Authors: Samantha Sabian
Published by Samantha Sabian and Arianthem Press
THE SHADOW GAMES
Vol 6 CHRONICLES OF ARIANTHEM, 2015. FIRST PRINTING.
Office of Publication: Los Angeles, California
THE DRAGON’S ALLIANCE, CHRONICLES OF ARIANTHEM, its logo, all related characters and their likenesses are ™ and © and ™ 2015 Samantha Sabian and Arianthem Press.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. The entire contents of this book are © 2015 Samantha Sabian. Any similarities to persons living or dead are purely coincidental. With the exception of artwork used for review purposes, none of the contents of this book may be reprinted in any form without the express written consent of Samantha Sabian.
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THE SHADOW GAMES
THE CHRONICLES OF ARIANTHEM VI
by Samantha Sabian
he dragon skimmed low over the tops of the trees, leathery wings brushing the tips of the thick foliage. The creature was enormous, its scales a dark fiery red tipped with iridescent yellow and orange, giving it the illusion of being on fire. So powerful was the illusion, it seemed anomalous that the forest below did not burst into flames.
Flocks of startled birds leaped into flight, a foolish response given the predatory nature of this creature, and panicked wildlife scattered as the immense shadow passed over them. But the dragon was unmindful of the chaos she caused, intent on the destination ahead. She was navigating by the Meridians, the lines of power that crisscrossed the world below, invisible to most but clear as day to her. And she was drawn forward by a beacon even brighter than the Meridians: one of her own kind.
The landscape below began to climb and so did she. As the mountains grew steeper, the air grew colder, but it was insignificant to a creature like her. Snow began to blanket the world and the structures of civilization, whether inhabited or in ruins, grew fewer and farther between. Soon, even the trees began to thin as the landscape grew harsher. Jagged rocks poked through the snow and cliffs erupted from the surface, the eonic work of glaciers.
Snow swirled in the frigid air, but any that landed upon the red scales melted. The melted snow flowed down the body in rivulets, then backward into the dragon’s wake where it froze once more. If anyone had looked up, it would appear as if the dragon were a slow-moving comet. But there was no one in this harsh land; none could survive the conditions.
And still the dragon went up, her wings beating rhythmically, her powerful heart straining not at all, although the physical exertion to make the climb was extraordinary. The air thinned and there was less to breathe, but that was counter-balanced by the lessening of wind resistance and the wings moved powerfully forward. Finally, the endless steepness of the mountainside gave way to pale blue sky as it flattened at its peak.
And there, impossibly, on the peak of this mountain, was a castle. And it was evident this was no ordinary castle for the dimensions were other-worldly, built for inhabitants very different than the small two-legged mortals that occupied Arianthem below. The hallways and doorways were gigantic, the parapets colossal, so wide they easily accommodated the dragons that were perched upon them. And the dragons, perhaps a dozen in number, all colors and sizes but none so large as that which approached, all sat waiting patiently for her. That was expected because she was expected, not because she had announced her coming but because the one she was looking for could sense her as easily as she could sense them.
She whirled about, making her approach in a tight, smooth turn, hovered briefly above the stone courtyard, then alighted in a graceful maneuver that only slightly shook the castle walls. The blue dragon that awaited her in the center of the courtyard smiled, revealing rows upon rows of sharp teeth. She, also, was enormous, much larger than the others and only slightly smaller than the fiery red creature that had just landed. In form she was opposite the red dragon, her light blue scales tipped with silver and white so that her scales appeared to be made of ice, so beautiful they looked like diamonds. She, too, had an iridescent quality about her, but where the red dragon appeared to be engulfed in flame, the blue dragon twinkled as if covered in stars. And then, with a flash of yellow and white light, the two dragons transformed and two gorgeous, regal women stood facing one another. One was encased in a gown made of blue the same color as her scales, her dark hair streaked with flattering silver that matched the gleaming embroidery of her gown, her light blue eyes the color of ice, yet heated in expression. The other was encased in fiery armor that fit her curves perfectly, her amber eyes flecked with red, her silver hair perfect for her elegant and aristocratic features. And all of the dragons bowed their long necks down low while the woman in the blue gown gave a slight curtsy, her eyes lingering on the flawless swell of breasts framed by the wicked looking armor.
“My Queen,” the blue dragon said in greeting, “here to take your castle back?”
“Kylan,” Talan replied. “Of course not. I gave this to you years ago and it’s yours to keep. Besides, it’s a bit cold to my liking.”
The eyes made another shameless circumnavigation. “My dear, you could melt the snow at the top of Mount Alfheim.”
The exchange was multi-layered: two confident, ancient creatures, both powerful, both highly sexual creatures that could seduce anything that moved, including each other. And it was evident to the other dragons present that such a mutual seduction had occurred in the past given the playfully suggestive tone of Kylan, their mistress.
“I heard you had a new toy. I’m disappointed you didn’t bring her.”
“You keep well-informed considering you’ve been so isolated for centuries. It seems my love is attracted to women a thousand years her senior who are also dragons. And since you are the only other who fits that description, I thought it unwise to bring her.”
Kylan’s laughter spilled forth. “Probably a good decision, if what I’ve heard about her is correct. But you forget Volva also fits that description.”
Talan’s expression darkened. “Yes. We must discuss Volva.”
The blue dragon had expected this as well. “Then come into my palace, Queen of all Dragons.”
Raine eyed the tavern thoughtfully. It was in a very isolated location far from most trade routes and villages, set off from a little-traveled road. The establishment was poorly placed for any type of commerce, its only customers likely to be wanderers or travelers completely lost. And indeed, rumors swirled about these woods, tales of those gone missing without a trace. It was those rumors that had brought her here.
“What do you think?” she asked the dwarf at her side.
“The place gives me the creeps,” Lorifal replied.
“Indeed,” Feyden agreed.
Raine nodded, satisfied. “Me too. Then I will go in.”
“Going to use yourself as bait again?” Feyden asked. The taciturn elf’s tone was sardonic as always.
Raine examined her companions. A heavily armed and armored dwarf and a lethal looking elf would be too intimidating. Accompanied by them, it was unlikely she would get any information from the occupants of this tavern. She started removing her weapons and handed them to her friends.
“I’ll go in alone and do my best not to look threatening.”
Feyden snorted. Raine was by far the deadliest of the three of them, and even the sole dagger she kept on her person was all she needed to wipe out the nest of vipers that was likely within. Still, her striking beauty often gave her an advantage because it was distracting and caused almost all to underestimate her.
“We will be a short distance away, in the woods. You have only to call out if you need us,” Feyden said, his tone communicating how unlikely that scenario was.
“Thank you, my friend. This should be fun.”
The owner of the tavern looked up, surprised. Not only because visitors were extremely rare, but because she usually sensed their presence long before their arrival. This one, however, strode in unannounced and unanticipated.
Her eyes narrowed and she felt a staggering surge of lust. This woman was spectacular, fair hair, refined features, a slender, muscular build, and dark blue eyes that looked about the tavern innocently, with perhaps a trace of naiveté. She wore leather armor but did not bear any weapons and had only a small pack over her shoulder. After the quick, careless glance about the room, the stranger walked right up to the counter, a look of consternation on those stunning features.
“Pardon me. I seem to be very lost. Do you know how far it is to Elder’s Run?”
The tavern keeper assessed the visitor. It was her practice to either send visitors packing immediately or to delay them indefinitely. She had already determined this one was not leaving.
“I’m sorry, dearie. Elder’s Run is at least a day away and the sun is going down. ‘Tis far too dangerous to make that journey tonight. You should stay here until morning. We have plenty of rooms to rent.”
Raine frowned, appearing indecisive. “I knew I had gotten way off track. Very well, I will stay the night.”
“You can take that room, there,” the tavern keeper said, pointing to an open door off the main hall. “And we’ll have some dinner out here at the main table in just a while.”
“Great. Thank you.”
Raine closed the door behind her, then began removing her armor. It was as she suspected, four of the creatures were here. The tavern keeper was clearly the head of this covey, one of minor power and age but likely compelling to her followers. Two of the followers, a male and female, were full-blood, turned to darkness by the bite and blood of their mistress, and one, another female, was simply a thrall, turned only by her bite.
Raine’s assessment of the room had been far from careless. For not only were there four of the creatures, there was a woman and two children present as well. And Raine’s anger burned, for the woman scurried about fearfully, the cuts on her arms and her pale, wan face giving hint to why she was kept there. And her children played uneasily in the corner, hostage to a terrible situation. This small family complicated things.
Raine pulled on a simple, long-sleeve cotton shirt and a pair of comfortable breeches. She appraised her outfit, satisfied that she now looked even less of a threat.
When she re-entered the main room, a great deal of furious whispering came to an abrupt halt. The male and female sat at a table against the wall, watching the pale woman closely as she brought a tankard of mead to Raine. The woman’s hand was shaking and she sloshed a little on the table.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, her voice trembling.
“’Tis no matter,” Raine said politely. It was clear the woman wanted to say more, but she merely set the tankard down and hurried back into the kitchen to fetch dinner. The tavern keeper wiped the bar down slowly with a cloth, her eyes never leaving Raine.
Raine examined the other occupants of the room. The two children avoided eye contact, playing with some sticks in a forced, mechanical fashion. The thrall sat staring dumbly at the wall, numb to the world. The male and female stared at Raine with an intensity that bordered on hunger.
The barmaid scuttled back into the room with a platter that she set before Raine.
“And what do we have here?” Raine prompted.
“Some beef stew and fresh bread,” the woman stammered. “I hope it is to your liking.”
The woman adjusted the place setting, and a slip of paper beneath the bowl caught Raine’s eye. It had six hastily scribbled words. “Danger! Don’t eat! You must leave!” Raine shifted the bowl so that it fully covered the warning. She glanced up at the woman serenely.
“I’m sure everything will be just fine.”
The woman took a step back, uncertain, then fled back into the kitchen. She had tried.
The tavern keeper sat down across from Raine and Raine noticed she had changed into a far more attractive blouse than she had on when Raine arrived. This dark maroon ensemble flattered her pale coloring and blood red lips, and it pushed her large breasts upward so that they nearly spilled out of the low-cut neckline. Raine could not help but glance at the two mounds, so perilously close to exposure. The tavern keeper was pleased at the attention. Perhaps this one could be seduced rather than forced.
The male and female watched with mixed emotions, jealousy, envy, and lust chief among them. This potential addition was gorgeous, but she could upset their little hierarchy. They both hoped the mistress would make her a thrall so they could do with her as they willed, but that appeared unlikely given the look on their mistress’ face.
“Do you mind if I join you?” the tavern keeper asked.
“It would be my pleasure,” Raine said, stirring her bowl of stew. “But you don’t have anything to eat.”
“I’ll have something in a little while,” the keeper said.
Raine took a spoonful of broth and pretended to savor it. There was a little something extra in the mix, not poison but some type of herb, a sedative no doubt. It would only mildly affect her as her tolerance for potions and tinctures was very high. Still, she would not consume too much.
“Come here, girl.”
The rough command drew Raine’s attention and she stiffened as she watched the girl in the corner freeze. The little one looked up pleadingly at her and Raine struggled to maintain her composure. There was a terrible dynamic here, a look of lust in the man’s eyes and terror in the little girl’s. She did not know how far this mistreatment had advanced, but it was evident it would advance further with time.
“Not tonight,” the keeper said sharply. She had seen the stranger’s attention drawn to that potentially sordid scene, and she wanted no distractions. The male stiffened, obeying against his will, then settled to sulk in his glass of wine.
Raine felt a little dizzy, a result of the drug in the stew, and she exaggerated her response, swaying forward then nearly falling backward. Instantly, the tavern keeper was at her side to steady her.
“You are ill!” she exclaimed.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Raine said. “If you fear contagion, I can leave.”
The tavern keeper helped her to her feet. “Nonsense. Let’s get you to bed where you can rest. You’re probably just exhausted from your journey.”
Raine did not resist as the woman led her into her rented room, noting that she closed the door behind them. She guided Raine to the bed and Raine was groggily compliant, sitting on the edge as the woman removed her boots, then lifted the long-sleeve shirt over her head.
“By the Dark Divine,” the woman murmured. The stranger now wore only a short shift, revealing muscular, well-defined arms and a chiseled torso. As strong as she appeared, however, she did not resist when the keeper guided her to a prone position on the bunk, then climbed on top of her, straddling her. The keeper’s excitement was at a pitch, but she determined to prolong this act and removed her own blouse.