The following is chapter one of The Dragon Protector. It picks up at the end of The Dragon Hunter, telling some of the final scenes of that book from differing perspectives.
The lights from the freshly activated portal that connected the city of Nahat in Keckrick to the city of Japheth in Zandador faded as Taliya wove her way through the crowd searching for Javan. He should have returned by now, and she was hoping he had snuck his way through the portal along with the soldier who had just arrived from Zandador.
She was too short to see the soldier over the heads of the sweaty folks around her, but she could hear his haughty speech to the people of Keckrick. “King Omri is pleased with the super flowers you’ve been sending, but he wants more. I am here to oversee these valuable shipments and make sure none get left behind.”
“Those are my flowers,” she muttered between clinched jaws. She had planted them with her grandmother shortly after her arrival in Keckrick fifteen years earlier. After her grandmother had died in a sudden volcanic eruption, those fields and fields of humminglo flowers had allowed Taliya to feel connected to her grandmother long after her passing. Now those fields had been decimated because of King Omri’s greed.
The thought of her precious flowers sitting in storage shelters waiting to be dissected by his physicians made her blood boil. She wanted to stick every one of his soldiers milling around the city of Nahat with her poison-tipped darts to keep them from taking any more of her humminglos. She started to pull one from her hip pouch when she spotted Javan.
“Javan!” Taliya grabbed Javan’s hand and pulled him out of the crowd to a quiet spot under the dock. “What happened in Zandador?”
“Micah hasn’t told you yet?”
“No. He said he would make an announcement after he brought Mertzer back. He was looking for you, too. He won’t tell us anything without you present. I was worried when I didn’t see you return with Micah.”
“I got hung up but found someone willing to help me return.”
“So what happened? Micah said Omri was willing to negotiate. Is that true?”
“Yes, but things are more complicated than Micah realizes. I need to talk to him before he makes that announcement. Where’s Varjiek?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him.”
Javan cocked his head and squinted his eyes. That’s the look he got when he was listening to his dragon’s thoughts. She envied that ability.
“Varjiek?” Javan ran out from under the dock and looked around. “Where are you?”
The Noon Stalker must have made himself invisible and answered because Javan glanced up to the top of the building attached to the dock they stood beside. Without a goodbye or word of explanation to her, he took off toward the building.
He didn’t offer her an invitation, but she followed him anyway.
◊ ◊ ◊
Although it required serious upper body strength, Javan pulled himself onto the roof from the handrail of the dock. He lay in a heap on the hot mud roof and addressed his invisible dragon through strained breaths. “Thanks for the help, buddy.”
You didn’t need my help traveling to Zandador. You shouldn’t need my help to climb on a roof.
“That’s why you’re upset? Because I went to Zandador without you?”
You are my responsibility. I cannot keep you safe if I do not know where you are.
“I thought you were my responsibility.”
Nonsense. I became responsible for you the moment you landed on my back. That’s what makes our relationship work. It does not work when you disappear without telling me where you are going.
“Ah. Okay.” Javan stood and brushed the dirt off his clothes. Varjiek felt left out. Javan could fix that. “Sorry I took off without you. I would have told you, but you weren’t back from eating. I saw an opportunity to follow Micah, and I had to take it at that moment.”
“It’s a good thing I went.” Javan didn’t like arguing with an invisible dragon. He couldn’t tell if Varjiek was still upset. Since he wasn’t responding, Javan kept talking. “I learned some things I need to tell Micah about. We need to go find him before he finds us.”
“Too late? What do you mean?”
I mean he is here.
Javan turned to find Micah yelling for him atop the bridge. He was sitting on Mertzer, his Dusk Stalker, and demanded the hushed attention of everyone in the vicinity. “Javan, stay right there. I have news for you and the people of Keckrick from the King of Zandador!”
Before Javan had a chance to respond, Mertzer sped down the bridge.
◊ ◊ ◊
The speeding Mertzer stole Taliya’s attention from the edge of the roof that she couldn’t quite reach from her precarious perch atop the rail of the dock. The sleek white Dusk Stalker moved with ease through the crowd and delivered his rider to Javan by allowing Micah to jump straight from the dragon’s back to the rooftop where Javan stood.
She had had a chance to ride Mertzer with Micah halfway across Keckrick and had gained a new appreciation for the word “fast.” Even though the dragon didn’t have wings, it felt like he flew over the land, and she was sure his claws spent more time in the air than they did touching the ground.
She just wished she had been there to protect him from Micah’s sword back in Zandador. Then Mertzer wouldn’t be missing half his tail, and he wouldn’t have to live as a slave to Micah the Dragon Hunter for the rest of his life.
“I have spoken with King Omri on your behalf.” Micah’s voice interrupted her thoughts, and a hush fell over the crowd. She found her own breathing had stopped in anticipation of his next words. Had he been able to convince his father to spare the people of Keckrick?
She started to feel a bit lightheaded from the lack of breathing when he finally announced, “He is pleased with the super flowers!”
Taliya let herself breathe again and jumped down from the railing. That didn’t prevent her from keeping her ears tuned to the conversation between Micah and Javan.
“Micah,” Javan said, “before you say anything else, we need to talk.”
“No,” Micah said, keeping his voice low. “I found a way to spare Keckrick. If that is what you truly want, you need go along with whatever I say.”
“You don’t know the whole story. Your father–”
“My father,” Micah said, raising his voice to address the crowd, “has agreed to spare the lives of all of Keckrick!”
That brought wild yells and shrieks of relief from the people in the streets of Nahat. She wanted to dance and celebrate with them until she heard Micah’s next sentence spoken quietly to Javan. “He only asks for one life in return.”
The sound of a steel blade sliding out of its sheath stole the joy from Taliya’s soul. She had grown to trust Micah, and now he was about to kill her Javan!
“No!” Taliya screamed from the dock and climbed back onto the railing. She hadn’t been able to protect Mertzer, but she could certainly protect the Dragon Collector. The only problem was that she was still an arm’s length shy of the edge of the roof.
If she didn’t find a way to grow in the next ten seconds, she would never be able to scramble her way onto the roof in time.
The story continues with The Bloodlines Unite.