In case you might have missed it – Cloud Cursed is out now!
Buy it. Read it.
But in case you’re still not sure if you want to give it a go yet, here’s Chapter 1, Part 2 to tempt you along. Say hello to pensive Khennik.
And if you missed the first half, catch up here.
KHENNIK KIN BLAZEBORN Clan Sunlord waited for the door to click shut behind the Rift Rider lieutenant before releasing a sigh. His shoulders lowered the slightest fraction and he breathed in deeply. Alone. At last.
A hint of jasmine clung to the air, rising up around him like a cloud as he sank into the chair by the window. He didn’t mind. He’d grown used to the scent since they’d left Onalen’s Cove. It was oddly comforting, seeping into every corner of the room and even stealing into his sleep. He still preferred to return to an empty cabin, where he could let down his guard and relax in comfort without any expectant eyes on him, but the reminder that someone else had been here too made him feel… less lonely? Khennik wasn’t certain. He’d never felt lonely before. He was solitary by nature and preference, and yet this strange trip all across the Dragonlands was teaching him things about himself he’d never known, never even suspected.
Especially where that particular human was concerned. Nera was small and fragile seeming, yet brave, bold and daring too. She had tried to save him – more than once – and had been hurt in the process. He had hurt her, leaving her with light burns, which had thankfully healed quickly until he could barely see them now. Unlike her leg. He could still detect a hitch in her gait when she moved.
It used to make him wince, as he lurked out of sight down the hallway every evening, when Estenarven or Mastekh had helped her move from his cabin back to the ambassador’s. The guilt had been strong in the early days – it was why he’d offered the use of his window to her during the day. As she’d grown stronger, and his guilt had faded, he’d still liked the idea of her staying in his room. It felt like he was somehow watching over her, even when he wasn’t close. If he knew where she was, he could be certain that she wouldn’t come to any further harm.
Snorting, Khennik shook his head at his own foolishness. First he had placed a claim on his young dragon aides, becoming their elder in truth rather than just name, now he was looking out for individual humans. What next? Egg gathering? Perhaps he should build himself a nest and keep an eye out for a suitable mate.
He grinned, baring his teeth at himself and the ridiculousness of that thought. He had enough responsibilities as it was. Adding a dragonling into the mix would likely send him mad. There was no way on this Overworld any offspring of his would ever be raised in a nursery out of his sight. He simply wouldn’t be able to trust their care to anyone else. The poor little creature would be forced to travel everywhere he went. It would likely fly away as soon as its wings budded just to get away from him.
Khennik smiled, almost able to imagine it now: a little bronze copy of himself, independent and ferocious, cunning and bold. Father Sun, what a dragon that would be.
“Foolishness,” he rumbled, shaking his head to disrupt the thoughts. He didn’t have time for dragonlings. His life was far too crowded as it was. He already had an entire kin to take care of, as well as his two aides, all the Rift Riders and crew of the Skylark, plus the responsibility of perfecting a cure for the Curse to save his whole Clan. Where would he find time to sire anything in all of that, let alone build a nest, protect the egg and raise a dragonling?
He didn’t even want to raise a dragonling. They were too fragile and apt to die or leave, and then where would he be? This was why he didn’t have friends or form close bonds with anyone or anything. Or so he’d told himself for years before leaving his desert and having such things thrust upon him.
Clearly, he was having a mid-existence crisis. Well, he was more than seven hundred years old. It was bound to hit him sooner or later.
“Later,” he ordered himself, because now was definitely not the time. Grabbing hold of his thoughts, he turned them determinedly in another direction. Luckily he had a view that provided the perfect distraction.
Pressing his foot against the cabin wall, he slid the chair back from the windows, the better to enjoy the approach to Spire Heights.
It was an impressive sight, just as he’d said to Nera, but one he’d seen before. A little showy for his own tastes, yet one he could still admire. The way the clouds poured between the supporting struts was a particularly nice touch. Khennik wondered what it had looked like before the Curse fell and suspected it hadn’t been nearly so beautiful.
Not that he would ever say as much. He snorted in amusement. Swiftwings weren’t just known for their pursuit of knowledge; their pride in their Clanhome ran just as deeply. Insulting the beauty of the place would be an excellent way to end any hope of cooperation between them and himself. Things were already in a precarious place thanks to Kalaha’s injuries. Not that he’d been permitted to see her at all on the journey. No one had been admitted into the state cabin except for Elder Goryal and Healer Litha. Even the handful of Swiftwing dragons who had visited along the route hadn’t been allowed through the double doors. Conversations in whispers and repeated assurances were all any of them had been allowed.
Khennik only hoped she still lived. He was near-certain she must do – her scent lingered, though it was often buried beneath sickness and with a constant edge of pain. She was still with them, but for how much longer he couldn’t tell.
The door opened soundlessly behind him. He felt the shift in the air, sensed the approach of two dragons and the enticing scent of ginger tea.
Mastekh appeared in the edge of his vision, placing a tray on the table and fussing about with the cups. Somewhere behind him Estenarven shuffled around, picking up stray items and packing them into the single travelling trunk that had accompanied Khennik all the way from the Blazeborn deserts.
Khennik didn’t move, allowing his aides to work in companionable silence. They weren’t bickering. They hadn’t done so once on this leg of the journey. Khennik found that he missed it; he missed his playful, slightly annoying aides. So much had happened to his young dragons since they’d arrived at the Winter Moot – beatings and betrayals and the pain of having Kalaha come to their rescue. He only hoped they would bounce back soon. Knowing Kalaha’s progress would help, but Goryal was in no rush to share such things. They always had been stingy with information, unless they were the one pursuing it.
A rattling cup appeared from the left and Khennik reached out to take it before the hot liquid could spill all over him. Mastekh’s nerves were better these days, and he seldom dripped on the floor, managing to maintain his human form and keep his focus. He still stammered and shook, but Khennik suspected that would always be a part of the young Rainstorm. He was sensitive by nature and often anxious. He was Mastekh; Khennik wouldn’t have him any other way.
“Rishen has returned,” Estenarven said, his voice deep in the quiet.
Mastekh dropped the teapot on the table with a clatter, knocking an empty cup onto the floor. The plush carpet caught it safely, but the Rainstorm dragon fell to his knees with a bubbling apology, hands dripping, shoulders shivering.
Khennik blew on the top of his tea and slid his chair around in a half turn, raising an eyebrow at Estenarven.
His Boulderforce aide grimaced and cast a sad look at Mastekh’s down bent head. Khennik sighed, grateful that Estenarven had told him even if it had upset Mastekh. Khennik needed the information and it was best to let Mastekh know that his elder, Rishen kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight, had returned. Despite being the third of the kin elders assigned to escort the human ambassador through the Dragonlands, Rishen hadn’t set foot on the Skylark since the Winter Moot. Khennik had rather hoped they’d lost him for good, since they had a fine replacement in the Thunderwing elder, but, alas, he was seldom so fortunate.
Nor was poor Mastekh, who had issues of his own with his kin elder, even though as an aide he was supposed to be under Khennik’s command. He was under his protection too, after events at the Moot had proven that neither Clan Flowflight nor Clan Stoneheart had any intention of caring for their young dragons. Khennik would do a much better job, mostly by letting his aides grow into themselves without driving them down very narrow, restrictive, and occasionally cruel paths.
He sipped his tea and waited for Mastekh to climb back to his feet. The poor Rainstorm was shaking too hard to pour cups for himself and Estenarven, so Khennik sent the Boulderforce a pointed look. While Estenarven took over the task of pouring, using the opportunity to press his side against the smaller dragon in a reassuring caress, Khennik looked out of the window, pretending not to notice. The two of them were so different, yet balanced each other perfectly in many ways. Estenarven was quick to finish the tea and, after glancing at Khennik, pressed a brief kiss to Mastekh’s damp cheek.
The Rainstorm flushed green, but his hands stopped dripping and he smiled as he sipped his own tea.
Khennik drained his cup in one long final draft and faced his aides again. “This changes nothing,” he said, standing. Estenarven was both taller and broader than him, but the Boulderforce lowered his head at his approach. Smaller Mastekh stole shy glances up at Khennik’s face before he too looked down.
“You are mine,” Khennik reminded them, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. He wasn’t fond of physical contact, but this moment required it. He squeezed Mastekh’s shoulder and gave Estenarven a firm pat. “No matter what anyone else says. Mine first.”
Mastekh peered up at him with watery eyes and Khennik slid his hand away before his heat could grow too uncomfortable for the Rainstorm. He balled his fist and held those pleading eyes with his own. “Always,” he vowed, allowing a growl of power to underline how serious he was.
Mastekh shut his eyes and tilted his head down, shuddering – with relief, Khennik thought. Estenarven seemed to think so too, if his smile of thanks and approval was anything to judge by. Khennik patted the Boulderforce again before removing his hand.
The view beyond the window was now entirely made up of stone and buildings. Spire Heights was even more impressive up close.
“Looks like we’ve arrived,” he told his aides.
Estenarven placed his empty cup back on the tray and touched a comforting hand to Mastekh’s arm. “We’d best finish packing then.”
“I’ll leave you to it,” Khennik said, giving them a sharp nod before he strode from the cabin and made his way to the nearest ladder. The other elders would be waiting on the top deck: time for him to join them. A dragon delegate’s duties were never done.
Smiling with anticipation of what might lie ahead for both him and the humans within Spire Heights, Khennik put his foot on the first rung and ascended quickly. He had a Curse to cure, and if anywhere on the Overworld held any clues about how it would be here.
“Ah, Khennik,” Elder Goryal Clan Starshine greeted him as he emerged from the hatch. “Good, now we are all here.”
Khennik looked at where three other kin elders were already waiting with Goryal and Junior Archivist Reglian. All five of the dragons had clustered at the prow rail, where the view to Spire Heights was beautifully clear and unobstructed.
“Are you ready to fly?” Elder Goryal asked, their rainbow-coloured eyes shimmering with anticipation.
“Always,” Khennik replied.
They smiled and, one by one, the elders and Reglian slipped over the rail to drop into the cold air below. There they transformed into their first and most natural shapes before winging back up into the skies towards the dragons that were coming to meet them.
A prickle of power built across Khennik’s shoulder blades before a light weight settled in the space between his wings. “Be ready,” Goryal whispered inside his mind.
Always, Khennik thought again in reply, and heard an answering laugh like silver bells as he flew to meet Clan Swiftwing.
Grab it now while it’s still cheap ;)