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Authors: Martin Hengst

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The Pegasus's Lament

BOOK: The Pegasus's Lament
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The Pegasus’s Lament

Volume 3
of the Swordmage Trilogy

 

 

By

Martin F. Hengst

 

 

 

A Magic of Solendrea Novel

 

 

 

 

 

C
opyright 2013 Martin F. Hengst

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Kindle Edition, License Notes

This
eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be resold 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 return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

If you enjoyed this book, please take
a moment to review it favorably.

 

 

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

This book is dedicated to Laura Natcher,

through whose
talent and skill, Solendrea

comes to life. Thank you for all you’ve done

and all you continue to do.

 

 

 

 

 

OTHER TITLES IN

THE SOLENDREA SERIES

 

 

VOLINETTE’S SONG

 

THE LAST SWORDMAGE

 

THE DARKEST HOUR

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

The lovely maiden of summer had matured, growing into matronly autumn. She would stand guard over Solendrea as long as possible before the ice queen of winter descended, stripping the trees bare and laying out their naked bones against the cold grey sky. The first hint of that frigid air hung on the wind, buffeted by the magnificent white dragon's wings. Forty feet across and nearly twice that long, Stryne would have been a terrifying sight to behold if anyone had been able to see him. His command of the Quintessential Sphere kept him hidden from prying eyes. Any stray mage or magical being wandering nearby would have to know where to start looking to find him. Even the beating of his impressive wings was too high above the ground to be felt or heard. He was alone, as he had been for hundreds of years.

Movement on the ground caught his attention, and he dropped his long neck to look more closely at the spot that held his interest. There was a minuscule speck of black moving across the landscape. A shadow moving across a deeper shadow, barely discernible, even with his magically augmented vision. It was the Warleader of the Xarundi. He had hovered in this same spot, day after day, week after week,
for four years. He was careful, watching and learning. He would bide his time until it was perfect.

During the Age of Dragons, when Stryne had been free, and his brothers and sisters in command of the entire continent, the Xarundi had been a
surface-dwelling race. In the interim, the wolf like warriors had fallen far and fast. No doubt due to the meddling influence of the humans. The dogs called them vermin, but humans were much worse than vermin. They were an infectious disease that, unchecked, would destroy anything it came into contact with.

The Xarundi had lost nearly as much to the humans as the dragons had. However, the dogs had been fortunate enough to retain their lives. Stryne was the last of his kind.

During his entombment in the ice, he had been forced to endure the loss of each of his kin. As the spark of each psychic link to the rest of his kind had died out, he had experienced what it was like to be truly alone. Turning his thoughts away from that painful memory, Stryne instead looked toward the slightly darker smudge in the foothills that was the entrance to the Xarundi's subterranean empire. The Warleader began each day standing in the entrance tunnel to the cavern complex, and then would set out on his daily duties. Duties that Stryne would often survey from high above.

As long
-lived as dragons were, they were gifted with incredible amounts of patience. A dragon could plot and plan and scheme for decades before settling on a course of action. Stryne was unique in that patience had never been one of his strong points. He preferred action over inaction, which was what brought him to the Warrens in the first place. There were still creatures on Solendrea who remembered the reign of the dragons and possessed long enough lives to remember old alliances and affiliations. The gargoyle who had given him the information about the Xarundi had also been imprisoned by the humans. Though the manner of his imprisonment was different, the result was the same. A burning hatred for humankind and a desire to see them eradicated.

Re
establishing his alliance with Sleeper had given Stryne what he needed most--information. Gargoyles had an uncanny ability to know everything about anything. Stone was everywhere on Solendrea, and the gargoyles could commune with the stone as easily as men could speak to each other. Sleeper's assistance had been invaluable. Now, as he hovered over the foothills that hid the extensiveness of the Warrens, the dragon was ready to enact the first phase of his plan. The Xarundi wanted the humans destroyed as much as, if not more than, the dragon did. They would be well suited as allies.

Folding his wings against his back, the dragon dove, feeling the cold wind rushing against his sides and belly. The tip of his tail whipped back and forth in the air that screamed past. Dropping the spell that made him invisible, Stryne spread his wings. They snapped taut, catching the air and pulling him backward as they met sudden resistance. The powerful sweep of his wings ripped leaves from the trees at the edge of the clearing and bent the grass underfoot. The Warleader leapt backward at Stryne's sudden appearance.
Four-inch claws slipped from their sheaths and glimmered in the light of the pale moon that was just beginning to rise.

Stryne neatly backwinged, dropping to the ground and folded his wings against his back. He wrapped his tail around his haunches and lowered his neck, looking at the Warleader with glowing violet eyes. To the Warleader's credit, he didn't flinch under that regard. Instead, he stared back with his own pools of luminescent blue fire. Though his claws were still extended, the Warleader hadn't made any aggressive movement. Instead, they stood in the clearing maybe twenty feet apart, staring at each other.

“Greetings, Warleader,” Stryne said in a passable, if unpracticed, approximation of the Xarundi tongue. “Though the manner of my appearance was sudden, I mean you no harm. I wish to parlay.”

The Warleader cocked his head to one side, his ears twitching as the dragon spoke. There was a long pause before he replied.

“Respectful greetings, Great One,” the Warleader was speaking hesitantly, as if feeling out the words as he said them. “You speak the tongue of the Xarundi as it was in ages past. I fear there may be misunderstanding betwixt us.”


Then let us use the language of the lesser races,” Stryne replied in the low tongue. “I don't wish there to be any mistake about what I offer, or require. I am Stryne the Forsaken, Dragonlord of the East and the last of my kind. I come with information for you and a proposal.”

The Warleader's claws slipped slowly back into their sheaths.
“I am called Xenir, of the Xarundi Combine. What information do you bring?”


I know who you are, and I know how you came to live in this place you call the Warrens. An interested third party, a gargoyle named Sleeper, directed me in finding you. You are familiar with him?”

The Warleader nodded, and Stryne continued.

“I was exiled under the ice, far to the north before your kin released me from my prison. One of them, your High Priest, was captured during the ensuing battle.”

Xenir nodded.
“Few of the war party I sent north returned with life and limb.”


You didn't know I was there. You sent them because you had a vision of a powerful relic buried in the ice.”


Yes.” Xenir's tone was unapologetic. “Had I known you were the relic, I'd not have sent the war party.”


No, I suspect not.”


If you wanted my life as penance for the war party, I'd be dead by now. So why are you here?”


I seek not penance, Warleader. We share a mutual interest in seeing the human plague eliminated. I offer a way for both of us to get what we want.”

Xenir hunkered down and rested his arms on his powerful legs. A gentle breeze stole through the clearing and Xenir watched the movement of the branches for a while before he replied.

“What is the offer?”


I offer you a way to recover the High Priest in return for your alliance against the humans. The city they call Dragonfell is an abomination, an affront to the Draconic Empire. I wish to see the vermin exterminated and control of the land returned to its rightful owner.”


You.”


Yes.” Stryne snorted. “Who else has the right to rule?”


The world has changed,” the Warleader said slowly. “You said it yourself; you are the last of your kind. How can you hope to hold and keep all the land that was once part of your vast empire?”


I don't. I require only the land around Dragonfell. The rest of the lands of the Human Imperium belong to you to do with as you see fit. Isn't it long beyond time for the Xarundi to stop living in holes and return to the surface world? To return to the proud race they once were?”

Xenir shook his head.
“My people struggle against themselves. The fall of the High Priest has convinced many that our cause has been forgotten by The Six.”

The dragon snorted again.
“Primitive nonsense. As if the Eternals concern themselves with the petty machinations of such short-lived creatures. Regardless, what if I could offer you a way to reunite your people? To restore their faith?”


You've just dismissed the importance of The Six, how can you hope to restore faith when you have none?”


My faith isn't important, or required. If I return your High Priest to their people, I think that their faith would be bolstered, at least for a time.”

The Warleader shot to his feet, his good eye blazing. For a moment, Stryne was sure he would attack, regardless of the fact that he was outclassed in both size and power.

“Do not mock me!” He roared, his long fangs glistening white in the light of the moon. “The High Priest is gone. Not even you can restore the dead.”


Your war party returned to you misinformed, Warleader. Or perhaps they feared being sent to retrieve that which they lost. Regardless, the High Priest lives. At least, as far as being imprisoned by man and cut off from the Sphere can be considered living.”


How do you know this?”

Stryne rumbled deep in his throat, the dragon's equivalent of a chuckle.
“The dragons were long allies of the Shadow Assembly, long before the Xarundi took nominal leadership of the darker races. I have my own allies and methods of gathering information.”


The High Priest,” Xenir began, his eye sparkling. “You'll tell me where he is, in return for our allegiance in eliminating the vermin?”


That is what I offer, yes.”

Xenir shot to his feet.
“Then come, we must free the High Priest at once!”

The dragon
half extended his wings, arresting the Warleader's excitement.


We will be doing no such thing. I will provide the location of your High Priest. No more. Finding and freeing him is your responsibility. I prefer to remain in a supervisory capacity.”

The Xarundi looked as if he wanted to protest. Stryne thought that he probably would have if he had been facing any being other than a dragon. However, as it turned out, Stryne was a dragon, and the Warleader wasn't foolish enough to jeopardize the information he wanted just to argue the finer points of the arrangement. The indignation left his eye nearly as quickly as it had flared there, and Xenir nodded.

“Very well. The location of the High Priest for our allegiance.”

Stryne drew power from the Quintessential Sphere. At first, filaments of cerulean light seemed to litter the air in a haphazard jumble. As the dragon further work
ed the intricacies of his spellcraft, the lines began to shift and merge, forming patterns and shapes. Glowing trees sprung up along shimmering hillsides. Rivers of light flowed down from the hills, sparkling as if touched by an unseen sun. Before long, the countryside was laid out before them in miniature, and the dragon used the power of the Sphere to show Xenir where the quintessentialists were holding Zarfensis.


My part of the bargain is fulfilled,” Stryne said as the map collapsed, fading from view. He unfurled his wings, preparing for flight. “I trust that your portion will be fulfilled as soon as you have the High Priest in your possession.”


Yes. Once we have restored the High Priest's place among the Chosen, we will gladly fight by your side. The vermin will pay for what they've done, to the dragons and the Xarundi alike.”

Without a further word, Stryne launched himself skyward. His powerful wings carried him up, level with the tops of the trees in the clearing, then beyond. He climbed steadily upward until the air was cold and thin, then he turned toward the cave where he had temporarily made his home. The plan was in motion. All that remained now was to watch it unfurl and ensure that the players did as they were instructed.

 

 

#

 

 


There!” Xenir hissed, stabbing an extended claw at a flickering light at the base of a towering hill. “That is where they are holding the High Priest hostage.”

It had taken them five days to cover the distance between the Warrens and the prison camp where Zarfensis was being held. During their journey, the Warleader had plenty of time to think. He had to admit that there was no way they'd have found the High Priest, or had any hope of mounting a rescue, without the dragon's help. The land was some of the most inhospitable Xenir had ever experienced.

Large boulders dotted a field of loose shale that slipped and slid underfoot. What wasn't covered in rocks as sharp as a blade was waist deep in brambles and thorns so dense that they had given up trying to hack their way through and instead detoured around them. The detour had its own hazards, in the form of a fetid black bog that slowed their progress to a frustrating crawl.

Finally, they had climbed out of the muck, up a gentle grass-covered hill to look down on an expanse of rolling grassland that ended against a much larger hill. As they pressed on they could see, tucked away in the elbow of that union, a
squat grey rock building. Half buried in the earth and the hillside beyond, it had a heavy wooden door banded with black iron with a single window beside it. The window was guarded by two sets of bars, one inside and one out. The door itself had no need of bars. It was made from tree trunks banded together, with no hinge nor hardware, nor even a handle on the outside. It might as well have been a city wall, save for the little square peep window that was tightly shut.

BOOK: The Pegasus's Lament
6.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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