Ravens hand, p.20
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       Raven's Hand, p.20
 

           James Somers
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  We continued up the steps, looking all about us, attempting to be cautious. I felt more like we were walking upon thin ice, hearing the brittle cracks beneath our feet, waiting upon the inevitable moment when it gives way to plunge us below into chilling death. Something was going to happen. I just didn’t know when.

  When we came to the place where I had seen the priestess die at the hands of Judah, we stopped. My blood ran cold through my veins. There upon the stones lay what remained of Shalindra, Priestess of Eliam. It was not pleasant. I could not gaze long upon what the Cindermen had left.

  I turned back to Killian, casting myself into his arms. He took me in, breathing deeply, groaning within himself at the sight before him. I had told him my vision. He already knew as well as I what this meant. My vision had been true. Shalindra was dead.

  A piercing cry from above shocked our senses. It was a terrible roaring like thunder mixed with the kind of shrieking that can only come from intense anguish. Our eyes flew to the sky. What we saw descending upon us melted our bowels within us.

  A dragon plummeted out of the heavens toward the temple. There was rage in its cries and heartache. The beast was nearly invisible, its scale color shifting to portray the surrounding clouds and sky. Only its rapid movement made its approach apparent.

  Killian and I ran for our lives at once. I had never seen a dragon before, though everyone knew they existed. They were not to be found within the kingdom lands held by the great houses of the realm. Only the stories carried by those insane individuals willing to pass into the outer territories to hunt them gave us any indication of what sort of creatures they were.

  I was a Daughter of Eliam, but I had no idea how my powers might defend against this ferocious beast. Killian carried a sword blessed by the Almighty himself, but he did not dare to test its ability now. Just seeing it coming down upon the temple had scared us to death.

  We ran, but it did us no good. The dragon smashed into the ground, shaking the entire temple complex. Stones toppled from the ancient walls. Killian and I became trapped as one of its great leathery wings enveloped us.

  We stopped where we were. It had not harmed us, yet, but how long would it be before death came in the form of monstrous teeth and claws, or worse? We might be consumed in unquenchable flame.

  I watched as the creature craned its head to look in upon us under its wing. Its expression was almost human. A terrible anger lay in its features, but it did not harm us.

  The massive head turned again. The entire form of the dragon had transformed since it came down. Where its scales had been mostly colored by our surroundings before, now they were a pale silvery white. Despite my terror, I recognized the beauty of this dragon.

  The beast looked toward the remains Killian and I had just found a moment ago. I had no idea why it would do this, but an idea was dawning. This was confirmed when the dragon cried out again over Shalindra’s remains.

  Anguish and despair.

  These were the emotions clearly emanating from this majestic creature. It was crying out for Shalindra’s loss. I laid my hand upon the leathery membrane of its sheltering wing and felt raw emotion invade my mind like a sudden storm.

  Tears ran down my face almost instantly. I had to shut my eyes in order to control myself. I felt weak and would have fallen had Killian not caught me in strong caring arms.

  My contact with the dragon was broken, but the maelstrom of emotion remained. This creature was heartbroken for Shalindra’s demise. What it could not express, due to being a dragon, came rushing out of me in the form of great sobs.

  I felt Killian’s arms tense around me. When I looked up at him, he was looking over me toward the dragon’s head. I followed his gaze and found the creature’s face there peering beneath its wing at us.

  The anger in its expression had faded. I felt a connection now. I could sense emotion and more than that. I laid my hand upon the underside of the wing again and its thoughts came through again. Only this time, the emotions were under more control.

  The beast turned, its sheltering wing uncovering us as it swept away. The dragon extended to us both of its fore-claws. Each was broad enough to hold an adult person. The question was, would it crush us in its anger over Shalindra’s death?

  I could sense its intent. There was no malice toward us, only heartache for the priestess and anger toward those who had done this heinous deed. Clearly, it wanted us to climb inside those huge claws. But then what? Anything might happen. I had no reason to trust this beast, but I felt that I should.

  Then images came into my mind from the dragon—images of happier days flying with Shalindra, battling long dead foes with the priestess. This dragon was hers—not a pet, but a friend. He had been her only real companion.

  “We must go with him,” I said, moving out of Killian’s embrace.

  “What?” he asked. “You’re joking.”

  I took him by the hand. “No,” I said. “We can trust him. He has been Shalindra’s friend for decades. We must go with him now.”

  Killian looked between the dragon’s looming face and mine. Then he consented, helping me into the right claw before he climbed into the left. Gently, the dragon closed its scaly fingers until we were protected in living cages made of dragon bones and impenetrable serpentine scales.

  The massive wings beat the air with increasing intensity. Then we were ascending into the sky, leaving the ruins of Eliam’s Brine Wood temple in our cyclonic wake. What trap had been waiting on us there, I had no idea, but we were safe for the moment.

  Judah cursed and beat his fist against the trunk of a tree in his frustration. The girl had actually come to the temple trying to find Eliam’s priestess. It was just as he had assumed. His Cindermen soldiers had been ready to spring upon her and the boy, but the dragon had come out of nowhere to sweep them away.

  Cindermen were fierce, and there was none as brave among them as their leader. However, Judah was no fool. Attempting to kill a dragon—especially one that already appeared to be agitated—was pure insanity. With the meager weapons they now carried with them, he and his men would have stood no chance at all of capturing the girl.

  Fearing his wrath, none of his men spoke to the obvious problem. They had come to the temple, and the priestess was now dead, but Judah’s goal of using the girl as a bargaining tool had been foiled. They had no way of following the beast, no foreseeable way of getting her now.

  Judah fumed silently, his gaze boring into the image of the dragon as its scales changed to reflect the clouds and sky. In seconds it was virtually invisible again. The girl was the key to gaining the upper hand. He had to have her under his control. He had to find a way.

  Kane’s army from House Turine waited to the west of Rainier. They would surely have been spotted were it not for the fact that the assassin had either bought off Rainier’s outlying scouts or replaced them directly with men of his own choosing. Either way, House Rainier was set to be besieged.

  Judah considered his predicament. He was supposed to be there—he and his Cindermen—in order to play a vital role in Kane’s plan for the city. He was unsure whether to go on to the camp or rebel outright against the Turine heir. If he rebelled, he would have to face him sooner or later, and it was unlikely he would win the contest. Still, Kane wasn’t the only human he could make alliances with.

  Judah grinned, turning suddenly to his men waiting in the trees with him. “We go to the city of Auturn and the mighty host at Lord Grayson’s command.”

  Look for the second book in Raven’s Chronicle: coming late 2015 – 2016

  Also look for Raven’s Hand soon in audiobook format on audible.com, amazon.com, Itunes.com

  James Somers thanks you for reading!

 
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