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Authors: Joseph R. Lallo

Tags: #magic, #dragon, #wizard

The D'Karon Apprentice

BOOK: The D'Karon Apprentice
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The D’Karon Apprentice

 

Joseph R. Lallo

 

Copyright ©2015 Joseph R. Lallo

 

Cover By Nick Deligaris

http://www.deligaris.com

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
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Table of
Contents

Prologue

Chapter
1

Chapter
2

Chapter
3

Chapter
4

Chapter
5

Chapter
6

Chapter
7

Chapter
8

Chapter
9

Epilogue

Prologue

Peace is a fragile thing. A long war drives a
people. It works its way into the minds and souls of a nation,
giving them something to live for, and something to die for. When
the fighting ends, the prospect of what comes after—the rebuilding
and the healing—can be terrifying. The horrors of war are too often
more comfortable and familiar than the challenges of peace.

What had come to be known as the Perpetual
War had scoured the lands of the Northern Alliance and Tressor for
as long as any could remember. Dark figures, the D’Karon, had risen
to positions of power within the Alliance Army. Through this
influence they had stoked the war like a furnace, burning away
generations of the best men and women of both nations and weakening
the world as a whole. It was only through the efforts of the
divinely anointed warriors known as the Chosen that the D’Karon
were finally defeated, but in many ways it was then that the
greatest challenge began.

After more than a century of fighting, peace
was tenuous. Heroes once called upon to vanquish evil were now
tasked with holding together the ragged edges of their world until
the healing could begin. Too much blood had been shed and too many
lives lost to allow war to return. But in a dark place long
forgotten, a spark stands ready to ignite the war anew.

#

Somewhere deep in the arid wastes of the
southern shore of Tressor, a woman lay sleeping. Hers was a deep,
dreamless slumber, a slumber unbroken for years. The woman was
frail and forgotten, a motionless bundle of ragged cloth and
withered flesh. If undisturbed, she might never have awoken,
sleeping blissfully until the end of time without troubling the
world or its people. But this was not to be.

Piece by piece her body flickered to life,
like soggy bits of firewood sluggishly taking to flame. Her lungs
took the initiative, deciding that shallow breaths were simply not
sufficient. And so she breathed deep, quickly releasing it as a
painful cough. Next her eyes grew weary of the darkness and slid
open, feeding her mind images that it was not quite ready to
comprehend. Her fingers twitched, her cracked lips parted, her dry
tongue smacked, and slowly a word formed in her mind. It took
several minutes of effort before it worked its way to her lips.

“Thirsty,” she croaked in a voice from the
wrong side of a grave, startling a nest of mice that had made a
home in her hair.

She slowly scraped together enough of her
wits to sit up, stiff joints crackling with every motion. The light
was dim, filtering in from the mouth of a low-roofed cave. She
swept her eyes around until she found beside her a small cup caked
with sand and dust. Beside it was a cork-topped wine bottle. It
took three poorly guided grasps before she was able to close her
bony hand about the bottle’s neck, and four tries to manage the
complex maneuver of pulling its cork free, but persistence earned
her a long swig of vinegary swill.

One need dealt with, her body quickly alerted
her of another.

“Hungry,” she stated, her voice a shade
closer to human now.

Again she scanned her surroundings. There
were empty bags chewed through by rodents and the bones of a dozen
assorted animals that had been picked clean and bleached white.
Nothing even resembling a meal had been in the cave for years. For
a moment she contemplated climbing to her feet and seeking out some
provisions, but having only just managed to work out how to use
both arms at the same time, she felt the task of walking was one
that would be easier to tackle on a full stomach.

She picked through the mound of bones nearest
her. Though it was an uphill struggle to determine the proper
sequence of opening and closing her fingers that was necessary to
grasp them, oddly she found identifying them to be utterly
effortless.

“Skull of a jackal. Where is the jaw? Here.
Good, good. One of its legs too. Don’t need the toes. A few rat
spines, yes. Ah, perfect, a serpent skeleton. Intact, save the
head. That will do nicely.”

Like a child with a new set of building
blocks, she merrily began to fit the bits of carcass together.
Under her breath she uttered arcane words, conjuring black tendrils
that fused the bones to one another. After a few minutes she had
assembled a creature that could only have been born of madness.

The jackal skull sat atop the long, narrow
spine of a snake. Ribs, femurs, and claws linked together into a
set of six spidery legs that connected to the curving spine a third
of the way down its length. The rest of the serpent’s spine formed
a curled tail. She dangled the horrid concoction by the spine,
eying it critically.

“A motley bit of odds and ends, but it will
have to do… Now,
live
.”

Inside the hollow skull, darkness began to
swirl and coil. The edge of the tail twitched, and the mismatched
legs quivered. Two points of violet light sparked to life in the
jackal’s eye sockets. She lowered it to the ground and watched it
shudder, quake, and finally hoist itself to its feet, twisting its
oversize head toward her and sweeping its tail in expectation.

“Good. Now listen closely, Motley. You will
fetch me food. Meat. Something large, lots of blood, lots of skin,
lots of bone. Bring it quickly and I’ll be sure to give you the
bits I don’t need.”

The abomination pranced in place for a
moment, radiating delight at the chance to serve, then rattled off
toward the mouth of the cave. When it was out of sight, the woman
ran her fingers through her scraggly white hair, combing away any
other creatures that might have taken up residence.

“Now then… to work. I suspect there’s much to
be done.”

She looked beside her and found a tall ivory
staff. It was intricately carved with runes and sigils, and the top
was set with a deep violet gem. She pulled the head of the staff to
her lap and worked a simple spell. Inside the gem a muddy red glow
pulsed, and she felt her thoughts grow sharper, if not more
orderly. Yes… her name. She was Turiel. Her task. She was to
prepare the second keyhole. Her masters… why had they not woken
her? And why did something feel lost, something missing? She
reached out, seeking guidance, but there was no answer.

“Something has happened… I’ve slept too long…
Need answers… Something must be done…”

Chapter
1

Six months after the city of Verril was freed and the
Perpetual War had failed to live up to its name, life was
progressing as usual in an icy little down called Frosnell. A
thoroughly unremarkable city, it contained little more than a few
cobbled streets crisscrossing a city center dominated by a thriving
marketplace and a sturdily built inn called Merrimead’s Hearth.
Though a part of the frost-bound Northern Alliance, Frosnell was
far enough south to enjoy a growing season that could support more
than just the hardy cabbages and potatoes of the more northerly
farms. The market bustled with farmers selling their wares. With
the end of the war, the slowly opening borders to the south allowed
traders’ wagons to appear. They were a welcome sight to locals,
none of whom had yet been born when the fruits of the southern
pastures had last rolled through town. On a normal day these
wagons, heaped as they were with exotic goods, would be the talk of
the town. Today they were the last things on the minds of the
townsfolk. Far more interesting was the ornate carriage drawn by
four gleaming white horses that was approaching the town from the
north.

If there had been any doubt that the majestic
carriage belonged to someone of great importance and influence, the
escort of no less than six heavily armored men would have set it to
rest. The largest of the escorts—a beast of a man who by rights
ought to count as two—had taken a place of honor beside the
carriage’s door. Children and curious onlookers gathered around the
carriage as it reached Merrimead’s, but the guards kept them at a
safe distance. When all was calm, the hulking guard opened the
door, and out stepped a young woman layered in furs and dripping
with jewels. She was the new queen and empress of the Northern
Alliance, a woman named Caya. From the moment she showed her face,
it was all her escorts could do to keep the locals at bay, a task
made considerably more difficult by the social proclivities of the
new queen.

“Hello! Yes, hello! Is this your child? Such
a fine, strong boy. I’m
certain
we’ll have a place for him
at the palace some day!” Caya called, singling out villagers to
greet. She turned to her largest guard. “Really, Tus. Need you keep
them
so
far back? What good is it to be queen if I can’t
interact with my public?”

Tus didn’t reply. He was far too busy
squeezing the grip of his weapon and staring down a man who he had
decided was less than trustworthy. This opinion was based primarily
on proximity. Anyone near enough to fire an arrow at the queen was
someone he would prefer to see move along. It was his great
fortune, then, that something even more noteworthy had appeared,
steadily drawing the attention of the crowd.

One by one eyes turned to the sky as a dark
form drifted out of the bright clouds of midday. It was a dragon.
The beast was massive, its body easily the size of an elephant and
its wings wide enough to cast a shadow on half the market. Some of
the townspeople reacted with fear, but more roared with excitement
and wonder. This far from the mountains, there was only one dragon
who would venture so near the city. Soon her crimson and gold
scales were visible. The magnificent creature carried two
passengers on her back, each dressed in fine, thick cloaks and
huddled against the wind.

Caya grinned as the form wheeled closer to
the ground. It set down just outside the city. The queen set off
toward the beast without a word to her guards, but in the few
months they had been guarding her, they had come to know the queen
better than to expect her to give them warning of her intentions.
The best they could manage was to keep up with her. Tus caught up
in two easy strides, then stepped in front to serve as a plow
through the thickening crowd clustered about the dragon. The
creature seemed to have much the same attitude of strangers as Tus,
and a hard gaze from a mighty creature served as remarkably
effective crowd control. Therefore, though quite curious about the
dragon and its passengers, no one in the town was bold enough to
approach it too closely. The queen, on the other hand, had no such
concerns. Tus elbowed his way through the ring of spectators, and
the queen slipped gracefully through the wake in time to greet the
first of the passengers with open arms. She was a young woman, her
hair deep red and her gaze warm and compassionate.

“Myranda!” Caya said happily, wrapping her
friend and ally in a firm embrace. “Don’t you know it is poor
manners to upstage your queen?”

“Always a pleasure, Your Majesty,” Myranda
said when the hug was through, stepping back to offer a respectful
curtsy.

“Oh enough with that ‘Your Majesty’ nonsense.
If you’re being
accurate
, it is ‘Your Royal and Imperial
Majesty,’ but if you start calling me that, I’ll start calling you
‘Your Highness.’ And Deacon, my boy. How has the regal life been
treating you?” She clasped his hand in a vigorous shake. “I’ll
wager you’ve barely got time to scribble in that book of
yours.”

“Hello, Caya,” answered a young, studious
man. He was somewhat disheveled from the flight, and he didn’t seem
quite as at ease in his finery as Myranda. “As a matter of fact, I
haven’t
been able to record matters as thoroughly as I’d
like.”

BOOK: The D'Karon Apprentice
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