Home > The Dragon's Promise(7)

The Dragon's Promise(7)
Author: Elizabeth Lim

  “The High Lady of the Easterly Seas. I’m sure you’ve met her, since you’re here. This room is where she tortures King Nazayun’s most troublesome guests. She turned the last prisoner in your spot into sea foam after he gave up his secrets. It really was quite gruesome. Stone is preferable to sea foam, as far as curses go.”

  I swallowed. “The scarlet dragon.”

  “There are plenty of scarlet dragons around here. I distinguish her by the mirror shards around her neck. You must have seen them.”

  “I didn’t notice. I was too busy trying not to die.”

  “You’ll notice them the next time. Now that you’re awake, you’ll need more sangi to keep breathing. Someone will be here soon to fetch you—very soon, I’d say. Nazayun’s been lusting after that broken pearl of yours for ages.”

  “Lusting? He said he wanted to destroy it.”

  “And you believed him?” The young sorcerer scoffed. “Dragons are bound to promises, not the truth.”

  His eyes flickered yellow as he observed the floating pearl. “I can see why he’d covet it. It’s different from the others…. It reeks of power. Chaotic, uncontrollable power.”

  “But it’s on the verge of breaking.”

  “Reason has never stopped a dragon from coveting something it can’t have.” He tried to scratch his nose but couldn’t reach. “I used to want a dragon pearl myself. It’s what got me obsessed with Ai’long.”

  “Is that why you’re here?” I said. “Were you trying to steal one?”

  “Do you take me for an idiot? I wouldn’t try to steal a pearl…not as an apprentice, anyway. I’d wait until I was a full-fledged enchanter.”

  I twisted my lips at the boy, both amused and mystified by his gall. “So why are you here?”

  “A dragon came to me on land. He’d heard of my potential.” The boy grinned. “Gave me sangi and said he’d teach me the recipe if I borrowed something for him in Ai’long.”

  I raised an eyebrow. “Borrowed—without permission?”

  “Precisely. We enchanters aren’t meant to be common thieves, but knowledge is my weakness. Always has been. And no one’s been to Ai’long in centuries. I couldn’t resist—”

  “You got caught,” I finished for him. “What happened to the dragon?”

  “I don’t know,” he lamented. “I was a dolt and never got his name.”

  He was a dolt, but he was young, and now that I’d heard his story, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. “Do you have a name, young thief?”

  “I do, but I don’t like it.” He half closed his eyes. “It’s Gen.”

  “Gen,” I said firmly. “I promise I’ll get you out.”

  An eye blinked open. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, especially not in Ai’long.”

  It was an odd thing to say, but I didn’t get to ask what he meant. My breath became short, water rushing into my mouth the way it had before I’d gone unconscious.

  In response, the mirrors tinkled, clanging against one another in an unnerving percussion.

  “Your sangi’s running out,” Gen whispered. “They’ll be here any minute.”

  But no one came.

  Instead, my shackles dissolved, and a whirlpool suddenly roared behind me. Catching me midbreath, it devoured Kiki, the Wraith’s pearl, and me into its gushing void.

 

* * *

 

 

Down into a watery abyss I plunged, Kiki’s scream echoing the one I let out in my head. I held two things tight: my breath and the pearl. My life depended on both.

  I came to a halt, and a current tossed me upright before the Dragon King.

  Only he was not a dragon anymore. From the waist up, he had taken on a human form. Pale blue hair sprang from his scalp, and sapphire sea silk swathed his body, the color the exact vibrant shade as his scales. The cloth trailed far behind him like a river, blending into his long, winding tail.

  My starstroke net was draped over his shoulders like a cloak. Its shimmering threads made his heart glow and bulge; for him to don it so boldly was a show of might.

  Still, it must hurt him. I wondered if he liked the pain.

  The last of my breath was leaving me, and the lack of air made a searing heat tremble up from my lungs to my throat, nose, and temples. By the great gods, it was agony, and I lifted my chin, struggling for calm. The Wraith’s pearl did nothing to help. It knew, as I did, that Nazayun wouldn’t kill me.

  He’d simply make me suffer…as long as possible.

  The Dragon King’s eyes turned hard, and another excruciating second passed. The agony fractured my calm, and the very moment I thought I might die after all, a riptide of water thrashed me into a kneeling bow, and air suddenly rushed into my lungs.

  “I almost admire your brazenness, human, unenlightened as it is,” Nazayun growled. “But that is not what saves you today.”

  Still on my knees, I gasped, choking on my breath. Over my chest dangled the necklace with Seryu’s pearl—as if I had never lost it.

  I inhaled and exhaled, over and over until my lungs stopped burning and I no longer felt the crushing weight of the seas against my head.

  “Why?” I rasped.

  “My grandson has informed me that he gave you that piece of his heart.” The Dragon King stroked his glacier-blue beard. “Fortune smiles upon you, Princess. In accordance with dragon law, you are under his protection.”

  I had a feeling the Dragon King and I had very different definitions of the word fortune, and I didn’t like where mine was heading.

  “The binding ceremony shall take place immediately,” said Nazayun. “Be grateful for this chance. Another one will not come.”

  “Binding ceremony?” I croaked, finding my voice. “What is—”

  “Quiet, Shiori.” Seryu unfolded from the shadows, his claw swiftly covering my mouth. He forced me into another bow. “You will show His Eternal Majesty respect.”

  Seryu’s attitude bewildered me even more than his sudden appearance. I craned my neck toward him and searched his red eyes. I didn’t know what I was looking for: remorse, guilt, a hint of a plan? Whatever it was, I didn’t find it.

  And that left me with a sinking, undeniable truth: Seryu had betrayed me.

  I lashed out, but Seryu caught my arms easily.

  His talons grazed my skin. Like his grandfather, he had discarded his dragon form, mostly. Gone were the scales, the serpentine tail, the leonine nose and sharp, pointed teeth—replaced by a human face and body. But his hair and skin still glowed a faint mossy green, and he’d kept his crown of horns, naturally—as well as the claws.

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