Home > The Dragon's Promise(11)

The Dragon's Promise(11)
Author: Elizabeth Lim

  “The mirror of truth showed me plenty about the life you left.” Lady Solzaya leaned close. “Poor Bushi’an Takkan. He misses you so. You can ask to see him yourself—one last time.”

  All at once I deflated.

  Solzaya chuckled smugly. “I’m curious to see how immortality suits you. Many have gone mad, but I have faith you’ll keep your wits, bloodsake. You have more spirit than most.”

  “I don’t plan on being here long enough to satisfy your curiosity,” I retorted, but my words lacked conviction, and Solzaya knew it.

  She petted my head again, then she surged forward, her long gossamer sleeves brushing against my arms as if motioning for me to follow. I recoiled from their touch.

  Hopelessness rose like a stone in my throat. How was I going to get out of here? Even if my magic was at full strength, it wasn’t enough to put up a fight against the Dragon King. All I had was the pearl….

  You can’t use the pearl, Kiki said, invading my thoughts. It might break.

  “If it does, at least it’d take all of Ai’long down with me.”

  And me! cried my paper bird. Think of me, at least. Scattered in tiny pieces in the ocean forever. I’ll be devoured by shrimp! Or…or become sea foam! I’m not meant to become sea foam.

  “No, you’re not,” I agreed, and then grimaced. In a kingdom where time was eternal, how ironic was it that mine was running out?

  Someone touched my arm. “Look,” said Lady Nahma, pointing at one of the gemmed mirrors engraved into the wall. “The glass here reflects the sky above. Imurinya smiles upon the seas.”

  All I saw was an endless abyss of dark water.

  “Her mortal eyes are too weak to perceive it,” said Solzaya snidely.

  Nahma wasn’t deterred. “Look closer.” She pointed at a flutter in the waves. “The bend of silver in the waters. That is a reflection of Imurinya.”

  “I see it,” I said softly.

  “We too revere the lady of the moon in Ai’long,” Nahma replied. “When her light is at its most powerful, so are the dragons’ pearls. It’s a good omen that she is bright on your binding day. I hope that will be of comfort to you.”

  It was not, but unlike Solzaya, Nahma meant well. I couldn’t help warming to her.

  “You’ll learn to take such sights for granted soon enough,” said Seryu’s mother dismissively. “Once you’re a companion, there will be far more important things on your mind.”

  “Such as?” The words came out before I could stop them. Much as I dreaded the binding ceremony, I was curious about how the dragons lived.

  Solzaya smiled. “Securing an heir for my son, naturally.”

  I balked, wishing I hadn’t asked. “An heir?”

  “Ours is a dwindling race, Shiori’anma. You didn’t think sacred beings such as dragons would welcome humans into our realm simply for company?”

  Honestly, I hadn’t given it any thought. “Is that…even possible?”

  “It will be.” She laughed at my horror. “Once you become a companion, you won’t exactly be human anymore.”

  She’d alluded to my changing before, but never in any detail. Lady Nahma’s appearance offered no hints, either: with her long black hair and her modest gown, she looked like a priestess at a shrine.

  So why was the dread in my heart mounting?

  An arched bronze mirror appeared, marking the end of what had seemed a perpetual hallway. Its craftsmanship was exquisite, with five dragons each holding its own pearl.

  We stopped in front of it, and my reflection gave me a leery stare. Back home, my eyes were famous for their mischief, my lips for their sly and impish curve. But the reflection I saw was of a girl who was lost. A girl who had lost.

  That couldn’t be me.

  “This is where you will prepare for the ceremony,” said Solzaya, the pitch of her voice rising as she dramatically gestured at the bronze mirror. “Where you will take your last breaths as a mortal of land.”

  Too late I started to back away.

  The mirror glass turned liquid, melting into two silvery arms that slid around my ankles. Before I could run, they gave a wrench.

  And into the mirror I flew, spiraling deeper into the Dragon King’s lair—to my doom.

 

 

I landed on soft carpet, facing a shell-encrusted ceiling with floating lanterns. Chests and trunks lined the walls, each flowing with the most extravagant, impossible raiment I had ever seen. Dresses woven out of abalone and moonlight, skirts that were cascading waterfalls, shawls painted with butterfly wings and flamefish fins, and jackets embroidered with peonies whose petals moved to an imaginary breeze.

  As I pulled myself upright, Lady Nahma glided into view. “Solzaya is gone. She’ll not return until you are ready for the ceremony.”

  Was that an explanation or a warning?

  “There is food, should you require nourishment,” Nahma continued. “The rites will not be long, but some find comfort partaking in delicacies from their homeland.”

  She gestured at a table that I swore had not been there a moment ago. On it was a spread of Kiatan sweets: rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds, phoenix-wing candies, and steamed buns bursting with pumpkin custard. A porcelain bowl was filled to the brim with fresh, plump peaches.

  I inhaled, hating how insolently familiar the aromas were. I couldn’t ignore them even if I wanted to.

  “Eat,” she urged, helping herself to tea. “You’ll need your strength.”

  As she poured, the steam curled around the rim of the cup. But I didn’t budge.

  “It isn’t poisoned, Shiori’anma.”

  I didn’t trust her, and she knew she couldn’t convince me.

  “Very well. Then we shall begin.” Lady Nahma set down her cup, and it floated in the water. “How you attire yourself for the ceremony is of utmost importance. This will be the court’s first impression of you, and dragons are quick to judge.”

  She clapped, and the chests exhibited their wares. “Take anything that speaks to you,” she instructed. “Jewels, combs, gowns, jackets.”

  Nothing called out to me. There were no swords, daggers, or poisoned darts. No vines of starstroke or torches of demonfire.

  Everything was just so pretty. And useless.

  There were bone hairpins that made one’s tresses grow longer, sand silk robes with embroidered fish that danced when I touched them. There were lace ribbons scalloped with threads of dawn, and jewels that made the wearer ravishingly beautiful. Out of curiosity, I held an agate brooch to my chest—and watched, aghast, as my eyes turned bluer than a kitebird, my cheeks bloomed with a pleasing flush, and my lips became full.

  I threw the brooch back into its chest. My situation was on the narrow edge of hysterical and hopeless.

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