The Dragonling: Chapter 1, “Brinnan Burning”

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Last week I announced the title for my 5th book, Dragonling. : the 5th volume in the Elf Gate series. This week, for some reason, I feel compelled to share the first chapter. 🙂 I’ve never shared large blocks of my writing on my blog before, though I’ve shared drafts on private sites and places like Wattpad. (In fact, the first four books are available on Wattpad, but keep in mind they are drafts. The final, polished projects are only available through Amazon and Smashwords.) So, anyway, since this is a freak impulse I have to follow it. Maybe it’s because this book is long overdue, so I feel I must offer something to my readers to let them know that I truly am working hard to finish it as soon as I can.

This chapter will be added to the end of the 4th book, Atheling, as I have added the 1st chapter of “next” books to “previous” books each time I add a new volume. It will be in the sample that will be made available for browsing on Amazon and Smashwords. This is still the 4th draft of this chapter and formatting does funky things when pasting from Scrivener to Word Press. Things like paragraph indentations and italics are lost. Subtle editing revisions might still occur between now and publication of the book.

As this is from the 5th book in a series, keep in mind that this is full of SPOILERS for books 1-4! So, if you are not caught up in the series, or you don’t want to start with book 5 because it won’t make sense, enter at your own risk. 😉

(Edit: I’ve decided the stripping of the formatting is just too horrible to not try to fix. Pardon me whilst I attempt to add some better spacing and italics back in.) 😉

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Excerpt from Dragonling,

copyright 2016 Melody Daggerhart

Chapter 1: “Brinnan Burning”

 

Brinnan was burning.

Dismayed at the destruction of the seat of the elven kingdom, but unable to let herself become distracted by it, Frostfang swept over the large city tucked between forests and mountains and kept heading west. The white wyvern’s wings, torn and bloodied as they were, ached with each push required to keep her large body aloft, but she had to catch the red drake racing ahead of her.

They had fought talon-against-talon, magic-against-magic over the crumbling Gate of Nýú. She had protected the airship attempting to use the gate. He had protected the elder dragon whose soul was trapped in the ancient portal, until it could rise again.

“I am Herjarynbál of the new Order of the Dragon, which is responsible for your freedom,” the red drake shouted as soon as the risen elder stretched his wings and bellowed his rage at the two-thousand-year banishment he had endured. “Brinnan is now the capital city of the light elf Kingdom of Aesethna. If revenge is what you desire, feed upon the Derra Eirlyn of the Fen Dynasty there! Show the fae of light the true power of their ancient dragon-gods by finishing off their traitorous allies once and for all!”

“Don’t listen to him!” Frostfang had begged the risen elder. “The old war is over! All of us are better off if we do not start a new one! Take a moment to breathe in your freedom! Isn’t freedom what you truly want?”

The risen elder spat a gout of flames, forcing her to dive out of his way. Right now, all he wanted was justice.
As the risen elder flew toward Brinnan to join the siege, Frostfang started to pursue, but Herjarynbál’s talons pierced her wings and held on tight. “You picked the wrong side to favor, Frósútathán.”

“The War of the Blood Reign ended two thousand years ago!” she argued. “Seeking revenge now won’t change the past!”

“The Fen Dynasty must be punished for what it did to the other dragon enclaves! And you will be punished for protecting the Prince’s airship!” Herjarynbál turned west and flew toward the mountains.

Frostfang screeched as her wings were torn and released. At first she had no idea why he would threaten punishment, but then leave. However, if he was the same red drake who helped the Derra Erilyn’s agents attack the refugee settlement on her mountain, then he most certainly could punish her by returning there. “NO!” Her own two-thousand-year banishment in the Gate of Ska left her slow and weak compared to the younger, battle-ready drake. Frostfang struggled to keep the red drake in sight during the chase.

Herjarynbál reached the dead volcano first and circled until he found the back entrance to her under-mountain lair. By the time she scrambled like a clumsy, grounded bat toward her interior grotto, she was horrified to see Herjarynbál had smashed every egg in site. Some had been crushed under his feet. Some he had slung against the gotto walls. He even went so far as to devour some of them.

The brood mother shrieked and shook with fury, spitting alternating bouts of fire and ice at the drake before launching herself onto his back.

Herjarynbál’s neck snaked over his shoulder, his teeth snapping the longest, strongest bone in her wing before throwing her to the ground. With his fore and hind legs, he shredded her wings further and scratched off her scales. He gored her with his horns.

Frostfang became dizzy with pain trying to fend him off, until he lifted and threw her against the grotto wall near her bloody, cannibalized nest. He followed the physical attack with magic from his frosty breath. Then, as she struggled against the growing numbness in her extremities, he stormed over the mutilated corpses and broken shells and took flight once more.

“My babies …” The white wyvern wept as she dragged her broken body over the scattered, gruesome remains. “My precious dragonlings …” Like the broken shells scattered across the grotto, her heart felt as if it had been shattered into thousands of tiny pieces that would never fit back together again.

Combing though the branches of her pine tree nest, she saw that one perfect, little egg had escaped the slaughter. It had fallen and rolled behind the coffin of the light elf Princess which Frostfang had agreed to guard for Reznetha’ir, until he could return for it. She had no idea how long she spent grieving before trying to contact the rebel leader, but for some reason her mind-speak could not reach him. Frostfang’s struggle to stay alert eventually fell into immeasurable darkness.

)(

Brinnan was burning.

The marble and crystal façades that once reflected the brilliance of the sun and moon were now beacons of fire exploding beneath a sky of smoke and ash. The War of the Blood Reign ended over two thousand years ago, but the newly freed ancient dragons attacked with ferocity because the war had never truly ended for them.

Three days ago, Dheryl-Kin Erys Fen-Da’en sent guards to Ilisram’s tower, high in the mountains on the city’s outskirts. Ilisram knew the King would eventually uncover his involvement in the conspiracy, but it had happened sooner than expected. Forced to acknowledge that his days as a palace steward were over, Ilisram escaped to his necromancy lab hidden in the sewers beneath the Three Tiers, the waterfalls of Brinnan’s Court District. The dark elf had spent his time watching events unfold through scrying spells ever since.

He had set them throughout the underground ruins of Absin’navad. He left them in the airship that the exiled Prince and his rebel friends repaired to rescue the refugees held hostage there. And he watched his tower being patrolled and searched by Derra Eirlyn guards, until Brinnan fell under the dragon siege. When the guards were recalled to the city’s defense, Ilisram used another pentacle card to teleport back to his tower.

An imp agent of House Skeradú, Rewúguzúl, was waiting for him with a gray sack full of gate documents he had successfully stolen from the Prince and his allies. Ilisram felt having an agent posted at the weakened gate beneath the town of Tántara at the same time the rogue-prince visited came down to a stroke of good fortune. Trizryn and his friends killed the risen dragon-god. But in spite of that loss, the imp stayed with them until he could get his hands on the documents.

Ilisram had spent the rest of the siege packing to leave his home on the surface world … for now. Every award he earned for magic studies and service to the fae court was displayed within these halls. He was tempted to pack them, too, but any sentiment for the past might impede his future. Even if the entire tower burned, he had most of what he truly needed in his underground lab.

Packing done, Ilisram paused at his window to watch the ancient dragon-gods destroy the city that betrayed them. He had no regrets about enabling such justice. Then using one final talisman card, Ilisram and the imp teleported back underground. He would be secure here for the duration of the siege … or at least until he could begin the next stage of his Shadow Elf Conspiracy.

Sweeping past his guards at the tunnel entrance, Ilisram strode through the cavern and ante-chamber down the hall to his lab. “I’ll be doing research in my private chambers,” he announced to two female dark elves monitoring the holographic scrying device near his enchantment altar. “I don’t wish to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”

Underground, the attacks sounded like thunder and shook the earth. They seemed worried, though Ilisram had assured his House staff that this lab could withstand anything, including dragon fire. Both women nodded at his orders, but continued watching the Siege of Brinnan with fear and fascination.

Ilisram continued down the hall past the armory, bath, library, and bunker junctions to the chamber at the end of the corridor. Closing the doors, he locked them, then set the gray sack on the bar and sorted the documents by type for further study. A moment later, he sighed … then frowned.

Folding his hands behind his back, he turned away to approach the fountain behind the headboard of his bed. A soothing stream of water trickled through the mouth of a dragon’s skull into a basin whose stone ledge doubled as a small altar. Dipping a silver bowl into the water, he set it on the stone ledge and waited for the ripples to still. Then he cast a scrying spell upon its surface and watched as his own reflection turned into a shadowed vision of someone else.

Ilisram bowed with deep respect. “Your Grace, is there any word on the Dheryl-Kin’s return yet?”

The eyes within the dragon skull mounted on the wall glowed white. “The Arch-Dragon sent word to all elite forces as soon as the Dheryl-Kin’s unexpected disappearance was reported. Locater spells have been cast, but nothing has indicated his whereabouts yet. He might be beyond range, or just using magic to cloak his presence. I highly doubt that foolish little human’s teleportation staff could kill a dragon—especially one as powerful as Erys Fen-Da’en. If it was that easy to get rid of him, Ysmé and I would have hit him with a teleportation enchantment centuries ago. We can’t afford to waste concern on him; the Arch-Dragon and half of the Derra Eirlyn are firmly entrenched as his loyal shields. We must remove them while Erys is missing, or when he comes back—and he will—he will fortify his defenses a thousand-fold.”

“Then with the Winter Court in your capable hands, My Lady, I will turn my attention to the triptych. One of my agents has had the good fortune of recovering the stolen gate documents. However, it seems Trizryn failed to get them translated, as I hoped he would.”

“Master Vadis-Shin’s codes are baffling to say the least,” the shadowy figure agreed. “He intentionally scrambled his notes to spite me, but I would have had those documents translated long before now if I had been able to claim them before they were locked away in the Forbidden Archives.”

“Well, as you know, I had originally planned to lure Reznetha’ir to Rólundór for translations by mentioning the vaults and the Crypt in a forged letter from the Tamaseleuf. I wasn’t counting on him sending Trizryn, instead. I needed the golem to steal the documents. If anyone was capable of breaking into the Derra Eirlyn’s Forbidden Archives, from the outside, it would be him. But then I intended to keep him and rip Kethrei’s memories for the location of the triptych. I suppose we are fortunate his summoner blundered into our plans and stole the documents for him, and that my agent—”

“Fortunate? Fiasco is more like it,” the voice reprimanded. “Had the Dheryl-Kin not accidentally disappeared, there would be no saving the golem from his talons—never mind the near loss of the gate documents because you could not control Trizryn’s summoner. Have you located his airship yet?”

“Herjarynbál successfully prevented it from using the Gate of Nýú to take the human back to her world. The risen elder has joined the siege on Brinnan, and Nýú has fallen like the other gates. He also reported that a white wyvern tried to protect the airship. He believes it was the elder from the Gate of Ska—Frósútothán. She refused to join us when we freed her … said she wished to remain neutral. But when we raided the refugees on her mountain, she attacked us. Herjarynbál said he has already punished her for interfering again. For now, the airship has landed in the northwestern wilderness, but I will keep an eye on any further movement.”

“What are their coordinates? I will dispatch someone to collect the Prince at once.”

Ilisram froze. “Your Eminence, now that we have the gate documents, we might not need the golem’s memories. If someone in Rólundór can verify which languages make up the code, we can use magic to create a key and unravel it. It’s still likely Vadis-Shin recorded the location of Kethrei’s tomb, since Ysmé hired him behind your back to—”

“Choose your next words carefully, elf. If you think I trust you just because you tattled on Ysmé and Vadis-Shin, you would do well to remember that you also collaborated on that little golem project behind my back.”

And had I not agreed to Her Majesty’s request for necromantic help, Kethrei’s key to the triptych’s location would be lost to you forever, Ilisram countered in his thoughts—only in his thoughts, of course.

“Time is running out before the Dheryl-Kin returns, and his exiled heir is becoming more resourceful. You said Erys and Trizryn joined forces to storm Absin’navad together. Since both of them know you are responsible for K’tía’s assassination, both of them will want justice. They might join forces against you again.”

“That’s highly unlikely considering Trizryn and his allies just attacked Erys, teleporting him elsewhere.”

“You said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that the estranged father and step-son would unite against you in the first place, but they did.”

Ilisram clenched his teeth at the reprimand, but held his tongue.

“You also reported that Trizryn has a number of dark elves among his alliances now.”

“No doubt associated with the blood smuggler my hired assassin used to track him in the warrens. They are but one small fortress of rogues from the middle of nowhere, by the looks of it. They will be no match for the unified armies of House Skeradú and the new Order, Your Grace.”

The shadowed woman in the scrying reflection raised a hand. “Regardless, your underestimation of the Dheryl-Kún and his allies is what led to this chaos. I will not make that same mistake. I want Trizryn on our side before Erys tries to kill him again, and before he gains enough power of his own to not need either of us.

“We will never get a better opportunity to overthrow the Fen Dynasty than while the Dheryl-Kin is missing with no heir on his throne. Brinnan belongs to us now. However, if we do not take the rest of the kingdom with haste, we risk losing everything we’ve waited so long and worked so hard for.

“If you cannot translate the documents and find the triptych soon, we’ll have no choice but to take Kethrei’s memories directly from Trizryn. Now where is his airship?”

Ilisram briefly considered lying. Perhaps part of him wanted to protect his handiwork, but a larger part of him simply had other designs for the princely golem. “The coordinates indicate he has found the Bloodstone Sidhe.”

A moment of silence followed before his contact spoke again. “Is that the place where—”

“Yes. So the fact that he’s there probably means he knows everything.”

“You said you destroyed all evidence on the experiments.”

“Everything I could find. Her Majesty cleaned out and locked down the castle the first time Trizryn was arrested. The personal journals she kept disappeared. If they still exist, and if Trizryn finds them … Kethrei might awaken.” Ilisram walked back to his bar to study the map of Aesethna tacked on the wall. “If the soul shard housing Kethrei’s memories becomes fully—or even partially—conscious again, the golem could become even more unpredictable than he already is. We must leave him be, for the moment. Vadis-Shin’s research on the gates is the safer alternative for finding the triptych. We must decode his notes before attempting any further contact with the golem because we might need whatever he had to say about Kethrei to deal with Trizryn.”

“Then that is even more reason to make Trizryn an offer he cannot refuse. Ilisram, you are to continue with your plans to translate the gate documents; if you succeed, you will still be rewarded as we agreed. But from now on, you will leave the politics of the fae court and the fate of the golem to me. Are we clear?”

The necromancer’s jaw set again, but he faced the dragon skull above the fountain and offered another formal bow. “Very clear, Your Grace.”

)(

Brinnan was burning.

But its King was unaware. The golden dragon caught the wind under his wings and pushed himself north toward home. All Erys carried was the satchel containing the mind rips his Arch-Mage took from Trizryn, Reznetha’ir, and Shei—evidence to condemn each of them for treason, evidence to convict Ilisram for the murder of the Princess K’tía.

As Erys flew through the misty clouds, his heart broke recalling the scene recorded in Reznetha’ir’s memory sphere. K’tía, his one and only true heir, had intercepted the mortal wound Ilisram meant to deliver to her good-for-nothing step-brother’s summoner, Kassí. Trizryn had dragged his sister into his shady dealings, but was nowhere in sight to protect her when tragedy struck—typical. To retrieve the Princess’s body and bring her murderer to justice, Erys had joined forces with his wife’s bastard. When no body was found, Erys sought to exact justice on Trizryn, too.

But Trizryn had been sprung from his dungeon by his allies, including another traitorous summoner, his own former Derra Eirlyn secret emissary, and a human bearing a staff of teleportation. She had used that staff to send him here—wherever here was. The weather was unseasonably warm over this ocean, so he assumed he was in the tropics. If so, it would take him awhile to fly back to Brinnan … even if he found ley lines to teleport him back to the palace or Derra Eirlyn Fortress. And his wings were already beginning to tire, considering how long it had been since he flew in his true form.

If only he had not been forced to wait until K’tía’s coronation to tell her the truth about her heritage. If the child had known she had the strength and magic of a dragon, perhaps she could have defended herself and killed Ilisram. She would have known why she had to stay away from her bastard of a dark elf brother in the first place, rather than loping after him like a loyal puppy. His step-son had defied him for the last time.

Erys swooped low and briefly dragged the tips of his hot wings in the cooling waves. Anguished rage bellowed from his maw, followed by a gout of flames that hit the water with a steaming hiss.

For the millionth time he cursed his deceased wife for creating such an abomination. Erys didn’t believe the obscure prophecy the conniving bitch spewed at him the night he took her as his bride, but she had been plotting to destroy his entire court and council ever since. Little did he know her weapon of choice would be an heir from an illicit love affair—or so everyone thought. The mind rips revealed a different truth about her bastard—Trizryn was a golem.

A god-damned golem!

Though a dragon herself, Ysmé had always been a fae sympathizer. Somehow she impregnated herself with a dark elf changeling concocted of magic in a test tube. Then she cursed him with immortality, making him nearly as powerful and indestructible as any dragon. Trizryn was nothing more than a walking, talking spell designed to usurp the throne—if not by legal inheritance, by force. Erys had already answered his wife’s betrayal by hiring Trizryn’s assassin friend to poison her. A few altered memories here and there, and no one was the wiser about the Queen’s prolonged illness … until Mahntarei threatened Erys with a public confession in front of Trizryn.

However, like dragons, neither golems nor vampires are truly immortal. Conjuration and illusion spells can be dispelled by reversal or anti-magic. Vampires can be beheaded or burned. Trizryn had escaped twice before, but now that Erys knew exactly what he was dealing with, he would see to it that Ysmé’s abomination would never escape execution again.

~My Leige!~ an urgent voice in his mind interrupted his thoughts. It was the Arch-Dragon of the Derra Eirlyn, one of many private mind-speak links he maintained with various draconian elders and advisers. Normally Arch-Dragon Kua’íd-Mada—or Arch-Duke, as he was publicly known among the fae—was a very cool and detached drake. It was one of the reasons he was chosen to head the Derra Eirlyn. ~Your Majesty! Brinnan is besieged! By dragons!~

“What!” Erys roared aloud.

~Baron Shádek-Shyúl has every Derra Eirlyn regular and elite unit available on the ground and city walls, but his defenses are already weakening. These dragons are … utterly mad! They’re destroying everything in site! I’ve dispatched warnings to every ýeórl in every province to ready their highest defenses, but we were awaiting your orders regarding the deployment of the dragon lords when word arrived that you were … missing. I question the delay in the delivery of such news from the lower ranks, but it is good to know you are alive and well, Your Majesty. Please advise. Do we risk letting the fae know we are dragons in order to defend the city? There is no way the fae forces can withstand this without our dragon lords flying at full strength.~

Trizryn had broken into the palace to warn him about Ilisram’s impending Shadow Elf Conspiracy and his plans to unleash the ancient dragons trapped in the elf gates. Erys had planned to dispatch Derra Eirlyn units to each of the gates after Trizryn’s execution for high treason. He had hoped to catch Ilisram in the act and behead him for high treason, too. Erys had not planned on Trizryn’s human hitting him with her insufferable teleportation stick!

Humans had always meant trouble for the fae realms. This one was no exception. Yet Trizryn had the gall to share his blood magic with this one, creating a sacred Majean Bond between them? Blasphemy upon abomination! Smoke puffed from the gold dragon’s nostrils as his brow furrowed. A low, guttural growl stoked his inner fire.

~Call an emergency, combined meeting of the Winter Court and the Derra Eirlyn. Tell them you have confirmed I am alive and of sound mind, and you carry my full authority to deploy defense operations, until I arrive. I am activating my mark as proof that you speak for me.~ He cast the spell that would reveal his royal seal on the Arch-Dragon’s face.

~Your Majesty … I’m receiving word that the Winter Court has been destroyed. The dome has been set ablaze and smashed.~

~Then take everyone down to the war room! I want every noble representative of every province, temple, and house present when I get back—especially House Skeradú,~ he growled. ~In fact, lock down every member of House Skeradú under elite guard, and put all shadow elves—every one of them—under house arrest! Open the lower levels of the dungeon to contain them if you must. Armaan Ilisram Álthló-Dégar is responsible for this Shadow Elf Conspiracy. I want him rooted out of wherever he’s hiding before he releases any more Blood Reign elders from the gates.~

~These dragons are … Blood Reign elders?~ Arch-Dragon Kua’id-Mada was silent, as if needing a moment to wrap his head around that. ~Troops on watch at Armaan Áthló-Dégar’s private tower have been withdrawn to defend the city. Should I have Baron Shádek-Shyúl send them back?~

~Only the regulars. Regulars are no match for a dragon siege and would be put to better use hunting Ilisram. We can mind-rip someone else for the interrogation; I want him dead. Do you understand? I’m bringing evidence that he murdered my daughter, so he’s already received all the trial he’s going to get. Select your best hunters. Ilisram is no average dark elf. He is a dragon priest with a mastery of soul magic and necromancy.~

~Yes, Your Majesty.~

~Dispatch the elite units nearest to the ancient gates immediately! Use whatever transport is necessary to get them there as soon as possible; any dragon lords assigned to those units should take their riders.~

~Yes, Your Majesty.~

~In the city itself, all summoners should summon all bonded wards to hold our ground and free elite warriors for dealing directly with the risen elders.~

~All of them? But that many wards at once … They might riot.~

~When they see those dragons, they’ll be too scared shitless to riot. And with the summoners controlling them, they’ll know the only way to survive is to do as they’re told while the armed units are backing them. If we start losing wards, knuckle-down to the slaves. Oh, and warn every dragon in the court and council it may be necessary to shift into true form to defend the city, but do not give the order until you hear back from me.~

~Should I evacuate any fae nobles and household staff not attending the meetings? I was thinking the slave pens might be safe.~

~No. As one of the leaders of House Skeradú, Ilisram knows how to find the slave pens. He even acted as overlord on several raids. For all we know, he’s messed with their minds to turn them against us. Have the summoners check for sorcery influencing their minds should slaves be summoned.~

~Then should I evacuate as many fae as possible?~

~Take any fae nobles and household staff not attending the meeting into the undercity. They won’t like it, but the invading elders will have to shift into smaller forms to attack anyone down there … unless Ilisram already has shadow elves waiting to purge it. If Brinnan looks lost don’t waste time on anyone else; defend the rest of the kingdom. Get the dragon armies to the gates and find Ilisram. I will meet you in the war room as soon as I can.~

~As you wish, Your Majesty.~

One way or another, Ilisram and his fae conspirators would soon face the wrath of their Dragon-King. And he, Erys Fen-Da’en, would be the last Fen Dheryl-Kin of Aesethna to tolerate the Derra Eirlyn’s ancient pact with the dark elves of House Skeradú.

)(

Brinnan was burning.

News of the dragon attack on the elven city had shocked Aija and weighed heavily on her mind because the company aboard the airship was helpless to do anything about it. Brinnan was far away and the least of their worries at the moment.

The soft, blue light of the glowworms covering the ceiling of the tunnel in which she stood made any exposed, dangling roots resemble snakes. But trying not to think of worms and snakes falling on her head made it difficult to focus on the cluster of geothermal formations arranged in an unnatural circle at the tunnel’s dead end. The rune-marked stalagmites were unlike any other rock present—dark grayish-green with red spots. A ring of similar stalactites mirrored the spires on the ground. Each rested alternately between the others forming a cage-like chamber around a spiral staircase. Above the stairs, hung a thick, mysterious fog.

The Mists of the Veil seemed alive, for lack of a better word. They ebbed and flowed like a creature anxious to pounce whatever came within reach. Some of the mist settled on the ground around the geothermal formations, but the Veil itself was contained by magic within the stone circle.

When she was a child, Aija’s grandmother used to read stories to her about the “Fair Folk” and “Gentry” and the sidhe (or shee) they supposedly haunted. Historically, most sidhe were just earthen burial mounds built by ancient Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings. But legends claimed that fay sidhe marked the thin places in the Veil between the world of humans and the invisible realm of the fay beyond it. These mystical mounds were supposed to hold strange wonders like castles in the sky, kingdoms of eternal youth, and wild hunts where fairy kings hunted magical beasts. King Arthur supposedly passed through the Mists of the Veil into Avalon, where its mysterious inhabitants miraculously healed and still hold the Once and Future King in a magical slumber, until his own kingdom has need of him again.

Aija was in that Otherworld now because the elf gate that transported her here was destroyed by an ancient dragon trapped within it. The legends, it turns out, were sometimes right and sometimes skewed. She saw no evidence that King Arthur ever arrived, but Shei had claimed Shakespeare visited once. She never knew which of the elven bard’s stories were true, and which were mere tests of gullibility.

One obvious truth was that fae civilization had advanced into an industrial age with their magical technology, like how humans evolved, only differently. But according to their old laws, any humans caught in the fae realms—in the Kingdom of Aesethna, at least—were to be executed on sight. Though her fae friends were already fugitives from the Derra Eirlyn, they risked further charges of treason for harboring her.

The more Aija learned about the fae and their realms, the more she wished she could re-read her grandmother’s books. But finding another elf gate to Winderbury had now become everyone’s problem. Ancient dragon-gods were breaking free from imprisonment in the gates. The shattered gates were releasing the Mists of the Veil into the worlds they touched, destabilizing anything near them. And now Brinnan was under seige—the beginning of another dragon war.

Lost in these thoughts, she collided into the back of the dark elf in front of her when the elven scouting party came to an abrupt halt.

“And you have no idea which Otherworld this leads to?” Reznetha’ir asked. The tall, bone-white elf with black shoulder-length hair and spruce-green eyes rubbed the long scar that marred his mouth.

“No,” Trizryn answered. Beneath the dirty, white hood of the veðrkylk he wore, the charcoal-gray elf’s silver-white eyes reflected metallic red in the light elves’ wisp spells. Such were the animalistic traits of the eyes of dark elves and the undead. “But the castle is there, and the anchor should be safe.”

“As long as the Veil remains contained,” Reznetha’ir added what Trizryn left unspoken.

Trizryn had told Aija every fae child was raised to have a healthy fear of wild places where the Veil was present. The shifting tides of the ethereal oceans could rip things out of one world and transport them to another with no way back. Fae caught in the untamed mists were never seen again.

“An anchor may not be a true gate, but it operates on the same principles to stabilize the Veil,” the vampire assured the rebel leader. “The difference is it has only one fixed point … similar to how Chizrae’s realms books work.”

Reznetha’ir remained doubtful. “Chizrae’s books are a one-way ticket.”

“Aija and I were able to return here after stepping through. This anchor is safe,” Trizryn assured him.

Shei gazed up at the mists and used two of his long, blond braids to tie back the rest of the braids worn around his head. “Do you really think these dimensional holes were created by dragons? I mean, if it’s true, you’d think someone somewhere in the past would have mentioned that.” Among the fae present, no one knew more about elven history and lore than him.

“Maybe someone did, and you didn’t pay attention,” Aija answered.

His azure eyes crinkled with his wide grin of recognition, and he wagged a finger at her for throwing his own words back at him. Her response mimicked something he’d said after she questioned the validity of his tales shortly after they met.

“Someone did write it down—Master Sa’um Vadis-Shin wrote about it in his journal,” Trizryn reminded them. “But for over two thousand years the Fen Dynasty and the Derra Eirlyn have been covering up both the existence of the gates and the fact that they are dragons, so that’s why he had to write more than half of it in an undecipherable code.”

“Which we still need to try to translate as soon as possible.” Reznetha’ir gestured to one of the glowing runes on the stones. “Aija, can your communication device record the images on these?”

She fumbled in her pocket for her phone and successfully snapped a few pictures. But these stones bore no elf stars like the other gates they found. Curious, she touched one of the runes. Its thrum made her skin prickle with magical vibrations, but they didn’t activate for her as they had for Trizryn. His mother had magically woven the anchor’s “key” spell right into his body, along with all the other spells she used to craft her son—her golem.

Reznetha’ir faced Trizryn. “Are you sure no one else in the Winter Court knows about this place?”

“No,” the rogue-prince answered. “But my Mother’s letter asked me to bring K’tía here. If this place was meant to be a safe-house for her heirs, it was probably kept secret from Erys, the Winter Court, and the Derra Eirlyn. If my hunch is right about Ilisram placing scrying spells on the airship to find the refugees on Frostfang’s mountain, he’s a greater threat to us right now than anyone back in Brinnan … or whatever might be squatting in an abandoned fortress.”

Reznetha’ir’s head bobbed in sullen agreement. Then, conceding to the undead Prince, the rebel leader drew his sword. “Well, you know what they say: sometimes the only way around it is through it.”

“That’s an elven saying, too?” Aija powered down her mobile and tucked it back into her pocket. She wasn’t sure how it worked now, since Eisiden rewired its dead battery to a magic crystal, but she didn’t want to risk running it down. Closing her fingers over the silver teleportation locket on her bracelet—unsure whether its magic was even capable of bringing her back, should something go wrong—she and the other elves followed Reznetha’ir up the stairs into the Otherworld.

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