Authors: Matthew Ballard
“Lora created the sphere that controls nature magic,” Rika said.
“And Elan created the sphere used to enhance life,” Ronan said.
“Yes,” Moira said. “You’ll also hear them called by different names, the earth sphere and the soul sphere. Their colleague, Trace, controls a third sphere granting elemental powers.”
“What happened to him?” Ronan said.
“He grew hungry for more power,” Moira said. “He and hundreds of his Ayralen practitioners traveled into the desert seeking out the dragons. Trace acquired enough elemental knowledge to control those dragons born with elemental magic. He created a kingdom with his followers called Obsith. He enslaved the dragons and ordered them to turn on their kind. Trace slaughtered hundreds of dragons gifted in the areas of magic not under his control. A handful of dragon’s fled the desert and found sanctuary here in the Adris Mountains.”
“How many dragons live in the Adris Mountains?” Ronan said.
“Not enough,” Moira said. “The sea offers a bounty unlike any the dragons have ever encountered. But, they have limited breeding locations.”
“There must be a million places to lay dragon eggs in these mountains,” Ronan said.
“It’s not simply a matter of location. Dragon’s must incubate their eggs beneath hot dry sand.” Moira waved her hand around the dragon’s nest. “Abzu and Tiamat carried this sand here one mouthful at a time. They spent months gathering it from the beaches and shallow waters spanning the coast. I know a dozen dragons scattered throughout the mountains on this side of the barrier. They want to reclaim the desert, but both the barrier and Trace have stopped them.”
“Trace is still alive?” Ronan said.
Moira shrugged. “Perhaps. The magic contained in the sphere could keep him alive indefinitely.”
“Moira, I haven’t heard you mention the name Tara, but you bristled earlier when Ronan mentioned her name,” Rika said.
“Yes, dear. That’s an unfortunate part of the story and it leads us to the present day.” Moira shifted, adjusting her back against the rocky wall. “During the years Elan spent studying Gabriel’s notes, he traveled to a hamlet in northwest Meranthia. He sought Gabriel’s ancient laboratory, instead he met Tara.”
“Did he find the laboratory?” Rika said.
Moira shook her head. “He found something better. You see, Tara commanded a unique gift and provided the missing link to the group’s research.”
“Gift?” Ronan said.
“Tara can see soul threads Ronan,” Moira said.
“What are soul threads?” Ronan said.
“Elan’s sphere works by bonding with the knight’s that control its power.”
Ronan recalled standing in the arena last summer. He'd seen the multicolored lines stretch between the knights and Elan’s sphere. “I’ve seen those threads.”
Moira smiled. “It’s the nature of the sphere’s magic. The magic contained within all three spheres imprints itself on human souls. With Tara’s help, the pace of Elan’s research multiplied.”
“Why didn’t Tara use soul magic like Gabriel?” Rika said.
“She was born with half of Gabriel’s gift,” Moira said. “Tara couldn’t manipulate souls, but she could sense their power.”
“What happened between her and Elan?” Rika said.
“Tara and Elan grew very close and developed an unshakable bond,” Moira said.
“What about Lora?” Rika said. “Wasn’t she jealous?”
“Elan and Lora grew even closer during this time, and she worried about his and Tara’s burgeoning friendship. Lora came to believe that Tara obsessed over Elan.”
“Did Elan break it off?” Rika said.
“Not at first. He viewed Tara as the little sister he never had, and thought Lora was overreacting.”
Ronan could sympathize with Elan. How could any man expect to read a woman’s mind? “How did she develop her…death magic?”
“She worked on it without Elan’s knowledge or consent. Tara found pieces of Gabriel’s research and kept it hidden. Using those notes, she developed a way to trap souls as their human hosts died.”
Rika shivered. “I can understand why she kept it to herself. That’s horrible.”
Moira nodded. “Indeed.”
“So she used her death magic against Elan?” Ronan said.
“Not at all. In her own way, she loved Elan,” Moira said. “In fact, she helped quell an uprising from citizens angry over Elan’s research. During the uprising, Tara captured the souls of fallen soldiers and used them to defeat the rebellion.”
“What did Elan do?” Rika said.
“Tara was so overjoyed from saving Elan’s life that she admitted her love to him,” Moira said.
“Oh boy,” Ronan said.
“As you can imagine, Elan wasn’t happy,” Moira said. “Not only did he reject Tara’s affection, but he forbade her from ever using death magic again.”
“I bet she wasn’t happy about that.” Rika said.
Moira shook her head. “Elan took the added step of shunning her. He excluded her from his research and forced her away from Freehold. He ordered her to live out her remaining days alone.”
“I’m sure that didn’t go over well,” Ronan said.
Moira chuckled. “That’s an understatement. Tara was so enraged, she found Trace and allied with him to destroy Lora and Elan.”
Ronan’s eyebrows furrowed. “Moira, how do you know so much about Elan and Lora?”
“Dragons were very much a part of human history until Trace’s betrayal, and of course the shattering. They’ve handed these stories down through the centuries, and they’ve told them to me.”
“What led to the shattering?” Ronan said.
“And we come to the end of the story,” Moira said. “It doesn’t have a happy ending I’m afraid.”
“We need to hear it,” Ronan said.
“Elan and Lora linked their power. They created a set of wedding bands they, or their children, could use to rebuild the spheres if they became tainted. They also built a safety mechanism into the spheres.”
Ronan leaned forward hanging on Moira’s words. He stood on the brink of understanding the world’s greatest mystery. But, he couldn’t help feeling Moira’s explanation would lead to more questions.
“If Meranthia or Ayralen came under threat, they could destroy the spheres. Doing so left behind residual bits of magic trapped inside its broken shards.”
“Residual bits? Moira those shards imbued great magic into their holders,” Ronan said.
“Yes, I suppose it’s all in the scale isn’t it? Most of the sphere’s energy went to create a barrier large enough to cover Meranthia. Likewise, Lora’s sphere for Ayralen.”
“Sir Alcott mentioned these barriers. He said he read about them in the Book of Order. What does it do?” Ronan said.
“The barrier prevented physical entry into both Ayralen and Meranthia. But more importantly, magic, other than the residual bits found in the shards, won’t work. At least not the magic Tara and Trace commanded.”
“What about the dragons in the Adris Mountains? They would take the offerings the villagers at Porthleven left behind. Didn’t they cross through the barriers?” Ronan said.
“The barrier extended well into the Adris Mountain range. We’re sitting near its former border now. Mountain dragons have lived inside the barrier avoiding humankind.”
“What forced Elan and Lora to shatter the spheres?” Rika said. “It was Tara wasn’t it?”
Moira nodded. “That’s part of it. Tara surfaced and began reanimating the dead from villages scattered throughout Meranthia. By the time she marched on Freehold’s steps, she’d built a formidable army. If the threat had been Tara’s alone, Elan and Lora could’ve prevailed. Trace and Tara built an alliance, but he never intended to share the spoils with her. He wanted all three spheres for himself. He sent legions of dragons and sorcerers into Meranthia to take them. According to the few dragons that escaped the desert, Trace grew convinced he could combine the sphere’s power. He dreamed of commanding magic as Gabriel had.”
“Can he?” Ronan said.
Moira shook her head. “I don’t know the answer to that question, but Trace never held the capacity for magic like Gabriel. Until recently, no human has displayed Gabriel’s capacity for magic.”
“So they shattered the spheres,” Ronan said. “But what happened to Elan and Lora?”
“The shattering had consequences Ronan. Destroying such a powerful artifact bound so tightly to Elan killed him. He destroyed the sphere knowing it would kill him.”
Moira nodded. “She did the same, although the nature magic she’d created allowed her soul to live on in her garden. But, her physical body died with Elan’s. Battling both Trace and Tara proved too much for even them. They followed the only path available to save their people. They made a great sacrifice and preserved humankind for two millennia,” Moira said. “Before the barrier could solidify, Tara fled Meranthia and Trace retreated into the desert.”
Ronan buried his face in his palms running both hands through his hair. “My God, what have we done?” He mumbled under his breath.
“You made decisions based on knowledge available to you at that moment. Nothing more,” Moira said. “The world couldn’t live in a bubble forever. At some point, we have to stand up to the class bully.”
Goose bumps rose on Ronan’s skin. “Six months ago, a wise old friend tried to impress on me that very point.” Had less than a year passed since his talk with Patron Tyrell around the campfire at Kipley’s Vale? It felt like decades.
“Moira.” A look of concern passed over Rika’s face. “A minute ago you said until recently no human had ever displayed Gabriel’s ability. What did you mean?”
Moira paused before turning toward Abzu and Tiamat. The golden dragon nodded her head. “Abzu and Tiamat believe Ronan has Gabriel’s gift.”
Ronan’s head snapped up, and blood drained from his face. He shook his head. “You can’t do that to me Moira. I’m not Gabriel. I can’t see anyone’s true nature. You’ve seen that for yourself. I can’t see your soul, Rika’s, or those two giant dragons over there.” He pointed to Abzu and Tiamat.
“Tiamat said your soul shone so brightly it nearly frightened her to death over the Araxis Sea,” Moira said. “That’s why she chased you. It took her a few minutes to realize what she was seeing.”
Ronan shook his head. “Maybe a glare from ocean’s surface confused her.”
Moira laughed, and a broad smile crossed her face. “There’s no mistake Ronan. Even if you don’t know how to use your gift, it’s there.”
“What am I supposed to do? I don’t have time to learn what Gabriel knew. Meranthia needs me, and my sister and father are most likely in great danger right now. If Trace knows about the barrier, he’ll attack Ayralen.”
“The dragons are willing to teach you Ronan. It’s an incredible gift. One that could help you save the world,” Moira said.
“Great, can they come with me? Because I could use their help.”
“They can’t leave the safety of the mountains. They’re the last free creatures of their kind. There’s no telling what’s left of the desert dragons or their mental state. After such prolonged captivity, they might have grown dependent on Trace. Maybe they enjoy serving him and would fight against their freedom.”
“So they’re going to hide out here until the dust clears? Is that it? How noble.” Ronan shook his head.
Abzu opened his mouth wide displaying row after row of needle sharp teeth.
Moira glared at the red dragon until he settled back and closed his mouth. “The last of the great dragons lie on the verge of extinction. They don’t have the luxury of bravado.” Moira squeezed Ronan’s hand. “Stay here and learn. You can spend your nights in my cabin. Both you and Rika. We’ll travel here in the day, and the dragons will teach you what they know. Once you’ve completed your training, they’ll fight alongside you.”
“We can’t afford to stay here.” Ronan’s eyes settled on Rika, but he meant the words for Moira. “We have to travel to Ayralen and warn my father and sister. They’re in great danger.”
“But what of Tara? Meranthians are in danger too,” Rika said.
For the first time in his brief reign, Ronan felt the weight of his office settle like a yoke around his neck. Could he abandon his own realm? If Trace joined Tara in Meranthia, history would repeat itself. “We haven’t seen Tara in the south which means Devery must’ve found her to the north. He’s a smart commander and has many knights at his disposal. I have to trust his leadership.” He slid his hand into Rika’s and squeezed. “We need to make sure Ayralen is safe. Both our families are in danger from an invading force they know nothing about. We have to warn them.”
A glimmer of concern settled over Rika’s face before she nodded her agreement.
Ronan faced Moira before continuing. “Once I’m satisfied the Heartwood is safe and we’ve captured Tara, I’ll come back. I promise.” He squeezed her warm hands and offered his most reassuring smile.
Moira’s shoulders sagged, but she returned his smile and nodded. “I can’t ask for anything more, but please don’t wait too long. These dragons won’t survive another shattering, and you won’t either I’m afraid.”
“Will you come with us? Your knowledge of dragons and Meranthian history is too valuable to leave behind,” Ronan said.
Moira placed her hand on Ronan’s cheek. “Thank your for the offer Your Majesty, but my place is with the dragons. I’m too old to travel.”