Prequel to The Fae King’s Assassin
The day I found Arkyn wasn’t a good one. I had been up sick all night after poison training with Master. To test my mettle for the thousandth time, he’d sent me to the fighting pits to retrieve a gambling debt owed to him. The pits were carved into the side of a hill. The place looked like a honeycomb but without any of the sweetness.
I’d had to rough up the man who owed Master, but that hadn’t been the worst part of the day.
After using the gambler’s tunic to clean his blood from my knuckles, I exited his private den of iniquity which spilled into the largest of the fighting pits. Two dragons battled in the muck. Both of them were forest dragons roughly the size of a couple of horses smashed together. The one on the ground, bleeding from a rip in the throat, was dying. The winner shimmered in and out of view as untrained forest dragons did when alarmed or stressed. His wings shuddered and hung limply, dragging on the ground as the pit master took hold of the chain manacled to his neck and led him out of the arena. Keeping to the shadows with Master’s gambled sum in my vest pocket, I followed them.
Once the pit master had watered and fed the dragon in the beast’s tight cell, he left the creature in the dim light cascading through the stone room’s doorway.
“Eh, fella.” I approached slowly. The dragon didn’t respond to me at all. He just looked at the ground, staring at the food and water. I don’t know what possessed me, but my heart ached for the animal. Maybe I could relate. “I know what that feels like,” I said. “To win, but feel like you’ve lost.” Not even worrying about him deciding my hand was more delicious than his food, I slid my fingers through the cell bars and set them on his broad head. He still didn’t respond. His scales were warm then too, his health impressive despite the horrors he’d been living through.
I ran my hand slowly over his head, my stomach partially soured by the poison I’d been forced to take yesterday but mostly roiling from the state of this lovely creature.
Then an idea shot through me like a flaming arrow. I had no chance of pushing the idea away, of letting this one go.
“I’m getting you out of here.”
The dragon lifted its bright eyes to my face.
My cheeks stretched as I smiled and I felt dried blood on my lip. “Yes. You want to go, right?”
Exhaling a viciously heinous dragon breath, the beast nudged the cell bars. I eyed the door, looking for weaknesses in the design. The pit master had grown lazy. The door’s lock was beaten from long years of use. I shooed the dragon away from the door and he backed into the shadows of his cell, his gaze pinned on me.
I slammed my boot into the lock five times until it broke, the rusty metal flaking to the ground. I swung the door open and waved a hand.
“Don’t take all day.” I looked over my shoulder, but we were still alone. “They’ll take my hands for this if we get caught.”
Hurrying out of the cell with a grace that was surprising considering his size, the dragon lowered himself and extended a wing. He was offering a ride.
“Yes, please and thank you.” I climbed onto his back and set my hands on the side of his neck, clamping my thighs tightly at his sides.
With a few galloping steps, we were out of the door and leaping off the closest landing on the outside of the honeycomb structure. I bit down on a shriek as the dragon soared away from the pits. Shouts rose from those gathered and waiting for their turn to enter the filthy establishment, but the dragon ignored them and flew higher. Soon, clouds were wetting my blood-stained face and soaking my braids. I extended my arms as he spread his wings and a thrill through me. Freedom, that’s what this feeling was. True freedom.
But then I remembered the death rune on the back of my neck.
Using touches with my palms, I urged the dragon toward Isernwyrd and he flew as directed without complaint. I was in love, albeit in a different way.
“May I call you Arkyn?” I asked over the sound of the wind in my ears.
The dragon’s head lifted and he snorted what I took as a yes.
Before we reached Isernwyrd, I had him land in a secluded meadow in the woods beside the cattleman’s estate. I tried to get Arkyn to leave me. To take his freedom and return to whatever forest he’d come from. But he refused to take one step away from me. He bumped my stomach with his snout and extended his wing for me to climb up. Over and over.
At last, I gave up and we flew to our terrible home.
~The Fae King’s Assassin will release on December 6, 2022~