“Oh, Momma Look!” Never Ends Well

At least, it never ends well for me.

So, when we were at Home Depot of all places, and that come out of my daughter’s mouth, I knew I was really in trouble.

What had caught her attention? An eleven foot dragon. Yeah, she’s totally my kid.

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This one.

I have to admit, she has good taste. But it looked HUGE in Home Depot. I couldn’t imagine how big it would be on our suburban front lawn.

Of course, she reminds me that we have no other decorations. Which, she’s not wrong. I don’t suppose the three little pumpkin walkway lights really count. I love watching the kids dress up at Halloween, but I hate anything macabre. You can keep your ghosts, skeletons and dead brides, thank you very much!

But she’s now at the age where she really wants to decorate for the holidays. Unlike my husband and I who were known to go without even a Christmas tree before we had kids.

I told her I’d think about it, hoping she’d forget. Of course she didn’t forget, and she reminded me about it for the next two weeks.

So, we went back to get the eleven foot dragon. When we got to Home Depot, the thing was sold out. Even the floor model was gone. This was back at the end of September, and I was shocked. A quick search with my phone showed no other Home Depots with guaranteed stock in the area. But I could still get it online.

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Thank goodness!

So, I assuage my daughter’s crushing disappointment that she isn’t getting it that day with the fact that it will arrive in three to five days and we probably wouldn’t have had time to put it up that weekend anyway. She trudges back to the car, but at least I got her out of the store without a scene. There’s more than one reason why I do so much shopping online!.

The dragon arrived, my husband put it up for her, and she is now totally excited. So excited, in fact, that when she and her sister saw the dragon deflated the next morning on the way to school, they both were super insistent that I needed to “fix” the dragon.

Raising a pair of dragon lovers. Couldn’t be more proud!

 

Do you decorate for Halloween? If so, do you go all out, or were you like us with our three little pumpkins? Any of your neighbors go all out? What’s the best or worst display you’ve seen?

Unique Birthday Gift Twist

This year, I’m attempting something different for both of my daughters’ birthdays. Rather than get them a pile of store bought stuff they’ll love opening, play with, and forget, I’m trying to be a bit more thoughtful.

They each usually get one larger present. One year, this was magna-tiles. Who knew magnetic plastic could be so expensive?!?

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For the hours of play over the last two years, worth it, though.

Another year, it was a My Little Pony castle. I wish this would’ve been as worthwhile as the magna-tiles.

This year, both of their main presents are being created by artists from Etsy. It’s required me to plan well in advance of birthdays as most artists have a four to six week lead time, but I’m hoping it’ll be worth it. I want to give them something unique, but it also feels right to know you’re supporting an artist rather than a plastics factory.

We’ll see how it goes when I get the items, but so far, almost everything I’ve bought from an artist on Etsy has been spectacular. You can tell that they care about what they’re making.

Of course I’m hoping the girls will love what they’re getting.

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We’ve all gotten gifts like this.

Okay, it’s not going to be as bad as shown above. These are artists, not me, making the gifts.

More than just liking the gift, I’m hoping it’ll spur their imaginations and bring them to new worlds. I love watching them play with dolls, action figures, or blocks. Listening to the stories they’re making up, the reason they’re doing whatever they’re doing.

It’s a writer’s dream.

They’re literally acting out all the amazing imagination running through their heads. Making their pretend worlds come to life.

Frankly, another thing I really appreciate about Etsy is that nothing I’ve ever bought there makes noise. Or has an on/off switch. Or requires batteries. The gifts I’ve selected will appeal to things they already like, but it will require the girls to use their imaginations.

While there’s nothing wrong with electronic toys, and goodness knows they’re going to need to know how to use electronics.

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DD1 will already be using an iPad in her kindergarten class. But I also feel like this has gone a little too far. Does the fisher price school bus have to make a series of noises? Does every stuffed animal have to talk?

Volume controls and on/off buttons are nice, but does every toy need this in the first place?

I like to see the kids use their imagination. I love seeing where it takes them. They even snitched my stuffed green dragon, which I still haven’t gotten back, for some escapade or another. They love that dragon, and all it does is sit there. No roaring. No talking. No breathing fire. Just a plain stuffed green dragon to take them wherever their imaginations want to go.

 

How about you? Do you find your kids or grandchildren toys to require too many batteries? What do you think of current toys or the classics? Ever got a child a handmade gift before? How did it go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Should a Dragon Hierarchy Look Like?

I’ve been contemplating adding dragons to my world in the form of their own series of stories, but I’m wrestling with establishing a dragon hierarchy.

Why do I need dragons? Well, that’s self explanatory!

Why do I need a dragon hierarchy?

Because I fell like I can’t have every dragon in the world be a supremely powerful being with almost godlike status, though they all may think they have such status. Much like cats.

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Yeah, about how my cats see themselves.

Organizing dragon “classes” along the lines of size makes some sense to me, and the larger the dragon, the more powerful it would be.

Depending on the source of your dragon lore, dragons do seem to come in all sizes, from some not much larger than a pixie, to some the size of a castle or small mountain. If a mountain dragon could swallow a pixie dragon without really noticing, well, yeah, it makes more sense that the mountain dragon is more powerful.

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Yup, pixie dragon wouldn’t even be a snack.

I’d post some cool pictures of different dragons, but I’m not sure that’s allowed as most aren’t creative commons. So, here’s  link to my dragon page on Pinterest. You’ll quickly get the idea.

There’s a great deal of dragon references in my current series of novels. I try not to do an info dump, but you’ll see that while most people pay homage to Dracor, the god of justice, (who happens to take the form of a great gold dragon), most people also think dragons themselves are extinct.

Dragons of ages past are known to exist, and it’s widely believed they were made in Dracor’s image, but they succumbed to vanity, pride, and greed. Dracor smote the worst offenders, then cursed the remainder with nothing but male offspring, dooming the race to extinction.

Unless the dragons can figure a way around it, but I’ll leave that for the story.

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About sums it up.

While the readers may not know it, I know the original dragons, known as the Shard of Dracor, still exist. At least one of them, anyway. Humans have given these original dragons the name Embershard as that’s what the draconic words sound like in the human language.

These original dragons are the size of mountains, supremely powerful, and highly territorial. They hated the humans and elves when the gods made them, seeing them as either rivals or insignificant playthings. As they were the first among dragons, the other races of dragons followed their lead.

I’m not sure my first dragon story should start with an Embershard.  Seems like he should be at the end of the dragon series, otherwise the others might seem less interesting.

And, I have yet to find an antagonist for an Embershard. Andertaemosian, Ander to us mere humans, believes he’s the last of the Embershard. And he may just be right. So what challenges the first creation of a god?

I’ll let that percolate some more, but I have a few ideas.

Thinking I’ll start the dragon saga with a distant cousin of the Embershards. A dragon that’s more the size of a large house than a mountain. Still terrifying. Still frightening. Still powerful. But not quite so over-the-top-powerful.

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Kinda like her.

Yes, I know Ander is polishing his scales. Of course he is. Vain dragon.

Not sure if that works. Can you have varying sizes of dragons and make the world feel whole and real? I’m not sure. I’ve seen the color of dragons used a lot to delineate this. Anne McCaffrey did this and so does D&D. But that doesn’t feel right to me. I love the idea of a variety of colors of dragons, perhaps once considered jewels of the sky.

I could go with the dragon vs wyrm vs wyvern. But I sorta want them all to be like the traditional European dragon. Think Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. While I love the grace and beauty of the Chinese dragon, especially in the Zelda Breath of the Wild game, they need a different setting and context to shine.

 

Know of any good resources for creating dragon hierarchies? Could you believe in size as the determining factor? Or do you think Anne McCaffrey and D&D are on to something with color?

To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

You can catch up on the story at Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

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To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

They followed the shoreline not sure what they were looking for. Perhaps another footprint. A scale. Or even a dragon bathing in the lake.

Instead, they found a handful of deer, a couple of moose, and even a flock of sheep. All which should have been tasty morsels for a dragon, but no such creature was tempted from the sky.

“Any people missing?” Ndrek asked as he glanced over his shoulder at the sheep.

“No. Livestock seem to be accounted for as well.”

“What I felt may not have been a dragon, but whatever it was, it was far more powerful than the lich Sir Marcus destroyed.”

Knight Kailis frowned. “Maybe you just drank too much ale.”

“It takes far more than Tamarian ale to make me fall down drunk.”

“Maybe it was spiked with something.”

“Let’s say it wasn’t spiked ale that knocked him out,” Vaiya said. “And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume it wasn’t a long dead dragon or elven arch mage. What does that leave?”

Ndrek thought for several long moments, then ticked each off his fingers. “A supremely powerful but untrained and undiscovered sorcerer. A magical relic of immense power. A dragon. An elven arch mage.”

“An untrained sorcerer would be hard to hide,” Vaiya said. “They tend to set themselves and those they love on fire while still in the cradle.”

“That leaves a relic.” Kailis frowned. “I suppose it’s possible.”

“And if true, very dangerous,” Ndrek said.

“We’ll spend the next couple of days searching for any additional clues and following any leads the locals can give us. If you sense that kind of magic again, I’ll send an urgent request for back-up to the Dragon Church.”

“And if not?” Ndrek said.

“Then I make a full report and let the Dragon Church decide. Not sure how much manpower they want to spend on this when they’ve got undead walking the streets in the eastern provinces.”

“I would not wish to return to the eastern provinces. Hard to believe, but the food is better here. So is the smell,” Ndrek said.

Knight Kailis shook her head and led them back to town.

 

Curiosity burned. Ndrek knew something was out there, something of immense power, but not necessarily hostile. If it were, Kelleran would already be dust.

Church protocol bound Knight Kailis, but it didn’t bind him.

He watched the Knight of Valor conduct the investigation with by-the-book precision, but they knew nothing more when they retired for the day than they had at the beginning.

Ndrek lay in bed and studied the whitewashed ceiling. There was something out there. He could almost feel a whisper of its power. Almost.

Perhaps it was his desire to find the source of the magic that he felt rather than anything else, but he had to know.

His companions were asleep when he slipped out of the inn. He didn’t bother with the invisibility or silence spells. If he did find the presence, such magic would be of no consequence to it.

A sliver of a moon lit his path, and Ndrek augmented it with a faint light spell. No point tripping over a rock, and if this was a dragon, it already knew he was coming.

The familiar patter of his heart fueled him, and Ndrek felt himself come alive. His hearing was sharper, his eyes keener, even his sense of smell heightened.

A dragon. An elven arch mage. Something was out there. Waiting for him.

It would’ve been wiser to wake Kailis or Vaiya, but he didn’t want to endanger them. He had to find the truth, but he wouldn’t let anyone but himself die for it.

Ndrek crested the last hill and saw Lake Meade sparkling in the faint light. A man stood shirtless beside the water. His skin was pale as new fallen snow, and his hair shimmered as it reflected the faint moonlight.

“I knew you would come.”

Ndrek’s magelight spell evaporated as the words rumbled over his flesh. The wizard swallowed back the metallic taste of fear as his entire body trembled.

“You are not the one I seek.” The pale man continued to stare across the lake.

“Who is?”

“I don’t know. I thought I felt her, but I no longer do.”

Ndrek said nothing as the water lapped the shore. He could feel whispers of the same magic pressing against him, but this time, the magic was contained. Wrapped in strong wards that even now were weaving ever tighter and locking away the power.

The man turned to look at him, and Ndrek felt the weight of a thousand mountains in those violet eyes. Millennia of loneliness, isolation, and longing seared Ndrek’s mind in the time it took a firefly to blink. In the same moment, Ndrek’s soul was laid bare, exposing everything he was and all he wasn’t.

The man turned back to the lake, breaking the link.

Managing to stay on his feet, Ndrek forced himself to breathe.

“Go. You will find no dragon here.”

Ndrek nodded and fled to the inn, never looking back.

 

Ndrek accompanied Knight Kailis and Priestess Vaiya as they spent seven more suns following leads and looking for signs of a dragon, mage, or relic. They found none.

When Kailis asked him over and over about what he’d felt the night they’d found him on the road, Ndrek deflected, saying that perhaps the innkeeper had given him a stronger drink. Or perhaps he’d reacted poorly to something in the rocks or soil.

Kailis didn’t believe him, but she eventually stopped asking.

Three days after they returned home, Ndrek swore under his breath as Sir Leopold tromped into his bar and dropped payment onto the counter.

The Knight pinned him with his faded blue stare that always saw more than Ndrek wanted. “Knight Kailis thinks you found something but won’t tell her.”

Ndrek collected his payment and dropped it into the folds of his cloak. “You will not find a dragon in Kelleran.”

“Not what I asked.”

Ndrek closed his eyes as the memories flooded him, and even in the quiet warmth of his bar, he shivered.

“You look like you saw a ghost.”

“Those are easy to deal with.”

“What did you find?” Leopold folded his arms and waited.

“Doesn’t matter. It didn’t find what it’s looking for.”

“And what was it looking for?”

Ndrek paused a moment. “I think its mate.”

“Then it’s gone for good?”

“I hope so.” But the prickle down Ndrek’s back warned it was an empty hope.

To Catch a Dragon (Part 2)

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You can catch up on the story here.

To Catch a Dragon (Part 2)

Ndrek watched the rolling hills of the Tamarian countryside slide past. The scent of green growing things and manure filled the air, and the afternoon sun was warm on his back.

Not much more exciting than tending his bar.

And he couldn’t practice any spells as it would spook his horse and probably his companions’ mounts as well.

Magic users were uncommon everywhere, but even more so in Tamryn. The few that did exhibit both desire and potential were trained at the lackluster University of Magical Arts where the Dragon Church could keep a close watch on them.

Ndrek was uncertain why so many Tamarians feared magic, but it did explain why he hadn’t been able to find a horse that magic didn’t bother. The beasts were too much like their owners.

He’d have to pay Mara handsomely to find him one, but he doubted she’d accept such an offer. No, she’d want a favor in return. That’s how her kind worked. Gold was too easy for her to come by on her own.

But that would have to wait for his return to Aerius.

In the meantime, Ndrek whispered a tiny spell to make the saddle more comfortable, and his horse stamped a foot and snorted.

“Told you not to cast any spells,” Knight Kailis said.

Yes, he would trade Mara a favor for a real horse.

Glancing across the idyllic farmsteads with their grazing animals, rich crops, and tended barns, Ndrek had to admit it was better than the last time he’d traveled with a Knight. The roads were tended, riding was easy, and there were plenty of inns along the way. There were also no undead wondering around, a blessing in itself.

“We’ll stop in the next town,” Knight Kailis said.

Ndrek glanced at the sun still well above the horizon. “We could make it to the town after that without difficulty.”

“Protocol says…”

Ndrek sighed loud enough to silence her. “Very well. We stop in the next town.”

Kailis glared at him, but said nothing the rest of the way to town.

As they rode into the village, Ndrek groaned when he saw that it looked exactly like the last five they’d stayed in. Sure, the houses were painted different colors, and there were different flowers in the planters, but the same Dragon Church surrounded by massive oak trees dominated the center of town. Merchant shops lined the main street, and an inn was tucked in the center of them.

As they entered the inn, it was clean and furnished with the same practical heavy wooden tables and chairs that were well-worn from use. A smattering of locals were already comfortably seated, mostly the elderly and very young.

Ndrek could smell a thick stew simmering that would be served with fresh bread for dinner. How he longed for a bowl of spiced meat stew so hot his eyes would water. Something to make his taste buds work again.

He settled for sitting down at the bar and listening to the hum of conversation.

Just as she had at the last five inns, Kailis showed the innkeeper her credentials and secured them a room, a meal, and fresh traveling supplies. And just like in the last five inns, the young Knight was soon surrounded by locals, all wanting news of the happenings in the capital city and stories of her adventures.

While Kalis obliged them with the same boring news she had in the past five towns, Priestess Vaiya tended to the sick or injured of the town.

He should be happy, relieved even, after everything he’d seen. No ghouls. No vampires. No zombies. Another perfectly normal, perfectly quiet Tamarian town.

It was enough to make Ndrek want to vomit.

He watched Knight Kailis talk to the locals as he drained his mug of ale. Decent stuff, but nothing like a Fire and Brimstone. After five days on the road with her, he needed something a lot stronger than ale.

Even after a day of riding, her strawberry-blonde hair was in the same tight braided bun so many female Knights wore. He wondered if they took a course in it so they all did it just right.

Ndrek snorted into his empty glass.

Of course they did. They all had to be the perfect protégés of Dracor.

Knight Kailis wasn’t awful, but she was everything that was wrong with the Knighthood.

He’d seen a glimpse of fire in her, a spark, back in her early days as a Knight. He’d thought she’d be different. Had expected her to shake up the place, but now, she was just like all the rest.

Perfect braids, the blue eyes so common in Tamryn, and pristine armor. She looked like a Knight, and she had the same polite but commanding tone they all used. Must’ve had classes in that, too.

The barkeep stopped over and offered to refill Ndrek’s glass, but he waved the man away. He’d had enough. Enough of beautiful Knights, following orders, and basking in boredom.

He was going to find this dragon.

Making sure Kailis was occupied with the locals, Ndrek flipped up the hood of his traveling cloak and walked out of the inn.

The night was cool, and the songs of frogs mixed with the chirping of crickets. He smiled as he realized some might consider the summer night hot, but they’d never suffered through the Qumarefi desert. Boredom was better than some things.

Still, he couldn’t imagine much that would be a challenge for him anymore. Especially not after his travels with Sir Marcus. But better to be safe than dead, and once Ndrek was at the edge of town, he cast an invisibility and silence spell on himself.

Time to see what the local smugglers knew about dragons.

Of course there were smugglers out here. They had to be more careful in Tamryn than in other places Ndrek had been, but that just made the rewards richer. And there were plenty of goods Tamryn outlawed that would be well worth the risk.

Following the road south, he looked for telltale signs when he felt a prickle on his skin.

Magic. Strong magic.

Stronger than anything he’d ever felt.

He stopped and strengthened his wards.

The magic increased from a whisper to a grinding pulse, pounding against him and driving into his chest. Into his heart. Into his head.

He tried to scream, but he could make no sound.

Ndrek fell to his knees as blood gushed from his nose and soaked the ground in front of him.

The magic intensified until spots danced in front on his eyes. Clutching his chest, he glanced towards the heavens, a prayer Sir Marcus had taught him on his lips, when a shadow glided over the trees.

As it drew closer, the darkness closed in on Ndrek and unconsciousness took him.

 

To Catch a Dragon (Part 1)

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As I’ve been working through my novels, I ocassionally take my characters on a “test drive” in different scenarios to see how they’d handle them, if there’s any chemistry, etc. I thought I’d share some of those on the blog. Let’s me do some character development, and gives you some (hopefully) fun short stories.

As always, comments are welcome.
To Catch a Dragon

Ndrek sat behind the bar, sizing up each of his mid-afternoon customers. Some had started drinking early, others had rented a room for the night and were just starting their day. Boredom itched.

Now was as good a time as any to start work on the new spell he’d discovered.

As he slid off his stool, the door to the bar opened and the man that entered had to stoop to get under the doorframe. His shoulders matched his height, and the gold dragon on his breastplate seemed to glow in the dim light.

The archetype for the Knights of Valor.

Sir Leopold grimaced at the sticky floor.

“To what do I owe this…” Ndrek paused. “Honor?”

The Knight leaned against the bar, his back to the wall as his faded blue eyes surveyed the tap room. “Don’t believe for a minute you’ve settled down as a barkeeper.”

“That is not what brought a High-Knight to my humble establishment. Perhaps you came for a Fire and Brimstone? My establishment is said to make the very best.”

Leopold looked at the pristine glasses behind the counter. “At least those are clean.”

“Too much cleanliness would scare away my best customers.”

Leopold’s eyes narrowed. “Not what I came to see you about, though I probably should.”

“What has brought you here?”

The Knight reached into his cloak and withdrew a sheaf of papers imprinted with the wax seal of the dragon church.

“A writ?”

“Interested?”

Ndrek sucked in a breath as he looked at the sealed documents. “You have an army of Knights blessed by Dracor Himself. Why would you have need of me?”

“We’ve been issuing more of them lately. Not enough Knights to oversee all of Tamryn and the eastern provinces.”

“Then you need more Knights.”

“That’s up to Dracor,” Leopold said.

Ndrek bit back his quip about fickle gods.

“Figuring you’re getting bored about now. This’ll keep you busy and out of trouble. Pay’s not bad either.”

Ndrek grinned and took the papers, but he frowned as he read them. “This is a goose chase, as you Tamarians say. Dragons have been extinct since before men walked these lands.”

“Locals of Kelleran don’t agree with that assessment.”

“A dragon.” Ndrek rocked back on his heels as he tried to wrap his brain around the thought. “Are you sure?”

“Nope, but that’s where you come in.”

“Would not the followers of the Dragon God Dracor wish to be first on the scene?”

“Already sent a contingent of Knights.”

“Let me guess. They did not return?”

“Of course they did. They didn’t see any dragons, and they didn’t find any proof that there’d ever been any.”

“Then why send me?”

“Found a few things that made some folks worry there might’ve been a dragon. Knights couldn’t tell if it was real or a hoax.”

“Would not the Knights know this best?”

“Dracor might take the form of a dragon, but dragons are magical beasts.”

“No wizard was with the team you sent?”

Sir Leopold shook his head.

“So you think I will be able to tell for sure.”

“That’s the reasoning, anyway.”

Ndrek looked at the bundle of papers, including the generous payout. Far more interesting than tending bar.

Sir Leopold pushed off the bar. “I’ll send Knight Kailis over. She was on the original expedition. And Priestess Vaiya.”

“Was she on the original expedition as well?’

“No, but I figure if you find a dragon, you might want the healing skills of Priestess of Thalia on your side.”

Ndrek frowned. “You think there might actually be a dragon.”

“Doesn’t much matter what I think. It’s what you find that counts. I’ll send Knight Kailis over in the morning.”

Ndrek watched the High-Knight leave and looked down at the papers in his hands.

If Sir Leopold thought it was a goose chase, he wouldn’t be sending Ndrek, a Knight, and a Priestess of Thalia to investigate.

Sir Leopold hadn’t become a High-Knight by being wrong.

 

Flash Fiction: The Blood Lottery

My entry to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge.  There have been a lot of really sad entries to these challenges of late, so I thought I’d try a different take.

The Blood Lottery

 Helena shivered as the cold spring breeze cut through her thin cloak. The scent of freshly tilled earth and young growing things filled the air. A time of rebirth. A time of blood sacrifice to keep the monster from devouring the calves, lambs and newly planted fields.

Even standing in the center of the crowd, Helena felt alone. Her mother had been sacrificed first, then her older sister had been taken by the blood lottery five years later. Her younger sister’s name had been called last spring.

No one stood up for them as most were happy it wasn’t their friends or family. And who would miss a poor washer woman and her impoverished children?

Helena suspected that the lottery was not random as it was supposed to be. It had been a long time since a merchant had been chosen and longer still that an aristocrat had.

The poor, the misfits, the criminals unfit for hard labor. Those were the ones that somehow were chosen time and time again. And she fit two of the three criteria. Helena assumed the only reason she hadn’t been chosen yet was Lord Lothar’s lustful interest in the washer girl who read books. But that shred of protection was gone when she’d refused to jump into his bed. She’d take her chances with the rigged lottery.

Fear knotted her chest as she watched the sheriff roll out the silver basket filled with names. She knew, and yet, it was supposed to be a lottery…

She held her breath as the priest reached into the basket and drew out a name.

Her name.

The crowd parted like a sea around her, afraid to get too close to the condemned woman. She swallowed back the fear. Time to join her mother and sisters in the great beyond.

Helena said nothing even as the guards swooped in and yanked her forward. Lothar leered down at her from the podium, a dark smile twisting his lips as they bound her arms behind her back. He sat back and watched as they dragged her through the streets toward the Tower of God.

Helena kept her face blank as her heart pounded against her ribs. She’d done the right thing rejecting Lothar. Her mother’s willingness to bed a nobleman and let him sire her three daughters had done nothing to protect any of them. Nothing to feed them. And the nobleman had been quite willing to sacrifice his illegitimate daughters when knowledge of them had become inconvenient.

Steadying her breathing, Helena said a prayer to Thalia. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about how she was going to eat tonight.

They reached the gleaming silver temple overlooking the jagged Dragon Cliffs. Helena had only a moment to take in the glorious windswept valley and jagged peaks before the guards forced her up the almost endless flight of stairs to the top of the Tower of God. The icy wind tugged her mahogany hair from its braid, twisting the shining tendrils as they bound her to the pole.

A guard drew his dagger and sliced her wrist.

Helena yelped, watching her blood flow from the wound and drip down her hand and over her cloak. The only cloak she owned. Not that she would need it much longer.

The moment her blood touched the Tower of God, she heard it. A deep, low rumble that made her stomach climb into her throat.

The guards heard it too and raced back down the stairs.

Growing louder, the rumble filled her ears and shook the ground. The entire temple swayed, and had she not been bound to the pole, Helena would’ve tumbled onto the jagged rocks below.

A moment later she saw it.  Her eyes saucered. As large as the temple itself, the silver dragon glittered in the afternoon sunlight as it glided through the cold air.

Before she could think, before she could offer another prayer to Thalia, it dived at her.

She closed her eyes and screamed.

But there was no pain. She opened her eyes, expecting to be dead, but instead she found herself soaring over forests and streams so fast that they disappeared beneath her in a panoply of color. A wave of nausea hit her, and she buried her face in her arm as she steadied her stomach.

Collecting herself, she took several slow breaths and looked up. A basket made out of strong but flexible reeds surrounded her and protected her from the dragon’s razor sharp claws. Was the beast taking her home to eat her? Or taking her as a meal for its children?

The dragon snorted above her, and Helena fell back against the basket.

I have no intention of eating you, and I have no children to feed you to.

There was bitterness in the words, and she looked up at the beast’s claws surrounding her.

“I can hear your thoughts?”

If I so wish it.

Helena said nothing and tried to keep her mind blank as she gazed down at the blur of landscape below them. The dragon’s flight felt effortless, yet she knew they were crossing in minutes what would have taken hours.

At last his pace started to slow and he spiraled upward. Helena clung to the sides of the basket. The dragon cleared the top of a mountain and descended into the valley below.

Lush, green, and full of life.

Given their altitude, it should have been snow-covered; instead she saw farmers’ fields already sprouting and orchards in bloom. The rich scent played off the cold glacial smell of the dragon.

Another flap of his wings and they were gliding over towns and climbing towards a large castle that glittered like ice.

The dragon circled the castle then landed with a cat’s grace in the windswept courtyard. The doors to the castle opened and a group of revelers raced outside, their arms laden with flowers as they welcomed her.

Helena’s eyes widened and tears streamed down her cheeks as she saw her sisters and her mother running toward her.

“Am I dead?” Helena asked as she hugged her mother.

Her mother shook her head as she brushed away Helena’s tears. “This is Dragon Valley. Lord Ander brought us here, as he brought you.”

“I thought…” Helena said and looked back at the massive silver dragon.

A blast of magic puffed her cloak, and where the dragon had been stood a man with silver hair and eyes bluer than the sky. A well dressed courtier hurried forward and draped an exquisite white cape over Ander’s shoulders.

“Let the feasting begin. The girl is hungry.” Oblivious to his nakedness, Ander left them as he strode into the castle.

“Still not the one,” Helena’s mother whispered. Looking down, she said a prayer.

“Not the one?” Helena asked.

Her mother hugged her. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s go enjoy the feast celebrating your arrival. We’ll have plenty of time to explain later.”

Dressed in a warm cape and clean clothes, Helena ate her fill for the first time in her life. Still not totally convinced this wasn’t heaven, she looked towards the glittering castle and wondered about the man that had given her a new life.