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Authors: Bryan Davis


BOOK: Warrior
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Bryan Davis




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ursed by blindness, Zena shuffled on her knees—reaching, groping—a beggar stretching out empty hands into the hated void. Oh, yes, it was blindness, but not the indiscriminate shackling of innocent eyes by a careless creator. Hers was a wretched, calculated blindness inflicted long ago by the accursed Starlighter, the selfsame Cassabrie who had delayed the arrival of the prophesied hatchling … until now.

The black egg lay near. Its presence—close, warm, alive—beckoned. The prince within the stony shell called with an inaudible voice, a plea that rode the winds of sensation, a yearning for intimacy. She would provide sympathy, as always. Souls trapped in darkness often cry out for the solace of another lonely prisoner, each one hoping for the day of liberation. Perhaps her role as comforter would reap rewards even beyond the benefits she sought.

Her fingertips brushed a dimpled surface. Chill bumps raced across her skin as she purred, “There you are, my darling!”

She reached for the velvet case in the pocket of her silky gown, withdrew the Starlighter’s finger, and set the tip on the shell. Ah! The connection brought a new icy chill. Such joy! It was just a finger, to be sure, but it meant so much more. That vile girl had paid for her deed, and she had paid dearly. The great Starlighter had lost her precious perfection and now lent her missing digit to a dragon who was prophesied to be born handicapped. What a delicious irony that her finger provided the means to instruct the unborn prince about the history of Starlight and inform him of his glorious future.

The chill continued, in spite of the heat in the Basilica’s cavernous incubator room. Five paces away, a circle of fiery fountains soared up from the floor and splashed against the marble ceiling high above—a protective fence of flames that whipped the air into a hot, whooshing swirl.

As Zena held the finger in place, the cold sensation eased, replaced by a surge of warmth that sizzled into her body, the sign of connection with the dragon youngling inside. Her blindness faded, and the black shell came into view, reflecting her ivory skin, slender face and hands, and long black dress. Propped on a nest of soft pillows, the egg shifted, giving evidence of the life within.

“My prince,” she whispered, “can you hear me?”

The finger quivered for a moment, then became still. As she waited for a response, the shadow of a dragon enveloped her in winged darkness. Zena resisted the urge to tense her muscles. Magnar’s visits had become more frequent, and his silent approaches had too often given him the advantage of catching her off guard. The noise from the flames masked the sound of his wings, and his ability to pass through the fountains unharmed had proven him to be the most powerful dragon in the world. His cooperation remained essential.

Keeping her focus on the egg, Zena spoke with a steady voice. “I will have news in a moment.”

Magnar thumped his tail on the floor, impatient, as usual. Zena let her lips stretch into a satisfied smirk. Or perhaps he was uneasy about the finger she had cut from the Starlighter’s hand so many years ago. For all the bravado he displayed as king of the Southland dragons, he did not cope well with trivial reminders of the death sentences he had ordered.

When the quivering resumed, a low voice rode the Starlighter’s bone-thin finger and penetrated Zena’s mind.
I hear you. Is everything prepared?

“All is ready,” she said out loud. “Magnar is here to witness your emergence, and once he verifies that you are, indeed, the prophesied king, he will abdicate as planned.”

Magnar’s skepticism is excusable. Very few kings are willing to relinquish power to a promise.

Zena lifted the finger and set it back in its case, gazing at the wrinkled skin’s almost imperceptible glow. Another precious moment of clarity had been spent. How many more remained before the finger’s power died away and permanent blindness set in? Fewer than before; that was the only certainty.

She blinked, still able to see clearly. This brief view of the visual world would soon fade, but likely not before the historic birth of the next dragon king. Seeing him emerge had dominated every dream, and now all her years of service would finally bear fruit. The triumph of his kingdom would bring her restored vision. The prince had promised it, and she would do everything in her power to see his rule expand throughout all of Starlight.

The black egg tilted to one side and leaned for a moment before rocking upright on its nest. A slight cracking sound reached her ears, barely audible amidst the rush of flames.

“The time has come.” Still on her knees, Zena closed the case’s lid and slid it into her pocket. She then opened a panel in the floor and turned off the fountains. As the flames shrank away and the breezy rush settled, she caressed the egg’s shell, pausing on a tiny crack near the top. “The king will hatch soon—perhaps minutes.”

With a beat of his wings, Magnar scooted closer, extended his long neck, and sniffed. “The crack is deep enough to allow his scent to escape. It will not be long now.”

“Have you decided whether or not to tell his mother?”

“She must not know until I give the order. Her exile is deserved and will remain intact. If this prince is indeed the prophesied one, it will not be beneficial to have another powerful dragon as his ally.”

“If that is your wish.” Zena wrapped her arms around the egg, making her loose sleeves ride up past her elbows. Intertwining her fingers on the opposite side, she laid her cheek on its surface, letting her hair drape its reflective shell. As she bathed in its purple aura, she sighed. “For centuries we have waited. The day has finally arrived.”

“You never lost faith,” Magnar said, “though many others have.”

“True. I am not shy about my own loyalty. I deserve accolades.” Reaching out a hand, Zena stroked Magnar’s claw. Years ago, he would have recoiled at her forward manner, but now he didn’t even flinch. His scales felt warm, reflecting their fiery appearance. With her vision still somewhat intact, his elegant draconic form stayed in view. His long, sleek neck curled like an adder ready to strike, and his ears, short and pointed, rotated as if searching for a lost sound. His backbone spines bent slightly toward his lengthy tail, giving the appearance of swift movement, as if blown back by the wind.

“What do you think?” she asked. “Will his handicap be obvious? Perhaps something so crippling that other dragons will be loath to accept him as their new king?”

“If the prophecy is true, he will be able to quell any uprising of potential usurpers among us.” As he drew his claw away from her hand, his scaly brow dipped low. “Or human invaders.”

Zena looked into Magnar’s eyes—scarlet, pulsing, furious. His anger over the release of Jason and the new Starlighter still scalded his temper, and his desire to pursue the escaped humans consumed him. He was a beast lunging against the bars in a cage of his own making. “Have you tested the barrier recently?” she asked.

“Less than an hour ago. As long as the Starlighter remains to the north, she is out of reach.”

“When the prince emerges,” Zena said as she lifted her cheek from the egg, “he will provide guidance concerning the Starlighter. Since Koren threatened to kill the youngling, perhaps he has given up on luring her into servitude. If the prince orders her execution, then it might be safe for you to travel beyond the great wall and bring her to justice.”

“A guess is all you have.” Twin plumes of dark smoke rose from Magnar’s nostrils, and his voice deepened. “If you are wrong, and the Starlighter ruins our plans, my wrath will be speedy and furious, beginning with a certain priestly dragon and ending with a hatchling prince and his blind guardian.”

Zena raised a rigid finger. “Stay your fury for another few hours. If your faith remains steadfast, you will be given what you have coveted for so long.”

“Again, a guess on your part. Every moment we wait separates us further from the Starlighter and her companion. If she arrives safely in the Northlands and finds the star, all could be lost.”

“She is ignorant. Without the prince, she can neither harm Exodus nor resurrect it.”

“The star reveals its own secrets. She might be ignorant, but she is not a fool. It will not take her long to piece the puzzle together.”

“Fear not. We still have time.” Zena petted the top of the egg. “Do not be shy, my love. The shell has cracked. You need only to break through. Then you will be able to assume a throne of power from which you will rule this world.”

After a few seconds of silence, the egg vibrated in time with a pecking sound. The crack lengthened, then widened. A sharp black claw protruded near the top of the egg, almost invisible against the shell’s surface. It disappeared for a moment before breaking through again at a lower point. Soon, a jagged-edged fragment dropped to the pillows, and the two halves of the egg fell away from the center, revealing a black conglomeration of scales and twisted body parts.

The bundle swelled. Ever so slowly, a pair of wings unfurled, and a head emerged from a coil of neck and limbs. A pair of scaly eyelids blinked, briefly veiling two blue eyes, clouded and without defined pupils. They glowed as if embedded with a phosphorescent dye. As the newborn dragon scanned the room, the glow passed across Zena, then returned to hover over her. Again he spoke to her mind.
Greetings, my friend.

Smiling broadly, Zena extended her hands. “Shall I carry you, my noble king?”

Not yet. I must test my abilities, including my voice and motor skills.

With every phrase, the youngling’s mouth had remained still, yet his words came through clearly, even without the Starlighter’s finger. Apparently the shell had hindered his telepathy powers, and now he could communicate freely with her, a benefit of their spiritual attachment.

When the young dragon stretched out, Zena looked him over. He appeared to be of normal size for a newborn, perhaps five feet long from the tip of his tail to the top of his head. His wings were well-formed, as were his forelegs and hind quarters; no sign of handicap in his body structure at all. He differed from other younglings only in color, jet black instead of reddish brown, with blue eyes instead of yellowish orange.

“I am …” The newborn’s voice squeaked as he spoke in the dragon language. He coughed twice and spat out a wad of thick liquid before trying again. “I am Taushin.”

“A lovely name.” Zena clapped her hands. “You are draconic perfection.”

“He has an impressive form,” Magnar said. “Classic dragon beauty in every way. Yet it is his handicap that will prove his kingly right, and I see no obvious deformity.”

Taushin swung his neck. His light beams drifted across the bigger dragon and toward his face, halting at his eyes. For a moment he appeared to be deep in thought, then his ears perked up. “I have found a new sense of perception and am now comprehending my surroundings through Magnar. Why do I not have this ability myself?”

“How strange.” Zena looked into Taushin’s glazed eyes. Even though her own vision had already dimmed, the truth was evident. “You are blind.”

BOOK: Warrior
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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