the textured surface of the egg, feeling the warmth that lingered in the shell that was hard as stone. The floor around the three dragon eggs was scorched with flame, even despite the water that flowed constantly, for the heat of Vale's fire would burn it away every time she warmed them.

"It is a wonder they do not burn," Lexi said, looking up at Vale and Ariana, who stood watching her.

"They are dragonkind," Vale said. "They are borne of fire. It sustains them."

"But Ariana is not a dragon."

"She has the gift of Akandra. She is dragonkind."

"I do not understand," Lexi said with a frown, then she rose to her feet.

"I can teach you," Kaz offered, and the other three drakes snickered, but they stopped when Vale cast them a hard look.

"You will understand when the time comes, when it is right for you," Vale told her. "You are dragonkind."

"Is that what I am?" Lexi asked.

"You are different, but you are dragon," Storm told her, and he sniffed the air, testing her scent. "You are like Akandra, of a different land, but dragon all the same."

"Why don't I look like you when I am not in dragon form?" Lexi asked, casting her eyes around the room.

"You are different," Borrican said with a shrug, then he smiled and put his hand on her shoulder, reassuringly. "It does not matter, Lexi. You are with us, and you are one of us."

"Will these eggs be born to look like me?" she asked, looking down at them.

"I do not know," Borrican replied, a little surprised at the thought. "I hadn't considered it." He looked over at Vale to see if she might know the answer, but it appeared that she did not know either.

"It doesn't matter," Ariana said. "Why are you so worried?"

"I don't know," Lexi said, her voice becoming small and quiet. She pulled the cowl of her robe over her head, hiding under it. "I just wish I was beautiful like you."

"You don't think I look strange?" Ariana asked, her hand touching the crystals embedded in her face.

"No," Lexi said. "I don't think that."

"Well, I think you look exceptionally strange, Ariana," Borrican joked, then he backed away when she glared at him. "Strangely beautiful, I mean." He turned to Lexi. "You are a dragon, and in your dragonform you are magnificent, and in this form, you are also very lovely as well, Lexi." Ariana frowned at him again and Borrican could sense a hint of jealousy. "Well then, maybe it is better that I don't talk."

"It is true that you are different, Lexi, but Borrican is right, you are beautiful in your own way, and your actions show that you are honorable and good, which is most important of all," Ariana said, tugging up the corner of Lexi's cowl and looking underneath it. "Be proud of who you are, who you have chosen to be. We are glad of your friendship and many of the people of this land are grateful to you for saving their lives. Perhaps I am a little biased to dragonkind, but I think you are very pretty."

The four drakes whispered amongst themselves and snickered again, and Ariana turned and stared at them.

"All right, all of you drakes can leave now," she said, then she turned to Borrican. "Borrican, if you had any manners yourself, I would ask you to teach them to those four."

"What did I do?" Borrican asked, confused, and Ariana sighed and turned to Storm as Borrican mumbled to himself. "I have excellent manners."

"You have my permission to beat some sense into those drakes if they persist in teasing Lexi, assuming Vale doesn't mind," she said, and looked over at Vale, even though she could already feel her agreement.

"Not at all," Vale said, casting a vicious grin at her four young vassals.

"We weren't teasing," Crag said.

"It's true," Kiva insisted.

"We really weren't," Kaz said.

"Not teasing at all," Raz added.

"Whatever you were doing, it is rude to laugh when people are upset about something," Ariana told them.

"Not when something is funny, it isn't," Kaz said.

"Out!" Ariana yelled and she nudged Borrican. "Borrican, you and Storm can go as well. Nathas and the others will be arriving soon, so you should greet them."

"Why do I have to leave?" Borrican asked.

"Because I am tired and it is time to warm the eggs again," Ariana told him and he could tell that she was in no mood for argument.

"All right," Borrican said. "Will you be joining us after?"

"Yes, of course," Ariana said. "It is my kingdom we intend to attack."

"Very well," Borrican said and he turned to Storm and glanced over at the four young dragons. "Let us assemble in the meeting room. We have a war to plan."

Borrican walked out of the room, followed by Storm and the others.

"Are most drakes like that?" Ariana asked Vale.

"Most," she replied. "What about the young males in your land?"

"The same." Ariana sighed, then she sent a thought to Vale, reminding her of something they had discussed earlier, and she felt a warm response from the young dragon queen.

"Would you like to warm the eggs, Lexi?" Vale asked.

"What?" Lexi was surprised at something so unexpected. "No, I couldn't do that. What if I did something wrong? What if I hurt them?"

"Nonsense," Ariana said. "I spoke to Vale about it already. Dragon eggs are very strong, and you cannot harm them."

"But I won't fit in here," Lexi stammered, pointing out that her dragon form was far too large for the chamber.

"If this cavern of water and wood is large enough for me, it will do for you," Vale told her. Lexi's dragon form was indeed sizeable and powerful, but they were close to the same size, so she should be able to fit. "You are no greater than I am when we are in dragon form."

"The tree will make room," Ariana said and she touched the living wall and the entire room groaned and creaked, making more space and increasing the flow of water from the streams that filled the chamber. She sent a thought of gratitude to the tree then smiled at Lexi. "Go ahead, Lexi. It will be all right."

"Are you sure? What if my fire is too hot?"

"The hotter the better," Vale said with a toothy grin. "As Ariana said, there are very few things tougher than dragonshell, and fire makes them stronger."

Lexi shifted into her dragon form and, after casting a questioning glance at Ariana, who smiled and nodded, reassuringly, she took in a deep breath and let out a short, tentative blast of fire on one of the three eggs. The hardened shell exposed to the fire quickly began to glow amid the steam that filled the chamber as the water hissed and burned from the intense heat. Lexi looked at Ariana and Vale again, still unsure.

"That is not hot enough, Lexi," Vale said. "Truefire, dragonfire."

Lexi frowned, and squinted her reptilian eyes, then she turned back to the dragon egg and took another breath, much deeper than the previous one. The room suddenly crackled with energy and both Vale and Ariana caught a jolt of it from the water at their feet as Lexi let out a much harder blast of fire, focused and pure, and the egg began to glow immediately.

"Now that is truly powerful fire," Vale said. "It is a rare gift to your clutch."

"I am glad you came, Vale," Ariana said. "I don't know what I would have done without your help."

"I felt your need," Vale replied with a smile, her sharp teeth poking from the corners of her mouth. "We are dragonkin, Ariana, bonded queens. We will always help each other."

Ariana smiled at her and they watched as Lexi blasted another of the dragon eggs with her powerful flames, causing it to glow and filling the chamber with so much steam that it was like a heavy fog, yet searing hot, hissing and burning like a pot boiling over. Ariana felt herself being lulled by the heat of the steam, which somehow worked its way into her body and began to release some of the tension from all she had endured, not the least of which had been her utter panic at giving birth to three dragon eggs. She closed her eyes for a moment, glad that unexpected ordeal had passed, but her moment of respite was broken by the sound of a familiar voice, somewhere in the tree palace outside the chamber, demanding to know where Ariana might be. She smiled and turned as Keira entered the steam-filled room.

"What madness is this?" the elven warrior exclaimed when Lexi blasted the third egg with flames. "Dragonfire in the forest? Squirrel? What have you done?"

"Keira, welcome home," Ariana said. "We are over here."

"I can barely see in here, Ariana, and it is unbearably hot," Keira said. "But please do keep speaking so I will know where to swing my hand."

Ariana laughed, still lulled by the steam, and not entirely paying attention to whether her elven protector was serious or merely teasing her.

"We are here," she said again. "It is good to hear your voice, Keira."

Keira finally appeared in the thick fog of steam, her face a scowl, and Ariana could tell that the elven warriors was not in the most charitable of moods, likely made worse at the discovery of all that had happened in the elven forest.

"It is terribly hot," Keira said. "What is it that you are doing in here?"

"Giving the gift of fire," Vale said, turning as the elven woman approached. "Welcome, Keira. I am Vale of the Aledra, dragonkind. Though we have not met, I feel as though I already know you through my bond with Ariana and it is an honor to greet such a valued friend and protector."

"The gift of fire?" Keira was a little confused at first, then the steam began to burn away and she saw the three eggs glowing hot like coals in a forge, and she saw a third figure, shrouded in a cloak, but with what looked to be blue skin, step aside as Ariana walked forward and placed her hand on one of the eggs. Ariana turned to her.

"Look, Keira," she said. "Aren't they beautiful?"

"Are those dragon eggs? In the elven forest?" Keira was aghast.

"They are her clutch," Vale said, and Keira stared at Ariana for a moment, then back at the three large, glowing eggs.

"I leave you alone and this is what happens?" Keira said, then she stopped and turned to Vale. "Friend and protector? Ariana said such things about me?"

"Those are her true thoughts," Vale told her.

"Well, I am glad to know that I am appreciated," Keira said as she stared at the dragon woman who stood before her, noticing the subtle differences in her, the sharp points of fangs that pressed upon her lips and the different angles that gave the shape of her face an almost predatory look. She had already met the drakes and seen them shift their forms, but it seemed that female dragons retained a little more of their dragon qualities, and though Vale appeared to be a beautiful young woman, there was no mistaking that she was clearly a dragon.

Through the steam, Keira caught sight of other girl, who hid under her cloak and she could see that she was different.

"That is Lexi," Vale said. "She is also a friend and protector of many, a defender of this forest and its people."

"You have my gratitude, Lexi," Keira said, with a sharp nod of her head.

"I am glad to help," Lexi said, shyly. "I hope I haven't caused too much trouble with my fire."

Keira turned and looked over at Ariana, who had moved to another one of the eggs.

"It is far too warm for me in here, Ariana," she said, feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Overwhelmed, and though she was fascinated with the three dragon eggs, she smiled at Vale and the strange-looking girl with the blue skin, then decided to leave the chamber. "I will wait for you outside, and I hope your dragon friend intends to wear some clothes if she will attend the war council."

*****

 

"Apart from a few lingering traces, the spell is broken," Kroma rumbled as Brian removed his hand from the general's forehead, then he looked over at the ranks of soldiers who sat silently upon the forest floor, their eyes staring blankly forward as though in a trance. "It is unfortunate, but the rest of them remain bound by the same magic that held this man. They are easily compelled for their will is not their own."

"Well, I'd say that's a relief on one hand, and some worries on the other," Kaleb commented. "At least, for now, they will still follow the orders of their commander."

"General Berant," Nathas said. "Welcome to Elvanar."

"Thank you, General," Berant replied. "I do wish I were here under better terms, but I am glad to finally have my thoughts clear. Things have been difficult, to put things simply."

"I wondered why your forces did not attack during the battle," Nathas said. "Now we know. You are very fortunate to have broken free from the spell of the dark god."

"I despised every moment, but I did what I could to subvert Calexis, but there were many things I could not prevent," Berant said, looking at the assembled ranks of soldiers. "I would never wish anyone to be under the control of another, not like this. Attacking friendly kingdoms, fighting our own people, the things so many have been forced to do against their will. It is a stain upon our lives."

"Did you know what you were doing all that time?" Brian asked.

BOOK: A Shadow Flame (Book 7)
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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