Celos quest, p.1
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       Celo's Quest, p.1

           Deborah Cooke
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Celo's Quest


  Celo’s Quest

  The Dragons of Incendium #8

  Deborah Cooke

  Deborah A. Cooke

  Celo’s Quest

  By Deborah Cooke

  Cover by Kim Killion

  Copyright © 2017 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.

  Created with Vellum

  Contents

  The Dragons of Incendium Series

  Celo’s Quest

  Dear Reader

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Wyvern’s Angel

  About the Author

  More Books by the Author

  The Dragons of Incendium Series

  Paranormal romances featuring dragon shifters in space.

  1 - Wyvern’s Mate

  2 - Nero’s Dream

  3 - Wyvern’s Prince

  4 - Arista’s Legacy

  5 - Wyvern’s Warrior

  6 - Kraw’s Secret

  7 - Wyvern’s Outlaw

  8. Celo’s Quest

  Visit the Dragons of Incendium website

  for additional reader resources,

  including a glossary of terms,

  a history of Incendium,

  a cast of characters and more!

  Celo’s Quest

  The Dragons of Incendium #8

  By Deborah Cooke

  In this short story, Celo, the hidden prince who understands the language of wild creatures, unearths a forgotten secret. He accepts a challenge and embarks on a quest, seeking the solution to the riddle beyond the forests of Regalia.

  Dear Reader

  This short story falls between Wyvern’s Outlaw and Wyvern’s Angel. We met Celo, the hidden prince of Regalia, in Wyvern’s Prince, when he (reluctantly) helped Gemma to get to the Queen’s Grotto. Celo is able to read minds, but having been in the forest alone, he’s learned to use that talent to communicate with animals and birds. Venero’s promise to Celo was that he’d be left alone after helping Gemma, but I knew even then that Celo was going to realize he didn’t want what he thought he wanted. The death of those who had cursed him would make him bolder…and let him yearn for more. In this short story, we find out more about that as Celo embarks on a quest that ends up giving him a greater purpose.

  This story is available in a digital edition on its own and is included in the print edition of Wyvern’s Outlaw. It will also be included in The Dragons of Incendium: The Second Collection when it is published in trade paperback and digital editions.

  Remember that the Dragons of Incendium have their own website, which has a glossary as well as the list of books and characters. You can find it here:

  http://dragonsofincendium.com

  In addition to my monthly newsletter, Knights, Dragons & Heroes, which is about all of my work, the Dragons of Incendium also have their own dedicated newsletter. When you subscribe, you’ll receive a sequence of messages bringing you up to date on the series so far, then you’ll get new messages only when there are additions to the series. Subscribe to Knights, Dragons & Heroes right here, and the Dragons of Incendium newsletter here.

  I’ve also been collecting images for inspiration on a Pinterest board, which you can view right here.

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

  All my best—

  Deborah

  Prologue

  Celo didn’t have to go to the capital city of Regalia to know that his brother Venero had triumphed in the Queen’s Grotto. He felt a shudder of relief pass through the land and knew his brother Urbanus was dead. He saw the dark fog rise from the valleys and felt the air clear, and knew his mother, Arcana, was dead. He awoke to find spring flowers blooming, the forest floor covered with yellow and white blooms, and knew Venero had taken the throne.

  The old stories of the kingdom resonating with the truth of the king’s character were all true. Celo heard the creatures of the forest whisper to each other of new light and knew that the dragon princess Gemma was Venero’s queen.

  It could have been the first spring ever. The sunlight was brighter. The new growth was greener. The birds’ songs were more beautiful and lasted longer. The forest abounded with new life and the skies were gloriously blue. Celo himself felt his heart lighten. He began to whistle again and to dream. His refuge had its pleasures but also its limitations.

  The fact was that the short time he’d spent in Gemma’s company had made the deficit of his life painfully clear.

  He missed the company of women. He missed how they laughed. He missed how pretty they were. He missed how he felt when a woman smiled at him or laughed at one of his comments. He missed that tingle of awareness and the sense of possibility. He began to notice the birds and animals in their courtship rituals and to feel the solitude of his refuge more keenly.

  Gemma wasn’t for him, he knew that, but she wasn’t the only woman in the universe. He shaved the long growth from his chin and spared some coin for new clothes, then ventured into the local village.

  To his surprise, he was welcomed.

  To his further surprise, he found himself returning at intervals and looking forward to it. He told himself that it was because he no longer feared repercussions from his family, but it was more than that and he knew it.

  It was in town that Celo heard the details about the glorious wedding and sumptuous coronation. As convinced as he had been that he’d never return to Regalia’s capital city again, Celo began to consider it. He knew that Venero and Gemma would welcome him, but something kept him from setting out for the castle.

  Celo realized why one bright summer morning. He left his hut to fetch water from the stream, whistling as had become his habit.

  “It is time,” said the raven he called Nix, sparing him a knowing look.

  “You must go south,” said the hare, then sprang into the forest.

  An owl descended and landed on his shoulder. Celo looked up at the bird, for it should have been asleep at this hour.

  The owl winked. “You were born for this quest.”

  Celo felt a strange sense that he’d been waiting for this very message. A quest? But to where? And why?

  A flock of white birds took flight ahead of him, swirling together as if to draw his gaze. When they abruptly scattered, he found himself looking at the distant peak of Mount Draco, the highest peak on Regalia, its summit glittering with ice.

  Celo’s heart stopped then raced again. He’d always been fascinated by the mountain and had been glad that the location of his refuge allowed him glimpses of its majesty. It had never been scaled. Indeed, few had ever ventured near it. It was too cold. Too high. Too distant. It was far beyond even the Queen’s Grotto, remote and unyielding.

  And there were stories, tales of the winds around it being filled with the voices of ghosts, stories of
men driven mad after just one night in its shadow, legends of fierce beasts that lived deep beneath the mountain’s roots.

  Yet when the owl spoke to him, Celo recognized the truth. Mount Draco was his destiny, and now that the shadow had lifted from Regalia, it was time for him to embark upon the quest that might be his last.

  He didn’t know what he would discover, either on the mountain or about himself. That was part of the adventure.

  He stayed at the river only long enough to wash and drink, then he returned to his hut to pack his few belongings. It was early in the morning on a fine clear day.

  Nix was right. It was time to go.

  One

  Celo’s beard had grown again and the soles of his boots had holes by the time he reached the foot of Mount Draco. He had walked through the spring and the summer, too. The air was cold at nights now, and he knew there soon would be snow. The animals had grown their winter coats, the hares now white, and many had built nests for the winter. He was leaner and stronger than he had been, and though he was tired, he felt robust. He was excited to come close to his goal.

  His curiosity was alight. He imagined countless possibilities of what he might find, and his dreams were filled with promise.

  Celo climbed up Mount Draco’s flanks as the sun was setting and found shelter in the last copse of pine trees. He was surprised that he heard no ghostly whispers in his pine bower. Perhaps the stories about the mountain were untrue.

  Or maybe they weren’t true any longer.

  Maybe even more had changed in Regalia with Arcana’s death. He wondered if there was a catalog anywhere of his mother’s spells and feared that only Urbanus had known them all. They were stored in the Queen’s Grotto, but coded. Would anyone ever unravel them all? He had thought long and hard about the Queen’s Grotto during his walk, weighing the possible repercussions of simply destroying it and breaking all of the spells at once.

  Was it possible that there were any good spells there?

  There was ice on the river in the morning, and Celo broke through it to refresh himself. Snow covered the rocks around him and dusted the branches of the trees. He stood and ate the last of his provisions, surveying the mountain that rose high before him. There was no path, of course, given that no one climbed it, but he could see a natural course in the rock, one that snaked toward the summit. It was barren on each side and he knew he would feel every breath of wind. Celo stood amidst the last trees and took a deep breath of their scent, then packed away one last piece of dry bread and began to walk.

  Although he couldn’t see any birds or other creatures, he had the sense that he wasn’t alone. He could almost, but not quite, feel the presence of another creature near him. That he couldn’t clearly discern its thoughts made him wonder about it.

  Were the stories of ancient beasts beneath the mountain true?

  Perhaps if it was an old, old species, or an alien one, its thoughts would make no sense to Celo. He was skeptical of that possibility, though, as he clearly understood all the creatures of the forest.

  Could it shield its mind? That was generally a mark of sophistication or some magical ability. Were the stories of ancient beasts beneath the mountain told to disguise the presence of a sorcerer?

  That was a more compelling possibility. Perhaps his mother’s death had broken a spell that had trapped another sorcerer. She’d never been interested in competition. Gemma and Venero might have broken the spell inadvertently, or not realized what it was.

  Celo tried to remember every story he’d ever heard about sorcerers on Regalia but couldn’t think of one that didn’t feature his brother Urbanus.

  He scrambled his way higher and higher as the sun rose. He scraped his hands, he stubbed his toe, and he broke into a sweat from exertion. The mountain stretched higher, and he could see that its summit wasn’t one peak but a line of jagged outcroppings. He reached a precipice and leaned against the mountain to catch his breath, turning to look back over the wilderness of Regalia.

  It was beautiful. So filled with bounty and wildlife. Celo knew the kingdom would prosper beneath Venero’s hand. It was filled with opportunity and possibility, ripe for a guiding hand like that of his brother. Celo eyed the clouds that were gathering and wondered if he would find some shelter on the mountainside for the night.

  Suddenly, the icy ledge beneath his feet shifted.

  His heart leaped in terror that he would fall.

  He scrambled to regain his footing as an avalanche of ice rained upon his head. It spilled over him, cracking on his shoulders. The mountainside was a sheer drop, and the fall would be long enough to kill him. He grabbed and snatched, his feet slipping and his heart pounding, until he finally caught hold of a shard of stone. He spun and grabbed another rock that held fast, and was splayed against the mountain, hanging by his hands.

  Celo held on tightly as the stone fell down the mountainside. He watched the ice that had been under his feet shatter into pieces on the rocks below. He exhaled in relief, found a ledge for one foot, then felt a pulse beneath the stone.

  The hair stood up on his nape.

  Behind him, the mountain rippled.

  Celo glanced over his shoulder, certain he had imagined the heartbeat so loud that it made the very mountain vibrate, then stared.

  The mountain had changed. It was still pale grey, but he could see the outline of large scales on its surface. Each was as big as a warrior, each one tipped in silver. He climbed onto a ledge so that he had a free hand, then ran that hand over the closest scale. It wasn’t rock. He would have stepped back but he was on a narrow ledge. When the mountain shifted once more, shuddering to its roots as if shaken by an earthquake, Celo cried out as he lost his footing again.

  When he managed to find another small ledge for his feet, he closed his eyes for a minute to catch his breath. He heard the ice fall away in a torrent, scattering and shattering. He opened his eyes to find that all of the snow had been cast off to reveal the mountain beneath.

  Celo blinked, unable to believe his eyes. Below him, the mountain was the shape of a massive silver dragon, covered in those scales. He could see its feet and its belly. It was crouched, its tail curled around its body. He looked up and saw its back rising high above him, and managed to glimpse its head resting on its forearms.

  Celo realized he was standing on the knee of the beast, and that he had only climbed a small fraction of its height. The line of outcroppings that he thought led to its summit looked like scales along its spine. The path he’d followed had been the curve of its folded leg. He had slept in that pine forest nestled between its tail and its back claw.

  His first thought was that the dragon was a natural formation, but that was impossible. There was too much detail.

  His second was that some great artist had carved it from the rock, accentuating the features created by nature. Perhaps a team of craftsmen had done it, for the task would have been massive.

  But why had he never heard of it before?

  A rumble emitted from deep within mountain, reminding Celo of bears awakening in the spring. He saw a waft of steam emanate from part of the mountain far ahead and noted the resemblance of that area to a snout, pierced by a pair of nostrils.

  He froze at the realization that the smoke had come from those very holes.

  Then just above it, the rock cracked and an eye opened, an orange eye that might have been made of fire.

  That fiery gaze locked upon him.

  When the mountain dragon smiled and its eyes gleamed, Celo leaped from the great knee and ran for his life.

  Celo didn’t get far. He jumped from the dragon’s knee but before he landed, one great claw snatched him out of the air. His heart raced in terror even as he struggled for freedom. Even falling from this height had to be better than whatever fate a dragon had planned for him.

  He was lifted high as he fought against the grasp of that great claw. He was held tightly but not squeezed. He couldn’t escape, but he wasn’t hurt. That reassured
him a little, until he was held up to that massive blazing eye.

  The orb was bigger than he was tall, the pupil a vertical slit that was blacker than midnight. The iris was in motion in a mesmerizing way, a hundred shades of orange, yellow, and red, moving like the flames of an inferno. He had the curious thought that he could have stepped through that dark pupil, as if it were a doorway into the dragon’s mind.

  The dragon smiled. “A perilous adventure indeed,” it mused, a waft of smoke rising from its nostrils.

  “He,” the dragon rumbled. Celo realized it—he—had discerned his thoughts and hastily tried to shield his mind.

  “There is no point,” the dragon said calmly. “I have the patience and the persistence to solve any riddle.”

  “Of course.” Celo tried to bow and managed only to incline his head. Deference seemed like a wise plan, given the size of the dragon—and the fact that Celo couldn’t read his thoughts at all. “I apologize for disturbing your sleep. I didn’t realize the mountain was alive.”

  The dragon appeared to be amused. “All mountains are alive, but some of them have forgotten how to awaken.”

  “Would you be Draco, then?”

  That smile broadened lazily and the eyes gleamed. “I would. And you?”

 
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