Authors: Megg Jensen
Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Copyright © 2015 by 80 Pages, Inc
Published by 80 Pages, Inc
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used factitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form by or any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
Edition: February 2015
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Cover art by Michael Gauss
Cover design by Steven Novak Illustration
In the dark of night, three Green dragons landed on the Isle of Repose’s southernmost beach. They changed into human form and crept through the trees to the battlefield where so many lay dead. The Green had spent many years fearing the Keeper, a deadly being of myth who lived on the island, but he had not shown his face during the battle with the Red. They hoped he would remain hidden this night as well.
"How many do we need?" asked the man with freckles across his nose.
"Three. One for each of us to carry," the woman replied. "It's all we need. At least for tonight."
They each were tasked with choosing a body. The woman found a tall, broad man with his neck bent at an unnatural angle, his red hair matted with blood. She reached down and picked off a speck, then she brought her finger to her lips. A forked tongue snaked out of her mouth and lifted the dried blood from her fingertip. "Hmmm, delicious. This one has potential."
She smiled, fangs protruding from her mouth. Kneeling next to the corpse, she took a quick breath and sank her teeth into the flesh of his neck, sucking as hard as she could. With a smile, her lips pressed against his skin. There was still warm blood in this man. It was strong and filled with life. He was dead, yes, but he hadn't given in easily. It was, perhaps, the strongest corpse she'd ever found.
After draining his blood, she stood and wiped the remnants with the back of her hand.
"Have you both chosen?" she called out into the darkness. The smacking sound of lips against skin answered. So they had both located a target. Good. They could leave quickly before the Keeper realized they were there.
She wasn't stupid. She knew the stories about the Isle of Repose and the Keepers who killed any dragons who came within its borders, but she couldn't resist the pull of so many dead bodies to choose from. Once a dragon, always a dragon. For years, she'd been dying to get past the barrier the Red and Yellow had put up around the Meadowlands, and at last it was gone. She needed fresh meat to build her army, and this island was filled with it. The Black and Green had left for the meadow across the sea after defeating the Red, not taking time to bury the dead. They’d sworn to return the next morning and drop the bodies in the sea. She and her two men had snuck back while the rest were sleeping.
"Hurry. We can't stay long." Her eyes swept the trees. The stars sparkled in the night sky, but they didn't fill her with wonder or reassurance. No, they only reminded her that nothing could hide in the darkness. They'd be discovered if they didn't hurry.
She bent over and easily lifted the large man into her arms. Without the strength of a dragon, she never would have been able to support him. But now, in this perverted part-human, part-dragon form she'd perfected, she could access any of her dragon’s powers. She smiled and let a flame burst out her mouth. The light quickly illuminated the man in her arms.
Oh, was he handsome. The bright red hair was only the first feature that had drawn her to him. His face was perfectly chiseled. His arms bulged with muscles and his legs seemed sturdy. It was a shame he'd had to die.
Her companions ventured closer, holding their victims in their arms. The man with the freckles held a woman with short dark hair, and the other had a man as well, but one not nearly as perfect as the one she'd chosen.
"Take your dragon forms and fly back to the barn. Carry your prize to the hatch and descend into our lair." The two men nodded and changed into dragons, the bodies clutched in their claws as they flew toward the sea.
"You, my pet, will make a magnificent dragon," she said to the corpse in her arms. She brushed his hair from his face. "I'll clean up all the blood and teach you how to serve the Green as we make our next move. No longer will the other dragonlords look down upon us. The time has come for the Green to rise. In the end, we will be the only dragons left."
She tossed the body in the air and deftly caught it with her talons before it landed on the ground. She beat her wings and flew above the water.
Yes. You shall be my general. My prize. The one who was foretold.
Tressa followed the underground tunnel and descended the rough-hewn stairs leading to Decarian's lair. Her heart pounded, and her lips tasted the smoky air. Heat rose from the rocky floor, warming her feet through her boots, reminding her that everything she thought she knew had to be re-learned.
She had traversed the fog surrounding Hutton's Bridge. Survived battles in the Dragonlands. Learned to fight. Learned to love. Learned to live with loss. But nothing, absolutely nothing could have prepared her for the beast in the bowels of the Red castle.
She visited him nightly, when the rest of the castle slept. It was now populated not just by the people of the Red, but also many of the Black and a few Green.
The Black and Green armies had soundly defeated the Red days ago. Once they realized their queen had been disposed of, most had surrendered quickly. Tressa suspected she knew why. The Red Queen had told her many in the Dragonlands were held in thrall, using magic from beyond their borders, from the land called Desolation. Once she was gone, having committed suicide by falling into Decarian’s waiting clutches, the thrall she held over her people would have dissipated, leaving them free to beg for mercy. Tressa dispatched messenger pigeons to the Black, hoping at least one would get through the battle, urging Mestifito to accept their likely surrender.
Tressa took a deep breath. Her hands at her sides in fists, she walked resolutely to the opening of Decarian's lair. Only then did she let out a long sigh.
Decarian’s horned head swayed from side to side. He watched her with black eyes, the claws springing from his hands singing a discordant, chaotic song as he clacked them together. His long forked tongue snaked out of his mouth, hovering in the air within a breath of Tressa's mouth. She never got close enough for him to taste her. Tressa had marked a line in the dirt so she knew exactly where to stop. If Decarian managed to touch her beyond the line, she knew he was closer to breaking free.
"Whoa," said a voice behind her.
Tressa turned. Connor’s mouth was agape. He'd flown to her at the Red castle as soon as he received her message sent by bird. Tressa hadn't wasted any time filling him in, including how she was now a dragon, like him. She'd previously withheld her ability to change into a dragon from her Hutton's Bridge friends. Now that Bastian was dead, she needed Connor even more. There would be no more secrets between friends.
Besides, someone else had to know about Decarian. She couldn't carry the burden alone. And who better to help her than a fellow dragon and former beekeeper?
The One, who had disguised herself as the Red Queen, had told her the honey from Hutton's Bridge kept Decarian under her control. One of the castle workers had explained feeding to Tressa. The Red had bred many goats in the pastures. Every day one was killed, the honey was slathered on it, and it was tossed to Decarian.
The Red’s store of honey they had stolen from Hutton’s Bridge had finally run out, but Tressa had a secret jar of it hidden in a tree hollow near Ashoom. A trusted Black dragon had been dispatched to retrieve it. Once they had the honey, they could resume feeding Decarian. But it wouldn’t last long.
"So do you think you can start making the honey again?" Tressa asked.
Connor shrugged. "I wish I knew. Tressa, you're aware I don't remember much before I was turned to a dragon. It might be in there somewhere," he tapped his head with a finger, "but if it is, I don't know how to access it."
Decarian let out a low chuckle. His rank breath swirled around the two friends.
Tressa covered her mouth and nose with a hand. "The other beekeepers from Hutton’s Bridge died in Malum."
Connor's face fell.
All of the adults had perished from Connor's dragonfire. He hadn't recognized them. All he had seen was a horde of Red dragons coming after him and his friends. Tressa had watched in horror as they burned, all hope of turning them back into humans gone.
Tressa dropped her hand from her face and placed it on Connor's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"
"I know you didn't." Connor gave Decarian one last glance, and turned, leaving the room.
Tressa followed him up to the Red throne room. Though it was the same size as the throne room in Ashoom, with the same high windows big enough for dragons to fly through at the top, the inside couldn't have been more different. Where the Blue's throne room was spacious and filled with gilded furniture and bright colors, the Red's was dark and foreboding. A throne dominated the room, three times as tall as Tressa. It had been carved from the trunk of an old tree and painted with shiny black lacquer. A long blood-red carpet led from the door to the throne, flanked by tall marble pillars. There were no other seats. No tables. Nothing to show visitors that their presence was appreciated. It was obvious the Red Queen hadn’t had any respect for others. The whole room enraged Tressa. There had been so many lies, so many truths withheld. She felt as if the room vibrated with the anger of thousands who had died to keep the secret of Decarian and Desolation. And she still didn't even know more than a tiny bit of the story.
Lights of blue, red, yellow, and pink danced on the stone walls. Outside, the others were throwing a celebration filled with merrymaking and fireworks. They’d won the battle. They’d captured the Red castle. Only a few knew the real war still lay ahead of them.
"Connor, I really am sorry. I don't blame you," Tressa said.
"Of course you don't." He stopped, Tressa nearly running into his back. Connor turned, his brown eyes locked on hers. "You have no problem forgiving anyone for the heinous things they do."
Connor didn't have to say the name. Jarrett. The man Tressa had fallen in love with. He was now controlled by another magical being called the Keeper. At least that's what they had surmised from the events on the Isle of Repose: Jarrett’s massacre of all but one of Connor’s unhatched dragons, his murder of Bastian, and his attack on Tressa herself.
Jarrett lay in a locked and guarded room. An induced coma kept him from hurting anyone else. Three mages stood in a circle around him all hours of the day and night, rotating in fresh mages whenever a time candle was changed. Tressa visited him every day. There was no change. She swore she'd bring him back and restore the man she loved. How could she hold a grudge against Jarrett? He was as innocent as the rest of them. Just another pawn in a game she couldn't begin to understand.
"This isn't about Jarrett," Tressa said.
"I can't believe you don't want to kill him as much as I do." Connor cracked his knuckles.
"Maybe I do," Tressa admitted. "But not until I know he cannot be redeemed. I must know for certain. I won't forfeit his life when there's still a chance. He is not the only prisoner we hold. Destrian, Jacinda’s son and the only remaining Yellow dragon, is also in our custody. We will not kill anyone unnecessarily."
Connor crossed his arms over his chest. "This is one of the reasons you were my best friend, wasn't it? Your big, bleeding heart always wins out."
Tressa smiled. This was the old Connor, the Connor she knew and loved from childhood. "Yes, it was." She punched his arm. "Now, come on, let's try to figure out this problem. We can solve it together."
Connor's face fell. "We're missing one."
Tressa thought of Bastian again. His red hair, as bright as the sun on a warm summer afternoon. His smile that always caused her insides to melt. She'd loved him for a long time, even after she'd left him and moved on with her new life.
"Bastian wouldn't want us to give up. He'd expect us to work together," Tressa said, her voice tinged with sadness.
Connor raked his hands through his sandy hair. "I know I'm not the easiest person to work with. I've been a little moody lately."
"A little?" Tressa asked. "That's an understatement."
"It's hard. I forgot so much when I turned, and there are others who expect much from me."
"Hazel?" Tressa asked. Connor's wife wanted so badly for him to remember her and their boys. "She's been patient, but I don't know if I can give her what she wants."
"Give Hazel a chance," Tressa said. "She might surprise you."
"What am I now?" Connor asked. "Am I human or am I dragon? She doesn't want a monster for a husband."
"Have you asked her?" Tressa spoke softly, her hand resting lightly on Connor's arm. She knew exactly how Hazel felt, how desperately she wanted her husband back, dragon and all. But Connor needed to hear it from Hazel's lips.
Connor stood, straightening out his tunic. "I'll ask her when I return to Hutton's Bridge tomorrow."
"Good," Tressa said. "And be sure to search the village again for any sign of the bees. We need to start producing honey as soon as possible."
"Did the old woman tell you what made the honey in Hutton's Bridge special?" Connor asked. "I could find honeybees anywhere. But it would be months before we could create a plentiful supply of honey, and what if it were the wrong kind from the wrong bees?"
"Hey," Tressa said, brightening, "you do remember a bit about beekeeping. You said it would take months to produce honey."
"I guess," Connor said. "I blurted it out without thinking. Maybe there are some memories trapped in here that I'm still able to access."
Tressa was about to congratulate him on the small breakthrough when the door to the throne room flew open. A woman with pink-streaked stringy black hair and heavy black boots stomped into the room.
"Fi!" Tressa said.
Her new, but quickly dearest, friend strode across the room and fell into a kneel before Tressa. "My queen," Fi said.
"Get up." Tressa nudged Fi with her foot. "Not funny."
Fi stood, laughing. "I don't know. I'm kind of enjoying this."
"I'm taking off now," Connor said. "If you need anything, send a pigeon."
"I will. And thank you." Tressa kissed him on the cheek. "Be safe."
"You, too." Connor sprinted to the edge of the throne room. He jumped, and before his feet could hit the ground, he changed into his Blue dragon form and flew out an upper window.
"I may have come up with a solution to our problem." Fi pointed toward the depths of the dungeons and Decarian. Tressa had taken Fi there first, trusting her more than anyone.
"What is it?" Tressa asked.
"I've been talking to Donovan."
"The one-eyed man with the gray cloak?" Tressa had only met him briefly when he'd brought Jarrett to the castle after the battle on the Isle of Repose.
"Yeah. He says we need to go into Desolation. Answers might lie beyond the border."
"What? No! We don't know what's over there." Tressa’s hands were on her hips. "I won't allow it. You'll get yourself killed."
"I won't," Fi insisted. "Donovan isn't of the Dragonlands. He says he’s from Desolation and he's willing to go back to help us."