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Dragon Fire
cover art 2013 Renu Sharma.

 

 

A young shapeshifting dragon must choose between his forbidden love for a human and face death, or fulfill his duty in an ancient blood feud and kill her best friend Ė forever ending any possibility of finding true love.

 

 

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Dragon Fire

fantasy

Dina von Lowenkraft

 

 

Chapter 1 The Circle Tightens

The candle flickered in the subzero wind but Anna made no move to protect it. She stopped on the hill in front of Tromsoís three-year high school and watched the water of the fjord shimmer below. Even though it was mid-afternoon there was no sun, just the luminous reflection of the moon. The procession of students continued on without her, leaving only the fading sound of crunching snow in their wake.

"You seem as eager to go to Fritjofís memorial vigil as I am," said June, startling Anna with her sudden appearance.

Anna fingered the oval piece of bright orange coral that she had carried around like a talisman since she was a child. She usually kept it in her pocket, but today she wanted to feel its soothing energy closer and had it in her glove. She had never liked Fritjof, and even though she wasnít glad he had died, she wouldnít miss him.

She turned to face June whose cobalt blue eyes were at odds with her otherwise Asian features. June and her boyfriend had also been out on the mountain when the avalanche had claimed Fritjof. "Iím glad itís not yours too," Anna said quietly. "Iíd really miss you."

"It would take more than an avalanche to kill me," said June, trying to smile. But Anna could feel her friendís pain lurking under the surface like a black hole.

"Hey." She wrapped an arm around June to comfort her. But as soon as her hand touched Juneís shoulder, a burst of energy exploded from her stone. Anna ripped off her glove and the piece of coral went flying. "What theó"

June spun around, pushing Anna behind her as if to protect her from an attack. She scanned the area, her body tensed for a fight.

"Who are you looking for?" Anna pressed her palm to dull the pain as she glanced around the deserted hilltop. "Whatever it was, it came from my stone."

June relaxed her stance. "Are you okay?"

"I think so." Anna gestured towards the coral colored sparks that crackled in the darkness of the Norwegian winter. "What do you think itís doing?"

"Donít know." June crouched down to get a better look. Her hand hovered as a bright green light flashed around the stone.

"Donít touch it," Anna said sharply. Her stone had always had a special energy, but never coral colored sparks. Or green flashes of light.

"Itís okay now." June pulled her hand back. "Look for yourself."

Anna knelt next to June. The stone was dark and lifeless and she felt a sudden pang of loss. She prodded it gingerly with her good hand, but felt nothing. She picked it up. It was just a pretty bit of coral. The gentle pulsing energy that she had liked so much was gone.

"Can I see it?" asked June.

Anna nodded, her throat constricted. The stone had always reminded her of her father. Its energy was the kind of thing he would have been able to feel too. Even if no one else could.

June closed her fist around the stone. "Where did you get this?" Her voice wavered.

Annaís attention flicked back to June. She never wavered. "I found it in the mountains. Years ago. Why? What is it?" asked Anna, suddenly worried.

"A trigger."

"A trigger for what?"

June returned Annaís searching look. "I have no idea." She handed the stone back.

"So how do you know itís a trigger?"

"I just feel it." June picked up the candles that lay forgotten in the snow. "If youíre okay, we should go."

Anna picked up her discarded glove and froze. In the middle of her left palm was a star shaped scar. She stretched her hand to get a better look. It was about the size of a dime. She touched it. Like an echo under the fading pain, she could feel her stone pulsing faintly in her palm.

"Here," said June, offering Anna a candle. She stopped mid-motion. "What is it?"

"I donít know. The stoneÖ" She held out her palm. "Look."

June dropped the candles and took Annaís hand in hers. Gently, she ran her fingers over the slightly raised ridges of the scar. "A Firemark," June said as if talking to herself. "But howÖ?"

"Whatís a Firemark?" Anna examined the scar; it was almost silvery in the moonlight.

June looked up, her fingers still on Annaís palm. "Itís like a living connection between two people. ButÖ there was only the stone."

"It always felt alive," said Anna, sure that June would understand. She touched the Firemark one last time before putting her glove back on. It was warm and smooth.

June shook her head. "But even if it felt alive, it shouldnít have left a Firemark."

Anna shrugged. "Maybe. But I like it." Anna closed her hand around the Firemark. It felt like she was holding her stone. She smiled. Sheíd never lose it now.

June re-lit the candles again and handed one to Anna. "Ready?"

Anna hooked her arm through Juneís. "I think so." They walked silently through town and across the bridge that straddled the green black fjord.

"Do you think itís over?" asked Anna, eyeing the Arctic Cathedral that sprawled like slabs of a fallen glacier on the other side of the fjord. It was lit up like a temple of light.

June shook her head. "Itís only just begun."

* * *

"Thatís enough." Khotanís voice snapped like a whip across the barren land of Ngari in western Tibet. "Youíre not going to kill her. I will."

The wind howled in agreement and Rakan bit back the urge to argue with his father whose shaved head and barrel chest marked him as an Old Dragon. But Khotanís massive physique belied his diminishing power and Rakan knew that his father wouldnít survive a fight with the female dragon they had finally located. He had felt her power when she had set off his trigger just a few hours before. And she was more powerful than any other dragon he had ever felt. Rakan clenched his fists. Blood for blood. It was the Dragon Code. And he would be the one to honor it.

"You need to start a new life here," Khotan said, his hand like a claw of ice on Rakanís bare shoulder. "I will end the old."

His tone of voice, more than his touch, sent shivers down Rakanís spine. But before he could question his father, a flicker of red caught his attention and his older half-sister, Dvara, materialized on the sparring field. Except she wasnít dressed to fight. She was wearing a shimmering red gown that matched the color of her eyes and her black hair was arranged in an intricate mass of twisted strands.

"Itís too late to teach Rakan anything." She made an unhurried motion towards the targets at the other end of the field. One by one, they exploded with her passing hand.

"We werenít practicing," Rakan said calmly. "Although if we had been, youíd need to start again. You used a trigger. You didnít manipulate their structure on a molecular level."

"Who cares?" Her Maii-a, a pear-shaped stone that every dragon wore to practice manipulating matter with, sparkled like an angry flame at her throat. "Theyíve been demolished. And thatís all that counts in a fight."

"How you fight is just as important as how you win." Rakan slid his long black braid over his shoulder.

"Iíd rather stay alive," said Dvara. "But you can die honorably if you want."

"Neither one of you will fight anyone," said Khotan. "Remember that."

Rakan bowed his head. There was no point arguing about it now. But Dvara lifted her chin defiantly. "Kraal was my father," she said. "I will avenge his death."

Khotan growled and stepped towards Dvara, dwarfing her with his size. He held her gaze until she dropped her eyes. Rakan shook his head, wondering why Dvara always tried to challenge Khotanís authority in an open confrontation that she was sure to lose. Khotan was the guardian of her rök, her dragon heart and the seat of her power, and she had no choice but to abide by his will.

Their mother, Yarlung, appeared without warning. "I will speak with Rakanídzor." She crossed her arms over her white gown that sparkled with flashes of turquoise. "Alone."

She waited, immobile, until Khotan and Dvara bowed and dematerialized, shifting elsewhere. As soon as they were gone, her face relaxed and she turned to Rakan, her nearly blind eyes not quite finding his. "I always knew you would be the one to find her," she purred. "You have the strength and the will of my bloodline. And the time has come for you to use it." Yarlung tilted her face to the wind. "Kraal gifted me his poison before he died. Neutralized, of course."

"But I thought no one could neutralize dragon poison."

"Kairök Kraal was a great Master. His death is a loss for us all."

Rakan struck his chest with his fist. "Paaliaq will pay for his death with her own."

"Yes. She will. And you will help me." A faint smile played on her usually austere face. "I will mark you with his poison so that we can communicate when necessary."

"Khotan and Dvara have a full link, isnít that enough?"

"You donít expect me to rely on second hand information, do you?" snapped Yarlung. She paused and spoke more gently. "Or are you scared to carry Kraalís poison?"

Rakan knelt down in front of Yarlung. "I will do whatever it takes to kill Paaliaq." His voice cut through the arid cold of the Tibetan plateau.

Yarlungís eyes flashed momentarily turquoise and Rakan stepped back as she morphed into her dragon form. She was a long, undulating water dragon and the scales around her head and down her throat glistened like wet opals. Without warning, a bluish-white fire crackled around him like an electric storm. His motherís turquoise claws sank into his arms and pain sizzled through his flesh. The fire disappeared and Rakan collapsed to the ground, grinding his teeth to keep from screaming in agony.

He would not dishonor his family.

"No, you wonít," Yarlung said in his mind.

Rakanís head jerked up in surprise.

"You have just become my most precious tool." Her voice hummed with pleasure. "You will not fail me."

As suddenly as the contact had come, it was gone. And so was his mother. Rakan didnít like it. Not her disappearance: that was normal. Yarlung had always been abrupt. But he didnít like hearing her in his mind. It was something only dragons who were joined under a Kairök, a Master Dragon, could do. Few dragons were able to survive the rush of power that happened when their röks awakened without the help of a Kairök. But Rakan had.

He gritted his teeth and stood up. If sharing a mind link with Yarlung was necessary to kill Paaliaq, then he would learn to accept it.

He held his arms out to examine the dragons that had appeared where his motherís claws had dug into his biceps. They were long, sinuous water dragons like Yarlung. But they were black, the color of purity, the color of Kraal. Rakan watched the miniature turquoise-eyed dragons dance on his arms until he felt a cold metallic shiver deep inside when they penetrated under his skin and faded from view.

A rush of pride exploded in Rakan and he raised his arms to the frozen winter sky, the pain like a blood pact marking his words. "I will avenge your death, Kairök Kraal. The Earth will become our new home and your Cairn will once again prosper."

* * *

"You can drop me here," Anna said, glaring at her motherís boyfriend who reminded her of his namesake: a wolf.

Ulf turned the car into Siriís driveway and flashed his all too perfect smile. "Not unless you want me to carry you in. Your shoes arenít practical for walking in the snow."

Anna snorted. "Youíre one to talk. Youíre the one driving a sports car in the winter." And she didnít feel like having her teammates from the handball team see it.

Ulf threw his head back and laughed. "I only take it out for special occasions. Like New Yearís." He leaned towards her. "Especially when I have the honor of accompanying a lovely lady."

"Youíre not accompanying me. Youíre dropping me off."

"Precisely." He pulled up in front of the house that pulsed with music, revving his engine one last time. He jumped out of the car and got to her side just as she was opening her door. He leaned forward and offered her his arm. "And since Iím a gentleman, Iíll accompany you to the door."

Anna ignored Ulf and struggled to get up as the dress she had decided to wear did its best to slide all the way up her thighs. Ulf moved to steady her as she wobbled in the high heels she wasnít used to wearing but she pushed him away. Her shoes slipped on the icy snow and she grabbed the railing, wondering why she had decided to wear them.

"It would be easier if youíd accept my help."

"I donít need your help," she said, walking up the stairs. When he followed anyway, she turned to face him. "Donít you have anything better to do?"

"As a matter of factÖ no," said Ulf, straightening his white silk scarf that didnít need straightening. "Ingrid wonít be off work until eleven."

The evening was cold and Anna regretted wearing a dress. "Youíre not coming in."

"We can stand out here, if thatís what you prefer," said Ulf, looking up at the sky.

"Anna! Finally," squealed Randi, opening the door and throwing herself at Anna. "I didnít know you were bringing someone."

"Iím not," Anna said. "Heís leaving. Now."

Randi glanced at Ulf who was leaning elegantly against the railing in what could have passed for a golden boy fashion shot. "Is that your boyfriend?" Randi asked hanging onto Anna and looking Ulf up and down. "Is that why you didnít come earlier?"

"Letís go in," Anna said, trying to get Randi back in the house.

"Perhaps I can help," said Ulf, sliding an arm around Randiís waist.

"Oh sure," said Randi, laughing as she fell against his chest. "You have a niceÖ car."

"Leave her alone," Anna said, prying Ulfís wandering hands away from Randi who was happily wrapping her arms around Ulfís neck. "Randi, knock it off."

"Oh, Iím sorry," said Randi, pushing away from Ulf. "Heís yours. I forgot."

"Iíll take her," said Siri, coming up and replacing Anna. "That way you guys can come in and take your coats off."

"Ulf has a date," Anna said, blocking the door as Siri and Randi disappeared inside. "With my mom. Or have you forgotten?" she asked him, her hands on her hips.

"Sweet little Anna," said Ulf, reaching out to touch her cheek with his leather gloved hand.

Anna slapped his hand away. "Get away from me."

"Youíre so adorable when youíre jealous," he said with a laugh. "Call me when you want me to come for you."

Anna resisted the impulse to slam the door, closing it calmly instead. The living room was packed with people dancing. She rubbed her forehead and walked over to the dining room table that was laden with food and drinks instead. Sheíd never understand her momís taste in men.

Siri came and nudged her shoulder. "Whereís the guy you came with?""

"Gone," she answered, rolling her eyes. "Finally."

"He didnít look your type," said Siri with a shrug. "But you never know."

"Heís not. Heís my momís boyfriend. And heís a jerk."

"Thatís a mess," said Siri, her hand hovering over the massacred chocolate cake.

"Tell me about it." Ulf was by far the worst of her momís recent boyfriends: he was a liar and a manipulator. But her mom never saw beyond a pretty face.

Siri dropped her voice. "Have you seen June? Is she coming?"

"No. She went away with her boyfriend and his family for the vacation." Siri looked relieved. Anna asked sharply, "why?"

"I was worried that maybe she didnít feel welcome. And I felt guilty. I meanÖ Iím really sorry about Fritjof." Siri paused. "But Iím starting to wonder why I thought some of his ideas were good. I know you never liked him. ButÖ I thought he was right. About June being different and the need to keep our race pure and all that." Siri looked away. "Iím embarrassed I let myself believe any of it."

"He was persuasive, I guess," Anna said, trying not to rub it in but secretly happy that at least one friend was coming back around.

"Maybe," said Siri, looking down. "But I really am sorry."

"Tell June when she comes back," Anna said, putting her glass up to Siriís. "Sheíll understand."

"Why are you girls being so serious?" boomed Annaís cousin, Red, putting an arm around each of them. "Thereís music. You should be dancing. Or arenít there any nice guys?"

"Anna never thinks there are any nice guys. But I see a few." Siri raised her glass and headed across the room that had started to get crowded now that a slow song was playing.

"What are you doing here?" Anna said, playfully punching her cousin who was built like a rugby player. "You graduated last year. Youíre not part of the team anymore."

"We told the guys that weíd be back," said Red, nodding to where his best friend, Haakon, was surrounded by half the boys team. "But we canít stay Ė we promised the girls weíd go to a dinner party. And theyíll kill us if weíre late." Red and Haakon had dominated the court with their size and skill for the past three years, but neither of their girlfriends played.

"Iím surprised they even let you out of their sight." Anna waved a finger at her cousin who had the same ultra blond hair and pale blue eyes as she did. "Iíve hardly seen you at all this vacation."

"I know. Weíve been busy. But Iím here now." The music picked up again. "Dance?" He took her hand and then dropped it as if he had been stung. He grabbed her wrist and turned her palm up, revealing the star shaped Firemark. "Who did this?" he growled, his face turning the telltale shade of red that had earned him his nickname.

Anna pulled her hand out of his and closed her fist. "No one."

"A mark like that canít just appear."

"Why do you care what did it?"

"What do you mean what did it?" Red gripped her shoulders. "You were the oneÖ?" Redís voice trailed off, but his eyes bore into hers as if he was trying to peer into her mind.

Anna pulled back, breaking the contact. "What are you talking about?" She hadnít said anything about what had happened on the hill and June had left town right after the vigil.

Red laughed, but Anna could still feel his anger like a tightly coiled snake. "Nothing," he said. "Letís dance."

* * *

Dvara paced around the massive table that filled the stone hall of Khotanís lair. "Why are we waiting? Paaliaq has had more than enough time to hide again."

"That is for Kairök Yarlung to decide," said Khotan, using Yarlungís official title as the head of their Cairn. As Kraalís mate, she had taken over after his death.

"Sheís too busy with her political games to think about it." Dvara snorted. "Sheís never had time for us anyhow."

"Maybe she just wants to make sure you wonít throw yourself at Paaliaq in a hotheaded rage," said Rakan, looking up from the intricate wire sculpture he was making.

"Iím no fool," said Dvara, leaning over the table towards her half-brother. "I wonít attack until Iím certain to win. But I will attack."

Rakan stood up, towering over her. "Whatís that supposed to mean?"

"Sit," said Khotan from his high-backed burgundy chair at the head of the table. "Both of you." He waited until they complied. "The only reason youíre going instead of one of us is because Paaliaq wonít recognize you. Unfortunately, neither one of you is experienced enough to confirm that she is Paaliaq on your own." Khotan looked from one to the other. "Youíll have to work together. Remember that."

"But why did she set off one of Rakanís old triggers?" Dvara hit the table with her fist. "It makes no sense. Even a newborn whelp would have felt what it was before touching it."

Khotan created a burgundy colored fireball that floated in front of him. "Either she isnít Paaliaq, or sheís luring you into a trap." The stone walls reflected the warm glow of the fireball. "This isnít a game. And I wish we didnít have to send you." Khotanís face went blank for a split second as it always did when he spoke mentally with another dragon. "Yarlung bids us come to Lhang-tso," he said, standing up. "Now." Khotan disappeared without a sound, the fireball still suspended in midair.

Dvara followed in her stepfatherís trail, leaving Rakan to arrive last on the silver shores of the intensely blue lake that was Kairök Yarlungís home. They faced the lake in their dragon forms and Khotan rose on his burgundy hind legs, bellowing their arrival.

The white coils of Yarlungís water dragon form undulated majestically in the center of the crescent shaped lake. Rakan had always felt a sense of awe in front of his motherís abode. Something about its starkness, the pungent salty flavor of the wind that rolled off the lake, the beauty of the contrasting red hills that surrounded it in the thin air of its 4,500 meter high perch had always made him feel like he was in the presence of something profound. He smiled and rocked back onto his own hind legs, stretched his majestic coral wings and added his greetings to his fatherís. Neither animal nor plant life ventured near the lake. They were refreshingly alone. And free.

Dvara, a compact fire dragon with only the shortest of wings, dug her claws into the ground. She raised her jewel-like vermillion head and joined her voice to the othersí.

Yarlung approached the edge of the lake and morphed into her human form, signaling for them to do the same. Flashes of turquoise glinted off her metallic white dress. Rakan knelt next to his father and Dvara, his right fist on the center of his chest where his rök pounded in excitement.

"Rise. It is time," said Yarlung, her voice snapping like thunder. "If the dragon who set off Rakanís trigger is Paaliaq, I will savor her death." Yarlung paused and then spoke again, more quietly. "If not, I will bind her to me by taking her rök whether she wills it or not. But I believe she is Paaliaq. Too many things confirm it. Including the presence of a male dragon who can only be her mate, Haakaramanoth."

The wind howled across the lake.

"From what our scouts have been able to gather these past three weeks," said Khotan, "she has created the illusion of being an untrained whelp and goes by the name Jing Mei. But donít be fooled by her innocent appearance."

Yarlungís nostrils flared. "If she even begins to suspect who you are, sheíll kill you. Pretend youíre untrained. Take your time and get close to her. But not too close. Only one member of her Cairn is left and she will want to possess you both. Starting with Rakanídzor since she has always preferred males."

"But the Code forbids blood relatives to have the same Kairök," Rakan said.

Yarlung snorted. "Paaliaq has no honor. Never forget that." She turned to Khotan. "Give Dvara back her rök. Paaliaq will be suspicious if she doesnít have it."

"But the riskó" stammered Khotan.

"óis of no consequence. Do it. Now. And then bind her to you as Kraal taught you."

"No," said Khotan. "Itís too dangerous."

"Have you become so frail that you can no longer master even that?"

Khotan bowed his head. "May your will be done," he said, saying the traditional formula of submission to a Kairök. But Rakan could feel his fatherís anger.

Dvara tilted her chin and gave Rakan a look of triumph. She had wanted her rök back ever since Yarlung had declared that he would keep his and remain independent. But learning to control his rök had been harder than he had let on. Starting with when he had morphed for the first time not knowing which of the three dragon forms he would take. But even after he knew he was an air dragon, his rökís wild power had nearly overwhelmed him. It wasnít until Khotan had taught him to control his emotions that he could morph without fear of involuntarily killing himself or his family.

Khotan walked over to Dvara, his fluid black pants snapping in the wind. They stood still, facing each other as equals even though Khotan loomed over Dvaraís delicate figure. Khotan began a low chant in Draagsil, the ancient language of the dragon race. He lifted his arms to the sky, his bare chest glistening like armor. Energy crackled and began to circle him, spinning faster and faster until Khotan was nothing more than a shimmering mirage in front of Dvara. A faint drum-like beat began, steadily increasing in tempo as it grew louder. Suddenly, the wind died and the beating stopped. A mass of pure vermillion energy licked Khotanís hands like the flames of a fire. The energy condensed in a flash of vermillion light, leaving a bright red stone in Khotanís palm. Dvaraís dragon heart.

Khotan held the egg-shaped rök to the sky before releasing it to hover above Dvaraís head, where it glittered like a crown jewel. "My will has been done. You are now your own master. May your will be one with your rök."

A flickering red flame moved up Dvaraís gown, circling her body until it reached her rök. The rök ignited in a ball of wild energy and spun around her in an uncontrolled frenzy. It was going to kill her. Rakan sprang forward, desperate to catch Dvaraís rök before it was too late, but Khotan stopped him. "No. Their reunion cannot be interfered with. It must run its course. For better or for worse."

The rök lurched violently. Rakan stood ready to intervene if things got worse. Whether he was supposed to or not, he wouldnít stand by and watch her die. A brilliant flash of intense vermillion encompassed Dvara, knocking her to the ground.

Yarlung snorted in contempt. "Tend to her."

Khotan knelt next to Dvara and touched a hand to her forehead, healing her with his energy. She latched onto Khotan, her red eyes echoing the wildness of her rök.

"Come," said Khotan, helping her to stand. "Do you accept of your own free will that I mark you with Kraalís neutralized poison and bind you to me in a partial link?"

"I do," Dvara said.

"And do you understand the consequences of this act?"

Yarlung growled her impatience, but Dvara didnít take her eyes from Khotanís.

"I do," Dvara said solemnly.

"What consequences?" thought Rakan, glancing at his mother. But she ignored him.

Khotan morphed and sank his claws into Dvaraís bare arms. Rakan watched, horrified, as Dvara writhed by the edge of the lake in a mixture of rapture and agony. A black winged air dragon with burgundy eyes danced on each arm before fading under her skin.

"Go now," said Yarlung, her words lingering for just a moment after she disappeared.

"RakanÖ" said Khotan.

"Yes, Father?"

"If you need to contact us, send a message through Dvara."

Rakan nodded, confused. Didnít his father know that Yarlung had marked him too?

Khotan disappeared. It was time.

 

 

Chapter 2 Back to School

Anna sat in the kitchen window absentmindedly rubbing the star on her palm. It was a perfect morning. The mountains across the fjord gleamed in the moonlight and the snow reflected the peaceful radiance of the never setting moon. Plus, Ulf hadnít come back after going out last night. It was the kind of morning Anna wished she had had more of over the vacation.

"Why are you sitting in the dark?" Ingrid flipped on the light that bounced off the window, turning it into a black mirror that blocked the view of the outdoors.

"Because I didnít think youíd be getting up." Anna scowled. The bright kitchen suddenly felt like a cage that was closing in on her.

"And you canít turn the lights on without me?"

"I justó"

"ólike to see outside," her mother finished for her. "Just like your father."

Anna looked at her mom, surprised. The subject of her father was taboo.

"Iím glad youíre up early," continued Ingrid. "I think we need to have a little chat."

Anna braced herself. Having a Ďlittle chatí had never been a good thing.

"I think Iím finally ready to have a real relationship with someone again." Ingrid twisted her wedding band around her finger. "I gave Ulf keys to the apartment last night."

Anna glared at her mom. She was lying. The spare pair had been missing for at least a week.

"I know it might seem a bit fast to you," Ingrid said, misinterpreting Annaís silence. "But it really is different with Ulf." Ingrid waited for a response, but none came. "He suggested we keep both apartments for now, to give you some time to adjust. He said that it might be hard for you to accept him since heís so much younger than me. He really wants you to feel comfortable with this. He even suggested that maybe you could spend some time together Ė he loves being outdoors as much as you do. And I donít. Not since your fatherÖ"

"Ödied," said Anna, finishing the sentence her mother never could.

"Didnít come home," snapped Ingrid.

Anna shrugged and looked back out the window, even though she couldnít see anything. "Whatever." Her father hadnít come home from his solo expedition to the North Pole ten years ago. And her mother still couldnít face the facts. About that or anything else.

Ingrid took a deep breath. "Iím sorry, honey. I didnít mean to react that way. What Iím trying to say is that maybe you and Ulf could go skiing one afternoon."

"No."

"Canít you give him a chance? It means a lot to me."

Anna glowered at her motherís reflection.

Ingrid sighed. "Ulf said youíd probably refuse and that I shouldnít worry about it. He says itís normal for a seventeen-year-old to be jealous of her motherís boyfriend, especially when heís young enough that he couldíve been yours. But I didnít think you were like that."

"Mom. Believe me, Iím not jealous. I just donít like him. Heís a total jerk."

Ingridís pale skin flushed bright red. "There isnít a more honest or hard working man than Ulf. In spite of being only twenty-six, heís a brilliant cultural anthropologist. And part of his work is observing how people interact in nightclubs."

"Yes, I know. He keeps telling us that."

Ingrid blinked. "So whatís the problem?"

"Heís a liar and his idea of research is running around," Anna said, unable to control her anger any longer. "He doesnít even care about you."

"Is that what this is all about? Youíre worried he doesnít love me? I know Iíve had a lot of men in and out of my life sinceÖ in the past ten yearsÖ but this time itís different. Youíll see. Itíll be okay." Her mother came and gave her a hug. "I love you, too, honey."

Even though it was early, Anna got up and pulled on her outdoor clothes. With a little luck, her motherís new toy boy wouldnít last any longer than any of the others anyway.

The arctic air nipped Annaís cheeks and she stopped on the slope to look up, expecting to see the bright green Northern Lights. But they werenít there. And yet she had felt something. The star on her palm throbbed and Anna closed her eyes. She felt the power of the mountains that jutted up around the island town. If only she could somehow slip into them and away from the city that was just beginning to wake up.

* * *

Rakan sank onto the couch of the rooms that Khotan had arranged for them at the Tibetan House in Tromso, run by one of the few Tibetan nuns in Northern Norway. They were enrolled at the local high school under their Tibetan names: Dawa and Pemba Ngari. Rakan snorted. At least Dawa sounded like Dvara. But Pemba didnít even come close to his name and he hated it. It made him sound like a puppy. He closed his eyes for a moment. The shift from Tibet to the arctic town where Jing Mei had set off his trigger had been complicated. He had followed Dvara through the deeper rock that she felt more comfortable in, being a fire dragon, instead of shifting through the surface layer that he preferred as an air dragon. He had wanted to make sure she would be okay. It was her first time shifting on her own and he knew how tricky it could be.

Slowly, his breathing became more regular and he opened his senses to what was going on around him. Dvara, whose special skill was in triggers, was checking for detecting devices that the local dragons could have planted. And he could feel the nun, Ani-la, meditating in the room below.

Rakan focused on the multi-colored prayer flags that hung in the windows: his specialty was tracking and the bits of cloth were the easiest source from which to identify the scent of everyone who had been in the apartment in the past six months. He ran through them quickly, but there had only been humans. He mentally catalogued them in case he came across one again. Humans were no threat in and of themselves, but they were easy to manipulate and Paaliaq and Haakaramanoth would probably use them to set traps or gather information. Dragons considered humans as nothing more than animals. Or worse, as targets to practice on. But Rakan didnít agree. Humans were too similar to dragons in their humanoid form.

Dvara finished her scan and turned to Rakan. "No alarms or other triggering devices. The house is as sparse and clean as it looks. Any interesting trails?"

Rakan shook his head. "No dragons have been here as far back as I can trace."

"They werenít expecting us," Dvara said. "Although they must know weíre here now, since we didnít even try to hide our arrival." Dvara opened the doors to the two small bedrooms. The only decorations were a couple of hanging scrolls. "We should put up a shield. But it canít be too sophisticated or our cover of being untrained will be blown."

"Go ahead," Rakan said, happy to let her do it so that he could scan the trails outside. "I trust your judgment."

"Thanks, Pemba," Dvara said.

Rakan let it slide and looked out the window at the street below. It was covered with trails. He let his mind roam, following the different trails as they meandered across town. He caught a trace of Jing Mei and the thrill of the hunt hit him. He reached out with his rök and connected with Dvara. Although they couldnít have a true link and mind-speak, the blood bond of having the same mother meant they could have a partial link. It was limited to impressions and emotions, but since they had been trained together, they usually knew what the other would have said Ė an invaluable tool for tracking and hunting together.

"Ready to play?" he asked, snatching his sisterís bright red scarf Ė the one touch of color in her otherwise all black outfit.

"Idiot." She mentally maneuvered the scarf out of Rakanís hands.

Rakan smiled. He could feel her excitement even if she didnít want to show it.

"Weíll go see Ani-la later." She looked at Rakan through narrowed eyes. "This time itís our hunt. We decide what needs to be done. Okay?"

"Weíre only supposed to find out if Jing Mei is Paaliaq."

Dvara scoffed. "Scared of Mommy and Daddy? Or do you think Yarlung had Khotan give me back my rök but didnít expect us to act independently and kill Paaliaq?"

Rakan didnít answer. Dvara was impulsive and headstrong. She didnít have the self-control it would take to set up a successful attack against a dragon as powerful, and experienced, as Paaliaq. Especially since theyíd have to neutralize Haakaramanoth first.

"Theyíve trained us to kill. And you know it," Dvara continued. "Khotan is too old; and even when he was young he was no match for Paaliaq. Heís a strategist, not a warrior. Heíd be dead before the fight started."

Rakan agreed. And he wasnít about to let his father fight Paaliaq. But what Dvara didnít realize was that she wouldnít last any longer than Khotan. She had no training in controlling her rök by herself and it would easy for a more experienced dragon to take it if they morphed. And theyíd have to morph to kill Paaliaq. "Letís go," he said, impatient with the whole situation. He could feel the other two shapeshifting dragons nearby. And one was radiating so much energy it felt like a gong pounding across an open plain. He had never felt anything like it. Pure raw energy. It could only be the elusive Paaliaq.

"Iím ready, but youíre not," Dvara said. "You forgot your contact lenses."

* * *

Anna wasnít surprised to see the schoolyard nearly empty. Most people went into one of the student lounges when it was below zero out. But June was outside, as usual. Anna smiled. June often acted more Norwegian than many of the students who had grown up in Tromso, and it was easy to forget that she was an exchange student from California. They were the same age and had quickly become friends even though June was in the third year and Anna in the second.

"Iím glad youíre back," Anna said, giving her friend a hug. "Did you see the e-mail about the extra handball practice tonight?"

June turned and showed Anna her sport bag. "Wouldnít miss it for the world," she said with a laugh and then paused. "I just wish that Lysa was feeling better."

Anna felt a pang of guilt and looked away. She hadnít even tried to contact Lysa and probably should have. Because even though theyíd had a falling out before the avalanche, Anna was sure that Lysa needed all the support she could get: Fritjof had been her boyfriend. "Iíll try to call her later."

"She wonít answer. Her family thought she needed some more time. They wonít be back for another week or two." June didnít sound too happy about it, but then again, June was dating Lysaís brother, Erling.

"Iíll leave a message." Anna looked at her watch. "We should go Ė the bellís about to ring."

She turned to walk toward the main building, but pulled up short when she felt something touch her, as if the wind had grown hands. She backed up, but still felt it. Her palm tingled. "WhatÖ?"

June was staring across the schoolyard towards the entrance but snapped back to look at Anna. "You felt that?"

The feeling disappeared. "What was it?"

But June didnít answer. She was leaning against the wall, just as she had been before. Except that she was staring at the gate as if she expected someone to walk in. A little later two students Anna didnít recognize walked into the schoolyard. They were lithe and graceful, even with their biker boots. They reminded her of black panthers: one male, one female.

Anna watched as they walked nonchalantly towards the main building and disappeared inside, trying to put her finger on what made them look different. "They donít look cold," she said, suddenly realizing that they hadnít been wearing hats or gloves. Although the girl had a red scarf.

June burst into laughter and hooked her arm through Annaís. "No, Iím sure they werenít." They walked into the school and merged with the crowd. "See you later," June said as they were about to separate on the second floor landing. "Oh, wait. I forgot to give you your Christmas present. Itís a Chinese good luck charm. Sorry I didnít wrap it." June dropped a small jade medallion in Annaís hands before running up to third floor where the third year students had class.

Anna stopped to look at the delicate green medallion as the stairwell emptied. It was beautiful, and so detailed that the dragon looked like it should come alive. It looked a little like a serpent, except that it had four feet Ė each with five claws. Anna smiled, the emerald dragonís ferocious face made it look like a protective guardian. She wrapped her hand around it. It felt alive, just like her stone used to feel. She sat on the stair and put it on her necklace with the little golden heart that her father had given her when she was little.

"Oh, Anna Ė are you alright?" Mrs. Johansen, the schoolís librarian-like secretary, came up the stairs followed by the two new kids. "Youíre going to be late for class."

Anna scrambled to her feet. "Iím on my way." But she just stood there, watching.

The secretary turned to the dark haired girl. "Dawa, this is Anna Strom. Sheís also in the second year, but in the other homeroom. She plays on the Tromso handball team."

Anna smiled and held out her hand, but Dawa averted her eyes.

"Anna, this is Dawaís brother Pemba Ngari," continued Mrs. Johansen. "Heíll be in the third year."

When Anna met Pembaís gaze, she felt a tingle around her. As if invisible hands were trying to touch her. She looked around wondering where it was coming from and then focused back on Pemba. There was something familiar about him, but she was certain she had never seen him before. She would have remembered him with his dark-toned skin and pitch black hair that was pulled back from his face, showing off his high cheek bones and broad forehead. He had an animal-like quality that made him seem pulsingly alive. And she liked it.

"Can you take Dawa to her homeroom while I bring Pemba up to the third floor?" asked Mrs. Johansen. "And maybe you can show Dawa around during lunchtime Ė she was asking about handball. Alright, shall we?"

"What? Yes, of course," Anna said, still staring into Pembaís eyes. They were brown, like all Asians she had ever seen, but somehow on Pemba it looked wrong. She watched as Mrs. Johansen escorted Pemba upstairs, mesmerized by the slow movement of his long black braid that twitched like a tail. Finally she turned to Dawa, who was waiting patiently next to her.

"When did you arrive?" Anna asked as they walked down the second floor hall, glancing at Dawa who had some of the same look as Pemba. But whereas Pemba felt like he was ready to fly into action, Dawa felt like a delicate flower.

"This morning," said Dawa, her voice neutral.

"From Tibet?"

Dawa gave a faint nod that Anna was clueless as to how to decipher.

"Did you play handball there?"

"Yes."

"Well, we have practice this afternoon," Anna said, wondering how Dawa could play handball if she was so shy. "You can come watch."

"Can I play?"

"I donít know," Anna said, eyeing Dawa again. She knocked on the door to Dawaís new homeroom and introduced her. "Iíll come pick you up for lunch," she said before going across the hall to her own homeroom. "Sorry Iím late," she said to her teacher, Berit Knudsen, who was also the local teamís handball coach. "I was with the new girl who wants to join the team."

"I didnít know we were expecting any new students," said Coach Knudsen. "Where was she playing before?"

"In Tibet. Somewhere."

A couple of the other students laughed and Coach Knudsen raised her hand. "Thatís enough. Anyone who wants to play is welcome. Remember that. Anna, take a seat."

Anna took out her books, trying to imagine Dawa playing handball, but couldnít. Gymnastics maybe. But not handball. Pemba, on the other hand, looked like he should play. He was as tall as her cousin Red, but not as massive. His movements had been fluid but powerful. Effortless, even. Like he could hang in the air as he was about to throw the ballÖ but there was something disconcerting about his eyes. They hadnít seemed natural. Or maybe it was their hypnotic effect that made her want to run her hands up his chest and rip off his shirtÖ Annaís heart raced as her thoughts caught her by surprise.

Anna wrapped her hand around the jade pendant and forced herself to focus, blocking everything Ė especially Pemba Ė out of her mind.

* * *

Rakan sat on the bleachers of the local sports hall with a group of boys from the high school, wondering just how far he could play with Jing Mei Ė or June as they called her here. Better to err on the safe side and keep his powers leashed. She had reacted immediately that morning when he let his mind wander over the school as clumsily as he could manage, pretending to be an untrained acolyte. But he still couldnít understand her reaction. She had shielded the human next to her Ė who had actually reacted to his touch. But Paaliaq was ruthless. She didnít even care about other dragons, so why would she care about a human? And even more puzzling, how could a human have felt him?

Rakan waved cheerfully to Dvara as she walked onto the court with Anna. He looked seriously at the human girl for the first time. The only thing he had remembered about her was her hair that was so pale it looked almost white. And that she was taller than most humans. She had square shoulders and an open face that reflected all her emotions Ė which she didnít even try to hide. And right now she was confused. Rakan watched her as she introduced his sister to the others and then started to warm up. She was agile and athletic and he found himself absorbed by her movements. Finally, she turned and returned his stare. He looked away, only to meet Juneís eyes. He felt a heady rush of her power and wondered how he had let himself be caught off guard. He hadnít even felt her come out of the locker room. At least it would help confirm the disguise that they were putting up of being untrained. He pushed his curiosity about Anna out of his mind. All they needed to know was why she was important to June. Nothing else.

The girls began a game and Rakan let his mind roam around the gym. He had already identified most of the people there from school, but there were a few others, including the couple that had brought June. He let his mind wander back to them. The guy had the bulky mass of an Old Dragon and Rakan had already checked him several times, but he didnít have a rök or a Maii-a and his trail was typically human. Rakan turned away Ė they were involved in each other and totally unaware of his presence. Just like all the other humans. He let his mind wander even farther. He hadnít felt the other dragon since they had arrived. It was as if he had vanished, leaving Jing Mei inexplicably alone.

Confused and frustrated by the male dragonís disappearance, Rakan focused back on the handball practice. He could feel Dvaraís thrill as she played. Jing Mei Ė June, he reminded himself Ė was goalie and Dvara was attacking. Rakan smiled as his sister played, gently increasing the pressure of her attacks that June blocked easily. But then June began to let some balls slip by on purpose. She had backed off. Rakan sat up. If Jing Mei was Paaliaq she would never have allowed an apparent novice to think she could get by her defenses. Or was it part of her disguise?

 

 

Chapter 3 Questions

Oblivious to the cold, Rakan sat perched in the open window of their apartment, watching the street below. He liked picking out each personís scent from the many interwoven trails spread out everywhere. Tracing where they had been and where they went. It was a huge three dimensional maze that was in constant flux. And being so close to the center of it made the small arctic town seem like a living animal of pulsing threads.

"It doesnít make sense," Dvara said, interrupting his tracking. "Did you see her eyes? Theyíre blue. Cobalt blue. But Paaliaq is green."

"Maybe she isnít Paaliaq," he said, voicing a thought that had been nagging at him.

"Donít be stupid, Rakan."

"Then sheís wearing contacts, like we do."

"No. I checked when we were playing."

"Then sheís changed color. Yarlung has."

Dvara snorted. "Yarlung lost her color after Kraal died. Itís not the same thing. And Yarlungís eyes havenít really changed; theyíve just become cloudy with her blindness."

"The only other possibility, if Jing Mei is Paaliaq, is that sheís found a way to change them while she was hiding. Just like sheís managed to make herself feel like a whelp."

Dvara stared out the other window. Her frustration echoed his.

"If she is Paaliaq sheíll eventually let something slip," Dvara said after a long pause. "Or weíll have to find a way to make her slip up and give herself away."

"Normally whelps love to play," Rakan said. "So maybe we need to play in front of her and see how she reacts. Stupid things like setting up triggers all over town for each other to set off or disarm."

"And sheíll have to respond eventually since no whelp would ever resist very long." Dvara smiled. "And then I can hide a double layer of triggers that no whelp could disarm by herself Ė and if she doesnít disarm them, theyíll explode."

"Exactly," Rakan said, feeling the thrill of closing in. And then it disappeared. They looked at each other, and knew what they were both thinking, but didnít want to admit: they had no idea where the other dragon was. Or if there really was only one dragon of her Cairn left. And any dragon linked to Paaliaq would come the moment she was in danger: she was a Kairök and the dragons whose röks she held would die with her Ė unless she had had time to release them. It was in their interest to protect her whether she commanded them to or not.

"She could be a New Dragon," Rakan said quietly. Maybe he and Dvara werenít the only dragons who had been born on Earth and not on the now defunct Red Planet.

Dvara snorted. "You know that Yarlung wonít let the other dragons breed on Earth until Paaliaq has been killed Ė unless they agree to give her their offspring. And no one accepted that." Dvara paused. "Even if two dragons had managed to come to Earth to breed without Yarlung knowing it, theyíd never have been able to hide their whelp for so long. Especially when she radiates so much energy. Exactly the way Paaliaq is said to have done."

"What about the human?" asked Rakan. More curious than he wanted to admit.

Dvara smiled. "Pretty looking thing, isnít she? Her ultra blonde hair would contrast nicely with your dragon black."

"Itís not for me that Iím asking," Rakan said coldly.

"As you wish. But playing with her might be a good idea. Especially since she seems to be Jing Meiís pet."

"No."

"Why not? She wouldnít mind. I felt it rolling off of her."

Rakan growled a warning. "I donít play with humans. You know that."

"But you want to with this one."

Rakan realized he should have ignored her comment from the start. But he had taken her bait like a fool. He switched tactics. "How could she feel me run my mind over the school, even if it was heavy handed? Sheís human."

"Yes. She is." Dvara looked thoughtful. "Or just appears to be?"

"She doesnít have a rök. I wouldíve seen it in her trail."

"Maybe sheísÖ a variant."

"What do you mean?" Rakan turned to look at his sister. "You think there are other kinds of humans that weíve never come across?"

Dvara hesitated and then looked away. "No. Humans are all the same."

"What if they werenít," Rakan said, getting excited. "She reacted to the ball as if she could feel it, without seeing it, just like we doó"

"óhumans arenít like us, Rakan," interrupted Dvara. "None of them. Donít forget that." She stormed out of the living room and slammed her bedroom door.

Rakan stared at his sisterís door, more worried about their mission than he had been before. Dvara would never be able to control her rök if she couldnít even control her emotions. And if she morphed when her rök was out of control there was no telling what would happen.

His thoughts turned back to Anna, and Rakan remembered something his father had once told him. He had said that pre-shapeshifting Beings of Matter had existed long ago on the Red Planet. They didnít have a rök and couldnít morph into dragons or shift to other places, but could still manipulate matter with their minds. Rakan had dismissed it as a legend, but if it wasnítÖ could a human somehow develop those same skills?

* * *

Anna stood, irritated and cold, in the schoolyard. Her mother had worked the nightshift at the hospital, and Ulf had come home after his nightly Ďresearch.í Although Anna didnít really think Ulf was the kind of guy to attack her, she had still locked her door. And then, in the morning, she had gotten dressed and left the house without breakfast. Just in case he got up early.

But worse than that, she had actually run to school, hoping to see Pemba again. And now that she was here, and he wasnít, she felt stupid. And hungry. She should have realized that he wouldnít be running to school to see her. They hadnít even spoken. Not even after handball when he had been waiting for his sister. She had just said goodbye to Dawa and continued walking.

Anna half-listened to the conversation that June and her classmate Kristin were having for awhile, but they were only talking about a project they had to do together. Anna wandered away and joined Siri and Randi, hoping to get her mind off Pemba. But they were discussing what they should do for Lysa and it made her feel even worse. She hadnít left her a message. Or sent a text. Anna groaned inwardly. Why had she wanted to come to school so badly?

Pemba and Dawa walked through the high metal gate and Anna caught her breath. He looked even more like a panther as he padded languidly across the schoolyard. Anna watched, captivated by his fluidity. She imagined him pouncing like a panther and smiled. As if he could feel her staring at him, Pemba turned, his eyes honing in on hers. Anna turned away abruptly, her cheeks flaming. She closed her eyes, shame filling her as she felt his presence pressing against her. She was an idiot. The only thing she had been hoping for, all through her sleepless night, was that she would see Pemba again and that heíd come talk to her. And then when he finally did show up and actually looked at her, she turned away.

* * *

Rakan lingered after the bell rang, placing a few touch-triggers in the schoolyard. He and Dvara had decided to start by planting simple detectors that any dragon would detect Ė and almost instinctively know how to neutralize Ė just to see if June would react at all. And even if he had been careful not to mention it to Dvara, he was more than a little curious to see if Anna would feel them. He tried to quell the eagerness he felt at the prospect; he had barely been able to control his reaction when Anna had turned her back to him that morning, like a female dragon inviting him to chase her.

When Rakan walked into the room he was surprised to see June run her hands through her long black hair and re-adjust the sunglasses she wore to keep it back. Rakan frowned and walked over to his desk on the opposite side of the class. Only pre-adolescent whelps let their hair down in public. Rakan looked back at June and she smiled at him. She looked so open and welcoming. He looked away. She wasnít how he had expected. She really seemed like a clueless puppy. With enormous untapped power just waiting to explode.

Rakan pretended to listen to the teacher, and then wadded up some paper. He took his time to manipulate its inner structure and turn each little ball into a crude touch-trigger Ė a trigger that would give off a small jolt of energy to any other dragon that touched it and send a signal back to the maker. He could feel Juneís attention on him even though she was looking at the teacher. He ignored her and put them into his bag to place around the school as if he was doing it to bother his sister. He kept a few out that really were just wads of paper and aimed them at some of the guys he had identified as practical jokers while the teacherís back was turned. A few of the girls scowled at him, but June smiled to herself and Rakan wondered how long sheíd resist before playing with them.

* * *

Dawa wacked another ball in past Juneís defense and Anna shook her head. She was sure that June wasnít actually trying to block them. Dawa had turned out to be a great player, probably better than any of the rest of them. Funny how wrong she had been about that. Dawa seemed so timid and self-effacing at school. And the old-fashioned way she wore her black hair in a huge bun at the nape of her neck reinforced that image. Coach Knudsen blew her whistle marking the end of practice and the other girls flocked around Dawa. But Anna went over to June who stayed in her goal, tossing the ball up and down.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, of course. Why?"

"I donít know. You donít seem to be trying to block Dawa."

"Sheís good."

Anna gave June a look. "So are you."

June broke the eye contact for a second and then looked back. "Youíre right. Iím not. To be honest, I donít know what to think," she said, tilting her head towards Dawa.

"I know what you mean," Anna said with a sigh of relief. She could feel that June was telling the truth. "It reminds me of how the team got messed up by Lysa last semester."

"She knows she was wrong now," June said, defending her boyfriendís sister.

Anna shrugged. Lysa had been a close friend until she had followed Fritjofís racist preaching and manipulated the team against June. Even if June had gotten over it, Anna would never trust Lysa again. And Dawaís aggressive playing reminded her of Lysa.

"Itíll be okay," June said, putting an arm around Annaís shoulders as they followed the other girls into the locker room. "At least sheís a good player."

* * *

"Why canít you just get close enough to read her mind?" asked Dvara impatiently as they walked home from school later that week.

"Weíve been through this before. Humans are sentient beings. Iím not going to pretend Iím attracted to her just to get close enough physically to penetrate her mind without her consent."

"But you are attracted to her. And even if you think humans are sentient when they canít manipulate matter without their hands, they donít know youíre reading their mind when youíreó"

"óIíll never use a human like that," Rakan said coldly. "Itís unethical."

"Your principles are ridiculous," Dvara said. "Humans are clueless. Why does doing something that they arenít aware of bother you? Sheíll never know."

"But I will."

"Then ask her if you can read her mind."

"No." Rakan glowered at his half-sister. All his attempts to be honest with humans had ended in disaster. And he had promised himself never to take that risk again. Better to leave the humans alone than to have to alter their minds or kill them in self-defense when they freaked out.

Dvara threw her arms up in frustration. "You drive me crazy. We need proof that Jing Mei is Paaliaq. We need to attack her before sheís had time to analyze our strengths and weaknesses. Donít you understand that? We need to attack her now."

"No we donít," Rakan said as they went into the Tibetan House. "Not if she isnít Paaliaq."

Dvara stopped abruptly on the first floor landing. "Who else can she be?"

"I donít know yet."

"Then read Annaís mind. Sheís sure to have seen something that Jing Mei did that will prove sheís Paaliaq. Humans always block out what they canít understand." Dvara yanked open the door to their rooms and froze.

Rakan nearly tripped over himself trying not to run into her.

"Tíeng Sten," Dvara said. "What are you doing here?"

"Ah," came Tíeng Stenís rumbling voice from their living room, "the question is more why you are here. Alone and unprotected." Tíeng Sten sniffed the air. "When you are so desirable."

"Sheís not alone," Rakan said, pushed forward by his sisterís fear and his own pent up frustration. "Or unprotected." He lunged at Tíeng Sten who was stretched out on their couch like a pasha, his spiked hair and long sideburns a signature departure from all the other Old Dragonsí shaved heads. But he never made it that far. Another dragon in human form collided with him in midair in a flash of violet. They hit the table with a thundering crash, bits of wood splintering under them.

Rakan growled and lashed out at Kakivak, Tíeng Stenís male bodyguard. He should have remembered that a Kairök never travelled alone. Rakan stood up, flipping Kakivak over his back, but the other dragon twisted in the air and landed lightly on his feet with a smile before spinning into a flying roundhouse kick. Rakan ducked and blocked the follow-up punch, twisting his full weight into Kakivakís gut with an upper cut.

Kakivak crumpled on his fist and Rakan took a step back, quickly hitting his chest with his right fist and holding up his left hand in the symbol of truce before Angalaan, Tíeng Stenís female bodyguard, jumped in. His fight wasnít with them.

"Well, that was entertaining," said Tíeng Sten, clapping. "I see that Yarlung and Khotan have at least trained you to fight. Unfortunately, it would appear that they have neglected the rest of your upbringing. Your manners are appalling."

"Why are you here?" growled Dvara from the doorway where she stood, her fists clenched.

"Greetings Kairök Tíeng Sten," Rakan said, gathering his wits and placing himself between Dvara and Tíeng Sten. "Accept my apologies. I was surprised to see another dragon in our home. May I ask why you honor us with your presence?" Rakan didnít bow as he should have done according to dragon Code. He faced Tíeng Sten as if they were equals.

Tíeng Sten jumped up from the couch as nimbly as a gymnast in spite of his massive build. His long indigo overcoat flowed around him like a cloak and his bare chest gleamed like armor underneath. It was another one of Tíeng Stenís new traditions: no male dragon from any of the other Cairns wore anything but the fluid black pants that were perfect for fighting. "Youíd be an interesting addition to my Cairn," he said, standing only inches away from Rakan who didnít flinch, "if I hadnít already placed my claim on your sister." Tíeng Sten went around Rakan and walked towards Dvara. "For obvious reasons."

"That doesnít answer my question."

"Ah, but it does," said Tíeng Sten, fixing the broken table with a wave of his hand. "Ask your sister."

"Dvara?" asked Rakan, wondering if there was something he didnít know about. He had never liked Tíeng Stenís flamboyant disrespect for the traditional ways of the Red Planet but he could understand that Dvara might prefer him to any of the others: he was the youngest of the Kairöks. And one of the youngest dragons to have survived the destruction of the Red Planet after the war started by Paaliaq when she attacked Kraal.

"Greetings, Kairök Tíeng Sten," Dvara said, bowing her head and ignoring Rakanís question. "We did not expect you. To what do we owe the honor of your visit?"

"You know why Iím here. You once promised me something that I can now claim."

"That promise was extracted from me," Dvara said, tilting her chin defiantly.

"Thatís not my memory of it," said Tíeng Sten, touching her cheek gently.

Dvara growled and threw a strike to his solar plexus. Tíeng Sten grabbed her hand and twisted it behind her, pulling her against him.

Rakan moved to help his sister, but Kakivak and Angalaan stopped him.

"So much fire," Tíeng Sten crooned. "I like that in a dragon. Especially one I intend to mate with."

"Iím not free to be claimed," hissed Dvara, turning her face away from his.

"Ah, but you are," said Tíeng Sten, releasing her but keeping her hand in his. He passed his other hand above it, revealing her vermillion dragon form, her white claws flashing like diamonds. "This, my desirable mate, is all I need to know. Your white claws show that you are free. You no longer wear Khotanís burgundy. You have been given back your rök."

"Iím not free," she said, yanking her hand back.

"Why not?" he hissed. "Who elseís fire have you stood in?" He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to his chest, his indigo Maii-a glowing. "I can take you right now, if I want to." He leaned forward and bit her neck. "Youíre so ripe. So ready for me."

Dvara groaned and leaned into him, her black school clothes transforming into a long vermillion dress as she melted into his embrace.

"Give me your rök," said Tíeng Sten softly, his hands moving down to her hips.

"I canít," Dvara said, her respiration coming in short breaths.

Tíeng Sten growled and flung her onto the couch. "I hate games, Dvara. I want you. Now." He towered over her. "Iíve already waited too long."

"I have no choice," Dvara answered, without looking at Tíeng Sten. "I wonít be free until my fatherís death is avenged."

Tíeng Sten laughed. "Is that was this is all about? You think you can find Paaliaq and kill her? You barely even protected your lair and you didnít feel us arrive. Anyone could have come in here. How can you two puppies be a match for Paaliaq, even if she was alive?"

"What we do, or intend to do, is none of your concern," Rakan said, his voice flat and emotionless. "And if your intentions are honorable I see no reason to have your bodyguards flanking me. I am, as far as I know, still in my own home."

"Release him," said Tíeng Sten with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Heís harmless until he can unleash the power of his rök."

Rakan suppressed the boiling rage that flamed inside. He wouldnít give Tíeng Sten the satisfaction of rising to his bait. "My sister does not appear to accept your claim. Your business here is finished."

"I am not so sure," said Tíeng Sten with a mocking smile before turning his attention back to Dvara. He walked slowly around her, appreciating the backless dress that clung to her body and revealed her curves.

"I donít know what the two of you think youíre up to," said Tíeng Sten once he had finished examining Dvara, "but, you, my desirable mate, are proof that the ten cycles we granted Yarlung to find and kill Paaliaq are over. You are ready to breed." He stood behind Dvara and unfastened her hair, letting it tumble down her back. "And you want to," he whispered in her ear.

Dvara inhaled sharply and closed her eyes.

"What do you mean the ten cycles are over?" asked Rakan.

"Didnít Yarlung tell you? She was granted ten cycles to find and kill Paaliaq. After which time Paaliaq would be assumed dead. And the Earth free to be colonized."

"Only four cycles have passed on the Fragments," countered Rakan. "Everyone is aware of the time differential."

"You are your motherís son," said Tíeng Sten with a curt laugh. "She claims that the ten cycles of her sovereignty should be in Fragment time, not Earth time. But no one knew that we wouldnít be able to breed on the Fragments." Tíeng Sten ran his hands through Dvaraís blue-black hair and smelled it. "Although I have to admit I am pleased with the time differential."

Dvara extracted herself from Tíeng Stenís arms. "Yarlung has every right to kill Paaliaq. Sheís only honoring the Code," she said, re-doing her hair with trembling hands.

"Yarlung is a fool," said Tíeng Sten vehemently. "Paaliaq isnít alive. And even if she was, Kraal was the traitor who started the war, not Paaliaq."

Dvara flung herself at Tíeng Sten, wavering in and out of a partial morph. Tíeng Sten raised his hands and stopped her in midair. "Learn to control your rök or itíll kill you," he said quietly. Once she had stabilized in her human form, he released her. "But to do so you must know who you are and claim your dragon name."

"I already have," Dvara said with a growl. "I am Dvara Azuraal, daughter of Kraal and bearer of the Line of Aal."

Tíeng Sten smiled. "Are you? Iím not so sure." He walked over to join his guards who still hovered near Rakan. "And you, young Rakanídzor, when are you going to cut your hair and become a real acolyte instead of harnessing your rök in a prison? You do know that you wonít come into your full power until your rök is free, donít you? Or did they forget to tell you that? Control is only half the equation."

Rakan glared at Tíeng Sten, too angry to respond without exploding.

Tíeng Sten turned to face them both. "A Meet of Kairöks has been called to discuss the matter. And unless Yarlung can somehow get the majority, the Earth will be ours. And her right to hunt Paaliaq will be over." Tíeng Sten bowed formally to Dvara. "Iíll be back to claim you after the Meet. And since I guard what is rightfully mine, I have protected your lair for you. No other dragon can enter without my approval. Until then, my fiery mate."

Dvara flung herself once again at Tíeng Stenís throat, but he just laughed and shifted out of the room in a swirl of indigo rimmed with the violet and fuchsia of his bodyguards.

Dvara howled and punched the air where Tíeng Sten had disappeared.

Rakan let his mind-touch run over Tíeng Stenís shields. "How many shields did he place?" Their rooms had been turned into a sound-proofed fortress.

"Heíll know every time we go in or out," Dvara said, exploring the shields with her mind-touch. "And no other dragon can enter. Not Yarlung, not Khotan, not Jing Mei. No one. Just us. And Tíeng Sten. Whenever he wants." Dvara sank to the couch. "I canít undo it. If I do, the house will explode. And so will we."

 

 

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Author Bio

Born in the US, Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt Ė and still thinks the two are connected. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children and two horses.

Dina loves to create intricate worlds filled with conflict and passion. She builds her own myths while exploring issues of belonging, racism and the search for truth... after all, how can you find true love if you donít know who you are and what you believe in? Dinaís key to developing characters is to figure out what they would be willing to die for. And then pushing them to that limit.

TTB title: Dragon Fire

Author web site.

 

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Dragon Fire Copyright © 2013. Dina von Lowenkraft. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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List Price: $18.95 USD

 

  Author News

Dragon Fire by Dina vonLowenkraft is a finalist in the ForeWord 2013 Book of the Year award in the category of young adult fiction.

 

  Reviews

"...This fantasy debut, set in a small town in the Arctic Circle, blends a story of teenage love and heartbreak with a fantasy revolving around a small society of dragons. The Arctic background with its brief summers and interminable winters lends itself well to a fantasy about a culture in danger of becoming frozen in its ways. Suitable for both YA and adult readers, this unusual fantasy should appeal to fans of dragon tales."

~ Library Journal
 



Dina von Lowenkraft has crafted a truly epic adventure of dragons, humans, and beings of the light. Thereís a lot going on here, so grab your favorite beverage and try to keep up.

Rakan is a dragon. Dvara is his half sister. Anna is a human. June, Annaís friend, is suspected of being the ancient dragon that killed Dvaraís father. Rakanís mother (the widowed dragon) vowed revenge. Rakenís father is harboring a secret elicited by poison. Thereís this ruling council of dragons who are more than what they seem and have this convoluted hidden agenda.

Dragons have a Rok. Itís like their soul. Giving your cairn leader (your clan) your Rok allows them to know everything about you. All of your secrets. Humans donít have this. A dragon can only mate with another dragon (or so theyíre told), but mating doesnít always happen for love. There are shields, triggers, and trails. Colors. Sights. Sounds. Scents. The entire book feels like a patchwork quilt thatís being assembled in front of you. The colors and design doesnít make any sense at first. Thereís no pattern. But then all of a sudden thereís a piece of the quilt thatís stitched into place and you understand. Youíre looking out at a brilliant fjord at sunrise.

I loved the relationship between Anna and Rakan. Anna is human, but sheís not a normal human. She can sense energy and the touch of another beingís mind on hers. Rakan is drawn to her, at first because sheís Juneís friend and heís supposed to get close to her, but then because he forms a true bond with her and starts to fall in love with her. But despite the fact that Rakan has been alive for much longer than Anna, in dragon terms, heís still a teenager, like her. So thereís all the requisite angst over their love that teens will appreciate and adults will remember. Youíll cheer at parts, grumble at others, and be pretty happy in the end.

I have only two minor criticisms of this book. Just two (and one could actually be considered a plus, depending on what youíre looking for). First, I wish thereíd been a glossary. It took me a bit to understand all of the terminology. Rokís, kais, cairnsÖ I got it, after about a quarter of the way through, but a glossary in the beginning could have helped.

Second, the politics are quite detailed and convoluted. Even now, Iím not 100% sure what the hidden agenda was or how everything truly meshed. Given the crafting of the novel, I believe this is my own failing, rather than the authorís and those who enjoy detailed political schemes with their fantasy will be thrilled with how the author has spun her tale.

The imagery is beautiful, the love story between Rakan and Anna is deeply satisfying, and the political machinations are truly staggering. This is an epic love story, full of death, pain, happiness, and revenge. Dragons die. Dragons are hurt. Dragons fall in love. Beings of the light are killed and injured. No one is truly safe. Thereís some mild sexual content, including one scene that speaks of an implied threat of rape, but nothing youíd be upset at your high school reader reading.

I look forward to the next book in the series. Because the last thing Iíll say is that when the book ends, not much is resolved. (But hint hintÖAnna and Rakan do admit their love for each other. Iíd apologize for the spoiler, but nothing irritates me more than a cliffhanger ending of book with a strong romance where the couple hates each other in the end.)

Book Review by Patricia D. Eddy for Author Alliance
 



 

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