Breath of DragonsBy: Barbara Kloss
A Pandoran Novel, #3
"Tainted, twisted, shadows wait,
A reckoning of old, a judgment too late."
~ Augurs of Karth, v. IV, 216 a.e.
Thick, gray clouds nestled on the mountaintops, their magnificent spires hidden. It would snow soon. I'd always liked the view from up here. I'd imagine myself a bird, soaring over forest and river, chasm and mountain—it did not matter, for at these heights, I was safe. An entire world spread out before me, vast and resplendent, though today its resplendence was muted in the shadow of the clouds.
But even if the sun had shone, illuminating the landscape in all its heavenly glory, I would have felt the darkness. It pervaded like a disease, hiding in deep crevices, just waiting for a moment of weakness to overcome its host.
He was out there, my uncle, Lord Eris. He and his cursed shadowguard would try to take this glorious and beautiful kingdom and reduce it to nothing, just as he had tried decades ago. But he hadn't possessed the shield of power back then.
I felt the chill of winter in my bones as I leaned forward against the balustrade, watching the world lying in false quietude. My vantage point was no longer safe.
They were out there…somewhere. Perhaps the two most important people in my life—no, they absolutely were the most important people in my life. As much as I hadn't wanted to see Daria go, I knew she had to. Pendel would present dangers of its own, but this castle was not safe for her. It had never been, but now it was more dangerous than ever. She hadn't known the extent of this danger when she left, and I did not tell her. I could not.
Not with the eagerness in her eyes and the hope in her gait. She believed the box of the Pandors was the key to stopping our uncle from using the shield of power, so she had set course for Pendel—the land our mother was from. The land where this rumored box was supposedly hidden. Daria believed that the box of the Pandors held the knowledge of overpowering the shield of power that our uncle had stolen. A shield he intended to use to take over our world. I needed to believe that, too, because we were vastly outnumbered otherwise. It would take a miracle.
Or a marriage.
I turned around. Headmaster Ambrose stood nearest, though it was Aegis Cicero Del Conte who had spoken. He and Sonya were, perhaps, the most eager about the current state of things, because it was their son who traveled alone with my sister through these dangerous lands. But if anyone could handle himself, it was Alexander Del Conte. I trusted him far more than I trusted anyone—more so than myself, even. Which was why I'd agreed to let him go with her all the way to Pendel in order to find the box of the Pandors.
That, and he'd made me a certain promise.
"You haven't mentioned it to her?" Cicero repeated.
"No, I have not." I sighed.
"Sire." It was Sir Armand de Basco who spoke this time, my head guard. "They're at the wall and Lord Tosca is grossly outnumbered. Once they penetrate the ninth gate, there will be no stopping them. Not without reinforcements—"
"I understand what is at stake, Sir Armand," I said.
Cicero and Sir Armand exchanged a glance.
Headmaster Ambrose clasped his hands, crimson sleeves colliding into a bell shape that fell to the marble floor. "My prince," he said in a very careful, yet stern tone. He was used to giving orders and having them obeyed without question. "You are sworn to protect the safety of this kingdom. You cannot afford to ignore Lord Commodus' offer. We need his support, or you've doomed this regency to the fires of Mortis."
A cold breeze whispered through the room and the candles flickered. The others did not know of Daria and Alex's mission, and I would not tell them. I would not put her at any more risk; her whereabouts must be kept secret. I inhaled slowly, standing firm. "I will not ask this of her."
"Prince Stefan, please." Aegis Sonya Del Conte stepped forward with the worry of a mother in her dark eyes. "Even I can see that there is no other alternative, and you know I would never wish this upon her. Especially not after…" Her voice trailed and her gaze fell to the floor.
The silence was heavy with the name of a man we had all loved who had been so cruelly taken from us.
"You must order her return immediately," Headmaster Ambrose said through tight lips. "She is the princess of Valdon; it is but a small sacrifice given in exchange for thousands of lives."
"She's sacrificed enough, Headmaster." My fists clenched at my sides, and I looked back out my window. "I will not have her sacrifice her heart also."
On the Other Side
"Loosen your grip," Alex said.