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After all these centuries, now, finally, his people would have their due. No longer would they be relegated to Marda, to the northernmost reaches of the empire, to infertile land. Now they would take their vengeance for being quarantined behind a wall of flames, would flood Escalon, tear it to shreds.

His heart skipped a beat, giddy at the thought. He could not wait to turn back around, to cross the Devil’s Finger, to return to the mainland and to meet his people in the middle of Escalon. The entire troll nation would converge at Andros, and together, one square inch at a time, they would destroy Escalon forever. It would become the new troll homeland.

Yet as Vesuvius stood there, looking down at the waves, the spot where the sword had sunk, something gnawed at him. He looked out to the horizon, examining the black waters of the Bay of Death, and there was something lingering, something that made his satisfaction incomplete. As he examined the horizon, far out in the distance, he spotted a single, small ship with white sails, sailing along the Bay of Death. It sailed west, away from the Devil’s Finger. And as he watched it go, he knew something was wrong.

Vesuvius turned back and looked up at the Tower beside him. It had been empty. Its doors left open. The Sword had been waiting for him. Those guarding had abandoned it. It had all been too easy.


Vesuvius knew the assassin Merk had been pursuing the Sword; he had followed him all the way across the Devil’s Finger. Why then would he abandon it? Why was he sailing away from here, across the Bay of Death? Who was that woman sailing with him? Had she been guarding this tower? What secrets was she hiding?

And where were they going?

Vesuvius looked down at the steam rising from the ocean, then back up to the horizon, and his veins burned. He could not help but feel that somehow he had been duped. That a complete victory had been snatched from him.

The more Vesuvius dwelled on it, the more he realized something was wrong. It was all too convenient. He studied the violent seas below, the waves crashing into the rocks, the rising steam, and he realized he would never know the truth. He would never know if the Sword of Flames had truly sunk to the bottom. If there was something here he was missing. If that had even been the right sword. If the Flames would stay down, too.

Vesuvius, burning with indignation, came to a decision: he had to pursue them. He would never know the truth until he did. Was there another, secret, tower somewhere? Another sword?

Even if there was not, even if he had accomplished all he needed, Vesuvius was famed for leaving no victims alive. Ever. He always pursued every last man to his death, and standing here, watching those two escape from his grasp, did not sit right with him. He knew he could not just let them go.

Vesuvius looked down at the dozens of ships still tied to the shores, abandoned, rocking wildly in the waves, as if waiting for him. And he came to an immediate decision.

“To the ships!” he commanded his army of trolls.

As one they scrambled to do his bidding, rushing down to the rocky shore, boarding the ships. Vesuvius followed, boarding the stern of the final ship.

He turned, raised his halberd high, and chopped the rope.

A moment later he was off, all the trolls with him, all of them crammed onto ships, and setting sail on the legendary Bay of Death. Somewhere on the horizon sailed Merk and that girl. And Vesuvius would not stop, no matter where he had to sail, until both of them were dead.

Chapter Eight

Merk gripped the rail as he stood at the bow of the small ship, the former King Tarnis’s daughter beside him, each lost in their own world as they were thrown about by the rough waters of the Bay of Death. Merk stared out at the black waters, windswept, dotted with whitecaps, and he could not help but wonder about the woman beside him. The mystery surrounding her had only deepened since they’d left the Tower of Kos, had embarked on this ship to some mysterious place. His mind swam with questions for her.

Tarnis’s daughter. It was hard for Merk to believe. What had she been doing out here, at the end of the Devil’s Finger, holed up in the Tower of Kos? Was she in hiding? In exile? Being protected? From whom?

Merk sensed that she, with her translucent eyes, her too-pale complexion and unflappable poise, was of another race. But if so, then who was her mother? Why had she been left alone to guard the Sword of Flames, the Tower of Kos? Where had all her people gone?

And most pressing of all, where was she leading them now?

One hand on the rudder, she steered the ship deeper into the bay, to some destination on the horizon that Merk could only wonder at.

“You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” he said, raising his voice to be heard over the wind.

There followed a long silence, so long, he was unsure if she would ever reply.

“At least, then, tell me your name,” he added, realizing she had never offered it.

“Lorna,” she replied.

Lorna. He liked the sound of it.

“The Three Daggers,” she added, turning to him. “That’s where we’re going.”

Merk frowned.

“The Three Daggers?” he asked, surprised.

She merely looked straight ahead.

Merk, though, was stunned by the news. The most remote islands in all of Escalon, The Three Daggers were so deep in the Bay of Death, he had not known of anyone who had ever actually traveled there. Knossos, of course, the legendary isle and fort, sat on the last of them, and legend had always had it that it held Escalon’s fiercest warriors. They were men who lived on a desolate island off a desolate peninsula, in the most dangerous body of water there was. They were men rumored to be as rough as the sea that surrounded them. Merk had never met one in person. No one had. They were more legend than real.

“Did your Watchers retreat there?” he asked.

Lorna nodded.

“They await us now,” she said.

Merk turned and looked back over his shoulder, wanting one last glimpse of the Tower of Kos, and as he did, his heart suddenly stopped at what he saw: there, on the horizon, pursuing them, were dozens of ships, sails full.

“We’ve got company,” he said.

Lorna, to his surprise, did not even turn around, but merely nodded.

“They will chase us to the ends of the earth,” she said calmly.

Merk was puzzled.

“Even though they have the Sword of Flames?”

“It was never the Sword that they were after,” she corrected. “It was destruction. The destruction of us all.”

“And when they catch us?” Merk asked. “We cannot fight off an army of trolls alone. Nor can a small isle of warriors, no matter how tough they may be.”

She nodded, still unfazed.

“We may indeed die,” she replied. “Yet we shall do it in the company of our fellow Watchers, fighting for what we know is true. There are many secrets left to guard.”

“Secrets?” he asked.

But she fell silent, watching the waters.

He was about to ask her more, when a sudden gale of wind nearly capsized the boat. Merk fell to his stomach, slamming into the side of the hull and sliding over the edge.

Dangling, he grasped onto the rail for dear life as his legs sank into the water, water so icy cold he felt he would freeze to death. He hung on with a single hand, mostly submerged, and as he looked back down over his shoulder, his heart leapt to see a school of red sharks suddenly closing in. He felt horrific pain as teeth began to dig into his calf, as he saw blood in the water that he knew was his own.

A moment later Lorna stepped forward and cracked the waters with her staff; as she did, brilliant white light spread on the surface, and the sharks dispersed. In the same motion she grabbed his hand and dragged him back onto the ship.

The ship righted itself as the wind subsided and Merk sat on deck, wet, freezing, breathing hard, and a terrible pain in his calf.

Lorna examined his wound, tore a piece of cloth from her shirt, and wrapped it around his leg, staunching the blood.

“You saved my life,” he said, filled with gratitude. “There were dozens of those things in there. They would have killed me.”

She looked him, her light blue eyes hypnotizing, so large.

“Those creatures are the least of your worries here,” she said.

They sailed on in silence, Merk slowly regaining his feet and watching the horizon, sure to grip the rail tightly, with both hands this time. He examined the horizon, but as much as he watched it, he saw no sign of the Three Daggers. He looked down and studied the waters of the Bay of Death with a new respect and fear. He looked carefully, and saw swarms of small red sharks under the surface, barely visible, hidden mostly by the waves. He knew now that entering that water meant death – and he could not help but wonder what other creatures inhabited this body of water.

The silence deepened, punctuated only by the howling of the wind, and after hours more passed, Merk, feeling desolate out here, needed to talk.

“What you did what that staff,” Merk said, turning to Lorna. “I have never seen anything like it.”

Lorna remained expressionless, still watching the horizon.

“Tell me about you,” he pressed.

She glanced at him, then looked back to the horizon.

“What would you like to know?” she asked.

“Anything,” he replied. “Everything.”

She fell silent a long time, then finally, she said:

“Start with you.”

Merk stared back, surprised.

“Me?” he asked. “What do you want to know?”

“Tell me about your life,” she said. “Anything you want to tell me.”

Merk took a deep breath as he turned and stared into the horizon. His life was the one thing he did not want to talk about.

Finally, realizing they had a long journey ahead, he sighed. He knew he had to face himself at one time or another, even if he was not proud of it.

“I’ve been an assassin most my life,” he said slowly, regretfully, staring into the horizon, his voice grave and filled with self-loathing. “I’m not proud of it. But I was the best at what I did. I was in demand by kings and queens. No one could rival my skills.”

Merk fell into a long silence, trapped in memories of a life he regretted, memories he would rather not recall.

“And now?” she asked softly.

Merk was grateful to detect no judgment in her voice, as he usually did with others. He sighed.

“Now,” he said, “it is not what I do anymore. It is not who I am anymore. I have vowed to renounce violence. To put my services to a cause. Yet, try as I do, I cannot seem to get away from it. Violence seems to find me. There is always, it seems, another cause.”

“And what is your cause?” she asked.

He thought about that.

“My cause, initially, was to become a Watcher,” he replied. “To devote myself to service. To guard the Tower of Ur, to protect the Sword of Flames. When that fell, I felt my cause was to reach the Tower of Kos, to save the sword.”

He sighed.

“And yet now here we are, sailing through the Bay of Death, the Sword gone, the trolls following, and heading to a barren chain of islands,” Lorna replied with a smile.

Merk frowned, unamused.

“I have lost my cause,” he said. “I have lost my life’s purpose. I do not know myself anymore. I do not know my direction.”

Lorna nodded.

“That is a good place to be,” she said. “A place of uncertainty is also a place of possibility.”

Merk studied her, wondering. He was touched by her lack of condemnation. Anyone else who had heard his tale would vilify him.

“You do not judge me,” he observed, shocked, “for who I am.”

Lorna stared at him, her eyes so intense it was like staring into the moon.

“That was who you were,” she corrected. “Not who you are now. How can I judge you for who you once were? I only judge the man standing before me.”

Merk felt restored by her answer.

“And who am I now?” he asked, wanting to know the answer, unsure of it himself.

She stared at him.

“I see a fine warrior,” she replied. “A selfless man. A man who wants to help others. And a man full of longing. I see a man who is lost. A man who has never known himself.”

Merk pondered her words, and they resonated deep within him. He felt them all to be true. Too true.

A long silence fell between them, as their small ship bobbed up and down in the waters, slowly making its way west. Merk checked back and saw the troll fleet still on the horizon, still a good enough distance away.

“And you?” he finally asked. “You are Tarnis’s daughter, are you not?”

She searched the horizon, her eyes aglow, and finally, she nodded.

“I am,” she replied.

Merk was stunned to hear it.

“Then why were you here?” he asked.

She sighed.

“I have been hidden here since I was a young girl.”

“But why?” he pressed.

She shrugged.

“I suppose it was too dangerous to keep me in the capital. People could not know I was the King’s illegitimate daughter. It was safer here.”

“Safer here?” he asked. “At the ends of the earth?”

“I was left with a secret to guard,” she explained. “More important even than the kingdom of Escalon.”

His heart pounded as he wondered what it could be.

“Will you tell me?” he asked.

But Lorna slowly turned and pointed ahead. Merk followed her gaze and there, on the horizon, the sun shone down on three barren islands, rising up from the ocean, the last one a fort of solid stone. It was the most desolate and yet beautiful place Merk had ever seen. A place distant enough to hold all the secrets of magic and power.

“Welcome,” Lorna said, “to Knossos.”

Chapter Nine

Duncan, alone, hobbling from the pain in his ankles and wrists, ran through the streets of Andros, ignoring the pain, spurred on by adrenaline as he thought of only one thing: saving Kyra. Her cry for help echoed in his mind, his soul, made him forget his injuries as he sprinted through the streets, sweating, toward the sound.

Duncan twisted and turned down Andros’ narrow alleyways, knowing Kyra lay just beyond those thick stone walls. All around him the dragons dove, setting fire to street after street, the tremendous heat radiating off the walls, so hot that Duncan could feel it even on the far side of the stone. He hoped and prayed they did not descend to his alley – or else, he would be finished.

Despite the pain, Duncan did not stop. Nor did he turn around. He could not. Driven by a father’s instinct, he physically could not go anywhere but toward the sound of his daughter. It crossed his mind that he was running to his death, losing any chance he’d have of escape, yet it did not slow him. His daughter was trapped, and that was all that mattered to him now.

“NO!” came the cry.

Duncan’s hair stood on end. There it was again, her shriek, and his heart received a jolt at the sound. He sprinted faster, giving it all he had, turning down yet another alleyway.

Finally, as he turned again, he burst through a low, stone arch, and the sky opened before him.

Duncan found himself in an open courtyard, and as he stood at its edge, he was stunned at the sight before him. Flames filled the far side of the courtyard as dragons criss-crossed the air, breathing down, and beneath a stone ledge, barely shielded from all the fire, sat his daughter.


There she was, in the flesh, alive.

Even more shocking than seeing her here, alive, was seeing the baby dragon lying beside her. Duncan stared, confused by the sight. At first he assumed Kyra was struggling to kill a dragon that had fallen from the sky. But then he saw that the dragon was pinned down by a boulder. He was puzzled as he saw Kyra shoving at it. What, he wondered, was she trying to do? Free a dragon? Why?

“Kyra!” he shrieked.

Duncan sprinted across the open courtyard, avoiding columns of flame, avoiding the swipe of a dragon’s talon, still running until finally he reached his daughter’s side.

As he did, Kyra looked up and her face fell in shock. And then joy.

“Father!” she called.

She ran into his arms, and Duncan embraced her, as she embraced him back. As he held her in his arms, he felt restored again, as if a part of himself had returned.

Tears of joy ran down his cheeks. He could hardly believe Kyra was really here, and alive.

She clutched him and he clutched her, and he was relieved most of all, as he felt her shaking in his arms, that she was uninjured.

Remembering, he pushed her back, turned to the dragon, drew his sword, and raised it, about to chop off the dragon’s head to protect his daughter.

“No!” Kyra shrieked.

She stunned Duncan by rushing forward and grabbing his wrist, her grip surprisingly strong, and holding back his blow. This was not the meek daughter he had left behind in Volis; she was clearly a warrior now.

Duncan looked back at her, baffled.

“Do not harm him,” she commanded, her voice confident, the voice of a warrior. “Theon is my friend.”

Duncan looked at her, stunned.

“Your friend?” he asked. “A dragon?”

“Please, Father,” she said, “there is little time to explain. Help us. He is pinned down. I cannot remove this boulder alone.”

Duncan, as shocked as he was, trusted her. He sheathed his sword, came up beside her, and pushed at the boulder with all his might. Yet, try as he did, it barely budged.

“It’s too heavy,” he said. “I can’t. I am sorry.”

Suddenly, there came the rattling of armor behind him and Duncan turned and was overjoyed to see Aidan, Anvin, Cassandra, and White all rush forward. They had come back for him, had risked their lives, too, once again.

Without hesitating, they all ran right up to the boulder and pushed.

It rolled a bit, but still they could not get it off.

There came the sound of gasping, and Duncan turned to see Motley rushing to catch up with the others, out of breath. He joined them, throwing his weight into the boulder – and this time, it began to really roll. Motley, the actor, the overweight fool, the one they had expected the least of, made the difference in getting the boulder off the dragon.

With one last heave it landed with a crash, in a cloud of dust, and the dragon was free.

Theon jumped to his feet and screeched, arching his back, extending his talons. In fury, he looked up at the sky. A big purple dragon had spotted them, was diving down right for them, and Theon, without pausing, leapt into the air, opened his jaws, and flew straight up, locking on the soft jugular of the unsuspecting dragon.

Theon held on with all his might. The huge dragon shrieked in fury, thrown off guard, clearly not expecting as much from the baby dragon, and the two of them went smashing down into a stone wall on the far side of the courtyard.

Duncan and the others exchanged a look of shock as Theon wrestled the dragon, refusing to let go of the squirming big dragon, pinning it down on the far side of the courtyard. Theon, ferocious, writhed, snarling, and did not let go until the much larger dragon finally went limp.

For a moment, they all had a respite.

“Kyra!” Aidan called out.

Kyra looked down and noticed her little brother, and Duncan watched with joy as Aidan ran into Kyra’s arms. She embraced him, while White jumped up and licked Kyra’s palms, clearly thrilled.

“My brother,” Kyra gushed, her eyes filled with tears. “You are alive.”

Duncan could hear the relief in her voice.

Aidan’s eyes suddenly lowered in sadness.

“Brandon and Braxton are dead,” he announced to Kyra.

Kyra paled. She turned and looked to Duncan, and he nodded in solemn confirmation.

Suddenly Theon flew up and landed before them, flapping his wings and gesturing for Kyra to climb on his back. Duncan heard the roars high above, and he looked up to see them all circling, preparing to dive.

To Duncan’s awe, Kyra mounted Theon. There she sat, atop a dragon, strong, fierce, having all the poise of a great warrior. Gone was the little girl he had once known; she had been replaced by a proud warrior, a woman who could command legions. He had never felt more pride until this day.

“We have no time. Come with me,” she said to them. “All of you. Join me.”

They all looked at each other in surprise, and Duncan felt a pit in his stomach at the idea of riding a dragon, especially as it snarled down at them.

“Hurry!” she said.

Duncan, seeing the flock of dragons descending and knowing they had little choice, jumped into action. He hurried with Aidan, Anvin, Motley, Cassandra, Septin and White, as they all leapt onto the dragon’s back.

He clutched the heavy, ancient scales, marveling that he was really sitting on the back of a dragon. It was like a dream.

He held on with all he had as the dragon lifted into the air. His stomach lightened, and he could hardly believe the feeling. For the first time in his life, he was flying in the air, above the streets, faster than he had ever been.

Theon, faster than them all, flew just above the streets, twisting and turning, so fast the other dragons could not reach him amidst all the confusion and dust of the capital. Duncan looked down and was amazed to see the city from above, to see the tops of buildings, the winding streets laid out like a maze below.

Kyra directed Theon brilliantly, and Duncan was so proud of his daughter, so amazed that she was able to control a beast like this. Within moments, they were free, in the open sky, beyond the capital walls, and soaring over the countryside.

“We must head south!” Anvin yelled out. “There are rock formations there, beyond the perimeter of the capital. All our men await us! They have retreated there.”

Kyra directed Theon, and soon they were all flying south, toward a huge outcropping of rock on the horizon. Duncan saw up ahead the hundreds of massive boulders, dotted with small caves inside, on the horizon, south of the capital walls.

As they approached, Duncan saw the armor and weaponry inside the caves, glistening in the desert light, and his heart lifted to see hundreds of his men inside, awaiting him at this rallying point.

As Kyra directed Theon down, they landed at the entrance of a massive cave. Duncan could see the fear in the faces of the men below as the dragon approached, bracing themselves for an attack. But then they spotted Kyra and the others on his back, and their expressions changed to one of shock. They let down their guard.

Duncan dismounted with Kyra and the others, and he ran to embrace his men, overjoyed to see them alive again. There were Kavos and Bramthos, Seavig and Arthfael, men who’d risked their lives for him, men he thought he’d never see again.

Duncan turned and saw Kyra, and he was surprised to see she had not dismounted with the others.

“Why do you still sit there?” he asked. “Won’t you join us?”

But Kyra sat there, her back so straight and proud, and solemnly shook her head.

“I mustn’t, Father. I have some solemn business elsewhere. On behalf of Escalon.”

Duncan stared back, baffled, marveling at the strong warrior his daughter had become.

“But where?” Duncan asked. “Where is more important than at our side?”

She hesitated.

“Marda,” she replied.

Duncan felt a chill at the word.

“Marda?” he gasped. “You? Alone? You shall never return!”

She nodded, and he could see in her eyes that she already knew.

“I vowed to go,” she replied, “and I cannot abandon my mission. Now that you are safe, my duty calls. Haven’t you always taught me that duty comes first, Father?”

Duncan felt his heart swell with pride at her words. He stepped forward, reached up, and embraced her, clutching her to him as his men circled around.

“Kyra, my daughter. You are the better part of my soul.”

He saw her eyes well with tears, and she nodded back, stronger, more powerful, without the sentiments she used to have. She gave a little kick, and Theon was quickly up in the air. Kyra flew proudly on his back, higher and higher, up in the sky.

Duncan’s heart broke as he watched her go, heading north, wondering if he would ever see her again as she flew somewhere toward the blackness of Marda.

Chapter Ten

Kyra leaned forward and gripped Theon’s scales as they flew, holding tight as the wind ripped through her hair. They flew in and out of clouds, her hands shaking from the moisture, the cold, yet Kyra ignored it all as they raced across Escalon on the way to Marda. Nothing would stop her now.

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