Return of the Darkening Series Book 3
The Darkening has risen…
Agathea Flamma and Sebastian Smith now face an overwhelming enemy. The rapid spread of the Darkening, a threat arising from the mists of legend, looms over the entire land. With both their families torn apart by the conflict and betrayal lurking around every corner, one mistake could doom the kingdom.
They’ll have to decide where to put their faith: blood ties or newfound friends?
After the destruction of the Dragon Academy, it’s up to Thea and Seb to gather their loyal comrades—and forge uneasy new alliances—to quell the ancient menace and face the evil Lord Vincent. With civil war raging, the Dragon Riders must race against time to find the legendary Dragon Stone, the only tool they have to fight against the endless darkness that threatens to swallow them all.
Exclusive Excerpt from Dragon Bonds (Return of the Darkening Book Three)
“Dobbett? Is that you?” A rustling and snuffling in the darkness ahead put me on alert, and I set a hand on my sword.
Since the attack on Torvald, things had changed in the Flamma household. Luckily, most of the house had been spared from direct damage—but that didn’t mean that any of it was safe. Bands of Wildmen could be heard in the streets, and the Darkening-controlled wild dragons flew overhead, passing like a shadow and swooping down on anything that moved.
Not as many as there were.
Ten days ago, Prince—no wait—King Justin had ordered us back to the city to help anyone we could find. We couldn’t approach the mountain; the air was so thick with the vicious, black wild dragons controlled by Lord Vincent. They’d torn apart the city, their claws scraping away roofs and their snouts breaking apart grain houses, inns and homes. But the wild dragons were growing tired of destruction—most had left. There were only so many cobblestones even a feral dragon can eat before it’s had its fill. And only so many orders they could take before their wild nature took over again and they headed back to the wilds.
Perhaps it cost too much to control them all?
I didn’t know, but I needed to find out.
Pausing outside my family’s sweeping staircase—the one that had once led to my own bedroom— I could see the window was thankfully unbroken. The view looking down over the different tiers of the city was a sad one. Smoke still drifted up from several fires, and I could see the ruinous smears of crumbled buildings, bridges and walls. No movement in the sky today. I remembered how Seb had suffered when he had been trying to control the wild dragons. He’d been exhausted, too tired to even speak afterward. How much energy must it have cost Lord Vincent to control so many wild dragons?
How much willpower does the Darkening have?
A huff and a snarl from the darkened room ahead of me snapped my attention back to the present. Just what on earth was wrong with me? You would have thought I would be at least a little wary of where I was about to set foot in such an uncertain situation.
I tried to breathe, remembering the mental exercises I’d been taught at the Dragon Academy, taking time to flex my hand around the hilt of my short sword, draw it without a sound and feel its weight as I edged closer to the darkened, half-open door.
What was I about to find? A Wildman, a raider from the South or some other horror?
“Thea?” The word came out a worried hiss from behind me. I looked down to see my mother, the Lady Flamma, standing at the bottom of the stairs, brandishing a heavy iron skillet. That is probably the very first time she has ever had to pick up one of those. Guilt for being a little unkind bit at me. I could see the fear in my mother’s pinched face—she just wasn’t used to this kind of thing. And yet she still had gone off to find the biggest, heaviest thing she could use to help her daughter.
As if I still need protecting.
I was the one who’d had training as a fighter—just as all Flamma children had been trained. My oldest brother, Reynalt, was now commander of the Dragon Riders, and Ryan was the King’s Navigator. I was a Dragon Rider, too, along with Seb, my navigator. But, to be honest, I didn’t know which, if any of us, I would put money on winning in a fight against the Lady Flamma when she was armed with an iron skillet and an iron will. The events of the past few days had marked her—I had heard of hair turning white overnight, but I had never seen it before, and Mother’s hair had done just that. She had given up elaborate hair dressings and now wore her silver-white locks in a simple braid. Her gown was simple, too—blue wool with no decorations. Her hair and dress made her blue eyes seem even brighter. They glittered right now with a battle lust.
Flapping at her with one free hand, I whispered as loud as I dared, “Go back. Father needs you to keep him safe.”
My mother frowned, and I was sure she was about to refuse. Amazingly, she turned and left, hurrying back to the drawing room where she had left her husband.
“First time for everything,” I muttered. But I felt strangely sad, instead of pleased. It was odd not to have Mother fussing over me like I was still a girl. Not that I wanted Mother to spend the rest of her life trying to get me married to a nice, wealthy boy—far from it. Besides, there probably weren’t many nice boys left.
That thought was still too sharp even for me. I veered away from what that actually meant for the many noble suitors I might have once had. Even the Westerforth boys, Terence and Tomas, horrible as they were, didn’t deserve to be eaten by a dragon. But was a dragon hiding here?
Something snuffled and growled inside my old room. It was now or never.
With a yell, I kicked aside the door and swept in, my short sword low. Something small, wiry and fanged barked and snuffled. The furry white land-pig growled, snapped and got caught in the ruined bed sheet.
A wave of relief crashed through me. It felt like years since I’d last seen her. “Dobbett, where have you been? Have you been up here this whole time?” I sheathed my sword and extricated her from the voluminous white sheets that had once been part of my bed.
She excitedly licked my hand and tried to snuff at my face.
“They thought you had run away!” I scolded the land-pig, who looked a little like a cross between a small, pug-nosed dog and a fluffy cushion. Her big, rolling eyes regarded me with the love and undying admiration that only a pet can give. I sat down, sighed and allowed Dobbett to climb up onto my lap with snuffles, snouts and sneezes.
“There, girl.” I patted her thick fur as I had done a hundred times before in this very room.
But it had looked quite a bit better than this.
The wooden board windows to the balcony had been left or blown open, allowing the winds to ravage the small room. Smoke tainted the air and even a few leaves littered the floor. A wardrobe had been overturned, spilling out a collection of sugary dresses and blue robes, jerkins of fine fawn and a mass of shoes. They looked like they belonged to someone else and to a very different time.
My old writing desk had fallen over and had deep gashes on its surface—doubtless from Dobbett’s scrabbling and not from a dragon. The wall hangings and blankets were spread around the room and pulled from the walls. Despite all the destruction, what struck me the most was how the room seemed too much space for anyone.
Have I changed so much? Have the years of cramped living at the Dragon Academy, sharing a room with Varla, changed me so much?
Small, finely-embroidered cushions lay scattered over the floor. They’d been made by a great craftsman from the Gabbon Heights. They were still nice to look at, but they were useless. They’ll keep my father warm, at least. I gathered them up in a blanket that was still mildly clean.
On a still-standing bedside cabinet, I saw my small dragon figurines, baring fangs or in noble stances. They had been carved by a master woodsman from the South and although they had certain elegance it was clear the carver had never ridden a dragon.
These are the sorts of things people carve when they think about dragons and Dragon Riders.
I picked one up, looking at its fierce snarl, with one claw raised high. “Kalax doesn’t look like that, does she, Dobbett?” I asked the land-pig, who had closed her eyes and was wuffling happily. A really fierce dragon didn’t bother to strike a pose before it struck.
“I was such a stupid little girl,” I told Dobbett, who agreed with a pleased whine. She started to make a husky, almost purring snore. I urged her up to follow me, stepping over a spilled pile of dresses, breeches and other old clothes.
Growing up as the only girl with two big brothers, one couldn’t help but be a bit rough around the edges. But I had also been the darling daughter of Lord and Lady Flamma and therefore had been expected to dance, recite poetry, play a musical instrument and practice the art of dressing well.
I much preferred my Dragon Academy jerkin, the tunic, breeches and heavy riding boots. I cringed when I thought back to the girl I had been. I must have been so naïve, so arrogant. What must Seb and the others have thought of me when they’d first met me?
Another fearful whisper rose up from the stairs below. “Thea?”
Sweeping up Dobbett under one arm and clutching the cushions and blanket under the other, I stepped out to the landing. “It’s just Dobbett, Mother.”
“Oh, by the First Dragon!” Mother swore while shaking her head. “You gave me a fright. Come back to the drawing room. Your father has almost decided.”
“And I bet I know what he has decided,” I muttered, trying to keep it under my breath but to no use. Mother had always had very sharp hearing.
“Agathea, that is no way to talk about your father.”
I hung my head. She was right, of course. My father had been through enough without having a disobedient daughter as well. They had seen their home and the city of Torvald destroyed, the old king was dead, and now most of the land was in the hands of an enemy. The Darkening had returned. A good portion of the population was presumed dead, and still others were under the strange effects of the Memory Stone and had forgotten almost everything that had once mattered to them.
If there was anything that we could give thanks for, it was that Lord Vincent had other things occupying his mind than individually controlling the ordinary citizens of Torvald.
Most of those affected by the Memory Stone had been left where they stood, to be taken away by friends, neighbors and family to be looked after. Lord Vincent and the Darkening had other battles to fight. Now, I needed Father and Mother to come with me and join the refugees heading to the king’s camp. Ryan, I knew, would have been saying the very same thing to them.
“Come on, you’ll catch a chill out here that will be the death of you!” Mother’s voice took on a stern tone. I headed down the stairs.
Without the servants or any supplies, my mother had seemed mortified that we couldn’t keep the house heated or even clear up the mess from the recent battle.
I clambered past our small barricade of tables and chairs and slipped into the room.
Believe me, Mother, the very last thing anyone should worry over is dying from a cold.