The Rage of Dragons (The Burning Books #1) (43 page)

BOOK: The Rage of Dragons (The Burning Books #1)
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TSIORA OMEHIA

“He’s broken, my queen,” Nyah said to her. “Demon-haunted, in the assessment of the Sah priests. He’s been in that room since we held the burning for those we lost.”

Tsiora turned away from Nyah and toward the closed door in front of her. “Have the warriors, his sword brothers, seen to him?”

Nyah, the woman Tsiora trusted above all others, the one who had risked her life to train her to use her gifts in secret, told her they had. “The men, his sword brothers, come. He won’t speak to them or anyone else. And he has not gone to see the Petty Noble who survived the youngling’s fire.”

“How is the Petty Noble?”

“He suffers, my queen, he suffers.” Nyah closed her eyes as if trying to block out some horrible sight. “My queen, you risk too much. You saw what he did to Odili’s Ingonyama. You saw the way he fights. He’s an animal, and was that way before losing the woman to the youngling. There’s nothing left in him to which you can appeal.”

“We disagree. You did not see him fight the demons in Isihogo to save the Gifted initiate. He took power into himself to draw them away from her. He fought demons while holding power… He is…” She didn’t know what he was. “Nyah, he has lost loved ones. Their loss made him lose hope. We must return hope, if he is to be of use.”

“As your vizier, I ask you to reconsider.”

Tsiora would not. Her mind was made.

“Then, allow me to send guards with you,” Nyah said. “We do not know how this man will react. He’s unstable, dangerous.”

Tsiora didn’t want to admit it, but she was scared to be in a room with him, the Common of Kerem. She couldn’t afford to behave that way, though. If her plan was to have any chance of success, they would need to trust each other. “You have seen him fight, Nyah. Do you know any guards he could not kill?”

Nyah looked helpless, flustered. When she was younger, Tsiora used to love doing that to Nyah, but since Tsiora had become queen, a flustered Nyah often meant Tsiora was about to do something of rare and impressive stupidity.

Unwilling to wait and lose her nerve, Tsiora reached out for the leather-wrapped package in her vizier’s arms. “Wait for us,” she told Nyah, taking the package and opening the door to Tau Solarin’s room in the Guardian Keep.

He was standing beside his bed. His head had stubble. His face as well. He wore a loose tunic that could not hide the whipcord muscle beneath. He had on ash-gray breeches and was barefoot. He was staring out the window at the work below, watching the repairs. The gates were up, but the damage to the courtyard would take longer to mend, a lot longer.

Tsiora laid her package, lighter than she’d expected, on the bed, thinking it strange to see the man without his swords. The night Odili had tried to assassinate her, the Common’s blades had seemed part of him.

“Tau Solarin, we need your help,” she said to his back. He did not respond, this strange Lesser. Tsiora came closer. She could see out the window. She knew what he was looking at. Down in the courtyard was the place where the dragon had killed the Gifted he cared for.

“Tau Solarin,” Tsiora said, hovering her hand above his arm and then, daring herself, letting it fall on his shoulder. He did not react. “Abasi Odili is in Palm City. He controls it now and has most of the Royal Nobles swearing fealty to our younger sister. It is claimed that, of her own free will, our dear sister has seen the righteous nature of Odili’s cause. She has declared him her champion and herself the true queen of the Chosen. Queen Esi. It sounds innocent enough, don’t you think?”

He still didn’t speak.

“We have come with an offer.”

“How did you do it?”

She jumped at his voice, at the metal in it.

“How did you push me out of Isihogo?”

Tsiora considered the question, wondering what to tell him. She settled on the truth. “We are of royal blood. Royal blood runs closest to the Goddess. We have greater gifts than all others. When we saw the danger to you, we used a type of enervation. Queen Taifa, though not the first to use this particular gift, named it ‘expulsion.’ With it, we can forcibly remove anyone, including those holding energy, from Isihogo.”

“You could have saved her then,” he growled, scaring her, though she didn’t want to admit it. “You could have gotten her out, and she could have gotten away. She should not have been there. She should not have tried to—”

“We could not,” Tsiora told him. “A dragon’s hold cannot be broken. Expulsion, cast on Gifted Zuri, would have had no effect. We had to wait until the youngling released her on its own.”

“Then, you should have let me save her!”

“You could not have done so and would have died in the attempt.”

He faced her, his dark eyes and scarred face frightening in their intensity. Tsiora felt the need to step back. She locked eyes with him instead. “We need your help, Tau Solarin.”

“I can’t help you.”

It wasn’t said because he blamed her for the Gifted’s death. The initiate sacrificed herself, and neither of them could have stopped that. Instead, she heard self-pity. He wallowed in his loss, set adrift. She would anchor him. “Tau Solarin, the queendom has been torn in two, and in less than a moon cycle, the warlord will return to commit genocide. The Nobles, led by our Royals, have divided the Chosen at the worst possible time. This cannot be allowed. The Goddess made us one people, and our survival rests on the Omehi acting as such.

“To accomplish what must be done, to reunite Noble and Lesser, we need a man like you. We need a man who faced Indlovu, Ingonyama, Xiddeen, demons, and dragons to be our champion. We need a hero to help us rebuild what has been broken.”

“I’m no hero.”

“You are to the Lessers. You are to the people who still fight for us.”

“I am no hero.”

Tsiora made her voice hard. “Then be a weapon.”

That surprised him. She could see it in his rough-edged face.

“Our champion’s first task is one of vengeance. Our champion will lead his closest men, and the armies that remain loyal to us, to the walls of Palm City. He will quell the rebellion and rescue our sister. He will right the wrongs the traitor has wrought on both our people and the Xiddeen. Our champion will kill Abasi Odili, in the name of the queen, in our name.”

She gave him a breath to absorb it, and, unable to hide from what it would mean for the queendom and for her, she gave voice to the question she had come to ask. “Tau Solarin, will you be our champion?”

She shut her reservations away as best she could and moved to the bed, picking up and handing Tau the long leather package. Without curiosity he opened it, revealing the guardian swords she had had made for him. She heard his intake of breath as he saw the weapons, and, unable to help himself, he reached out, touching them, running his hands over the dragon-scale blades.

His hands stopped at the hilts, the hilts from his father’s and grandfather’s swords. With reverence, this strange and vicious Lesser took up the perfectly balanced and impossibly sharp weapons. He twirled them and the thought flashed in Tsiora’s mind that he could kill her before she could call out.

Swords still in hand, he stepped close, so close she could feel the heat emanating from his body. They were the same height, she noted as his eyes bored into hers. She licked her lips. They’d gone dry. More, she wanted to know why she couldn’t pull her eyes from his, why she felt ensorcelled by the fire in them.

“I will kill Abasi Odili,” he told her.

It frightened her, the way he’d said it, but she would not balk. “We consider that a ‘yes,’ Champion Tau Solarin.”

And, like that, there was no going back. A dragon had been called, and someone would have to die.

GRATITUDE

I want to say thanks.

I want to say it to Joey for being this book’s first reader. His encouragement gave me the confidence to believe in my work. I want to say it to Malik for never being too busy to read a few more pages. He helped me realize this could be special. I want to say it to Anthony for making sure I never forgot the fundamentals of storytelling. He made me better.

Most of all, I want to say thanks to Helen Zdriluk, my high school drama teacher and friend. She taught me to believe in the value of creativity, gave me a chance to prove I could say something worthwhile, and pointed out the path that has determined my life.

Mrs. Z, one of the last times I saw you, we were at a friend’s wedding. I had just landed an executive job and was very proud of myself. I told you about it. You nodded, looked me in the eye, and said, “Yes, but what about the writing?”

I miss you, Mrs. Z. I miss you very much. I’m still writing. Thank you for believing I should.

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BOOK: The Rage of Dragons (The Burning Books #1)
11.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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