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       Nero's Dream: A Dragons of Incendium Short Story, p.1

           Deborah Cooke
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Nero's Dream: A Dragons of Incendium Short Story

  Nero’s Dream

  The Dragons of Incendium 1.5


  Deborah Cooke

  * * *

  Nero has always aspired to be an astrologer in the royal court of Incendium. When he divines a portent about the pending royal marriage, he makes the perilous journey to the capital city, only to be kept from delivering his tidings in time. Worse, Nero is assigned the task of pursuing a dragon princess bent on taking vengeance upon her reluctant groom, a feat he knows can’t be done. His dream appears to be lost forever—until the captivating princess Peri surprises this unlikely advisor.

  Dear Reader;

  One of the parts I love best about Wyvern’s Mate is Drakina’s confession to Troy that she hunted down and devoured her betrothed, Canto, the crown prince of Regalia, when he stood her up on their wedding day. She complained that Canto was sinewy and blamed his pre-occupation with jousting. Ever since writing that, I’ve imagined the scene of Canto’s demise.

  But who should witness the crown prince paying the price of his miscalculation? King Ouros and Queen Ignita have eleven more daughters, and it seems reasonable to expect that more than one dragon princess will defy parental expectations. It would be shocking if one of them married a man who had no aristocratic lineage, and even more shocking if that man was employed in the imperial court. Of course, she will defy expectation for love.

  For her HeartKeeper.

  All of the HeartKeepers must have special abilities of their own to catch the eye of a dragon princess, to hold her attention and to claim her love. This one would have to be particularly intrepid and unlike the other men the princesses have known. Once I considered all of that, I had a very good idea what kind of man Nero might be.

  This short story falls between Wyvern’s Mate and Wyvern’s Prince and introduces the new royal astrologer, Nero. It’s available in a digital edition on its own and is included in the print edition of Wyvern’s Mate. It will also be included in the trade paperback The Dragons of Incendium: The First Collection. I’m hoping to write and publish one of these short stories in between each of the larger stories.

  The Dragons of Incendium have their own website, which includes a glossary about Incendium. I’ll update it with each new release. To keep up to date with all of my new releases, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter, or sign up for my new release alert.

  Until next time, I hope you have lots of good books to read.

  All my best


  Nero’s Dream

  by Deborah Cooke

  Digital Edition

  Published by Deborah A. Cooke

  Cover by Frauke Spanuth

  Formatting by Author E.M.S

  Copyright © 2016 by Deborah A. Cooke

  All rights reserved.

  Without limiting the rights under copyright preserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Table of Contents

  Cover Copy

  Dear Reader


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Next in the DRAGONS OF INCENDIUM Series

  About the Author

  More Books by the Author

  Chapter One

  Nero had to pinch himself.


  Not only had he survived the trek to the capital city of Incendium, not only was the city more of a glittering and bustling wonder than he’d ever imagined, not only was he inside the imperial palace—but he was to have a hearing with the viceroy, Kraw.

  It was worth another pinch. To be standing in this antechamber with its floor inlaid in a geometric pattern of stones, its vaulted ceiling showing the coats of arms of every territory in Incendium, was beyond his wildest aspirations.

  He wasn’t surprised though. He’d cast the chart for this day and been amazed by it. This was a day fraught with meaning. A day in which dreams could come true. A day in which secrets could be revealed, in which fortunes could be made, in which futures would be set. Nero had been over the chart again and again. He had checked his sources a hundred, no, a thousand times, and this day was one of the great nexus points.

  A crossroads in the lifelines of many.

  Including himself.

  Nero didn’t underestimate the potential of that.

  He had dreamed all his life of visiting the capital city. He had imagined the marvel of entering the palace. Already two of his smaller hopes were achieved and it wasn’t even midday. He might even catch a glimpse of one of the royal family on this day, and see a third goal achieved. The twelve princesses of Incendium were all dragon shifters, each more beautiful than the last. At the possibility of even being close to one of them, Nero had to take a deep breath and close his eyes. He’d studied the holograms. He’d seen them on the vid. He’d been enthralled by the princesses his entire life. Even being in the imperial palace—where they must also be—made his very marrow quiver.

  If one spoke to him, he might not survive the encounter. His heart might explode.

  The dragon shifters ruled Incendium, both because they were aristocrats and because they lived much longer than mortal men. In eons past, they had possessed the time to build their power, and to defend it. They mated rarely, typically with men or women as this was believed to protect the integrity of their lineage. The child was always a dragon shifter.

  Rare was the union between two dragon shifters, such as that between the current king and queen. There were those—including Nero—who believed that was the reason for the prosperity of Incendium since that wedding day. Fortune smiled upon the kingdom. The horoscopes were radiant with opportunity and wealth.

  Except for this day, which appeared as a shadow on Nero’s chart.

  A blot on the proverbial sun.

  The astrologers in the royal court divined the destined mates of each imperial dragon and Nero couldn’t believe that they had endorsed the marriage between Canto and Drakina. They were not destined mates. Canto could not be Drakina’s HeartKeeper.

  Why had anyone even tried to arrange such a dynastic match?

  Even without the chart, Nero would have guessed the pairing to be ill-fated.

  And now he brought the proof of it to the royal court. In proving his abilities, he might achieve his dream of becoming an astrologer in the royal court. It could happen on this day, as a result of this portent he delivered. It was within his grasp.

  Maybe then he’d get used to seeing the princesses.

  Maybe he’d manage one day to speak to one.

  He turned the scroll in his hands, his palms damp. But first hurdles first. The imperial city was a long way from the quiet town of Mola where Nero had grown up, but his prophecy couldn’t have been entrusted to a courier.

  He had to deliver it himself, to Kraw.

  Here he stood, still in his dusty tra
veling cloak and his muddy boots. He needed a shave and probably a haircut, and was not fit to see the imperial majesties, but he could not have delayed the delivery of the prophecy. It was too important. Time was too pressing.

  Nero knew his prediction would be unwelcome. The entire city was aflutter with preparations for the royal wedding and to hear that the nuptials were not destined to occur would not be good news.

  He wondered yet again why the royal astrologers hadn’t seen this truth.

  He wondered if they had but no one had mentioned it outside the palace.

  Maybe no one had believed it.

  Why had the match been arranged?

  Myriad shuttles were descending from the starport, bringing guests from allies and other worlds. Nero had seen the shuttles gleaming in the distance, even two days before as he walked toward the city, and still more came. There were decorations in the streets and the day itself had been declared a holiday. He’d seen families walking toward the imperial gates, hoping to catch a glimpse of the happy couple after they exchanged their vows. He’d had to come through the kitchen entrance—no less busy, given the number of tradesmen delivering food for the feast to follow the service—and had been told twice that Kraw had no time for such folly as a message from one such as he. Only Nero’s insistence and his persistence had gotten him this far.

  He was right and he knew it. Sapior had taught him well.

  A clerk in the livery of Regalia had arrived just before Nero and had been ushered up the stairs immediately, while Nero had been shown to this room.

  It had been a long time since he’d been left here.

  Nero feared suddenly that they had placed him in a corner of the palace to be forgotten since he wouldn’t go away. He checked the door, only to discover that it was secured from the other side. His prophecy must be heard, as soon as possible! He spun in the middle of the chamber, seeking another way out, but there was none.

  He drew his knife, determined to force the lock on the door. He had no sooner laid his hand upon the latch than the door opened silently.

  To reveal a dignified older man on the threshold, with a magnificent white mustache dressed in the livery of the king.

  He had a gaze cold enough to strike terror into a dragon shifter.

  In fact, Nero would have bet that this man had perceived at least three of his secrets, and all of his hopes and dreams. That with just a glance.

  He looked Nero up and down again, then met the younger man’s gaze. “You are the one who calls himself an astrologer?” His skepticism was clear.

  Nero had expected that. He hadn’t attended the Royal University of Astrologers. But that didn’t mean Sapior’s teachings were wrong.

  Even if they were unconventional. Sapior had attended the university, made a discovery and been cast out for daring to suggest the ancient methods could be improved.

  It occurred to Nero in that moment just how the royal astrologers might have missed the truth.

  “Yes, sir, I am.” Nero bowed low. “I come to offer what I have learned, in service to my lord king.”

  The older man frowned. “I am Kraw, viceroy of Incendium. I do not have time this day for whimsy, young man. If this is a jest, you will regret it.”

  “I understand, sir, but it is neither whimsy nor a jest. I bring a dire prophecy.”

  Kraw arched a brow.

  Nero unfurled the scroll he had carried all the way from Mola. “I can show you, sir, how the stars aligned in this horoscope…”

  “The prophecy,” Kraw interrupted crisply.

  Nero closed his mouth and met the viceroy’s gaze squarely. “The princess Drakina and the prince Cantos will not be wed this day. Ensuing events will cause a furor between the royal houses of Incendium and Regalia, if not an outright crisis.”


  “Because the crown prince Canto will die.”

  Kraw smiled thinly. “I fear you are mistaken.”

  “Sir! If you’ll just look…”

  Kraw’s eyes narrowed and he backed out of the doorway. “The wedding ceremony will begin within moments. The family is already assembled. Your prophecy is wrong. I thank you for your concern on behalf of the royal family, but you are mistaken.”

  “I’m right! If you’ll just look!”

  Kraw’s tone became steely. “You have made a mistake, as inexperienced astrologers often do. You have no place here and will immediately be escorted to the gates.” He stepped back and snapped his fingers, which brought an armed man to his side.

  Nero couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t come this far to be turned aside. He’d never even imagined that he wouldn’t be able to deliver the prophecy. He’d expected to be doubted, but not silenced.

  Outrage made him bold. Nero stepped forward, making the only gamble he could. “Sir! If I could show one of the royal astrologers…”

  “You cannot.” Kraw lowered his voice and spoke more kindly. “I am certain your intentions are good, but this is a day of relentless demand. Travel safely back to wherever you are from.” The viceroy pivoted and was immediately surrounded by half a dozen servants seeking his counsel on one matter or another.

  How could Nero warn them if they wouldn’t listen?

  How could he stand witness to a travesty he could have helped them to avoid?

  “You can’t linger,” the guard warned him and gestured toward the corridor that led from the antechamber to a minor door. “Hurry along.”

  Nero hadn’t taken three steps when he heard processional music echoing through the palace. The wedding was beginning!

  The guard urged Nero toward the door. “Come on. I’m supposed to be upstairs already.” When Nero hesitated, the guard dropped his hand to the hilt of his knife. “Don’t make trouble,” he advised. “Not today. Think of the princess. It’s her wedding day.”

  Nero did think of the princess and felt compassion for her. He allowed himself to be ushered out of the palace, although he wished he could think of a reason to do otherwise. He stood in the courtyard, letting people hurry around him and reviewed his cred. He had less than five units to his name. He knew without looking in his purse. He’d spent everything in making this journey, planning on at least a small reward and hoping for a position at court. He didn’t even have enough to pay for a night in the meanest hovel.

  He felt like a fool.

  He’d better start walking back home. He’d find a quiet place outside of town, maybe a barn or a shed, use a little of his dreamweed and try to divine where he’d gone wrong.

  Nero had turned to leave when he realized the music had stopped.

  In fact, the palace had fallen strangely silent. Everyone might have been holding their breath at once.

  What had happened?

  Was it the prophecy?

  Nero heard the clatter of running footsteps and a man burst out of the same door he had just left. It was the clerk from Regalia, but now he looked terrified. He shoved Nero out of the way and ran for the gates, as if his worst nightmare was fast behind him. Nero lost sight on him en route to the star station.

  There was a scream from inside the palace, a scream that made everyone in the courtyard cower in fear.

  A dragon scream of rage.

  There was a crash of breaking glass, and Nero realized in horror that the roof of the palace had been smashed. Still, his heart thrilled at the sight. A dragon of deepest green, scales gleaming like obsidian, roared into the sky and breathed a plume of fire toward the stars. Such power! Such majesty!

  It was the princess Drakina.

  When the dragon princess pivoted in the air, her great black wings flapping leisurely, everyone in the imperial city watched in awe. She turned to scan the city below and Nero saw her gaze brighten. She dove downward, swooping low over the courtyard, clearing the gates, and reaching a talon down into the crowd. Her precision and grace were awesome, and he watched with wonder as she soared high again, claws empty. She circled, breathed fire, and spiraled toward the earth again.

/>   Nero knew then that his prophecy had come true.

  * * *

  “Where is that astrologer?” Kraw bellowed. He raced back down the stairs from the ceremonial chamber, moving as quickly as he could through the press of people. Already he was envisioning war between the two planets, which was never more than a puff of smoke away. Disaster had to be averted.

  If it wasn’t already too late for that.

  The viceroy was followed by a coterie of royal astrologers, more than one of them curious about this arrival and his tidings. There were already murmurs of the new arrival being a fraud—for none of them had discerned this dire portent, which meant it had to be wrong or a trick—and demands to see his calculations. He might even be responsible for these events! Astrum, the oldest and grumpiest, wished to know his assumptions, as well as his credentials.

  Kraw wanted to know what else the arrival had divined. He was a man of remarkable appearance, simply dressed but bright of eye. Kraw had been certain of the power of his intellect, if not the merit of his conclusions. There was an air of mystery about the professed astrologer, which the viceroy instinctively distrusted.

  Men of mystery were often unpredictable. They brought change and challenge, neither of which were welcome to Kraw.

  He didn’t fail to note this man already showed that tendency.

  He found him in the courtyard, waiting with a dignity that Kraw found admirable despite himself. The viceroy paused to catch his breath, then proceeded toward the younger man.

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