Home > The Dragon's Promise(2)

The Dragon's Promise(2)
Author: Elizabeth Lim

  “More letters?” I’d asked, taking the book in both hands.

  “Better,” Takkan promised. “So you don’t forget me.”

  What could be better than his letters? I stared wistfully at the sketchbook, wishing I could brush my knuckles against its soft spine and flip through its charcoal-stained pages. But I supposed it would be rude to read while I was in Seryu’s company.

  Seryu certainly thought so. He narrowed his eyes at me. “I’ve never seen you blush while looking at the pearl.”

  “Its light gets bright,” I said quickly. “Makes my face warm.”

  He scoffed at the lie. “At least your human lordling didn’t jump into the sea after us. The way he was making fish eyes at you for leaving, I half thought he might. He wouldn’t have made it past the reefs before the sharks got to him.”

  I closed the satchel. “Really, sharks?”

  “Grandfather employs a platoon of them.” Seryu smirked. “They’re always hungry. We’ll encounter some shortly.”

  My heart thumped in my chest. Were we that close to Nazayun’s palace?

  Seryu misread my apprehension, and his tone lightened a little. “Worry not—the sharks don’t have an appetite for a stringy human like you.”

  They might change their mind, I thought. Once the Dragon King learned why I was really in Ai’long, I’d be lucky if he granted me such a swift death.

  Nervously, I glided back to Seryu, kicking harder than I needed to. Swimming in Ai’long was nothing like swimming in regular water. The water here was as light as air, and tiny currents tracked under my feet, propelling me where I needed to go. Almost like flying.

  I overshot the dragon, jetting a hair too high. Out of nowhere, a bloom of jellyfish descended upon me.

  There were at least a dozen of them. Their bodies were shaped like luminous umbrellas, tentacles swirling in a sinuous dance. They approached boldly, brushing against my arms and legs and even weaving through my long hair. I giggled at how it tickled—until Seryu let out a growl.

  “Leave her alone.” His red eyes flashed at the intruders. “She’s with me.”

  The jellyfish recoiled, but they didn’t disperse. Quite the opposite. As Seryu tried to tow me away by grabbing my hair, they followed and drew even closer.

  Then, like the Taijin Sea, they changed.

  The gold light radiating in their bodies went out in a flash, and their tentacles, soft as silk ribbons, turned hard and pointed. Two slid between Seryu and me, forcing us apart. The rest surrounded us.

  I reached for the knife I kept hidden inside my sash. I barely got a chance to brandish it. Cold, slick tentacles suctioned onto my back and encircled my arms.

  Tiny barbs grew out of my attacker’s tentacles, grazing my skin: a lethal warning not to resist. One sting, and I’d be paralyzed for life.

  Defeated, I went still and dropped my knife, letting it float beyond my grasp. In return, the jellyfish relaxed its grip, but only slightly. Its tentacles began to search me for other hidden weapons, and as they rifled through my satchel and robes, Kiki darted out of my sleeve.

  She was groggy, her wings in a dramatic midstretch as she yawned to announce she was awake. But when her inky eyes popped open and she saw the jellyfish, she shrieked.

  Bubbling, blazing demons of Tambu!

  “It’s not a demon,” I assured her, hugging my satchel as tentacles attempted to pry it open. “It’s a jellyfish.”

  A what?

  The jellyfish loomed over Kiki, scrutinizing her intently.

  My bird covered her head with a wing. Oh gods, she moaned. Let me faint again.

  To Kiki’s relief, the jellyfish deemed her unworthy of its attention and returned to my satchel. Its tentacles tugged hard at the straps, but I held on as tight as I could.

  “Sting me all you like,” I said. “You are not taking this.”

  The jellyfish hissed and bared its poisonous barbs.

  “Away!” Seryu barked. His tail lashed back and forth, creating innumerable ripples, like tiny tempests. With a swipe of his claw, there came a fierce rip in the water.

  While the jellyfish struggled against the sudden current, Seryu slung me onto his back and dove into a jungle of coral, swimming for the crystal spires ahead. He tossed my knife onto my lap. “Really, Shiori? This is what you bring to Ai’long?”

  I gave a careless shrug. “Did you think I’d come unarmed?”

  “You’ve met my grandfather before. This little dagger of yours would hardly be a splinter.”

  “Splinters can still hurt” was all I said, tucking the blade back into my sash. “What were those jellyfish?”


  “For what?”

  “Trespassers and assassins.”

  He didn’t elaborate, a signal to let it go. But I was too curious. “There was magic about them.”

  “Most of Grandfather’s subjects have…a certain ability. It helps fend off those who try to enter Ai’long without an invitation.”

  “But why search me? I have an invitation.”

  “They were looking for your stepmother’s pearl, obviously,” said Seryu testily. “The jellyfish have a taste for dark magic. They also specialize in sensing deception.”

  A wave of unease fell over me. “Deception?”

  “Yes, like that steel needle you didn’t deign to tell me you brought.” Seryu’s voice hardened. “Worry not. Your time in Ai’long will be short; you won’t have to experience our court.”

  That wasn’t what worried me, but I kept silent and glanced at Kiki.

  She’d swooned on my palm, and her wings were wilted into a dejected lump. Thankfully, she hadn’t been paying attention to my conversation with Seryu. I loved her dearly, but keeping secrets wasn’t one of her gifts.

  Are we nearly there? she moaned. I should have stayed on land. I feel seasick.

  “No one gets seasick underwater.”

  Kiki wrinkled her beak, letting out a theatrical sigh. Can’t you tell the dragon to swim with more care? Even whales move more daintily than he does.

  “You tell him. He’s been surly all day.”

  Why? Her brow crinkled. Is he upset with you?

  “Of course not.”

  Is it the jellyfish? Gods, Shiori—do you think they know? Maybe you should tell him you plan on keeping Raikama’s p—

  My eyes went wide, and I stuffed her into my sleeve before Seryu heard.

  Raikama’s pearl, Kiki had almost blurted.

  No, I hadn’t told him. I didn’t plan to.

  Guilt nibbled at my conscience, but I shoved it away. There was nothing to feel guilty about. I wasn’t reneging on my word. I had promised Seryu I would bring Raikama’s pearl to his grandfather…. I just never said I’d let him keep it.

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