The dragons had gone to war. The thousand-year peace of the cities of The Circle had ended. And it was all my fault.
Okay, slight exaggeration. It wasn’t my fault alone. I had help. And I guess the dragons hadn’t been at peace for a thousand years, exactly. No one was really sure how long it had been, since our history lessons all came from the dragons. But it was a long, long time.
“Think it’ll work this time?” Caedan asked. We stood on the tallest hill we could find, looking down at a battlefield.
A little over a month previous, my friends and I killed Caesious, the blue dragon, one of the six who ruled over The Circle. We arranged for the blame to fall on Viridia, the green dragon who ruled the city where most of us lived. Yes, it’s an insane plan, but it somehow succeeded.
As a result, the other dragons turned on Viridia and the war began. Atramentous, the black dragon, came to Viridia’s aid, as they had long been the closest of friends. Against them were the forces of the two red dragons, Incarnadine and Amaranth, along with the draconics and humans that had belonged to Caesious. The last of the dragons, Auric the gold, seemed to be staying neutral.
Except… the dragons weren’t doing much of the actual fighting. Instead, they were sending their human subjects, led by their draconic servants, into battle. This was not what we wanted. Too many humans were dying.
We wanted the dragons dead.
“It’s going to work,” I said. “They won’t see us coming.”
“I’m more worried about their reaction time,” Rick said.
Richard Onyx and Caedan Teal were my two closest friends. The three of us came from three different cities, but had somehow become united in this struggle. Rick adjusted the black leather gloves he used to hide his cybernetic hand. His black chromark made his face appear darker than it really was. Caedan’s chromark was blue, which made for an odd contrast with his olive skin, though it perfectly matched his iridescent blue eyes. Those eyes, keener than mine, swept over the battle, evaluating everything. He gripped his baton tightly.
“It’s going to work,” I repeated. Maybe saying it enough times would make it true.
With the dragons staying mostly out of the fighting, our team was searching for a purpose. Bice, the former priest of the dragon religion and the oldest member of our team, had advocated staying quiet for a while. He was hoping one of the dragons would make some kind of mistake, leaving an opening for us to make a new plan.
I couldn’t sit still, though. It had taken me weeks to recover from my battle with the draconic Troilus Green, the killing of the blue dragon, and the death of my friend and mentor, Loden.
Without a clear plan, and without Loden to help create one, I decided we needed more action. We couldn’t get to any of the dragons right now, but their draconics, their most trusted servants, were leading the battles erupting across The Circle. We could target them.
“There it is,” Caedan said, pointing.
“It’s hanging back, directing the battle, like last time,” Rick observed.
“Where?” I complained. “I don’t see it.”
Caedan turned my head for me and pointed again. Near the back of the red army, I finally spotted it: the draconic Zidanta Red, commander of Incarnadine’s forces. It looked taller and perhaps slimmer than the green draconics we had encountered before. It directed a small army of red-clad soldiers charging across the open plain toward an army wearing green and black. Of course, calling them armies might be a stretch. Neither side included more than a hundred or so people. Weren’t armies supposed to be thousands? I seemed to remember reading that in a history book somewhere.
“What kind of weapons do the red troops carry?” I asked.
“Mostly blades of some kind,” Rick said. “I think I’ve seen a few crossbows. And one out of every ten carries a weapon that shoots flame three or four feet.”
As he spoke, I caught a glimpse of a spurt of fire on the battlefield, just before the two armies met. Even from our distant vantage point, we heard the impact of them clashing into each other. The Viridian Guard, the green troops, carried shockspears. We were more than familiar with those.
“The green draconic leads up front,” Caedan pointed out.
“Which is why we go for red.” I pulled a pair of goggles over my eyes. “Let’s do this.”
“Don’t know why we have to use the four-wheeler. Cyber boy can run almost as fast as it,” Rick grumbled.
Caedan jumped up onto the four-wheeler, a small vehicle just big enough for the three of us. Invented by Loden, the four-wheeler ran on an engine similar to those used by the dragon’s forces in their trucks. Caedan had spent the past two weeks practicing with it. “But then I wouldn’t get to drive!” he said, grinning.
“And I’d get there already worn out,” I added. “Come on, Rick.” I gestured for him to board behind Caedan.
“I just don’t trust this thing,” he mumbled as he clambered on.
I mounted behind him. Before I could brace myself, Caedan revved the engine and took off. The four-wheeler flew down the hillside, gaining speed. Caedan guided it through the smoothest path… which wasn’t all that smooth. We were jostled back and forth, side to side.
“Wait, go back,” Rick said. “I think you missed a hole back there.”
“You try driving!” Caedan shot back.
Ignoring their bickering, I gathered myself mentally. I could do this. I’d done it before. No difference. Really.
“Almost there,” Caedan called. “We’re starting to get noticed!”
I slipped to the side of the four wheeler and crouched on the step we used to mount it. Rick grasped the back of my shirt with his cybernetic hand, holding me in place. I hoped the shirt wouldn’t tear; I liked this one.
“Now!” Caedan yelled.
Rick let go and I leaped. With a thought, I triggered the cybernetic implant in my brain to provide a “boost” to my legs. I leaped higher and further than any normal person could manage. Another boost strengthened my legs for the impact of my landing… right in front of the draconic as it turned to see me.
“Uh… hello.” Even with that stupid line, I sounded more confident than I felt. This thing stood well over seven feet tall. Its glistening red scales shone in the afternoon sun, almost blinding me with the light reflection. It wore nothing more than a simple belt holding several devices and tools.
“The Viridians send an assassin? How unusually creative of them,” it hissed.
I wore my Viridian Guard uniform for exactly that reason. Let the blame fall on Viridia, even if I didn’t succeed. It would keep the conflict going.
“I am Zidanta Red, little one. You are doomed simply by wearing that outfit and coming into my presence!”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m doomed. Whatever.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pair of red-suited soldiers running to aid the draconic. The four-wheeler swept past them and both collapsed as Rick shocked them. The guys had my back.
Speaking of my back, I pulled my sword from it. Do you know how difficult it was to make sure I could draw a sword from a scabbard on my back? It took some weird modifications. But at least it looked cool when I drew it. Now I had a serious advantage over the lizard there, unless…
The draconic roared something I couldn’t understand and lifted its palm toward me. Fewmets. I dove out of the way as a wave of power struck the spot I’d been standing. Magic. Ugh. Well, Bice tried to say it wasn’t magic, just some power we didn’t fully understand yet. Sounds like magic to me.
I boosted my legs again and charged the monster. I gripped the sword hilt in both hands, aiming for its side. At the last moment, it twisted. My blade scratched through some scales, but nothing more.
“You’re fast,” Zidanta Red observed. “Clearly some enhancements in play here.” It swiped at me with its claws. I slipped out of the way a split-second away from being eviscerated.
“And you’re ugly,” I retorted. “Enhancements won’t fix that.” Actually, I didn’t say that, but I thought of it a few seconds later. I think I managed a brief snort at best.
I tried again, this time giving my arm an extra boost as well, to speed my attack. I managed to get a solid stab into the draconic’s upper thigh. It snarled in rage and backhanded me. I tumbled across the grassy earth, holding on to my sword and somehow managing not to slice myself open in the process.
I looked up in time to see Zidanta Red spit at me. Except, as a red draconic, its spit wasn’t just saliva. I threw myself to the side again as the flaming liquid struck the ground. A sizzling, smoking hole marked the spot. Ouch.
How often could it do that? This might be harder than I anticipated.
“Beryl!” someone shouted. Rick, I think. “Incoming! Incomindine!”
What? That made no sense.
An enormous burst of warm air almost knocked me over. A shadow blotted out the sun for a moment.
Oh. Incarnadine. That’s what he said. The dragon was here.
On to chapter two!