Transcendent, The Kacy Chronicles Book 4
By A.L. Knorr & Martha Carr
Transcendent, Chapter 1 (unedited and subject to minor changes)
Jordan and Sol stood on the apartment terrace, watching the tower shadows stretch long fingers over the landscape of Upper Rodania. Sol’s arm was looped under Jordan’s wings and around her waist. She leaned into his warmth as the late afternoon breeze tugged at her hair. A thin layer of fluffy cloud hung low over the roofs and peaks of the Rodanian towers and palaces. There were patches of blackened ruins where dragonfire had scorched buildings. Timbers and beams jutted from wreckage like broken ribs. It was going to take some time to restore Rodania to its pre-harpy glory. The peace of the scene before them masked a profound unrest among the citizens. No one knew when or if there might be another harpy attack.
The apartment had been cleaned, the extra mattresses removed from the bedroom and taken to the ground floor apartment they’d rented as a temporary lodging for Eohne and Allan. But there were still missing and broken tiles on the terrace, cracked and broken countertops in the kitchen, and gouges criss-crossing the hardwood floor from sharp harpy talons.
Sol pressed his lips to Jordan’s temple and gazed down at her. “Do you think Eohne and your dad will be happier down there? You’ve not just been saying that to make me feel better?”
“They’re practically family now,” Jordan replied. “It’ll be a lot easier for them to get around, too. I’m not really sure what Eohne’s plans are now that my dad is back to normal.” But a frown tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I assume she’ll be heading back to Charra-Rae one of these days.”
Sol made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat. He didn’t like the idea of losing their Elven friend either. Eohne had become so much a part of their lives, she would leave a gaping hole if she went back to her forest home.
“Look.” Sol squeezed Jordan and jutted his chin toward the cloud cover in the east.
A huge shadow darkened the sky and the clouds disintegrated as the colossal red dragon materialized over Upper Rodania. Her nearly incomprehensible wingspan blocked out the early evening night, casting a long dark shape over the hills and villages. As she approached, she seemed to grow without stopping until she filled half the sky. The red scales of her belly appeared the colour of dried blood. Her wings beat slowly, gracefully, almost lazily, even as her body appeared impossibly light for all its bulk and sinew.
Jordan’s heart beat faster as they watched her make one of her rare appearances in the skies over Rodania. Optics of the red dragon had been rare since the harpy battle, and Jordan had often wondered if the creature had left Rodania for good. Blue had come to visit every few days, but never staying long and always winging away to the west. Jordan figured the dragons had to be living somewhere north of Maticaw where the wilderness could sustain them.
Jordan briefly tore her eyes away from the dragon to skim the scene below where the skies had emptied of Strix. Everyone who had been traveling landed to watch with upturned faces. All movement had ceased save for the dragon herself, whose body tilted as she descended.
“They won’t be kicking her or Blue out anytime soon,” Sol said quietly into Jordan’s ear.
“Like they could even if they wanted to.” She felt Sol nod in agreement beside her.
“I heard the Council has already changed the law against dragons.” Sol chuckled. “No one ever expected one of the most dangerous predators of Oriceran to become Rodania’s saviour.”
They watched as the red dragon set her enormous clawed feet on the rounded mounds of grass of a vast park. Behind her, a tall ragged overhang of granite framed her shape and made a striking visual. The heavy head swung and the jaws opened as she turned to look up and back over her shoulder. Her white fangs glinted as she released a long roar, her ribs contracting. The thunderous sound filled the sky and seemed to shake the foundations of the buildings. There was an answering roar and Blue banked around their tower and drifted lazily toward his mate. He landed in the grass in a much more clumsy manner and ambled up to her with his nose low to the ground. Blue had not ceased to grow, and was larger than a transport but next to his mate he still seemed like a hatchling. The two dragons greeted one another. Blue lifted his head and seemed to look right at Jordan and Sol. His jaw clicked rapidly, his teeth rattling of a series of quick snaps followed by a snort.
“I think that was an invitation.” Jordan patted Sol on the forearm. “Shall we go down?”
“Think she’d let us approach her?” Sol stared at the red reptile with uncertainty.
“Only one way to find out.” Jordan grinned. “I’ve been wanting to say thank you to her. How about you?”
Sol nodded and the two Arpaks leapt from the tower in a dive. They let themselves drift slowly toward the waiting reptiles, giving them plenty of warning that visitors were coming. Landing in the grass not far away, Jordan and Sol closed their wings and walked slowly. Both sets of reptilian eyes locked on them, watching benignly as they crossed the field.
Blue let off a whistle in the back of his throat and ambled to meet Jordan, shoving his snout into her palm.
“Hi buddy. It’s been a while.” She stroked the scales along his neck. “Think you could introduce us to your girlfriend? We don’t really fancy being barbecued, so if you could put in a kind word it would be appreciated.”
Beyond Blue, and almost as if in answer, the red dragon lowered her belly to the grass and relaxed. The arch of her spine flattened and her sinewy tail lay still. Her broad face tilted to the side and she watched them through an eye the size of a tractor tire.
Blue wandered to the shallow cave created by the rock arching up behind his mate. He snuffed around in the shrubs and dirt, seemingly oblivious to the nerve-wracking introduction going on behind him.
Slowly, the Arpaks approached as the enormous reptile watched them come with her steady unblinking gaze. Jordan’s heart rate doubled and her breath hitched with awe. It was impossible to tear her eyes away from the red beast’s terrible beauty. So similar to Blue in shape and design, but where Blue was dog-like in his good-natured way, she was as smooth and elegant as a big cat. Her movements, heavy with bulk and muscle, cloaked an awful power.
Jordan’s eyes skimmed the smooth diamond-shaped scales, the way they glittered with an opalescent sheen in the diffused light. The red of her snout was a bright fire-engine shade which shifted to a blood-red along her neck, then to mottled and mixed shades of maroon, brick and scarlet.
Jordan heard Sol let out a long awe-laced sigh. “Aren’t you a beauty,” he said under his breath.
Two elegant black horns, not unlike the curved spikes that topped the female harpies they’d fought mere weeks before, crowned the dragon’s head. A row of bony spikes linked together by a membrane lay flat and folded like an accordian against her neck. Those spikes had stood erect during battle, jutting straight up from her spine as she’d exhaled fiery death. The vertical slashes of her eyes shifted from Jordan to Sol, her pupils narrowing as she focused on them. Her snout lowered slowly as Jordan approached first, her hand out.
Respectfully, Jordan lay her hand against the cool scales. Heart thudding like a drum, Jordan watched the nostrils flare, smelling her. Sol stood back, watching with some reticence. He didn’t think it would be possible to fully relax in the presence of such an immense and dangerous animal.
“Thank you,” said Jordan to the dragon, her palm resting against the reptile’s nose.
The red dragon’s eyes shifted a fraction and a hot breath issues from her nostrils.
“You know what we have to call her, right?”
Jordan glanced over her shoulder at Sol, a crooked grin on her face. “Yeah.”
“Red,” the two Arpaks said at once.
Jordan laughed and turned back to the dragon. “That okay with you, Mrs?”
A long clicking growl ending on a sigh emitted from the dragon’s throat.
“Does that mean yes?” Sol stepped a little closer.
“No idea, but I think it’s going to stick whether she likes it or not. I can’t imagine calling her anything else.”
Sol was gazing past the dragon and the borders of the park. “We’ve got quite an audience.”
Jordan looked up to see the distant shapes of Strix watching from terraces in the towers of Upper Rodania. “She’s not something you see everyday.”
“Especially here,” Sol added. “With the exception of miniatures, Rodania has always been a strictly no-dragon zone.”
A thought caught at Jordan’s mind and she frowned. She let her hand drop and stepped back from Red. “The border magic is still functional, right?”
“That’s right,” Sol nodded, “it’s only harpies that seem to have breached the magic barrier.” Then he frowned too as he realized what Jordan was driving at. His lips parted in wonderment. “Oh,” he breathed. His eyes drifted from Jordan to Red. “Why didn’t we think of it earlier?”
“I’m sure someone has asked the question,” replied Jordan, “we’ve just been so busy cleaning up after the battle and setting Rodania to rights that we haven’t had time to consider it. And no one wants the dragons to leave us exposed in case the harpies rally and return, so they’re not pressing the point.” Jordan chewed her lip. “If its only harpies that have broken through, and the border magic is still functional for everyone else…”
Sol stepped forward and finally set a hand on Red’s nose, finishing Jordan’s thought. “Then how did you get through?”
Even after Jordan and Sol returned home, Red and Blue hung out in the park. They lay in the grass, soaking up the last of the sun with their eyes closed, sometimes sprawling on their sides with their necks stretched out like a couple of overgrown dogs.
From time to time, Jordan and Sol would peer out of the terrace to see if the dragons were still there. The Strix of the surrounding area had gone on with their lives, but would return to watch the reptiles lolling about in their park. Word spread that the dragons were on Upper Rodania, and Strix who had the afternoon off made the journey from other islands to come have a look.
Word reached Toth’s ears and he cut his meeting with Balroc short to wing his way across Upper Rodania in hopes of catching a glimpse of the dragons before they took off again. The Nycht found them lounging on the grass not far from Sol’s apartment tower.
Blue raised his head from the ground as the Nycht landed closer than any Strix had dared since Jordan and Sol had left. Toth approached on foot, hands relaxed at his sides, his dewclaws pointing down in a nonthreatening position.
“Remember me?” Toth asked as Blue rolled over onto his belly.
Blue lifted his snout and gave three sharp throaty cries into the sky, making Toth blink with surprise and pause before moving forward again.
“What was that for? Don’t like being disturbed on your honeymoon?” Toth reached Blue and lay a hand on his neck. Blue’s jaws clicked together and the dragon got to his feet in one quick movement. He turned his back on Toth and disappeared into the cave behind the red dragon, who was still laying on her side.
Unafraid but moving with a deferential respect, Toth moved toward the red’s snout. She swung it in the grass toward him in an oddly playful manner. Toth crouched to look at her but did not touch her. The red dragon would forever be tied in Toth’s memory to that fateful battle, the day Rodania was nearly destroyed under a crush of harpy onslaught, and the day Toth lost a brother. A sudden wash of grief cut through him so cruelly it took his breath away. Toth’s eyes squeezed shut and he swallowed. When he opened his eyes, they were misty and red-rimmed.
Caje. My brother.
How many nights since the battle had he woken with a start, the image of Caje plummeting toward that stone tower with his fist down the throat of a devil-bird.
“Don’t get me wrong,” the Nycht said to the reptile, his voice hoarse and nearly inaudible. “I’m grateful.”
The huge red eyes blinked slowly shut and open again.
“But you couldn’t have come just ten minutes sooner?” Toth’s voice closed up on the last word and he let his head hang for a moment. Some days, it seemed too heavy to lift, his body too heavy to drag from his bed to face the day.
Had the Nycht brothers made the right call accepting Balroc’s deal? It had cost Caje his life, and the loss was tearing Toth apart. The vote had yet to be decided, so it was too early to say. Toth’s jaw clenched so hard he could hear his teeth grinding. If Caje’s loss was in vain…
It was too horrific to consider. Winning the vote for the Nychts was Toth’s priority. Only when that was done could the Nycht fly far away and mourn properly, away from the eyes of his soldiers and the rest of his family. Only then, could he let himself fall to pieces. Until then, his soul was tethered together by fraying cords.
The soft sound of claws on grass made Toth look up. Blue made a reappearance, approaching the Nycht with his head down. Something large and pale was clutched in the dragon’s jaws, cradled behind his sharp white teeth.
“What have you got there?”
Blue stopped at Toth’s side and lowered his snout to the earth, opening his jaw wide and with effort.
A dove-gray egg, mottled with black speckles, rolled onto the grass with a dull cracking sound. It was the size of a human ribcage and had fissures threading across it like forks of lightning. Toth covered his nose at the smell of death and decay that drifted up from the rotten egg.
“You shouldn’t have,” Toth said with a half-smile at the dragon’s disgusting offering. He toed the egg away as he stood, knees popping. He assumed perhaps the red female had lain a dud, though why Blue was presenting it to Toth was a mystery.
The egg rolled over, revealing a much larger crack in the shell. Toth dropped his hand in dismay as the egg’s contents became visible. It was not a dragon’s egg.
“Where did you get that?” Toth asked Blue, who had settled back and was looking up at the Nycht with expectation, his head cocked.
Toth fought down a wave of nausea and tore his eyes from the dead chick of his enemy, the offspring of his brother’s killer. The scabby head and beak were unmistakeable, already crimson in color and screaming the harpy’s gender. The lifeless eye was partially open and seemed to stare at the Nycht, mocking his pain.
Toth knew the answer; there was only one place that egg could have come from––the caves of Golpa.