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The Legion of Flame

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The Legion of Flame

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Author: Anthony Ryan
Publisher: Ace Books, 2017
Orbit, 2017
Series: The Draconis Memoria: Book 2

1. The Waking Fire
2. The Legion of Flame
3. The Empire of Ashes

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Survival is the only currency...

For centuries, the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood--and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed--to fuel and protect its empire. But when the drake blood lines began to fail, a perilous expedition was mounted to secure them.

Claydon Torcreek survived the fraught mission through uncharted lands in pursuit of a myth that might have secured his people's future. Instead he found a nightmare. The legendary White Drake was awoken from a millennia-long slumber, with a thirst to reduce the world of men to ashes, and the power to compel an army of Spoiled slaves to do it.

Spurred on by a vision he desperately hopes he can trust, Clay and rebel naval officer Corrick Hilemore hijack a warship and head towards the icy southern seas, searching for an ancient secret that may give them and their allies a fighting chance.

They are aided on another front by Blood-blessed agent Lizanne Lethridge. The spy and assassin will use her diplomatic status to infiltrate deep into enemy territory on a quest for a device to save them all.

As the world burns around them, and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few Blood-blessed are the last hope for all of civilisation.




He awoke to Katrya weeping again. Soft whimpers in the darkness. She had learned by now not to sob, for which Sirus was grateful. Majack had threatened to strangle her that first night as they all huddled together in the stinking torrent, Katrya pressed against Sirus, holding tight as she wept seemingly endless tears.

"Shut her up!" Majack had growled, levering himself away from the green-slimed sewer wall. His uniform was in tatters and he had lost his rifle somewhere in the chaos above. But he was a large man and his soldier's hands seemed very strong as he lurched towards them, reaching for Katrya's sodden blouse, hissing, "Quiet, you silly bitch!"

He'd stopped as Sirus's knife pressed into the meaty flesh below his chin. "Leave her be," he whispered, wondering at the steadiness of his own voice. The knife, a wide-bladed butcher's implement from the kitchen of his father's house, was dark red from tip to handle, a souvenir from the start of their journey to this filthy refuge.

Majack bared his teeth in a defiant snarl, eyes meeting those of the youth with the gory knife and seeing enough dire promise to let his hands fall. "She'll bring them down here," he grated.

"Then you had better hope you can run faster than us," Sirus told him, removing the knife and tugging Katrya deeper into the tunnel. He held her close, whispering comforting lies into her ear until the sobs faded into a piteous mewling.

There had been ten of them that first night, ten desperate souls huddling in the subterranean filth as Morsvale died above. Despite Majack's fears their enemies had not been drawn to the sound of Katrya's sobs. Not then and not the night after. Judging by the continuing cacophony audible through the grates, Sirus suspected that the invaders had found sufficient sport to amuse themselves, at least for the time being. But, of course, that didn't last.

Ten became nine on the fifth day when hunger drove them out in search of supplies. They waited until nightfall before scurrying forth from a drain on Ticker Street where most of the city's grocers plied their trade. At first all seemed quiet, no piercing cries of alarm from a disturbed drake, no patrols of Spoiled to chase them back into the filth. Majack broke down a shop-door and they filled several sacks with onions and potatoes. Sirus had wanted to head back but the others, increasingly convinced by the continual quiet that the monsters had gone, decided to take a chance on a near by butcher's shop. They were making their way back along a narrow alley towards Hailwell Market, laden with haunches of beef and pork, when it happened.

A sudden rattling growl, the brief blur of a flashing tail and one of their number was gone. She had been a middle-aged woman from some minor administrative post in the Imperial Ring, her last words a garbled plea for help before the drake dragged her over the edge of the roof-top above. They hadn't waited to hear the screams, fleeing back to their grimy refuge and dropping half their spoils in haste. Once back underground they fled deeper into the sewers. Simleon, a stick-thin youth of criminal leanings, had some familiarity with the maze of pipes and tunnels, leading them to the central hub where the various water-ways converged to cast effluent into a great shaft where it would be carried out to sea. At first the roaring torrent had been filthy, but as the days passed the water grew ever more clean.

"Think there's anyone left?" Majack muttered one day. Sirus reckoned it to be a month or more after their abortive foray, it was hard to keep track of the days here. Majack's dull-eyed gaze was lost in the passing waters. The soldier's previous hostility had subsided into a listless depression Sirus knew to be born of hunger and despair. Despite the strictness with which they rationed themselves, they had perhaps two more days before the food ran out.

"I don't know," Sirus muttered, although he had a strong suspicion these nine starving souls were in fact all that remained of Morsvale's population.

"Wasn't our fault, y'know." The listlessness in Majack's gaze disappeared as it swung towards Sirus, his voice coloured by a plea for understanding. "There were so many. Thousands of the bastards, drakes and Spoiled. Morradin took all but a handful of the garrison to fight the corporates. We had no chance. . ."

"I know," Sirus said, adding a note of finality to his voice. He had heard this diatribe before and knew, if left unchecked, Majack's self-pitying rant might drag on for hours.

"A hundred rounds each, that's all we had. Only one battery of cannon to defend a whole city..."

Sirus groaned and moved away, stepping carefully over the damp brickwork to where Katrya huddled on a ledge beside one of the larger pipes. She held her hand out to the water gushing from the pipe, slender fingers splayed in the cascade. "Do you think it's clean enough to drink now?" she asked. They had perhaps a bottle and a half of wine left, their only remaining source of uncontaminated hydration.

"No." He sat down, letting his legs dangle over the ledge and watching the water disappear into the vast blackness of the shaft. He had considered jumping several times now, but not out of any suicidal impulse. According to Simleon the shaft conveyed the water to a vast underground tunnel leading to the sea. If they survived the drop it might prove a means of escape. If they survived the drop...

"You're thinking about her again, aren't you?" Katrya asked.

Sirus fixed her with a sharp glare, a harsh reminder of her status coming to his lips. Please be good enough to remember, miss, you are but a servant in my father's house. The words died, however, when he met her eyes, seeing the mixture of defiance and reproach. Like most of the servants in his father's employ Katrya had taken a dim view of his embarrassing but irresistible obsession. However, he thought it strange that she should care about such things now.

"Actually no," he said instead and nodded at the shaft. "Simleon says it's about eighty feet to the bottom."

"You'll die," she stated flatly.

"Perhaps. But I increasingly fail to see any alternative."

She hesitated then shuffled closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder, an overly familiar action that would have been unthinkable only a few weeks before. "It's awful quiet up there now," she said. "Could be they've all gone. Moved on to Carvenport. Some of the others think so."

Moved on. Why not? Why stay once they've slaughtered everyone else? The notion was almost unbearably enticing but also dangerous. Alternatives? he asked himself, the absolute gloom of the shaft filling his gaze once more. "Your father would have at least gone to look," Katrya said. The words

were spoken softly, free of malice or judgement, but they were still enough for him to push her away and get to his feet.

"My father's dead," he told her, the memory of his last interrogation looming large as he stalked away. The Cadre agent sitting at the foot of his bed, shrewd eyes on his, somehow even more frightening than the men who had tortured him in that basement. "Where is she? Where would she go?" And he had no answers, save one: "Far away from me."

In truth he remembered little of Tekela's escape. The hours that preceded it had been full of such agony and fear his memory of it remained forever ruined. His arrest had swiftly followed Father's demise, a half-dozen Cadre agents breaking down the door to drag him from his bed, fists and cudgels the only answer to his babbling enquiries and protestations. He woke to find himself strapped to a chair with Major Arberus staring into his face, expression hard with warning. Arberus, Sirus soon realised, was also strapped to a chair and, positioned off to Sirus's right, so was Tekela. He remembered the expression on her doll's face, an expression so unlike anything he had ever expected to see there: deep, unalloyed guilt.

"I'm sorry," she'd mouthed, tears falling from her eyes. It changed then, the obsession he had chosen to call passion, the delusion that had compelled him to pen verse he knew in his heart to be terrible and make an unabashed fool of himself at every opportunity. Here she was, his one true love, just a guilt-stricken girl strapped to a chair and about to watch him die.

Their attendants were two men in leather aprons, both of middling years and undistinguished appearance, who went about their work with all the efficiency of long-serving craftsmen. They started on the major first, Sirus closing his eyes tight against the awful spectacle and Tekela's accompanying screams. They turned their attentions to Sirus when Arberus fainted and he learned for the first time what true pain was. There were questions he couldn't answer, demands he couldn't meet. He knew it all to be meaningless, just another form of pressure, added theatre for Tekela's benefit. How long it took to end he never knew, but it seemed an eternity before his heart began to slow, transformed into a softly patted drum in his chest and he became aware of his imminent departure from this world. The basement disappeared into a fugue of distant sound and vague sensation. He heard shouts and thuds at some point, the sounds of struggle and combat, but assumed it to be just a figment of his fading mind. Despite the confusion he still retained the memory of the precise moment his heart stopped. He had read of those who returned from the brink of death to tell of a bright beckoning light, but he never saw it. There was only blackness and the dreadful pregnant silence left by his absent heart-beat.

The Cadre brought him back, though it had been a close-run thing as his doctor had been happy to tell him. He was a cheerful fellow with a lilting accent Sirus recognised as coming from the northern provinces. However, there was a hardness to his gaze despite the cheeriness, and Sirus sensed he knew as much about taking life as saving it. For days they tended him, generous doses of Green and careful application of various drugs until he was as healed as he could ever expect to be and the numerous scars on his chest reduced to a faint web of interconnected lines. Sirus understood this to be only a respite. The Cadre were far from finished with him.

The man who came to question him was of diminutive height and trim build. He wore the typical, nondescript dark suit favoured by Cadre agents, though the small silver pin in his lapel set him apart. It was a plain circle adorned with a single oak leaf that matched those of the Imperial crest. Sirus had never met anyone wearing this particular emblem before but all Imperial subjects knew its meaning well enough. Agent of the Blood Cadre.

"She left you behind," were the agent's first words to him, delivered with a tight smile of commiseration. "Nothing like misplaced love to harden a man's heart."

The agent went on to ask many questions, but for reasons Sirus hadn't yet fathomed the Cadre's more direct methods were not visited upon him again. It could have been due to his fulsome and unhesitant co-operation, for his experience in the basement had left no lingering pretensions to useless bravery. "My father and Burgrave Artonin worked together on their own projects," he told the agent. "I was not privy to their studies."

"The device," the agent insisted, leaning forward in his chair. "Surely you must know of the device? Please understand that your continued good health depends a great deal upon it."

Nothing, Sirus thought, recalling the way his father would jealously guard those artifacts of interest to his precious circle of select scholars. I know nothing. For a time Sirus had entertained the notion that such circumspection had been for his protection, the less knowledge he possessed the less the Cadre's interest in him. But he knew such concern was largely beyond his father's heart. It had been simple professional secrecy. His father had happened upon something of great importance, something that might transform their understanding of this entire continent and its history. Like many a scholar, Diran Akiv Kapazin did not relish the notion of sharing credit. Sirus had only ever caught glimpses of the thing, and indulged in a few snatched glances at his father's notes. It remained a baffling, if enticing enigma.

"I was privy to... certain details," he lied.

"Enough to reconstruct it, perhaps?" the agent enquired.

"If I..." He had choked then, the lies scraping over his parched tongue. The agent came to his bedside and poured a glass of water before holding it to Sirus's lips. "If I had sufficient time," he managed after gulping down the entire contents of the glass.

The agent stood back, lips pursed in consideration. "Time, I'm afraid, is both your enemy and mine at this juncture, young sir. You see, I was sent here by a very demanding master to secure the device. I'm sure a fellow of your intelligence can deduce to whom I refer."

Unwilling to say it aloud, Sirus nodded.

"Very well." The agent returned the glass to the bedside table. "I'm going to send you home, Sirus Akiv Kapazin. You will find your household largely unchanged, although sadly my colleagues felt obliged to arrest your father's butler and he failed to survive questioning. All the papers we could find in his offices at the museum are awaiting your scholarly attentions."

So he had gone home, finding it bare of servants save Lumilla, his father's long-standing housekeeper, and her daughter Katrya. It seemed the Cadre's visit had been enough to convince the others to seek employment elsewhere. He spent weeks poring over his father's papers, compiling copious notes and drawing diagram after diagram, making only the most incremental progress. The agent came to the house several times, appearing less impressed with every visit.

"Three cogs?" he enquired, one eyebrow raised as he looked over Sirus's latest offering, a simple but precisely rendered diagram. "After two weeks of effort, you show me three cogs."

"They are the central components of the device," Sirus told him, his voice imbued with as much certainty as he could muster. "Establishing their exact dimensions is key to reconstructing the entire mechanism."

"And these dimensions are correct?"

"I believe so." Sirus rummaged through the pile of papers on his father's desk, unearthing a rather tattered note-book. "My father wrote in a shorthand of his own devising, so it took some time to translate his analysis. I am convinced the dimensions of these cogs is directly related to the orbits of the three moons."

He saw the agent's interest deepen slightly, his shrewd eyes returning to the diagram. "I suspect you may well be right, young sir. However"-- he sighed and set the diagram aside--"I have a Blue-
trance scheduled with our employer in a few short hours and I fear he will be far from dazzled by your achievement. I regret I must anticipate his likely instruction to encourage you to greater efforts." He moved to the study door. "Please join me in the kitchens."

They found Katrya scrubbing pans at the sink whilst Lumilla prepared the evening meal. Sirus had known her for most of his life, a lively woman of plump cheeks and a ready smile, a smile which froze at the sight of the agent. "Which are you least fond of?" the agent enquired, plucking a vial from his wallet and gulping down a modicum of Black.

"Please..." Sirus began, then choked to silence as an invisible hand clamped around his throat. Katrya began to move back from the sink then froze, limbs and torso vibrating under the unseen pressure.

"I'd hazard a guess the pretty one's probably your favourite," the agent went on, pulling Katrya closer, her shoes dragging over the kitchen tiles until he brought her within reach. "I always find it curious," the agent mused, raising a hand to stroke Katrya's cheek, "how pleasing to the eye the gutter-born can be despite such lack of breeding."

Katrya's mother, displaying a speed and resolution Sirus would never have suspected of her, snatched a butcher's knife from the chopping-board and charged at the agent. He let her get close before freezing her in place, the tip of her knife quivering an inch from his face.

"It seems the choice has been made for you, young sir," he remarked, allowing Katrya to slip from his unseen grip. She collapsed to the floor gasping, flailing hands reaching out for her mother as she was lifted off her feet.

"Now then, good woman," the agent said, angling his head and lifting Lumilla higher, the knife falling from her hand to ring like a bell as it connected with the tiles. "I'm not a needlessly cruel fellow. So, I'll just take an eye for today. But which one..."

He trailed off as a boom echoed outside, loud enough to rattle the glass in the windows. The agent's head jerked towards the sound, a twitch of irritated alarm playing over his bland features. For several seconds nothing happened, then another boom just as loud as the first, quickly followed by two more. Despite his panic Sirus managed to recognise the sound: Cannon fire.

"How curious," the agent said, still holding Lumilla in place as he stepped towards the window to peer out at the street. People were running, dozens of them, all casting pale, terrorised glances up at the sky. Then came a new sound, not the flat boom of cannon but something high-pitched and sufficiently piercing to provoke an ache in the ears. Sirus knew it instantly, his sole childhood visit to the Morsvale breeding pens had left an indelible impression. Drake's call. Pen-bred drakes invariably had their vocal cords cut shortly after birth, but in the interval the infants would scream out their distress. As a child his tearful reaction had been enough to earn a judgemental cuff from his father, but now he couldn't help regarding it as a potential deliverer, for the agent clearly had no idea what he was witnessing.

"What in the name of the Emperor's countless shades... ?" he murmured, watching as more and more people fled past the window.

It was at this point that Katrya snatched the fallen butcher's knife from the floor and plunged it deep into the agent's back. The reaction was instantaneous and near fatal for all concerned, the agent's reserves of Black seeming to explode in one convulsive burst. Sirus found himself hurled against the far wall, plaster cracking under the impact as he subsided to the floor. It took seconds for him to shake off the confusion, stumbling upright to find the agent on his knees and screaming, his body contorted like a circus performer as he pulled the knife from his back.

"You... fucking... little slut!" he yelled at Katrya, now lying semi-conscious several feet away. The agent gave a final shout of agony as the knife came free of his back. "You vicious whore!" His voice had taken on a strangely peevish edge, like a child who had been hit for the first time. He staggered to his feet, sobbing as he fumbled for his wallet, blood covering his chin as he babbled hate-filled threats. "I'll rip out your mother's guts and make you eat th--"

The iron skillet made a dull sound as it connected with the back of the agent's head, sending him to all fours, vials scattering as the wallet flew from his grip. He glanced over his shoulder at Sirus, now raising the skillet for a second blow. The agent's brow formed a frown of aggrieved betrayal. "I... let you... go..." he sputtered.

"No," Sirus replied, "you didn't." He brought the skillet down with all the force he could summon. Once, twice, a dozen more times until the agent's head was a pulped ruin and his legs finally stopped twitching.

Lumilla was dead, her neck snapped by the impact with the wall. Sirus left Katrya weeping over her body and went to the window, where he saw the first full-grown wild drake in his life. The Red landed in the middle of the street, pinning an unfortunate Morsvale resident under its claws. It was at least twenty feet long from nose to tail and stood in stark contrast to the emaciated, wingless wretches from the pens; muscles bunching beneath its crimson skin and wings beating as it gave a small squawk of triumph before beginning its meal. Sirus jerked his gaze away then saw another impossible sight, more running figures but, judging by their completely unfamiliar garb, not townsfolk. One paused outside the window, a tall man dressed in what Sirus instantly recognised as hardened green-leather armour near identical to an exhibit in the museum's Native Arradsian collection. His suspicions were instantly confirmed when the man turned his head. Spoiled... The scaled, spine-ridged visage and yellow eyes left no doubt that the creature he beheld was a living breathing member of the deformed indigenous tribal inhabitants of this continent.

He ducked instantly, hoping the Spoiled had missed him, scuttling towards Katrya's side and retrieving the knife on the way. "We have to go!" he told her.

So they fled through street after street of horror and chaos. Confusion reigned, drake and Spoiled killing with little or no attempt at resistance from the scant few constables and soldiers left in the city. They were just as panicked and terror-stricken as the civilians and it was obvious this attack had come with no warning.

Sirus's first hope had been to make for the docks but the surrounding thoroughfares were choked with people all beset by the same delusion that they might find a ship to carry them away. Such a throng proved an irresistible target for the scores of Reds flying above. He dragged Katrya into a doorway as the massacre unfolded, dodging a rain of corpses and limbs. It had been her idea to make for the sewers, one they shared with a few others possessed of well-honed survival instincts. Ten at first, then nine and, as Sirus discovered when he was woken by Katrya's soft weeping, only two.

* * *

"They took a vote," Katrya said. "Didn't wake you cos they knew you'd talk them out of it, I s'pose. Majack's idea."

"But you didn't go with them," Sirus said.

She said nothing, fidgeting and glancing at the tunnel that led to the outlet near the docks.

"How long since they left?" Sirus asked her.

"Hours ago. Haven't heard anything, could be a good sign."

"Or they're all dead."

He saw her face bunch in frustration as she battled to contain an outburst. "There's nothing here!" she exploded finally, water sloshing as she stamped her foot. "You wanna stay and starve amongst shit, then fine! I'm going!"

With that she turned and disappeared into the tunnel. Sirus cast a glance back at the shaft and its eighty-foot drop, gave a tired curse then ran after her.

The outlet ended at the western slip-way, affording a view of the harbour where Sirus was greatly surprised to find at least twenty vessels still at anchor, though he could see no sign of any crew. Some of the ships bore signs of damage or burning but for the most part had been left intact. Beyond the ships the tenements that stood atop the great harbour wall were a ruin, some destroyed down to their foundations, others roofless and burnt so that the whole edifice resembled a blackened saw-blade. Sirus found the complete absence of any sound save the faint keening of gulls more troubling than the absence of people. He motioned for Katrya to stay put then inched closer to the opening, darting his head out for a quick glance in all directions. Nothing, just silent docks and, due he supposed to the drakes' appetites, no bodies. He paused then took another longer look, concentrating on the sky this time and finding only patchy cloud.

"Told you," Katrya said, giving him a hard nudge in the ribs. "They've all gone. Ages ago, prob'ly. We've been starving for weeks for no reason."

"Wait," Sirus said, reaching for her arm as she stepped free of the pipe, face raised and eyes closed as she bathed in the sunlight.

"Get off!" She shook herself free and trotted out of reach. "I'm going to find something to eat. You coming or not?"

Sirus watched her march determinedly towards the nearest warehouse then ran to catch up, all the while casting repeated glances at the sky, one hand on the knife in his belt. The warehouse was mostly empty apart from a few crates stacked in a corner of the cavernous interior. Katrya gave voice to some protracted profanity when Sirus used the knife to lever off the lids to reveal only crockery. They moved from one warehouse to another until they finally uncovered some food, a shipment of fruit preserved in brandy.

"Slowly," Sirus cautioned as Katrya gulped down half a jar of tangerines. "Too much at once and you'll make yourself sick." She just stuck her tongue out at him and kept eating. In the event it was the brandy that had more of an effect than the fruit and Sirus was obliged to half carry her to the quayside, a sack full of jars slung over his shoulder.

"My Auntie Sal lived there," Katrya slurred, gazing at the ruined tenements.

Sirus's gaze roamed the wharf until he found the smallest craft, a fishing-boat about a dozen feet long with a single narrow stack rising from its guard-box-sized wheel-house. He had no experience of piloting a vessel and reckoned the smaller the better.

"Shouldn't we find the others?" Katrya enquired as Sirus led her to the boat. He didn't answer, feeling the weight of the silence more heavily with every passing second. All his instincts led to one conclusion; they had to get away from here, and soon.

"What about the door?" Katrya pressed as he threw the sack onto the boat and used a mooring rope to pull it closer to the quayside. Sirus raised his gaze to the great door positioned in the centre of the harbour wall. From the level of detritus and algae building up where the metal met the water it was clear it hadn't been raised in weeks.

"We'll just have to fire up the engines," he said, nodding at the wheel-houses on either side of the door. "I've seen it done, once. My father took me to..."

He trailed off as he saw the expression on her face, wide- eyed and pale, staring fixedly at something that had banished her drunkenness in an instant. Fighting a sudden paralysing dread, Sirus pulled the knife from his belt and followed her gaze.

The drake sat atop a near by goods cart, head cocked at an angle as it regarded them with a curious gaze, its tail coiling idly like a somnolent snake. Two very salient observations immediately sprang to Sirus's mind. Firstly, the drake's size. It was far smaller than any he had seen before, little bigger in fact than an average-sized dog, forcing him to conclude it must be an infant. Second was its colour. Not Black, not Green, not Red. This drake was entirely White.

The drake stared at them both for a long moment and they stared back. Sirus would later consider that they might have gone on staring at each other forever if Katrya hadn't voiced a small, terrified whimper. The drake started at the sound, tail thrashing and wings spreading as it opened its mouth to issue a plaintive screech. The cry echoed around the docks and through the empty streets beyond, a clear clarion call.

"Have to shut it up!" he said, starting forward, knife at the ready. The drake's cries redoubled in intensity and volume as he came closer, causing it to hop down from the cart and scuttle away, casting baleful glances at him as it did so, like a spiteful child fleeing a bully. Enraged by its continued screeching Sirus charged towards it, deaf to the warning Katrya screamed after him.

The drake had begun to clamber up a warehouse wall by the time he got to it, claws scrabbling at the stone, screeching all the while. It bared small, needle-sharp teeth at him, hissing as he drew the knife back, all the horror and suffering he had endured adding strength to his arm. You did this!

Something looped around his neck and pulled tight, jerking him off his feet an instant before the knife would have pierced the drake's hide. He found himself dragged backwards across the flagstones, trying vainly to suck air into a constricted throat. He could hear Katrya screaming and lashed out with the knife, the blade finding no purchase before something hard cracked against his wrist and the weapon fell from his grip. Hands closed on him, seizing his limbs and head, pressing him down with unyielding force. Faces loomed above him, spined and deformed silhouettes against the sky. Spoiled.

Knowing death to be imminent, Sirus tried to spit his defiance at them but the cord about his neck permitted no sound. As one the faces loomed closer and he was flipped onto his stomach, impossibly strong hands bound his wrists with more cord before he was jerked to his feet. He staggered, gasping for breath, finding that the cord about his neck had been loosened slightly. He was able to make out his captors now, a dozen or so, clad in a variety of garb that indicated different tribal origins, though he doubted that would make much difference to his eventual fate. Should have risked the drop, he thought.

His gaze paused on one of the Spoiled, marked out by his clothing, fabric instead of leather or coarse woven hemp. Looking closer Sirus saw it to be the ragged and besmirched tunic of a Corvantine infantryman. He assumed it must have been looted from the bodies of the slaughtered garrison, then he saw the face of the wearer. This one's deformities were not so pronounced as the others, the scales about his eyes and mouth barely noticeable and the ridge on his forehead scarcely more than a series of small bumps in the flesh. Also, his eyes, black slits in yellow orbs, regarded Sirus with a clear expression of recognition.

"Majack?" Sirus said.

The Spoiled gave a short nod before he and his companions stiffened in response to another cry, not the screech of the infant but something far deeper and more commanding. They raised their gaze to the sky as a very large shadow descended. A Black? Sirus wondered, squinting upwards as the shadow obscured the sun. The notion died when he saw that this drake had a wing-span greater than any drake known to science, but it did match one known to legend.

Copyright © 2017 by Anthony Ryan


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