Read The Hearts of Dragons Online

Authors: Josh Vanbrakle

The Hearts of Dragons

BOOK: The Hearts of Dragons
4.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

THE HEARTS OF DRAGONS

 

Book Two of
the Dragoon Saga

 

 

Josh
VanBrakle

 

 

Copyright
2015 by Josh VanBrakle

All rights
reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of
this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or
by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior
written permission of the publisher. Thank you for respecting the hard work of
this author.

This book
is a work of fiction. All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead or to actual events is a coincidence.

 

Arboreal
Press

Sidney, NY
13838

www.arborealpress.com

 

Library of
Congress Preassigned Control Number: 2015933850

ISBN-13: 978-0-9891957-3-7

First Edition:
2015

Cover
design by Heather Hilson

Dragon
image copyright Kuma/Fotolia.com

Archer
image copyright Nikolai Grigoriev/Fotolia.com

Samurai
image copyright Dimitar Marinov/Fotolia.com

Eye image
copyright Magann/Fotolia.com

 

Find out
more about the author and upcoming books by following Josh VanBrakle on Twitter
@joshvanbrakle
or by visiting
www.joshvanbrakle.com
.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

I want to first thank
Shannon Delany, author of the YA series
13 to Life
and
Weather Witch
.
In 2011, I attended a set of workshops Shannon hosted. Those classes changed my
life. I’d long wanted to be an author, and Shannon’s classes gave me the tools
to fulfill my dream. You would not be reading these words were it not for her
gifts as a writer, teacher, friend, and all-around fantastic person.

I also want to thank all
those who reviewed drafts of this book: Jenny Lay, Tom Pavlesich, Tom Foulkrod,
and of course my lovely wife Christine. Your edits, comments, and encouragement
not only improved this book, they inspired me to keep going even when writing
was hard.

I owe huge thanks to
Heather Hilson, who once again showed her talents with an amazing cover design.
Heather, your work, dedication, and friendship continue to impress.

Finally, Christine, thanks
for embracing my weirdness. It isn’t going away any time soon.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

1.  Storm and Stone

2.  Crippled

3.  Return to Lodia

4.  Traitors Reunited

5.  Lodia’s Downfall

6.  The Warm Hearth

7.  Violent Beauty

8.  Minawë’s Resolve

9.  Tit-for-Tat

10. Voices

11. The Farm

12. Tropos Village

13. Changing Leaves

14. An Old Acquaintance

15. Another Visitor

16. Dropped

17. Cured?

18. Frozen Wind

19. Decisions

20. The City of Maantecs

21. Dinner Preparations

22. Lord Melwar

23. Mountain Fire

24. Training Regimen

25. The Tengu

26. Defender of Lodia

27. Suicide Forest

28. “My Name Is . . .”

29. Captured

30. No Mind

31. Narunë’s Game

32. Hana’s Final Lesson

33. False Left

34. Spying Sparrow

35. I Will Be Strong

36. Failure

37. The Hearts of Dragons

38. The Rest of the Dream

39. To Slay a Monster

40. What Are You Going to Do About It?

41. Gifts of War

42. Winter Comes

43. The Storm Dragon Knight’s Duty

44. Yukionna’s Servants

45. No Mind’s Flaw

46. Shattered

47. Ultimate Defense

48. A Reminder

49. Oath

50. Beneath Strange Stars

CHAPTER ONE
Storm and Stone

 

 

A thousand years ago,
Rondel Thara had made herself two promises. First, she would never forgive her
husband. Second, she would never return here.

The old woman’s steps
reverberated across the abandoned entrance hall of Edasuko Tower. In spite of
her five-foot height, the room’s polished stone walls and distant ceiling made
each footfall boom like a war drum.

The last time Rondel had
walked through this room, nowhere on Raa could match it. Hundreds of the
highest ranking Maantecs from the strongest clans had filled it. They had all
come with the same purpose: to pay homage to their exalted emperor and his
beautiful wife. Now, thanks to Rondel, they were gone and—unlike her—could
never return.

But while its people had
vanished, Edasuko’s opulence remained. Despite a thousand years of neglect, the
filigreed columns, priceless urns, masterwork paintings, and gold leaf inlaid
into the floor showed no sign of damage or decay.

The tower’s well-preserved
state didn’t surprise Rondel. No life, not even the most stubborn mold,
survived long in Serona.

Rondel reached into her
trousers pocket and pulled out the reason she’d broken her second promise: a
palm-sized, flawless ruby. To anyone else, it would be a magnificent gem, one
worthy of the finest queen on Raa.

Rondel hated it.

The only reason she’d
kept the ruby these past seven months was because she hadn’t known what else to
do with it. Part of her believed the safest idea was to keep carrying it. After
all, who could hurt the Storm Dragon Knight?

She scoffed. Plenty of
people could hurt her.

Besides, even if someone
didn’t kill her over the ruby, she would eventually make a mistake. She would
leave it in a cloak and forget it at a tavern. A thief would break into her
room at an inn and steal it as she slept.

No, she had to hide it.
That was the conclusion she’d come to, and that was why she’d come back here.
Edasuko was the perfect location. No one but her could reach it alive. In the
heart of the scorched land of Serona, the Burning Ruby and its foul dragon
spirit Feng would be unable to threaten the world again.

Rondel ran a hand across
her wrinkled brow. She couldn’t linger. It was only a few degrees cooler in
here than it was outside where geysers of white flame crisscrossed Serona’s
landscape.

Despite the sweltering
conditions, though, Rondel found herself drawn to the rear of the entrance
hall. There, in a room full of treasures, hung the room’s most dominating
aspect—four portraits, each more than fifty feet high.

As Rondel gazed at the
paintings, she read the plaques aloud. “Belias Kui, Sky Dragon Knight.” The
giant figure had shoulder-length blonde hair that blew about him as he soared
among the clouds.

“Nadav Moyasu, Fire
Dragon Knight.” Rondel clenched her fists. It was the actions of Nadav’s power-mad
subordinate Amroth that had forced her to hide the Burning Ruby here.

“Rondel Thara, Storm
Dragon Knight.” The old woman laughed at the absurd picture of her younger
self, ten times her actual height. Her artist had rendered her in full steel
lamellar armor, the battle attire of the Maantec nobility.

Eleven hundred years
ago, the painting’s unveiling had left Rondel breathless. Now she thought it
looked amateurish, a caricature by someone who didn’t know a thing about the
subject of his work.

But then, how could he
have? Back then, neither had she.

Then Rondel came to the
final portrait. “Exalted Emperor Iren Saito, Holy Dragon Knight.”

The sparks of Lightning
Sight arced across Rondel’s green eyes. She could still recall Saito’s
overjoyed look at their wedding and the soft touch of his lips on hers. Today,
though, seeing his face only made Rondel hate him more. She might have Amroth
and Feng to blame for bringing her here, but it was Saito who had allowed their
evil to spread.

Rondel opened her palm
and showed the Burning Ruby to the portraits. “You’d better not let this go
anywhere,” she said.

She looked around for a
spot to conceal the gem, and that was when she noticed something wrong. At the
corner of her vision, close to the hall’s main doors, she caught a subtle
movement. Lightning Sight made every detail plain to her, and what she had seen
couldn’t have been natural. She should be the only living thing for a hundred
miles.

Rondel spun to face the
new arrival. She stepped back in surprise. The newcomer looked like a person,
but stone covered him from the bottoms of his feet to the top of his head. Only
his mouth and eyes remained uncovered. In his left hand he carried a six-foot
maul as though it weighed nothing.

The old woman grimaced.
She knew that weapon, though she’d thought it lost after its Kodaman owner died
a thousand years ago. It was the Enryokiri, the Stone Dragon Hammer.

Rondel slid the Burning
Ruby back into her pocket. As she did, the Stone Dragon Knight’s eyes followed
the jewel’s path. “Who are you?” Rondel asked.

The Stone Dragon Knight
made no reply. Instead, he raised a rock-covered hand and launched three
pebbles from it at Rondel’s face.

Before the stones had
covered half the distance to their target, Rondel had dodged them. Sending
lightning magic to her muscles, she accelerated until her body blurred. She
crossed the room in less than a second and landed in a crouch on her opponent’s
shoulders.

Rondel’s dominant left
hand drew the Liryometa, the Storm Dragon Dagger. “Evil must be annihilated,”
she hissed. She stabbed the nine-inch blade at her armored foe’s head.

The hall rang with the
clash of steel against stone, but the rock helm refused to crack. Rondel
backflipped off her assailant, landed behind him, and swung her dagger up into
his armpit. She figured the armor would be weaker at a joint, but the stone
didn’t yield there either.

Rondel leapt away, her
back now to the room’s massive doors. A glance at her dagger told her it was
undamaged. Although she’d expected that, she still breathed a sigh of relief.
Ryokaiten had greater durability than normal weapons, but they weren’t
invincible.

Her momentary lapse in
concentration was all the opening her opponent needed. One second the ground
shuddered, and the next Rondel was flying through the entrance hall doors. She
landed outside on the baking earth. Dust surrounded her, and she coughed as she
regained her footing.

When the air cleared,
Rondel beheld her opponent. He still looked like a statue, but he had moved. No
longer inside Edasuko, he had somehow gotten past Rondel and now stood between
the old woman and escape. She could retreat back inside the tower, but it had
no other exits. Her opponent had trapped her.

At least, he thought he had
trapped her. Rondel fell into a run, her body a flash.

She was behind her foe
and confident of escape when a wall rose in front of her. Rondel slammed into
it. Her eyes teared, and she struggled to clear them. When she did, she saw
that her opponent had enclosed them both inside a twenty-foot-tall circular
stone barricade.

Rondel panted. Not since
the Kodama-Maantec War had she faced an opponent this tough. Few earth mages
could raise a wall this large, let alone do it quickly enough to outclass the
Storm Dragon Knight’s speed.

She needed a new
strategy. Switching her dagger to her off hand, Rondel charged her attacker. As
she did, she channeled magic into her now unarmed left fist. The Liryometa
couldn’t pierce the Stone Dragon Knight’s armor, but maybe a point-blank
lightning shot could. She punched at her foe’s chest.

The moment Rondel’s fist
connected, she knew she had made the wrong move. Her lightning dissipated
across the rock, and the impact shattered her hand.

The Stone Dragon Knight
raised a boulder and launched it toward Rondel. It struck the silver-haired
woman in the side. She rolled along the ground, wheezing.

Rondel cursed. She only
had her off hand to wield her dagger now. She couldn’t breach her foe’s
defenses with that.

She looked around for
another option. Above her Serona’s eternal thunderstorm unleashed its fury.
Though its rain evaporated before it reached the ground, the tempest released
dozens of lightning bolts each second. No matter how strong the Stone Dragon
Knight’s armor was, it couldn’t withstand one of those blasts.

Unfortunately, the
lightning did Rondel no good. She had created that storm a thousand years ago,
but it had long since surpassed her ability to control. If she tried to
manipulate it, she was more likely to scorch herself than her opponent.

Across the hemmed-in
space, a geyser of white flame erupted from a crevasse. When Rondel saw it, she
knew what she had to do.

Rondel forced herself to
her feet, sheathed her dagger, and pulled out the Burning Ruby. Lightning Sight
told her that she had her foe’s full attention. With all the strength her magic
allowed her, Rondel hurled the ruby at the crevasse.

She had considered
condemning the jewel to Serona’s flames before, but she had rejected the idea.
As much as she hated Feng, there could come a time when Raa would need his
power. This Stone Dragon Knight, though, had left her no choice.

As expected, the Stone
Dragon Knight’s eyes followed the airborne ruby. Taking advantage of the
distraction, Rondel drew her dagger and lunged. Her foe might have impenetrable
armor, but that armor was incomplete. Rondel channeled lightning magic into her
blade and thrust at her attacker’s exposed mouth.

The blow never landed.
As Rondel closed, the Stone Dragon Knight cast two spells at once. First, he
created a hand of soil beside the crevasse to catch the Burning Ruby. Second,
he extended his rock helm so that it covered his mouth. Rondel’s thrust crashed
into the armor. Sparks flew from the impact as stone and steel clashed, neither
willing to give way.

Then, with a sharp
twap
,
Rondel’s dagger snapped two inches from the hilt.

The Stone Dragon Knight
retaliated with crushing force. A hammerblow struck Rondel on the collarbone
and dropped the old woman to her knees.

Her pain meant nothing.
She was too busy staring at the broken dagger in her hand. The blade had
survived more than thirteen hundred years. It had protected her family. It had
even inspired her name. The weapon’s round hilt, pommel, and crossguard made
the dagger a rondel.

The earthen hand the
Stone Dragon Knight had created approached. He retracted the armor from his
left palm and picked up the Burning Ruby.

With the gem secured,
the Stone Dragon Knight raised the soil around Rondel’s feet to bind her in
place. He then created a circle of stone around her. Slowly, torturously
slowly, it started to rise.

Desperate now, Rondel
cried for the second time, “Who are you?”

The rock walls stopped.
The armor around the Stone Dragon Knight’s face fell away. Rondel gasped. Her
opponent wasn’t a man, but a young-looking woman with long black hair. She
looked vaguely familiar, but Rondel couldn’t place her.

“Don’t remember me?” the
woman asked. “That’s all right. I know you didn’t help me out of charity, and
had you known I was a Maantec, you wouldn’t have helped me at all. After all,
you hate Maantecs. You hate all of them.”

Rondel strained to
remember who the woman could be or how she knew her, but nothing came. The
walls resumed their climb. “Well,” the Stone Dragon Knight said, “tell Emperor Saito
I send my regards.”

Despite her position,
Rondel managed to spit. It fizzed into steam the instant it hit the ground.
“Never.”

“I thought you might say
that,” the woman said with a shrug of her armored shoulders. “Fine, I’ll make
you a deal. Give my greetings to Iren Saito, and in exchange,” she paused and
grinned cruelly, “I’ll give yours to Iren Saitosan.”

Rondel’s face turned
ashen, and not from the fear of her imminent death. “What do you want with
him?”

The Stone Dragon Knight
laughed. “Can’t you guess?”

Before Rondel could answer,
the walls around her closed, sealing her in an airtight tomb.

BOOK: The Hearts of Dragons
4.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Black Water by Bobby Norman
Alien Penetration by Morgan, Yvonne
Gee Whiz by Jane Smiley
Stone Gods by Winterson, Jeanette
The Inheritance by Tamera Alexander
The One That Got Away by Lucy Dawson
Sinful Desires Vol. 4 by M. S. Parker
The Last Emprex by EJ Altbacker
Sudden Legacy by Kristy Phillips