Sneak Peek: Sanctuary of Nine Dragons

Chapter One

 

Reunions and Deceptions

 

On swirling winds, Myrria glided gently, encircling the hidden fortress high in the Anna Mountains. Her long purple snout relaxed momentarily, and she sighed before landing. She was home in the birthplace of dragons, within the soul of Asha. Granted, she had been hatched in that distant cave at the Palace of Three Crosses, but her heart and soul had been born here in this holy place.

It felt good, and refreshing, to be home, even though she would not be here long. Asha had notified the remaining guardian dragons. Only five of the nine would be present, for three of them, the originals, already resided with Him in the Final Resting Place. They were with Him at the dawn of creation and had served their purposes here. Now they worked for Him in other places. One day Myrria and her compatriots would join their predecessors; however—in this time, in this place—they still had a job to do. It fell to Myrria and the remaining guardians to fulfill His purpose.

* * * *

She landed and joined Alorn, Cielo, Dryas, and Stefano who were already in place in the great hall. Until recently, they had been six, but even the guardian dragons could be tempted and led astray by Sidramah. Tatsu had been such a one. Sidramah’s power bound him as his tentacles ensnared him. Under the thrall of Sidramah, with the aid of a few spells from Waldrom, Tatsu rejected Asha to chase the evil one’s empty promises.

They now stood five strong and received the monumental task to fight evil and bring their world back from the brink of destruction.

Myrria kneeled before the throne. “I am here, Master. What is Your will?” She then rose and took her place in the circle.

The room in which they stood was not so much a room as an amphitheater. It had no roof, thus allowing the dragons to take off and land easily. It was large enough to accommodate a dozen dragons and hundreds of two-legged creatures comfortably. Upholstered benches lined the perimeter of the circular room, while the center was open to accommodate the Circle of Nine. The walls shone with green and white marble. Interspersed along the wall were doorways, some small, others large enough for the dragons to navigate. Situated on one wall was a diminutive crystal throne. It was on that throne Asha now sat. He was neither human, Kningrad, Mantion, or dragon, yet somehow embodied them all. It was as if a mist, constantly changing, constantly adapting, inhabited that place. He was all things to all creatures.

“Welcome, Myrria. I’m glad you arrived safely. I fear this meeting does not bear good news.” The white mist on the throne changed color to a dark, threatening blue before He spoke again. “Evil is afoot in the land. My children have been led astray, and the time has come for My hand to sweep the evil away.” The mist turned to a calming pink color. “I have sent one who can save them, but he can also bring about their final destruction.

“You, my Guardians, must seek him out. Protect him and ensure he is guided on the right paths.”

Alorn lifted his great ruby-red head. “Tell us who is he, Lord, that we may fulfill Your wishes.”

“I cannot reveal his identity…yet. Just know there are three who need you now. My power will be seen in all, but only one will be the savior in the end. However, all are needed to bring My Will about, and they must all be protected and nurtured.”

“How will we know them?” Stefano leaned forward.

“All will be children of Brandan or Joachim, and they will blend the lineage of the three races.”

“We know of Joachim’s children, but Brandan has none.”

“He has one, a half Mantion-half human child. Gorou is the third, and he will be the hardest to protect and nurture.”

“Why a child of Brandan?” Cielo asked. “Brandan has already chosen the path of evil time and again. Would not a child of his be exposed to that same evil?”

“Although, he fathered the child, Brandan knows not of his existence. Moreover, all My children are exposed to evil, and all must choose which path they will follow. With your protection and guidance, we can lead these three down the right path.”

“What of Sidramah? He will want them for his own.”

“Sidramah has planted seeds to make your job most difficult. In the end, if you and My children remain faithful, we will defeat him. Now, go. There is much to be done.”

The five dragons took to the air as the mist evaporated. A peaceful breeze was all that remained. If anyone had been present, they would have heard a gentle keening as if someone was mourning.

* * * *

Darkness settled on the forest outside the city of Wyrzburg as Brandan and Tatsu landed. Brandan intended to return to the Palace of Twelve Pillars now that Lukan had been found guilty of attempted murder. The way was finally clear for him to get rid of his brother, Joachim, and his wife, Maeve. Well, maybe not Maeve. She seemed a strong woman, one who could make a good partner. If only she was not Kningrad, but maybe Brandan could overlook that flaw.

First, he had to get back into the palace. After dismounting, he tore and rubbed dirt on his clothes and made sure he had the ingredients to perform the spell when he reached the palace.

“Master, is all of this necessary?” Tatsu asked.

“I want Joachim to believe Andrew was working with Lukan to kill us both.” Brandan grimaced. “This way, it will look as if I was injured while trying to escape Andrew, who turned out to be Melvane in disguise. It will look as if the Mantion played a part in this charade. A perfect plan, don’t you think?”

The big scarlet-colored dragon nodded. “At least let me take you closer to the palace.”

“No! I want them to be surprised. You landing in the palace courtyard would take that away.”

“If you think it’s best.”

“I do. Return to the Cave of Njori. I will call when I need you.”

Tatsu flew off as Brandan finished the journey to the palace. Upon arrival at the gates, the returning king mumbled magic words and stumbled hard as a gash appeared where the tibia bone in his leg broke through the skin. Blood oozed out, quickly staining his pants.

* * * *

Joachim and Maeve sat in Lilia’s aerie sharing tea during a few quiet moments. With infant twins and a kingdom to tend, there were few of those to be had. Since Brandan’s disappearance, there was even less rest for the royal couple than usual.

“Majesties, thank goodness I found you,” Matthias said, as he ran into the room. He panted trying to catch his breath.

The king set his cup down. “Is something wrong with the children?”

“Sire, King Brandan has returned.”

“Why didn’t you bring him?”

Matthias raised his hand to stop the king’s questions, and Maeve put a hand on Joa’s arm.

“He couldn’t come to you. He was badly injured and taken directly to his rooms where a healer could tend him. King Brandan asked for you to come, Sire.”

Maeve stood.

“The king requested only his brother,” Matthias said. “No one else. The healer agreed it was for the best.”

“I will walk with you husband and then check on the children. Come to me when you are finished.”

The king nodded, and they followed Matthias to Brandan’s rooms. When they arrived, Maeve kissed Joachim on the cheek. “Asha be with you, my love.”

“And with you.” Maeve walked slowly away and down the corridor deep in thought. I hope all is well with Brandan, but I fear there is trouble brewing.

Myrria whispered in her head. “Be cautious, beloved of Little One. All is not as it seems.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance on the moonless night. Maeve shivered and ran the rest of the way to the rooms she shared with Joachim and their twins.

* * * *

When Joachim opened the door, he found Rupert and the healer already tending Brandan. He wanted to hurry to his brother’s bedside, but something held him back. He signaled for Matthias to stand guard outside the door.

“Little One, be careful. There is more here than meets the eye.”

“I know. I feel it, too.” Joachim cleared his throat. “Rupert, is he all right? Is he able to tell us where he has been?”

The adept turned, and Joachim saw Brandan more clearly. His eyes were closed, and his skin held a gray pallor. His normally shiny, blond hair was unkempt, the usually fastidious clothing torn and askew. The left leg of his trousers was missing, and the leg bore a nasty gash. Joachim suddenly had a vision of Theodric as he lay dying and gasped. This can’t be happening again. I can’t lose Brandan, not after Father and Mother. He brushed his hand through his hazel-brown hair and stepped into the room.

At the sound of the footsteps, Brandan opened his eyes. “Is that you, Joa? Come closer.”

As the king stepped toward the bed, Rupert intercepted him. “Careful, Majesty. Something isn’t right here.”

“Myrria already warned me.” Joa sat in a chair next to the bed. “Yes, Brandan, it’s me. Where were you? We have been concerned for your well-being.”

As he waved the healer away, Brandan sat up. “That night in the garden, my servant, Andrew, was hiding in the bushes. He and Lukan must have been in cahoots. Once Lukan injured me, Andrew…” Brandan grimaced as he caught his breath. Sweat broke out on his brow, as if he was in great pain.

“You should rest. We can talk tomorrow.” Joachim put a hand on his twin’s shoulder.

“Let me finish.” Brandan pushed Joa’s hand away. “I was magically transported to a cave. When I woke, I was chained to the wall, and Andrew was strutting around like a peacock. Then, right before my eyes, he transformed into Melvane. He laughed and thanked me for making things so easy. He said with both you and me out of the way, he could now be king.”

“How did you get away?”

“I don’t remember all the details. I blacked out while Melvane tortured me. That’s when he broke my leg. He was trying to kill me. Slowly and painfully.” Brandan shuddered.

“You’ve been through quite an ordeal and must rest. I’ll see you have everything you need and are not disturbed. As soon as you recover sufficiently, we’ll decide what will be done next.” Joachim stood.

“Yes, rest…” Brandan closed his eyes. His voice faded as he seemed to fall asleep.

The king and adept left the room. The healer followed leaving the door slightly ajar, so he would not disturb Brandan when he returned.

“I don’t know, Rupert. All he says seems to make sense, yet it doesn’t feel right,” Joa said, walking with Rupert a few feet down the passageway.

“I agree, Sire, but I’m not sure what is wrong about it. Maybe after a good night’s rest things will be clearer to us.”

“I suppose you’re right. Good night Rupert.”

After the adept walked out of sight, Joa decided to check on his brother one last time before turning in. I’ll just peek in and make sure Brandan is resting comfortably. He looked through the partially open doorway and was surprised to Brandan across the room standing with his back to the door. He appeared to be speaking to someone, but no one else was in the room. His brother showed no signs of his recent injuries and, in fact, looked better than he had the night he disappeared. A cold chill raced up Joachim’s spine. Before he could call out to Brandan, a deep evil voice reverberated in the chamber.

“You have done well, my son. Now proceed carefully with our plans.”

“Yes, Master. I am your servant.” Brandan kneeled. Flames flickered around him without touching or burning him.

Joachim quietly backed away from the doorway, his body shaking. He was torn between rushing into the room and interrupting whatever was in there, or retreating in haste to his quarters before the evil consumed him.

That was not Asha’s voice and certainly not Father’s. I must tell Maeve and Rupert. They need to know immediately. Fear washed over him as Joachim sprinted to his rooms.