Chapters 1-17 are here:
Tyson watched as a man and a half-lizard, half-bird fell out of the rising transport. Then he wasn’t watching, but racing to where Gibson had fallen. He reached his brother, but his attention was pulled to the sky again when he saw that it wasn’t a man falling anymore, but a dragon.
“It’s all true,” Gibson breathed, watching while the dragon swooped down over the treetops practically over their heads. Tyson nodded and picked him up. “It’s all real.”
“We have to move, Gibbie. Get up, or all those real things are going to come down right on top of us.” Tyson looked up and his eyes widened. The dragon was struck, and falling again. Tyson pulled his brother along, stumbling for the Landing Port. The sounds of trees snapping like twigs reached them. Tyson tripped when he looked back. He pulled Gibson off the street and under the awning of a stone building. They both cringed when they saw the transport and the blasting ball of light that seared into the ground. An explosion rocked the air, pounding through them, and the windows behind them shattered from the repercussion.
They waited, holding their breath to see if the dragon would rise again, or if the Lord Chancellor would appear. The transport turned away and disappeared. The sound of its engines faded. Long moments later, the streets started to fill with people, their dazed faces looking to the sky. The sound of weeping filtered through the town.
“Where is he?” Gibson asked and Tyson shook his head, still watching over the trees the space where the dragon had disappeared. “Is he dead?”
Tyson shook his head again, leaning Gibson back against the building. “I’ll go find out. Will you be all right?”
“Yes. It stopped bleeding.”
Tyson left him and hurried to the woods. The destruction of trees amazed him, and he climbed over huge trunks to the place where the blast had struck. There was nothing but a ring of black and a few smoldering branches. He didn’t stay long, fearing a return of the transport and Maralt. When he got back to Gibson, one of their friends was with him.
“Did you see it?” Creg asked while he wrapped a makeshift bandage around Gibson’s shoulder. “I can’t believe it, Tyson. It’s real. The dragon is real.”
“He may not be so real anymore, Creg. He’s not there.”
“You mean…you think he’s dead? The Lord Chancellor?”
“I don’t know what happened to him. But, I don’t think Maralt would have left if Marc Talryn was still alive. Can you get Gibson back to the house?”
“Sure Tyson,” Creg said.
“What are you doing?” Gibson asked, his face pinched from worry and pain, and a growing fear.
“I’m going after him. Someone has to. If something’s happened to the Lord Chancellor, no one knows what Maralt is doing. I’m going to try and follow him, find out where he’s going. Gibson, he’s after Juleta. He’ll kill her if he finds her. I have to go.”
He didn’t wait for his brother’s approval, glancing at Creg with a nod before he turned for the Landing Port. He dreaded going back inside through all the stiffening bodies, but he did it anyway. He crept through and around the dead, trying to stay as far away as he could. He heard a noise from the Captain’s office, someone moving around, and for a moment, he thought the Captain might still be alive.
The Captain was just as dead as ever, but Jak Strattle was looking over the desk. He was a Guild pilot they’d lost track of. He used to fly escort runs to Altair, but lately, he hadn’t gone any place where trouble might find him. He jumped when Tyson came in. “Tyson! Are you all right? What happened here? I mean, I saw the dragon, but…”
“I need to take your ship, Jak.”
“My ship? No. I mean, why? We can’t leave. We have to—”
“I need to follow that transport, and I don’t have time to argue. We have to move now.”
Jak looked likely to argue, but he didn’t, finally agreeing with a hesitant nod. “A transport? What’s so important about it?”
“Maralt Adaeryn is on board. We have to find out where he’s going.”
Jak closed his eyes, but started for the bay where his old ship was docked. Tyson looked around the office before he followed, shivering at the sight of all the dead eyes that stared at him. It seemed to him that there was fear in all those faces, telling him to stay, telling him to get as far away from Maralt as he could.
“I’m all right,” Marc said when he didn’t feel that way. He groaned as he untangled himself from Ralion and pulled to his feet, but then had to sit. Ralion was beside him the next instant, looking him over with a worried face. He hurt just about everywhere, bruised and scraped up, but otherwise not so badly injured. He winced when he stood again, moving for the companel on Ralion’s desk. He meant to contact Beren, afraid that Maralt knew just where Juleta was and would get there before Dain. He touched the controls and pain shot up his arm. An arc of light crackled at his fingertips, gluing him in place. Ralion grabbed him and hauled him back, stumbling over a chair and down to the floor.
“Now what?” Ralion said as he sat up.
Marc didn’t bother trying to stand this time. He shook his head, sure that if he used the companel again to contact Beren that the same thing would happen. He didn’t know why he wasn’t supposed to interfere, or who was ensuring that he didn’t, but he had a bad feeling that it was the good guys. “I have to go back to Distalt,” he said, propping himself up against the desk. “He killed a lot of people there.”
“Marc, how are you ever going to keep Dynan from finding out about this?”
“That’s why I’m going to Distalt.”
“What about Dain? Lyle and Ames?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do to help them. Nothing I’ll be allowed to do anyway.” Suddenly he wasn’t so sure that sending Dain was the right thing to do, afraid he’d end up fighting him for Maralt.
“What are you going to tell the other one, Dain Ardin?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“He’ll be able to tell if something happens. Either of them. Dynan always knew when Dain was in trouble.”
“I don’t think…No. Not this time,”
Ralion shook his head. “That’s comforting.” He got up to sit in a chair. “So is the thought that you’d make us go along with this, like it or not. Reminds me of someone I never want to see again.”
“You could look at it another way. You wouldn’t be committing treason against the Crown Prince that way. Innocent by default.”
“Too late for that. If I’m going to break my trust with Dynan like this, I’d rather know about it than live with being used after the fact. You’re not Maralt. Don’t forget that. Not that Maralt would bother talking about it,” he said and shook his head. “Treason for the good of the state.”
“I doubt Dynan will look at it that way.”
Ralion shook his head. “No, he won’t,” he said. “You know, before I went into the service, I wanted to be a farmer.” He smiled at that distant memory. “Maybe I’ll have the chance to do that.”
Marc glanced at him and smiled despite the oppressive weight he felt settling through him. He couldn’t really imagine Ralion doing anything else, but admitted it was a novel idea. “I heard about the pigs, and well, I remember them, too. That’s one of those memories that has been right there, always.”
“Dain almost didn’t forgive me for that.”
“Maybe he’ll join you, and you can be pig farmers together.”
“No.” He stood and held down his hand. “I’ll go tell Kyle. You want me to give him the whole story or just make it an order?”
“Tell him.” Marc stood, turning to look out the window. “I’ll be back when I can. If you hear anything from Beren…”
“I’ll let you know.”
Marc nodded, and thought himself to Distalt, using Gibson Ven as his conduit. Marc startled his parents badly, but they recovered quickly enough. “But we saw you fall,” Gibson said, half-rising from the chair he was in while his mother tended his wounds. “At least, we saw the dragon fall.”
“That was me, but I managed to get away before Maralt could blast a hole in me. Where’s your brother?” Marc looked at them when everyone froze for a moment, then he knew it, and groaned. “He went after him,” he answered his own question. Marc started shaking his head, but then realized he was upsetting the parents. “I’m sorry.” He thought Tyson was probably going to end up dead, and these people weren’t at all prepared to face that possibility. He didn’t guess any parent took that threat well, and thought of his own. “You weren’t supposed to get mixed up with this, not like this. I’ll do everything I can to get Tyson back here. He shouldn’t have gone.” He glanced at Gibson, and the boy almost shrank from him. Marc shook his head, not meaning to frighten them. “You need to get your things together and get ready to leave. Do you have any family?”
“Yes,” Randal said, and a glance to his wife. “We could—”
“Does Juleta know where?”
“Yes, she’s visited with us. My mother—”
“You can’t go there. I’ll let you know where in a minute. When I get back, you need to be ready. I’ll get a Medic over here as soon as I can.”
“I’ll get one.” Marc nodded, and left them. He stood just outside on the Gurrell’s side porch, and he could see down the street. Ten people lay dead, scattered house to house and marked by the huddled groups that stood over the fallen. He activated his receiver, forgetting what had happened the last time until he heard Ralion’s voice. He remembered then, but nothing happened. “I guess I can talk to you without getting zapped.”
“I need a relief team in here. Maralt killed everyone he saw. Port is closed. They’re all dead. The City guard is dead and that kid we talked to took a ship and went after Maralt.”
Ralion swore. “Tyson, right? At least Dain knows who he is.”
“Except Dain doesn’t know he’s coming. Try putting me through on receiver. Maybe that’ll work.”
“Sure. I’ll try it,” Ralion said, then hesitated. “No, wait. How many times has our Com system been messed with? No. You wouldn’t want that kind of current coming in through your ear piece, Marc.”
“…Right. You have a point. Thanks. Get that team in here. And don’t go through Morlin. He’s busy dealing with Errien.”
“I’ll get them out to you.”
“Tell the Captain I’ll find him when he gets here. I need to move the servants. Dain told me there was a house on Altair. Where is that?”
Ralion explained that the Telaerin mansion on Altair was near a town called Nylin, but didn’t know when it had last been occupied. “I’ll get the local guard to send someone out. Check the place over.”
Marc agreed, and cut the channel. He looked down the street again. He didn’t want to be seen. He didn’t want to face these people, or the blame he felt for this atrocity. He was responsible for it, for every death that happened here.
He thought he knew what he was doing when he sent Juleta to Beren, but now he wasn’t so sure. Doubt was his master, and he should have expected it. That seemed to be the way it worked. One minute he was certain what he should do, usually before he did it, and when it was too late to change back, his certainty evaporated. The thing that told him which way to turn, left him, and when it did, he was cold and lost, the voices silent. He had yet to learn to wait patiently for them to return.
Those voices were different from the constant, insidious whispers that assailed him at every turn. He knew who directed them, the face of a demon swirling continuously in his mind. He still had a hard time believing that the others came from the Gods, but he listened to them anyway. Their intent at least was clear enough and matched his own.
“But Marc, they mean to take you. You can have everything you want and keep your life,” a whisper broke into full voice. A hole opened before him, its interior spinning with black and a man stepped out. As he did, the Gateway closed to a pinpoint, hovering at his back.
“You’d like me to believe that,” Marc said, glancing around to see if anyone would notice this apparition. The man before him watched with him. He was dark like Maralt, but different. Marc didn’t think he’d ever encountered this one before. It was hard to tell.
“I am Adiem, your father.”
Marc started at the name, but shook his head. “My father is in Rianamar at the Palace. I have no other.”
Adiem smiled easily and leaned back against the porch railing. “Yes, Meril is your father and Farina is your mother. That’s true. That part of you that is flesh and blood,” he said, and reached his hand up to touch a scrape at Marc’s temple. Adiem stopped when Marc reared back away from him, and he shook his head. “I am the first of our kind. You’re an Adept telepath, which means my seed is in you. I was created by the Gods, just as you were. I was part of their great and glorious plan for humanity. I followed along as expected, did as I was told, just as you are now, but I found out something I wasn’t supposed to. I discovered who the Gods are. I will tell you, they are no different from you or I. They were men once, long ago before they evolved into the beings that they are now. But certainly no better than you. They fear you, Marc. Why do you think they want to get rid of you?”
“They don’t want someone like you running around loose, is why. Neither do I.”
“Of course they don’t. They have power that they don’t wish to share. They won’t tolerate it in anyone but themselves. They want control and they’ll get it by any means. They distort the truth to ensure it. They destroyed our home, Marc, so that the knowledge would die.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I didn’t expect you would. Not now, when they have such a hold on your mind. They tell you what to do and you do it, even when you doubt. I know. They did the same thing to me. I was cast aside though, exiled to a pit of darkness.”
“Yes, I’ve been there.”
“And you think that existence is what I deserve? Well, you won’t like it anymore than I. I’ll be seeing you there soon enough.”
“Only when I come to lock you away.”
“That’s what they would have you believe. You’re expected to give yourself to them, but they will reject you, and that small part that they haven’t ripped away will find only one home. It’s an unpleasant existence. Is it any wonder that we seek to escape it? No, you won’t like it either.”
“So you want me to think that you were put there unjustly?”
“I was, and there are so many others now, trapped as I am. You’ll set us free. It’s your fate to do so. In that moment, after you’ve taken your forefathers to yourself, the knowledge and power that the Gods possess will be yours. You’ll understand then. The truth will be revealed. When you see that I’ve spoken honestly of this, you’ll decide then. I only wanted to forewarn you of what you’ll be faced with. The others certainly won’t.”
“The Gods tell me what I need. They don’t rule by fear. They don’t seek the subjugation of man, or their destruction.”
“They seek to contain and control what is normal and inherent in all men by denying knowledge. And when they can’t, when that knowledge breaks through the boundaries they’ve erected, force is met by counter-force. Chaos is the result. They’re the ones responsible for this atrocity today, and you with them, as I am. Yes, in equal measure. When you’ve taken us all, you’ll have the power to break the cycle, to allow knowledge and truth to come from the dark shadows. The bonds that enslave us all will vanish.” He straightened, looking around at the dead. Families and neighbors were slowly starting to move indoors, carrying the fallen with them. There were others starting to look around, looking for someone who could explain, who could give them a reason for why this had happened. “The fate of all mankind rests in the choices you make. All mankind, Marc. We’re all hoping that this time, you’ll be wise enough to make the right decision. I’ll see you again.”
He was gone the next instant, stepping back inside the black maw that opened to receive him. It closed around him, sealing him away, but not before Marc saw the grimace of pain and weariness that twisted his face.
Marc closed his eyes, wishing he could excise his words so easily.
Jak Strattle looked over the controls of his ship, wondering what kind of trouble he was getting into. He’d been peacefully sleeping one off on board and woke to this nightmare. Dragons and Maralt Adaeryn. That name sent a bolt of fear through him, and he double-checked to make sure that the transport couldn’t track him. He stayed back beyond its ability to scan, far back. He glanced at Tyson Ven. “Why don’t we just call Central Control?”
“If you think you can get through, and if you think Maralt won’t know it, go ahead. We don’t know where he’s going yet.”
“You’re going to tell me what this is all about and how you got mixed up in it before we do anything,” Jak said. What he really wanted to do was turn around.
As Tyson started relating what he knew, Jak was convinced they had to turn back, and then Tyson described seeing Dain Telaerin with the Lord Chancellor one moment and not the next. He didn’t want to listen to the part about the dragon, and he felt suddenly sick when he heard how many people had died. “Dain Telaerin is going after him?”
“Sounded that way. The Lord Chancellor said don’t let him get in your head, and Dain said he’d bring him back.” Tyson frowned then. “Maybe Juleta said something, anything that might tell us what she’s gotten into. Why would Maralt want to kill her anyway?”
“What if she did? How would we find out about it? And Maralt kills people because he likes to, because he wants to hurt Dynan and Dain Telaerin and Cobalt.”
“I have her access code. Can you get into that system?”
“No, I don’t…Her personal account?”
Jak frowned, thinking if he could access his own personal account, then he could get into Juleta’s, too. He wasn’t the same class of people as she, but he didn’t think the files where segregated by how important you were. “Let me just try. What’s the code?”
Tyson gave it to him, leaning over the screen to see what would happen. A moment later, Juleta Gurrell’s personal account opened. “Yes,” Tyson said, smiling over this small success.
“Where is she?” Jak asked.
“She was at the Palace. A Palace messenger came before dawn this morning, and Lord and Lady Gurrell left very soon afterward. I heard them say that she’d been moved, but they didn’t say where.”
“That means the Palace has her hidden somewhere. Have you heard the talk that’s been going around? About Liselle Telaerin and Prince Dynan?”
“I don’t pay any attention to that sort of thing, Jak. Who cares?”
“A lot of people care, and they use what ever they can find.”
“Liselle came to the house with Juleta.”
Jak rolled his eyes, afraid again. Anything to do with Liselle meant trouble, just the same as Dain. He turned back to the screen and started reading, even though he felt guilty for the invasion. Juleta Gurrell had a death sentence on her head, and somehow Liselle had gotten her mixed up in something big enough to warrant Dain’s involvement. That made it the worst possible kind of trouble. Jak skipped to the end of her journal. Her last entry stopped him. “It says she’s afraid.”
“There isn’t anything there,” Tyson said, and sat back in his seat. “We have to get to her before Maralt does, or she’s dead.”
Jak nodded, trying to think past the pounding of his heart. “There aren’t many places the Palace can hide her. Their homes are the first likely choice. Have you heard anything about the Beach Manor?”
“No, but that’s a likely place.”
“Yes, and so is Beren.” Jak frowned over that. Beren was almost too obvious, because Dain and Dynan lived there as often as they could. That meant they knew people that they could trust. Jak supposed that was true of the Beach Manor, but the twins hadn’t gone there so often. That was a once a year excursion that the whole family went on, except that one time that Dain had gone by himself. Liselle Telaerin had been the cause then, too. “This is crazy. We’re crazy, you know that? To do this is just stupid, Tyson. We could end up getting killed. If Dain Telaerin has anything to do with it, we’re sure to find trouble.”
“We have to help, Jak. No one else knows that Maralt is coming. I saw the Lord Chancellor fall. If something happens to Dain, we’re dead without him. We have to help.”
“Dain is crazy. Always has been,” Jak muttered, then checked his coordinates against the transports. He couldn’t tell which way Maralt would turn; for the Beach Manor, or Beren. If Jak wanted to get there in front of him, and he definitely wanted to do that, he had to guess now. “We’re going to Beren. If Dain is involved with this, that’s where he’d go. That’s where he would send Juleta to keep her safe. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s what I think.”
“What about the other places, on Arel and Altair.”
“They wouldn’t send Juleta to Altair. Not with Dynan there today. They haven’t used either of those homes in years anyway. It’s got to be Beren or the Beach. I think Beren.”
Tyson hesitated, then nodded. “Beren it is. Can you get us there?”
Jak nodded, really not liking the idea. “I can get us there. This ship, it isn’t much, but it’s faster than a regular transport. I’m going to head us off toward Arel so he doesn’t think we’re following him and then we’ll get in front of him. We’ll get there before he does.”
A few hours later, they arrived over the Beren Port, dropping down inside the landing bay. It was dark still, but it wouldn’t be for long. As Jak set the ship down, Tyson stood. “Warn the Captain. I’m going.”
“Be careful, Tyson. Your Ma will kill me if I don’t bring you back.”
Tyson nodded, and left the ship. Jak sat right where he was, listening to the outside sounds for a while. The birds were starting to wake up. He hated the dawn. Tried hard not to see it on most days. He muttered over it and meant to go talk to the Port Captain, but then he heard the sound of a transport engine coming in for a landing. Jak went to the ramp, looking up at the craft as it lowered just two bays over and knew it was Maralt. He stood transfixed an instant longer. Maralt looked down at him, his eyes narrowing and then the edge of the building took him from sight.
Jak stumbled back on board his ship, his hand automatically reaching for the ramp controls. He thought about Tyson, and thought him dead. He moved quickly then, powering up the engines and preparing the ship for liftoff. It didn’t take long, since he’d only just shut them down, but it seemed forever before the indicator lights changed over. The moment they did, he got the ship moving, popping up out of the bay with reckless heed to safety. His hands shook, but he managed to engage the engines and set a course. It didn’t matter where. Away was the general idea. The ship moved forward, and Jak left Beren behind.