Kindle the Flame (Heart of a Dragon Book 1)

BOOK: Kindle the Flame (Heart of a Dragon Book 1)
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Kindle the Flame
Tamara Shoemaker
KinnAisling Press
Contents
Advance Praise
Kindle the Flame

“Kindle the Flame
returns fantasy to its roots—with magic, creatures, tournaments, and a perfectly delicious evil king. Old-school fantasy fans will love the dragon action and medieval-tinged world; new-school readers will enjoy the multiple perspectives and the delightfully different story-telling. Poetic and unique!”

— Emily June Street, author,
Velo Races
and
The Gantean

“Kinna, Cedric, and Ayden must navigate their complex and dangerous world of Pixies, Dragons, and evil kings while seeking to understand the mysteries that haunt their pasts.  The world is interesting and the characters are relatable—Ayden is my favorite!”

-Bryen O'Riley, fantasy author of 
The Chronicles of Quat
series

“Dragons, Griffons, Pixies, and Phoenixes. Shoemaker creates a realm you won't want to leave.”

— Foy S. Iver, YA fantasy author

“Shoemaker grabbed me immediately with her fanciful tale of intrigue and adventure in a magical world of Dragons.”

— Annika Keswick, romance author

“Shoemaker's lyrical imagery and powerful storytelling skills hook you from the start.”

— Margaret Locke, author,
A Man of Character

F
or Jordyn
, Joel, and Elena,

My Dragon-Masters,

Since, as we could not afford a horse,

You begged me for a Dragon.

A
fter Pompeii
, they banished me.

I'd protected them for centuries,

but humankind needed to find comfort, reason and blame.

A god of fire and wing was an easy target.

_________________

I
watched
from my volcanic skies, weeping,

as pumice ground, lava flowed, and choking dust cemented lungs.

I watched the prophesied storm unfurl.

And now the citizens gaze to eternity as immortal concrete icons.


F
rom
Fusion
by Mark A. King

Bond of Blood and Fire

D
rums rolled deeply
across the valley, each shuddering
BOOM
underscored by an answering glance from the surrounding craggy cliffs. Dragonfire flickered in spurts from the mouths of the four Great Dragons, while their kind paced in the background. The bonfire in the center of the valley glinted off of their metallic scales like a thousand eyes that glared in silence.

King Aarkan bowed to the gathered Seer Fey on the far side of the bonfire, whose delicate faces were painted with grim expressions. Their matriarch, with her ankle length green plaits, bowed low in return.

“My lord King,” she greeted him.

“Wendren,” he acknowledged. He turned and bowed to the four Dragons. “Dragon Council.” Their smoky eyes flickered in the firelight, steam arching from their nostrils as they in turn dropped their heads before him.

King Aarkan glanced at his men. At his gesture they melted silently back into the darkness that blanketed the valley. The King raised his voice above the crackling flames. “We meet here, Dragons and Fey, out of mutual need. The rebel forces gather power on the borders of my kingdom and wreak havoc among my outlying counties. Civilians flee their homes seeking aid, aid that I can give, but not without help.” He motioned toward the huge beasts who watched him with unreadable expressions.

“Dragons, you too have been slaughtered by the thousands, poached for the value of your scales in providing mail and plate for the rebels.”

A resounding hiss rose from the ranks of Dragons the valley over; flames shot into the air as angry roars ruptured the darkness.

“Seer Fey, these same rebels attack your homes and level your dwellings as they drive you from the western mountains, seeking the gold that streaks your lands. They strike not only your hale and strong, but your children and your elderly. As King and Master of the people and the creatures of this land, I say that this cannot continue!”

His words thundered in the air. Dragons' roars mixed with the shouts of Seer Fey. Behind Aarkan, his men began a rhythmic stamp on the earth, their greaves clanking in tempo with the drums that accompanied their treaty.

The terms, they all understood. A blood pact between Dragons and men would seal the fiery line of inheritance; the pact would grant kinship of the King and all his lineage to the Dragons forever. The Seer Fey would set themselves and their magic as guardians of Aarkan's blood, and so, together, form an unbreakable bond to protect the kingdom for all generations.

The King approached the bonfire, flanked by two of his men. Sliding the cooled end of an iron rod from the embers, he pulled it out, held it high. Its sharpened point glowed fiery orange in the air.

The four Dragons stalked nearer the blaze, shuddering deep growls from their throats. Together they lowered their muzzles to the ground as Aarkan moved toward them.

“For Peace!” he shouted, bringing the searing tip down to his forearm, ripping into the sensitive skin above his wrist. His flesh hissed and smoked, but Aarkan made no sound. His blood roiled, black in the firelight, coating his arm and dripping into the dirt.

He moved to the line of Dragons. “For Prosperity!”

The first, a Poison-Quill, huffed smoke around Aarkan's frame as the King drove the iron blade into the Dragon's exposed snout. Dark blood rolled across the beast's nose, flowing over the side and onto the ground. Aarkan laid his own dripping arm onto the snout and then moved to the Nine-Tail.

“For Trust!”

Into the Nine-Tail's snout went the blade. The Dragon did not move, though a low rumble shook his throat. The King rolled his blood-soaked arm across the wound and moved to the Ember.

“For Amity!”

The Ember roared. His flaming head arched toward the sky, towering over Aarkan before pride pulled him to the ground, stilling him when the blade sliced his hide. Again, King and Dragon completed the blood connection.

Aarkan moved to the Mirage whose mirrored scales refracted the bonfire into a million blazing images.

“For enduring lineage!”

The blade came down, and the blood mixed. Lightning forked the sky and thunder rolled in time to the drums’ deep
BOOM, BOOM
that had picked up in intensity as the ceremony drew to an end.

Aarkan turned, holding his bloody fist to the sky. Wendren raised both arms and faced the heavens.

The drums stopped. Dead silence fell. “Great Star, Light of all lands, it is completed.” Wendren's voice was milky with age, but the words still rang clear across the valley. “The Seer Fey prove themselves faithful.”

Once more lightning rent the heavens. A single forked bolt split the bonfire; a searing cloud of ash and flame arced hundreds of lengths into the air. The resounding crack of thunder hurled man, Fey, and Dragon to the ground.

In the silence that followed the thunder, Wendren stepped toward the brilliant embers. Mindless of the heat, she pulled an object from the flame bed, holding it high, her green-eyed gaze meeting Aarkan's across the flames.

“Our vow to you, oh King. With all the power of our
taibe
, our ancient magic, we bestow upon you this amulet, to ward off evil, to restore good. It is a sign of our oath to you. The Seer Fey will guard you and your lineage forever. Your children and your children's children will hold the heat of flames in their fingers.”

460 Years Later
Chapter One
Kinna

K
inna did not hate
the Pixie with flamboyant pink hair and rigid back turned toward her, but the Pixie hated her. Waves of dislike radiated from the Fey.

Kinna sighed. “
Please
listen to me, Hazel. I don't like it any more than you do...”

“Don't you,
mistress
?”

“Don't call me that.”

Hazel turned, staring Kinna down. Her clenched fists crossed tightly over her chest; her vivid purple eyes sparked with resentment. “You're just as guilty as the rest of them. You, who sit around with the other Dimn, training
your creatures
to do whatever mad plan you dream of next.”

Kinna sought the words to calm the angry Pixie, but they eluded her. Much as she wished to smooth the situation, sympathy squeezed through her mental barriers. It
wasn't
right, how the Dimn, the trainers, treated the creatures as if they had no thoughts, no feelings. She didn't approve of the Council's continued ratification of Pixie training, year after year, but what could she do?

Her father, Tristan, had returned home two nights ago after the latest Council meeting, weary-eyed and slump-shouldered, shaking his head in response to her look. “No, Kinna,” he'd said before she could utter a word. “King Sebastian rules with an iron fist. The Council has no choice but to continue as we always have.”

“Never fear, Kinna.” Her mother had pushed a strand of Kinna's fire-red hair behind her daughter's ear. “Someday, we will find a way to set the creatures free.”

“By the Great Star, Joanna, they're not slaves,” Tristan had argued, but Joanna had arched her eyebrow as she'd pulled her lips into a half smile.

“No, not those who achieve
psuche
, Tristan. Merely those who wish for a different life and are unable to obtain it.”

Kinna shook off her heavy thoughts and crossed to the wardrobe. “Whether we like it or not, Hazel, the Ceremony is tonight. Our names were drawn from the bowl, and there's no backing out now. Please, many things ride on today's events, and I
need
you to listen to everything I say. For your own sake, please, just ... behave today. Will you?”

Hazel's hair grew even pinker. “For
my
sake? Is that a threat, oh wise mistress?” Sarcasm rankled in her voice. Kinna tossed Hazel's gown across the bed and plopped down next to it in frustration.

“Hazel, I'm on your side.”

The Pixie snorted.

Kinna squeezed her eyes shut, took a calming breath, and let it out slowly. “No. No, it was not a threat. At least we may gain some opportunities from the Ceremony.”

“Opportunities?” Hazel laughed bitterly, her voice bouncing off the thin walls of Kinna's bedroom. “Why would I want opportunities? I'm happy here, right here in the center of West Ashwynd, settled in the Pixie Clan.
If
you win, and I can pretty well assure you that you won't, you
and
I will be conscripted into the King's army. So long, friends. Farewell, family. We're off to fight and die for you, but don't concern yourselves. Carry on.”

Kinna threw her arms wide. “Do you think I don't care, Hazel? That I
want
to be shipped off to the King's armies if we win? It's not a prize
any
of us want. But it's the law, and Sebastian will crush us if we refuse.” She swiped her flaming hair from her face in frustration. She'd forgotten to tie it back. “At least this way, the King so
graciously
bestows tax breaks for our family if we win a place in Sebastian's Tournament this spring. If we lose, which is looking quite likely if every Pixie has your attitude, then we get
extra
taxes, and my mother and father can't afford any more, as you well know.”

Kinna's words hit their mark. Despite Hazel's obvious dislike for Kinna, the Pixie held a deep, abiding affection for Kinna's mother, Joanna. Hazel's freckled face blanched at the mention of her possible future hardship.

Kinna took her opportunity for victory. “There, see? You know you don't want that. So, if it please your Pixie-ness, rid yourself of your foul attitude, okay? We—you
and
I both—
need
this win.”

Kinna opened the door and pulled it shut behind her, harder than was necessary, only to find that the hem of her gown had caught in the frame. With a yank and a loud rip, she pulled the material free, leaving part of the blue-dyed wool hanging in the entryway.

Mother's not going to enjoy that one.
Kinna tromped down the stairs, blinking back the sting of angry tears.
And Father's going to rage against the skies when he finds out that Hazel and I fought again.

She entered the main room downstairs, expecting to see her mother standing over the fire preparing the midday meal. A flush rose on Kinna's cheeks. She should have been helping. The Ceremony wasn't until tonight, and Joanna would not accept the excuse that Kinna had been preparing with Hazel.

Kinna glanced around the room, surprised that Joanna was nowhere in sight.

“I take it Hazel didn't make things easy on you?”

Kinna's gaze flashed to the figure in the doorway. “Julian.” A smile crossed her lips. “No. She didn't. But can you blame her?” The smile left her mouth, and she rubbed her neck. “I'd do the same thing if the situation were reversed. At any rate, I hope she'll straighten up by tonight.”

Julian ducked to enter the room. He shoved his hands into his pockets and glanced around. “I saw your parents at the banquet hall.”

“Already?” Kinna's gaze flew to the window. The sun still rode high in the sky.

“I think they're ... concerned. I mean, not concerned. Just...”

“They think I'll fail.”

“I didn't say that.”

“You didn't have to.” Kinna knelt beside the fireplace. She gathered her hair behind her head and leaned forward, blowing on the embers, coaxing them into flame again. The fire's heat felt good.

“If you didn't—”

Kinna turned to Julian. His lean face flushed clear up to his dark curls.

“If I didn't what?”

He frowned and sighed. “Kinna, if you didn't spend all your time sneaking off to watch the Dragons, your parents would probably sympathize more in your struggles with Hazel.”

Kinna slowly stood, heedless of the ashes that stained her dress in the shape of knee caps. “Oh?” The word sounded strained in her ears.

“Come on, Kinna, you know—”

“And I suppose that I'm the only one at fault? That I've been sneaking off by myself all this time? I don't suppose there is anyone present that's ever encouraged me to go, that's even gone with me a time or two?”

“Kinna, you know I only did because you—”

“And how is your Pixie training coming, Julian? I suppose Sage is thrilled each time you ask her to do something, floating on your every word, just aching to achieve
psuche
with you? Your parents are awfully proud of you, aren't they? They'd never see their son disappoint them.”

Kinna's tongue moved, words flew from her mouth, but she'd lost track of them. She stumbled to a stop when Julian crossed the wood floor, his hands seeking her shoulders. “Kinna. Stop. All right? I'm sorry.”

Julian's face blurred behind her tears. “For what?” She sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “You didn't do anything wrong.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, you'll do great tonight. Do you believe me?”

“No.” Kinna buried her head against Julian's chest as he pulled her into a hug. “How can I take part in something I know is so wrong?”

Julian stroked her tangled hair, twisting it into a spiral down her back.

Kinna's voice raked in muffled tones against his tunic. “I know you don't agree that the Pixies' situation should change, that
any
of the creatures' situations should change, but—”

“They have a good life, Kinna. It works. Think about it. If we didn't have the Pixies, or they didn't have us, we'd both be lost. We rely on each other. We're not oppressing them, no matter what Hazel has told you.”

Kinna shook her head and pulled back, impatiently jerking her hair across her shoulder, separating the mass into three strands and weaving them swiftly into a braid. “You say that because Sage is your Pixie. She worships you. You've never had the chance to see a better life for her because she won't let you.”

Julian ran a hand through his hair, tension flashing across his face. “Leave Sage out of it. She's not Hazel, who has obviously been filling you with all sorts of ideas.” He dropped his arm to his side. “I'm sorry. Look, Kinna, the Elders drew your name, so the Great Star will guide your performance tonight. I believe in you. Now you just have to believe in yourself.”

“And in Hazel.” Kinna bit her lower lip. “That's what is troubling me.”

A
s Kinna crossed
the cobblestone square to the Pixie Clan's central lodge, the butterflies in her stomach morphed into iron-winged creatures that smashed against her abdomen walls. She wound an arm across her torso as she glanced at the gate where six other Pixiedimn and their Pixies prepared to enter. Julian already waited there with Sage. The turquoise-haired Pixie stood next to his tall form. Adoration coated her glances at his face.

Kinna had often teased Julian about his Pixie's crush—not that he would ever act on it. Sovereign decree forbade human-creature relationships, and the decree had been ratified several times over by the Elder Councils of each Clan. Still, whenever Kinna had poked fun at Sage's crush, Julian's face had pinked. “She can't help it, Kinna. Just leave her alone.”

“She can't help it, oh irresistible Julian?” Kinna had laughed. “Just like Hazel can't help it either?” It was no secret to anyone in the Clan that Hazel also nurtured a fanciful preference for the tall, tan Pixiedimn.

“Not everyone can choose who they love. It just happens sometimes.” He'd refused to say anything more after that; he'd just shaken his head and changed the subject.

Kinna glanced sideways at Hazel. The Pixie glared at Sage, ignoring the congestion across the busy cobblestone square. Her frown marred her perfect face splashed with soft freckles that contrasted with her brilliant hair. If looks could cause harm, Sage would be a pile of steaming Troll muck.

Kinna had given Hazel an outfit she'd carefully sewn under Joanna's watchful eye. It was a gown that mirrored Kinna's own: deep blue with a tapered waist, a wide neckline that showed the fine collarbones. The Pixie hated it, preferring instead to wear breeches, a long tunic, and a belt, but the Clan Elders had a dress code for the annual Ceremony.
If she does well, I'll give her a whole wardrobe full of new breeches and tunics
, Kinna decided.
Maybe she'll take it as an olive branch, perhaps see that I'm not the enemy.

“Identification, please.”

Kinna stopped short at the gate, tugging the neckline of her gown toward her shoulder, allowing the guard to view her newly-inked Pixie symbol.

When her father had done the re-inking the night before, he'd shaken his head with a
tsk.
“I don't know why your ink never stays on, Kinna,” he'd murmured as he concentrated on pushing the ink into the skin with the needle.

Kinna's jaw had hurt from clamping it shut. “It'd be a lot less painful if it
would
stay put. Must I wear the mark, Father?”

Tristan had speared her with his gaze. “Everyone needs a mark, Kinna. It's a symbol of your status in the Pixie Clan and of your citizenship in West Ashwynd. It is your security in this country ruled by a mad—”

“Tristan!” Joanna's sharp rejoinder had sealed Tristan's lips, though his dark glance over Kinna's head had spoken volumes.

A shiver had needled Kinna's spine. No one else's Clan mark constantly faded. Kinna thought it must have to do with her nightmares, but her mother had told her those were only bad dreams. They didn't feel like dreams though. They felt like memories.

The recurring nightmares cast a shade of doubt over her security. In her darkest dreams she always felt herself jouncing hard against the saddle of a horse, the animal's lather spritzing across her face, and thundering hoof beats behind, just behind. The mists never parted; there was only darkness and the harsh pants of horses, hoof beats, and panic.

The lodge guard cast a cursory glance at her symbol. “Go on in, Miss.”

“Come on, Hazel.”

The Pixie grudgingly allowed herself to be led to the line of other Pixies and their Dimn, who stood before a side door to the banquet hall.

Julian nudged Kinna with his shoulder. “At least you got her here.”

“I rather wish I hadn't.” Kinna glanced at the others. “Do you think the Elders would banish me if I refused to parade Hazel before them?” She peeked at Sage. “It doesn't look like you had any trouble with Sage.”

Sage ignored her, her attention fastened on her master's face, worship in her eyes.

A steward hurried around the corner. “I was told everyone had arrived,” he puffed. “Please, follow me.”

Kinna touched Hazel's shoulder, and the Pixie jerked violently. “I'm coming,
mistress.
No need to tell me.”

Kinna sighed. “As you wish.”

Julian looked grave as he watched Kinna. She met his gaze and shrugged.
What am I supposed to do
? she mouthed.

He shook his head and followed the line after the steward. Kinna and Hazel brought up the rear.

Inside the lodge Kinna could hear the music of celebration and laughter, the cacophony of a full-course dinner where drinks were served in abundance. The steward led the Dimn and their Pixies to the back of the banquet hall and motioned them to stay put. “We'll call you up, one at a time. Please wait here.”

As their presence registered with the Elders and their guests, the noise level lessened in expectation. The steward hurried toward the center of the room.

He bowed low, projecting his voice to the rafters. “Elders and honored guests, we bring the winners of this year's lottery before you, prepared to showcase their training. May you feast upon their talents as you feast upon the sumptuous meals on your trenchers. For your entertainment, the selections of the Clan.” He waved toward the line where Kinna stood with nervousness strangling her stomach.

BOOK: Kindle the Flame (Heart of a Dragon Book 1)
5.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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