Authors: Joely Sue Burkhart
Tags: #romance; dragons; fantasy
Shadows: Book Three
Copyright © 2011
Joely Sue Burkhart
Cover art by Vance
Trancygier. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Published by Pen
An imprint of
Joely Sue Burkhart
Blood And Shadows
Wanda and Molly,
na'lanna friend and
It's been a long Road, and I wouldn't have made it
Bethanie, Soleil, and
thank you for reading,
catching my typos,
and helping me keep Gregar in line!
brilliant editor and
You helped me bring
Thank you for everything!
thank you for meeting
me online Dark & Early
all these years!
A WASTELAND OF BLASTING SUN AND ENDLESS THIRST, the man who’d used a thousand
names and lived a thousand lives in shadow stretched out on his face in
blistering sand. Above, a massive twisted spire stabbed the sky. Poisoned
waters hissed and bubbled around the tiny island. His inflamed, festering flesh
bore testimony to the acidic hatred of this place.
He choked on oven-hot air, his throat
and mouth desiccated. After dying countless times, he couldn’t even remember
his original name any longer. He’d lost all sense of time and place. He rubbed
his thumb against the small twisted iron ring on his pinky finger and shivered
despite the baking heat. Soon, he would have a new name, a new body, but his
purpose was always the same.
Here in these savage lands of brutal
death and endless thirst, the Great Lord didn’t need a sacrifice before He
could stretch out His hand to touch and mold the world to His will. They lived
His Shadow every single day.
the perfect place for a new beginning.
Lygon—or Yama, as the savages knew
Him—moved through his mind. It felt as though rancid oil soaked through every
pore and crevice of his body.
NEWS, MY MOST FAITHFUL SERVANT?
He didn’t try to speak aloud; there was
no need. The Great Lord of Shadow could pull any secret thought from a man’s
heart without effort. Instead, he let the words ring in his head.
:Forgive me, Great Lord, but your son, Theo,
the High King of the Green Lands, is dead.:
IN THESE CURSED LANDS, ALL ARE MY SONS.
The ground shook, a merciless groan of
laughter forced through the imprisoned earth. Yama might taint the Spire and
Venom Lake, but the rest of the Trinity exacted Their punishment on Keldar
fiercer than any other land in the world.
he thought. It was much better to plot according to a God’s will—even the
Blackest Heart of Shadow—and
risk eternal punishment and suffering. However, there was one small catch. He
needed a new body, a new life, which only Yama could provide.
will be Keldari this time
The thought sent an unaccustomed shiver
of dread down his spine. He’d been many men and lived many lives, some more
vile than others, but he’d never actually carried a beast within him.
would you have me do, Great Lord?:
PURPOSE HAS NOT CHANGED. I WANT her FILLIES OF THAT CURSED BLOOD EITHER
BUTCHERED OR CORRUPTED BY OURS, BUT MOST OF ALL, I WANT A SON TO SOIL THAT
SHINING BLOOD WITH MY OWN. I WILL TAINT her LAST DAUGHTER FOR ALL TIME.
IN THESE ENDLESS SANDS, BECOME ONE OF MY SONS AND CORRUPT HER YOURSELF.
Despite the blazing heat and burns on
his body, he couldn’t help the shiver from head to toe at the thought.
had never been part of his reward,
not directly at least. The Great Lord was jealous of His prizes, and the Last
Daughter was the greatest prize of all.
He must be absolutely certain.
:You wish me to train one of your Keldari
sons to corrupt her?:
ONE WILL BREAK HER BETTER THAN YOU. IF YOU ARE WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE, THIS
TIME YOU WILL BE REBORN KELDARI.
Something that might have been praise
poured through him, although it was blackest night and smelled of rotting
flesh. There was no greater reward from the Great Lord. He’d never hoped to be
given this last, most important task of all.
:I will pay any price to drag her into Your Shadow. What of her
Shrieking laughter crashed through his skull
like boulders tumbling from the highest mountain.
THE HORSE KING WILL NOT LIVE FOREVER. I NEED DO NOTHING TO SPEED HIS
DEATH. THE HORSE GOD CALLS HIS SON HOME TO WHINNEY AND CAVORT IN THE CLOUDS,
WHILE HIS WOMAN SUFFERS ALONE.
UNTIL YOU ARE PREPARED.
am ready, Great Lord, to do Your will, no matter how dark, no matter how
A metallic shriek sliced against stone
directly above him. Slowly, he lifted his head, craning his neck to look up at
the black rock rising above him. At first, he couldn’t see anything, not in the
moonless night. The screeching came again, only feet away. Shards of black
glass stabbed his upturned face.
A massive claw seized his shoulder.
Talons sank into his flesh, grinding on bone. The beast lifted him off the ground.
Feathers and leathered scales filled the
night, a stink of corpses roasting in the desert heat. Red serpentine eyes
glowed like burning cinders, searing him with hatred. The beast lowered its
head: foul breath in his face, teeth as long as small swords, saliva drizzling
on his flesh, hissing and popping like acid.
The twisted iron ring on his finger
burned, crisping away the flesh to blacken the bone beneath. Yet he didn’t cry
out. Pay any price, he’d said, and he meant it.
THE LAND OF BURNING SANDS, THIS IS MY FORM. THIS IS MY GIFT TO YOU. LET her
SHINING SYMBOL REMIND YOU OF YOUR PURPOSE. WELCOME TO KELDAR, MY MOST FAITHFUL
The dragon opened its jaws wide and
closed its mouth over his head. He couldn’t help but scream as the beast devoured
* * *
HE OPENED HIS EYES AND winced at the
brilliant sun making its climb in the sky. So hot, so fierce; he’d never felt
the heat of the sun so miserably until he’d come to…
Startled, he jerked upright. A black
dragon was sprawled on the sands, already decaying. The smell of roasted meat
was thick in his nostrils. A young man hacked beneath the beast’s chin and
removed two small dripping sacs. By his baggy trousers, fancy coat and
wide-brimmed hat shading his eyes from the miserable heat, he must be a Far
Illione trader. Likely a well-to-do son with decent breeding, making a dollar
or two for his family, hoping to find a way to escape this hellhole and make
his way to court.
do I know this?
“A foul beast.” The man grimaced.
“Prepare the oil, and then I’ll ensure it’s delivered directly to her hands.”
He turned, pale eyes sharp as steel. “What’s the matter?”
He blinked at the other man, trying to
decide whether he could trust him or not. Nausea burned up his throat. His
entire body screamed with remembered pain from rending teeth and claws. He
distinctly remembered a dragon eating him, ripping him limb from limb, but then
the dragon had folded up, somehow, and slipped…
Ice picks darted deep into his skull and
he couldn’t stifle the cry of pain.
“Can you keep your part of the bargain?”
“What…” He swallowed, wincing at the
blades shredding his dry throat. “What bargain?”
The other man harrumphed and squatted
beside him. He didn’t neglect to note the blade in the man’s hand, stained with
blood. The putrid musk leaking from the sacs made him gag.
“You’re going to make a seductive oil that the
High Queen of the Green Lands will find very, very amusing to be sure,” the man
spoke slowly, as if he were too stupid to understand. “Then you must find a way
to get your lazy dirty hide to Shanhasson, into her Court, and then,
ultimately, into her bed. Simple,
The last word was spat forcefully, a
mockery, if only he knew what it meant.
Breathing deeply, he forced his body to
accept the foreign odors of this place: the rotting dragon, the stink of its
glands dripping some noxious fluid onto the blasted sands; the rank body odor
of the man beside him; and the scent of his own body, sweat mixed with an
exotic spice he couldn’t quite place.
It smelled…right, that scent, soothing
his unease. It was
blending with the reek of the dragon until even it smelled right.
His stomach calmed, as well as his mind.
The High Queen of the Green Lands was definitely someone he knew. The dragon had
surely been a dream. Now, if he could only remember…
“Tell me, my young friend,” he began
casually, but the trader’s eyes widened with shock.
“Your voice.” Suspicion narrowed the
trader’s eyes and he drew back warily. “No Keldari talks like that.”