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Book IV of The DragonSpawn Cycle (published by Flux)

© 2007 Terie Garrison

Available in hardcopy and on Kindle

Then a hush swept over the crowd, and stragglers began to hurry to their seats. Figures dressed in black--just as I was--poured out of the tunnels and into the arena. They marched in single file along the walkway, peeling off one at time until a hundred or more of them were spread out evenly around the pit.

The DragonLord watched the dragonmasters with a smile--a real one now. His eyes glowed not with hatred but with pride. I wondered if he was going to join in, but he stood in place, simply watching his magicians do their job.

The dragonmasters, as if at some silent signal I couldn't detect, began to perform their routine. Their spells would create a magic net over the arena, preventing the dragons from flying away. Their movements reminded me a little of the danse--the powerful magic practiced in Stychs--but it seemed to be more martial in nature, more of precision and exactitude and less of motion and grace.

When they stopped, all with their hands raised above their heads, a tocsin rang out. This, I knew, was the warning bell. All must be still during a dragon fight, so everyone must be in their seats before it began.

Erno made an expansive gesture to those in the box. "And now, my friends, I thank you for joining me this fine day. Let us enjoy the entertainment before us!" His eyes shone in what could only be called blood-lust. What a coward! Then I immediately tried to suppress that idea. It wouldn't do for treason to slip out of my lips. I must guard my thoughts, lest they be reflected on my face and get me into trouble.

The others in the box took their seats, the king taking the beautiful dragon chair, though the animated chatter continued. I expected Rycina to sit next to her father, but she chose a chair in a back corner. It seemed to me that she even turned it a bit, as if to obscure her view, even if just a little, from the pit. I found myself wanting--almost compelled--to watch her. Then the DragonLord pinched my arm hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. I glanced upward at him and he jerked his head toward the pit. Focusing my attention there, I blinked back the tears. It wouldn't do for the king to notice them and ask their cause.

The tocsin rang out again, and now my ordeal began in earnest.

The door to the left opened, and a woman was pushed through it. She was naked and her head was shaved, and she carried a small shield but no sword. Anger swelled in me. Why all this spectacle to execute someone? Surely a human with only a shield couldn't hope to "fight" a dragon. My lip started to curl in disgust, but I caught myself and schooled my expression into one of neutrality.

King Erno giggled with glee. "One of those pesky mages," he said. "I keep thinking I've rooted them all out, then my dragonmasters find more. Well done!"

The DragonLord bowed his head. "It is my honor to serve you, my king." Was I really the only one who heard the spite and sarcasm in his voice?

With a loud clang that made me jump, the door on the right opened. Out came a silver dragon, swiveling its head left and right as it scented prey.

The woman--a fellow mage!--didn't quail. She showed no signs of fear at all. Casting aside the shield, she strode to the center of the pit. Pride surged through me as I realized that she had chosen to embrace her fate and that she would supply as little sport to the crowd as possible.

Her movement caught the dragon's attention. For a tense moment, it stared at her. She, in turn, watched it as she continued walking forward without changing direction or speed. In a lighting move that elicited a collective gasp from the crowd, the dragon leapt on the woman. The first and only time I'd watched a dragon fight, the dragon had toyed with the poor man like a cat with a mouse. That didn't happen this time. This one snatched the woman up and a moment later swallowed her.

It took a second for everyone to realize the fight, such as it was, had ended. Then the crowd roared while the dragonmasters began to move, using their power to force the dragon back to the stables. Everyone in the box burst into cheers and applause. Swallowing back the gorge that rose to my throat at what I'd just witnessed, I clapped my hands, too. Or at least made a show of it, as they were sore and one was still bandaged. I could not, however, bring a smile to my face; fortunately, the DragonLord didn't notice.

King Erno pounded the arms of his chair. "No! It can't be over that fast!" He turned a petulant expression onto the DragonLord. "You must make it more fun. I demand it."

"My king, you know how it is with the mages. Always the same. Put it out of your mind. The next one is naught but a murderer, and he shall not have the means of convincing the dragon to be done with him quickly."

Erno's pout turned to a grin, and he licked his lips. "Yes," he drawled. "Of course."