Chapter 43 - The Claws of Fire

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Early post alert! I'm posting this early because I promised a few of you a bonus chapter this week, and a bonus chapter we shall have (tomorrow). So this will be considered an early post. Yes, there will be questions at the end. I hope you guys are having a great week! Also, thank you all for your wonderful feedback on the "Hands of Comfort" chapter. You guys overwhelmed me with so much amazing and heartfelt compliments. I wish I had time to respond to everyone, but please know that I have skimmed through and read your comments. You are all so WONDERFUL!

Kastali Dun

Talon wondered which was more difficult: admitting to one's wrongs or apologizing for them. An apology was a gesture, an entry into the unknown. Apologizing was like tossing an egg into the air and hoping it would be caught. No one liked uncertainty, least of all him. The only thing that felt worse than apologizing was admitting to one's wrongs. He feared his faults. He couldn't bear to look weak or inept. He could not afford to feel vulnerable.

After thinking it over, he decided that it took greater fortitude to admit to one's wrongs than it did apologizing for them.

He sat at his desk within his study, staring at the blank sheet of parchment before him. He owed Queen Jade both an admission of wrongdoing, and an apology. A deep rumble in the form of a chuckle escaped his chest. At least apologizing to Queen Jade in writing would be easier than his apologies had been with Claire.

He opened his desk drawer and removed Queen Jade's folded letter. She had sent it to him shortly after Cyrus demanded the Stones. He opened the letter and skimmed its words. Queen Jade called him things like inept, rash, and naive. Perhaps he was all of those things and more. Removing the Stones from their protected location was likely the poorest decision he had ever, or would ever make, as Dragonwall's king. Look at all it had resulted in. Queen Jade was correct in her writing about that. But what if...

His mind drifted to Claire in selfishness. How might things have been different if Cyrus never sought the Dragon Stones? Would Claire be happy at home with her family? Safe? Surely that was a better place for her. He sighed as he considered it. His life would have been simpler without her, but now that she was in it, now that he had won her over, he could not bear the thought of never knowing her.

He shoved the letter away. Everything happened for a reason. His mistakes were part of the path he was destined to take; the gods blessed him by placing Claire on that same path even if only to fuel his selfishness. His decisions might not have been the best, but he had made them. He owed Queen Jade an apology (at the least), and procrastinating with such an apology would only make the task more difficult.

He set to work. It was best to start with the apology portion, he decided. That would show him as a humbled individual in her Spritely eyes. He spent a few minutes on the effort, writing something from his heart. As he read over the single line, he realized that it was still too terse. Well...he was a man of few words. No, such a short sentence would not suffice. To make up for it, he elaborated on his poor judgement—Queen Jade would like that.

Women! He rolled his eyes and grunted before continuing with the last lines of the letter. He would leave no room for argument: He intended to visit Jade in Esterpine. He would leave the capital as soon as he tied up loose ends, six days would be enough. That would set him to arrive by the end of next week. It would give him enough time to meet with her, discuss business, and make it back just in time for the Fall Tournament. There was no need to go further into detail regarding the reason for his visit—she would know why.

Reaching into his pocket, he removed the weighty leather pouch with the Dragon Stones and spilled them onto his palm. This wasn't the first time he had interacted with them, and it probably would not be the last. He felt the power the Stones possessed. It seeped into him the way a magical tonic might, warming his hand first before spreading to the rest of him. As the magical energy pulsed through him, he clenched his jaw, holding fiercely to his resolve. When he glanced down at them, how innocent they looked! They sparkled up at him in the candlelight, surfaces dancing with the sole purpose of enticing him. Odd that one should be the color of his scales, while the other was so similar to Reyr's. Was there a reason for it? Had fate connected them to these stones?

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