Authors: Dionne Lister
REALM OF BLOOD AND FIRE
Realm of Blood and Fire
Copyright © 2014 Dionne Lister
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2013 Dionne Lister
All rights reserved.
No part of this ebook may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the author.
Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia
Kriss, Charity, Michelle, Ciara and MJ—you help me stay sane enough to write (most of the time).
Chryse—you are the best editor a dragon could hope for.
To the readers—thank you for visiting my world and making it your own.
Every author writes for themselves, but we also write for the readers who will love our books. Without you, the story goes unheard and we (the authors) are just crazy people babbling into space.
I hope you enjoy the final book in the Circle of Talia series.
To all the dragon lovers out there who fly in the face of criticism
and dream and hope that one day we can all have dragons of our own.
The rooftop garden of the monastery on the Isle of the Dead Souls remained silent. Realmists Avruellen and Arcon had been standing in the same position maintaining the circle for an hour while they waited for their protégés to return from activating their amulets.
Bronwyn and Blayke had fallen to kneel on the cool grass, their chins resting on their chests; Bronwyn’s dark hair curtained around her face. The moon had slipped lower, lengthening the shadows. From their vantage point a few feet away, the creaturas watched.
Avruellen saw Bronwyn’s head twitch, and it was all she could do not to break
the circle and rush to see if her niece was finally coming out of her trance. What was taking them so long? What was happening? When the realmist lifted her eyes from her niece, she met the calm gaze of Arcon. While his eyes held sympathy and understanding, there were no words he could offer—he was just as worried as his sister.
While the realmists maintained their silent vigil, a cacophonous battle raged
in the Sacred Realm.
Devorum, please don’t!
Bronwyn shouted into the mind of the dragon as she lay smothered under her brother. She squeezed her eyes shut, knowing her plea would fall on deaf ears.
At least it will all be over quickly
, she thought. And then . . . the gaping maw and tearing teeth didn’t come. Blayke’s grip on her arms relaxed, and Bronwyn felt him let his breath out. They should have been eaten by now. What had happened?
The hulking dragon spoke into their minds.
Get up, children. Look into my eyes, if you dare
. Blayke pushed himself up and reached a hand down to help Bronwyn stand. She looked at Blayke, and he shrugged. They turned to Devorum who loomed over them, red eyes glowing, vast nostrils sucking in air before blowing it over the realmists with each breath. Bronwyn coughed at the sulfuric odor but held the dragon’s gaze.
After a few heart-racing moments, Blayke spoke.
“Why are we still alive? In my dream, you ate me.”
“Why are you trying to trap me?” Devorum stood straighter and stretched his coal-black wings to their full width before folding them again. Bronwyn cowered closer to Blayke, and he put his arm around her.
Bronwyn was the first with the courage to speak. “W . . . we were trying to help, and we need to get home to Talia.”
“And who are you trying to help?”
Bronwyn turned, looking for the men who had requested their aid—Sander and Korden, their guides and allies in the Sacred Realm. Bronwyn almost jumped when she came face-to-face with the men, who stood right behind her.
nodded, his blue-green eyes solemn. “It’s okay. Tell him.”
Facing the dragon again, Bronwyn tilted her chin to the sky to look at the mountainous creature. “Our friends needed us. Their king
requires your help. This world, the Sacred Realm, is under threat, and for some reason, they thought you could help.”
“But they weren’t
me to help, were they?” A puff of smoke washed over the realmists, and they coughed.
Bronwyn’s cheeks heated. She looked to the ground before
staring back up into the accusing, flame-colored eyes. “No. They ordered it. They wanted to take you and use you. No one asked.” Bronwyn took a deep breath and thought of Drakon, the dragon god, how he had abandoned his first children, the gormons, and, in turn, what they had done to the dragons in Talia. No good came from enslavement and using others against their will. Bronwyn gripped her brother’s arm, pulling him down with her to kneel. She heard a muffled thud as Korden and Sander did the same.
Bowing her head, Bronwyn spoke again. “We are sorry, Devorum. I guess it never occurred to them to just ask you. Please forgive us.” She
glanced up to see what she thought was a look of contemplation on the dragon’s face. He turned his eyes on her, and a warm tingle spread throughout her body.
A brief nod came from the dragon before he spoke into their minds.
I have looked into your hearts, realmists, and I see no evil there, except for the normal human faults I find quite common.
opened her mouth, on the verge of defending herself, when he put a mammoth-sized clawed hand up to still her words.
I am willing to forgive you, but I am not going to help the king of this realm
, not directly, anyway. The answer to the problem lies in the First Realm, on Talia. My aid comes in the form of releasing you.
With the final activation of the amulets
you wear, during the final battle for Talia, both you and your brother will be asked to sacrifice more than you ever thought possible. It is a price you must willingly pay. Go now and know that when next you see me, it will be time to pay your debt.
Devorum breathed fire
toward the realmists—a crimson and orange blaze shot through with black sparks. The humans flinched, drawing their arms up to protect themselves. Had the flames been intended to harm, they would have been ash floating away on the hot breath of the dragon. Instead of burning, the dragon fire coalesced into a large, ruddy disk that spun in the air in front of them, just above the ground. The black sparks turned to flecks before melting into lines that expanded within the spinning circle until all color disappeared.
Blayke and Bronwyn looked at each other before turning to
Korden and Sander. “I guess it’s time to go.” Blayke put out his hand, shaking each of the men’s in turn.
put his hand out to Bronwyn and shook. When she let go and faced Sander, he tilted his head to the side, a half-smile lingering. “Until next time, realmist.”
“What makes you so sure there’ll be a next time?”
“Just a feeling I have.” He stepped forward and embraced her. She rested her forehead against his cheek before pushing back and looking into his eyes one last time.
“See you soon, then.” Bronwyn grinned and turned quickly, not wanting him to see her tears. Taking Blayke’s hand, and without considering what might lie ahead, she leapt into the portal, dragging him behind.
Sinjenasta, who had been sitting on his haunches, stood hurriedly.
Fang, they’re back. Can you feel Blayke?
The rat’s whiskers twitched.
Sinjenasta offered the rat a leg. Fang scrambled up and sat in between the panther’s shoulder blades. The black cat padded to stand two feet from the realmists. Flux joined him, and Phantom silently alighted in a leafless tree, next to Arcon, his white feathers silvering in the moonlight.
Bronwyn lifted her head and looked across to Blayke then up to Avruellen and Arcon.
Avruellen shut off the corridor to the Second Realm, breaking the circle.
smiled and rubbed at her sore neck. “We’re back.”
Avruellen hurried to help her niece stand before enveloping her in a firm hug. “Oh my goodness, Bronny. I can breathe again.”
Loosening her grip, she stood back and looked in Bronwyn’s eyes. “Are you okay? What happened?”
I’m a bit stiff from kneeling for so long, but I’m okay. It’s a long story. I think we should go down to the library and have a chat.”
right.” Blayke raised his arms in the air to stretch. “I don’t know how much time passed here, but we spent a whole day wherever we were.”
“The Sacred Realm.” Bronwyn offered.
“So, it’s not just a myth.” Arcon mused, rubbing at his short gray beard. “Okay. Seems like you have a lot to tell us, and then we’ll have to prepare—we’re leaving tomorrow. I’ll ask Fiora to send us some tea. I’ll meet you in the library.” Arcon helped Phantom onto his shoulder and was the first to reach the door to the stairs.
Blayke spoke into Bronwyn’s mind.
There’s only so much we need to tell them.
What do you mean?
Leave out the bits where we have to sacrifice something. You know it will only worry them. Maybe let me do the talking when we get to what Devorum said. Okay?
If you think it’s best. Okay.
Avruellen linked arms with her niece, and Sinjenasta rubbed his head against her chest, purring. Bronwyn sneezed, her allergy to the giant cat a constant annoyance. Sinjenasta spoke into her mind.
I’m glad to have you back. Avruellen wasn’t the only one who was worried.
Bronwyn scratched under
her creatura’s chin. “You’ll all have to stop worrying so much. Blayke and I did all right, believe it or not.”
“Hmm, I’m sure you did,” Avruellen said. “You made it back, and I can imagine you would have had a hard test to pass. You can tell us all about it when we get downstairs.” As Avruellen ushered her niece through the door, the creaturas following, she wondered what Bronwyn and Blayke were hiding. She could tell they had spoken privately, shortly after returning. A cold wind of premonition blew through her, teasing the hairs on her skin to attention.
What are they hiding? Do I really want to know?
Deciding this was one secret that might be better left unexplored, she descended the shadowed stairs and pretended, for a moment, that everything was under control.
High Priest Kerchex stood at the bow and watched the barge’s crew from the shadows. The intoxicating scent of fear filled the night air. Smiling was something he had rarely done in the Third Realm, but here, in their new home on Talia, there were so many things to be happy about.
The plan had worked. Thousands of gormon souls had made it through the corridor to the cave at
Blaggard’s Bay. Over the past few days, the gormons had found their hosts and had been taking root in new bodies. The numbers of gormons had been so great that they couldn’t fit enough people into the cave. Kerchex had ordered some of the gormons to take people in their homes. The island’s population had been possessed, and still there hadn’t been enough bodies to house the gormon souls.
A barge delivering the weekly supplies to the island had been commandeered.
Kerchex, needing people for food and for his gormons to inhabit, ordered the crew to take him to the mainland. He left his gormon brethren in a village on the mainland coast while he gathered some of the Talians to take back as food. None disobeyed him: he was a legendary creature, a myth. But a new time had approached, and he was proof of the new order to come. The humans cowered and obeyed.
He could read the
captain’s anxious thoughts, and he laughed. Shivers of pleasure ran through Kerchex as he felt the captain’s fear. The gormon’s nails clicked across the deck until he stood close enough to breathe on the man’s cheek. The captain froze—not a breath did he take—and his eyes remained on the dark night ahead. Kerchex answered the man’s thoughts. “You will be our slave . . . until something you do displeases me.” The gormon caressed the man’s cheek with one claw. Even though he was gentle, a ruby droplet bloomed from the slender cut. Kerchex touched a leathery finger to the blood before placing it in his mouth. “Mmm, tasty,” he rasped.
Life is finally good
, he thought as he smelled the urine trickling down the captain’s shaking leg.
Echoes of distant thunder rolled through the streets of Klendar. Klazich, the gormon who had led his race to Talia, stood next to the newly crowned king, Leon, and supervised the fresh batch of future soldiers. Gathered from towns near the capital, the Talians were herded like cattle, bumping against one another as they shuffled toward the barracks. Not a few of them thought they were being brought here for meat rather than their military potential. More than one future soldier had become a gormon meal on the three-day journey to Klendar.
Klazich turned to Leon, who
once again occupied his Talian body. “They will require much training to become the formidable army we need.”
; they will be ready.”
“They have eight weeks; then it will be time to move on Vellonia. We can come back to conquer the other cities later,
but we’ll need a force to trap your brother in his castle at Bayerlon until we can deal with him.”
. . . my brother. I was hoping we could deal with him first, and, after having secured my second throne, I can use his Veresian army to help subdue Vellonia.” Leon narrowed his eyes. “Do not stand in my way, Klazich.”
Humans are not much different from us
, thought Klazich as he considered the king—tall in the land of the humans but less than half his size. He could have ripped him apart with minimal effort. To Klazich, Leon was just another piece of meat, but as much as the gormon would like to feel the warm blood of the king sliding down his throat, he stayed his claws. “The only reason I don’t kill you now, little man, is that Kwaad needs you at the final battle, but who knows if you’ll be needed after that.” The gormon turned abruptly to enter the castle, his tail sweeping across and smacking the back of Leon’s legs, the gormon’s sharp barbs stabbing into Leon’s hamstrings.
Leon gritted his teeth and berated himself for allowing a grunt to escape his lips. He didn’t want to give Klazich the least bit of pleasure. Walking
toward the barracks, Leon added the gormon ruler to the list of beings he would kill once this was all over.
Leon entered the barracks,
and another roar of thunder, this time closer, shook the windows. Leon could feel the tension in the air—barely contained electricity, power, ready to shatter the uncertain peace of Talia. He saw the gormons directing the Inkrans. In close quarters, he knew the human aroma would tempt the Third Realm creatures—it was like watching a trained dog eyeing a fresh haunch of venison.
stood on the edge of two realities—human and Kwaad. A human survival instinct made him want to kill the gormons or run as fast as he could, and the Kwaad predatory instinct made him want to
, to tear the Talians limb from limb. He remembered being in the perverse gormon form, the way his niece and Boy had smelled. His mouth watered at the thought, and he was now caught between hunger and vomiting. He addressed two gormons. “You are dismissed. I have arranged for arms training to begin in five minutes. Queen Tusklar has some things she needs seeing to.”
The gormons grunted; the larger of the two shrugged his gargantuan shoulders before leading his brother out. Leon saw saliva fall from their mouths as they walked past
, and he heard the hiss as the acidic slobber hit the ground.
Dark clouds drew across the city, shadowing the barracks in an
eerie, yellow-gray light. The somber glow permeated the room and cast the men’s faces in shadow. Straight-backed, Leon surveyed the scrawny, would-be soldiers, who had arranged themselves in neat rows in the center of the room. He spoke in Inkran, his ability with the language becoming fluent after he had shared Tusklar’s mind. “We march in eight weeks, and training begins this afternoon. Those of you who excel will be rewarded. Those of you who are a disappointment will be fed to the gormons. Captain Akashin will be here shortly. Are there any questions?”
A blinding spear of lightning rent the ground outside as the storm that had been pu
shing toward Klendar arrived. Dirt and rocks clattered against the windowpanes, the sound unnoticed beneath the deafening crack that flayed the air. Many of the men started, Leon flinched, and one of the villagers fell to the ground, hands covering his ears. He kneeled, shaking, until the king strode over and kicked his prone form.
“Guards!” Leon shouted. Two Inkrans ran in and stood in front of Leon, heads bowed, clothes dripping dark spots onto the floor. “Take this man to the dungeons. He is to be fed to the gormons.” The king waved toward the man who was curled in a fetal position, head burrowed
down and covered by trembling arms. The guards grabbed the man’s legs and dragged him away, his chest scraping the ground, desperate fingers scrabbling vainly for purchase on the timber floor.
The remaining recruits stared
at the floor, afraid to meet Leon’s eyes. The king noticed that some had shaking hands. Smiling, his voice now thundered over the hammering rain. “So . . . who’s next?”