Creatures of another Age, fire drakes were no ordinary demons...and not only because of the deadly flames that warmed their bellies. If the ancient written accounts were true, only five of them were ever Made, created for the sole purpose of drawing Teivel's shadow-wrought chariot from the Afterlight to the realm of the living and back again. Together, the fire drakes had enough firepower to level cities and burn kingdoms to the ground. They were never seen without their master—except once, in the Age of Shadows, when they broke free of their prison in the Afterlight and Teivel remained behind, still bound by his siblings' divine blood. The warders saw to it that they were returned to their prison, and the prison walls were resealed. That was a thousand years ago.
"A fire drake?" Sam exclaimed, rattled at the very idea. "But they're trapped—"
"With Teivel in the Afterlight?" Azi finished for her. "I thought so too—until rumors started about a year ago of a monster preying on humans in some of the outer coastal cities. We left it to the Sun Sisters; it wasn't worth getting into a pissing fight over a few isolated incidents. When the Arbiter formally requested the assistance of the imperial army, we knew the reported attacks were more than what they seemed. Then the Arbiter told us of the dozen sisters she sent, only two returned to the convent, one of them in a coffin, burnt beyond recognition."
"What happened to the others?" Sam asked, fearing she already knew the answer.
"There was nothing left of them to bring back," Azi said grimly. "A coalition of sisters and imperial soldiers was sent to look for them and remove any remaining threat. They reported back to say half the countryside was razed to the ground, just like in the stories of legend."
Sam asked, "Did they manage to kill it?"
Azi glanced at the emperor then shook his head. "No. The coalition brought back rumors from the neighboring inland villages and saw evidence of the destruction it wrought, but they never saw it for themselves. The sister who survived the previous encounter claimed it was a fire drake, but it seemed so farfetched no one believed it. I didn't believe it. Until today I saw it with my own eyes, terrible and beautiful just as the old legends said." His featured hardened as he focused his next words on Braeden. "The legends also say the fire drakes would let no one but Teivel ride them, not even the daem. So what does that make you?"
With a mirthless smile, Braeden gave the same answer he once gave Sam and Tristan. "My mother was a human. My father was not."
"You're one of Teivel's children, then," the emperor said, making no effort to blunt his words.
"Yes," Braeden agreed, looking Emperor Kazan straight in the eye. "But I am no more my father than you are yours."
The emperor flinched, causing Sam to wonder just what sort of man his father had been and how his people remembered him. Was the old emperor a monster too?
"Such a thing isn't possible," Azi said stoutly. "No child of Teivel can procreate, or the world would be awash with creatures like you."
"He is not a creature," Sam snapped, leaping to Braeden's defense. "In Thule, he and I fought side by side to protect our people from demonkind. He is a man—a good man. He is not the enemy."
"Then explain the fire drake," Azi said, unmoved by Sam's little speech, "and why it obeyed you like you were the Betrayer himself."
"I don't know," Braeden bit out. "I took a chance, and it worked. Why it worked I couldn't tell you. But I can tell you this: I'm not the only one who can control them."
Azi jumped to his feet. "Them? The entire stable escaped their prison?"
"I've seen four," said Braeden. "I don't know about the fifth."
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*Sequel to Paladin* The kingdom of Thule stands on the brink of civil war between two armies -- the Paladins and the Uriel -- each claiming the right to serve as Thule's protector. Once a Paladin trainee, Lady Samantha of Haywood -- Sam -- has be...