Genres: Fantasy - General
Fantasy - Epic
Fantasy - Sword & Sorcery
Fantasy - Coming of Age
A desecrated tomb, a missing relic, and cold-blooded murder. The streets of Dragonfell are awash in blood and the King has called on Tiadaria, the last swordmage, and Wynn, her quintessentialist companion, to uncover the nature of the darkness.
What they find is more dangerous than they could ever imagine and from a source they'd have never expected. Now Tiadaria must defeat an enemy that knows her almost as well as she knows herself.
The survival of the Human Imperium is on the line and time is running out for the last swordmage and everyone she holds dear.
The lovely maiden of summer had matured, growing into matronly autumn. She would stand guard over Solendrea as long as possible before the ice queen of winter descended, stripping the trees bare and laying out their naked bones against the cold grey sky. The first hint of that frigid air hung on the wind, buffeted by the magnificent white dragon’s wings. Forty feet across and nearly twice that long, Stryne would have been a terrifying sight to behold if anyone had been able to see him. His command of the Quintessential Sphere kept him hidden from prying eyes. Any stray mage or magical being wandering nearby would have to know where to start looking to find him. Even the beating of his impressive wings was too high above the ground to be felt or heard. He was alone, as he had been for hundreds of years.
Movement on the ground caught his attention, and he dropped his long neck to look more closely at the spot that held his interest. There was a minuscule speck of black moving across the landscape. A shadow moving across a deeper shadow, barely discernible, even with his magically augmented vision. It was the Warleader of the Xarundi. He had hovered in this same spot, day after day, week after week, for four years. He was careful, watching and learning. He would bide his time until it was perfect.
During the Age of Dragons, when Stryne had been free, and his brothers and sisters in command of the entire continent, the Xarundi had been a surface-dwelling race. In the interim, the wolf like warriors had fallen far and fast. No doubt due to the meddling influence of the humans. The dogs called them vermin, but humans were much worse than vermin. They were an infectious disease that, unchecked, would destroy anything it came into contact with.
The Xarundi had lost nearly as much to the humans as the dragons had. However, the dogs had been fortunate enough to retain their lives. Stryne was the last of his kind.
During his entombment in the ice, he had been forced to endure the loss of each of his kin. As the spark of each psychic link to the rest of his kind had died out, he had experienced what it was like to be truly alone. Turning his thoughts away from that painful memory, Stryne instead looked toward the slightly darker smudge in the foothills that was the entrance to the Xarundi’s subterranean empire. The Warleader began each day standing in the entrance tunnel to the cavern complex, and then would set out on his daily duties. Duties that Stryne would often survey from high above.
As long-lived as dragons were, they were gifted with incredible amounts of patience. A dragon could plot and plan and scheme for decades before settling on a course of action. Stryne was unique in that patience had never been one of his strong points. He preferred action over inaction, which was what brought him to the Warrens in the first place. There were still creatures on Solendrea who remembered the reign of the dragons and possessed long enough lives to remember old alliances and affiliations. The gargoyle who had given him the information about the Xarundi had also been imprisoned by the humans. Though the manner of his imprisonment was different, the result was the same. A burning hatred for humankind and a desire to see them eradicated.
Reestablishing his alliance with Sleeper had given Stryne what he needed most–information. Gargoyles had an uncanny ability to know everything about anything. Stone was everywhere on Solendrea, and the gargoyles could commune with the stone as easily as men could speak to each other. Sleeper’s assistance had been invaluable. Now, as he hovered over the foothills that hid the extensiveness of the Warrens, the dragon was ready to enact the first phase of his plan. The Xarundi wanted the humans destroyed as much as, if not more than, the dragon did. They would be well suited as allies.
Folding his wings against his back, the dragon dove, feeling the cold wind rushing against his sides and belly. The tip of his tail whipped back and forth in the air that screamed past. Dropping the spell that made him invisible, Stryne spread his wings. They snapped taut, catching the air and pulling him backward as they met sudden resistance. The powerful sweep of his wings ripped leaves from the trees at the edge of the clearing and bent the grass underfoot. The Warleader leapt backward at Stryne’s sudden appearance. Four-inch claws slipped from their sheaths and glimmered in the light of the pale moon that was just beginning to rise.
Stryne neatly backwinged, dropping to the ground and folded his wings against his back. He wrapped his tail around his haunches and lowered his neck, looking at the Warleader with glowing violet eyes. To the Warleader’s credit, he didn’t flinch under that regard. Instead, he stared back with his own pools of luminescent blue fire. Though his claws were still extended, the Warleader hadn’t made any aggressive movement. Instead, they stood in the clearing maybe twenty feet apart, staring at each other.
“Greetings, Warleader,” Stryne said in a passable, if unpracticed, approximation of the Xarundi tongue. “Though the manner of my appearance was sudden, I mean you no harm. I wish to parlay.”
The Warleader cocked his head to one side, his ears twitching as the dragon spoke. There was a long pause before he replied.
“Respectful greetings, Great One,” the Warleader was speaking hesitantly, as if feeling out the words as he said them. “You speak the tongue of the Xarundi as it was in ages past. I fear there may be misunderstanding betwixt us.”
“Then let us use the language of the lesser races,” Stryne replied in the low tongue. “I don’t wish there to be any mistake about what I offer, or require. I am Stryne the Forsaken, Dragonlord of the East and the last of my kind. I come with information for you and a proposal.”
The Warleader’s claws slipped slowly back into their sheaths. “I am called Xenir, of the Xarundi Combine. What information do you bring?”
“I know who you are, and I know how you came to live in this place you call the Warrens. An interested third party, a gargoyle named Sleeper, directed me in finding you. You are familiar with him?”
The Warleader nodded, and Stryne continued.
“I was exiled under the ice, far to the north before your kin released me from my prison. One of them, your High Priest, was captured during the ensuing battle.”
Xenir nodded. “Few of the war party I sent north returned with life and limb.”
“You didn’t know I was there. You sent them because you had a vision of a powerful relic buried in the ice.”
“Yes.” Xenir’s tone was unapologetic. “Had I known you were the relic, I’d not have sent the war party.”
“No, I suspect not.”
“If you wanted my life as penance for the war party, I’d be dead by now. So why are you here?”
“I seek not penance, Warleader. We share a mutual interest in seeing the human plague eliminated. I offer a way for both of us to get what we want.”
Martin F. Hengst resides in South Central Pennsylvania with his wife and two children. He is a proud member of both the Association of Independant Authors (AIA) and the Alliance of Independant Authors (ALLi).
An avid reader since childhood, he attributes his love for fantasy and science fiction to his father. Martin’s passion is creating intricate stories with intimate details set in fantasy lands that exist only in his readers’ dreams.
If you'd like to keep up with the world of Solendrea and the extraordinary people and places that exist there, visit: www.solendrea.com. You can also follow Martin on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Email can be addressed to: email@example.com.
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