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Revenge. Dragon Aeron wants to destroy those who dared to threaten his family and break his kingdom. Betrayal. Fae Alyss has been abandoned and betrayed by her mother and her entire kingdom, and she is determined to take back her rightful position. War. None of the vampires, elementals, teen elves, or any others are willing to back down from the push to save all of the Shadeworld and defeat the evil wizards seeking to enslave and destroy all those who live in it without a fight. Sworn enemies will have to work together, loved ones will be torn apart, and sacrifices will have to be made if this world is going to survive the onslaught in the final battle of the Shadeworld saga. P.S. The Dragon Sleights returns us to a world of court intrigue, wizardry and dueling magical species in a crossover of our planet Earth and the mysterious Shadeworld which is unlike any we have ever experienced before. Fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses and Graceling Realm will love the magical creatures and treacherous courts of the Shadeworld series of teen dragon fantasy books.
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CHAPTER ONE Memory
CHAPTER TWO Golden Throne
CHAPTER THREE Appearances
CHAPTER FOUR Roped
CHAPTER FIVE The Ties That Bind Us
CHAPTER SIX The Sterile Bed
CHAPTER SEVEN The Queen's Grace
CHAPTER EIGHT A Fey People
CHAPTER NINE Avalon
CHAPTER TEN Flutterflies
CHAPTER ELEVEN Trojan Horse
CHAPTER TWELVE Lockdown
CHAPTER THIRTEEN A Meeting of Minds
CHAPTER FOURTEEN Moss and Plots
CHAPTER FIFTEEN Coup
CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Best Laid Plans
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Domed City
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Battlefield
CHAPTER NINETEEN Don't Count Your Eggs
CHAPTER TWENTY Friends of Friends
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Betrayed and Inflamed
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Last Stand
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Feast of Women
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Backmatter
A prison breakout can sound fascinating in books. It sounds like something that would be full of excitement and fun. Those sorts of adventures never really talk about the wet boots and biting flies that could make even the most noble journey horribly miserable.
Even the miserable weather couldn’t affect Alyss’s little happiness at finally being free from her imprisonment. Instead she huddled closer to the others ringed around the fire in the Alchemist’s camp. The soft trickle of rain was inevitable in this jungle they had made camp in, but the trees made a thick canopy overhead that kept them all as close to snug and dry below as anyone could hope for.
They had run far together as a group, breaking into the palace to stage a prison break and then whisking her away to hide in the woods. The stakes were high now, for all of them. The Alchemists had always been a ragtag band of misfits and rule breakers cast out of Witch City and the Domed City, but being on the run from the dragons who ruled all of the Shadeworld was much worse than running away from their own people.
Darien himself was new to the group, completely new to running along with them and being a member of the crew after he betrayed the wizards in their treasonous plotting, and it was a bit of a shock for his first time with this new community to be such a stressful situation. Alyss was newer yet, more a guest in their group there just because the underdogs liked to support others on the run from the law. But both of the adoptive siblings were embraced by the fireside traditions as closely as anyone else, and it made the poor weather situation feel more warm and comfortable just to be treated as if they both belonged. Soon a meal of cold meats and slices of hard cheese lifted everyone’s camaraderie, if not their spirits. The fire they all shared was tiny, made up of just small dried twigs because it was unwise to draw attention to a camp of outlaws. Such small flames couldn’t do much more than fight the wet on their dried rations. It was useless for cooking, and it certainly didn’t do much for keeping anyone warm. Instead, they made do with sharing their body heat and depending on the protection of the trees above.
Though the quiet in camp soon died out once the leaf was revealed. Alyss had pulled it out of her pocket just to look at it, but everyone could tell it was important once it was out. The leaf embodied every memory that Alyss had ever had as a child. She had gotten such an important thing from her captor, and managed to take it along with her when this crew broke her out. The fey girl admired the little spines and curling edges of the greenery.
It was formed from nothing special. There were no precious metals or gems, no glass or finery like one might expect from such an important artifact. Before it had been enchanted it had been nothing but a simple leaf. Still, it glowed dully in her hand. There was magic in this thing that had dwelled here far longer than most of its kind did, hidden away in Aeron the dragon prince’s pocket for so many years. It held everything the girl needed to know about, well, anything-all of her past and those fragments of memories that danced beyond her reach would be hers if she just took advantage of this.
Knowledge could be like that, empowering you slowly with the lessons you learn over a lifetime to be stronger. This kind of deluge wouldn’t be like that though. Alyss knew that if she took back the knowledge of the past now, they would be an all consuming flood that would threaten to drown her. But still the power was tempting. The thought that maybe, just maybe, this would reveal unknown powers and strength to her that would keep her secure from any future imprisonments was heady. But still fear kept her arm locked. Alyss would have answers for the oncoming interrogation at the palace.
Questions about who she was.
Questions about her species as if she weren’t a human. And maybe, just maybe, they might learn that’s exactly what she was. Not a human, but an other. A them.
But what did she have to lose? She had friends here. The Alchemists had kindly freed her from the prince’s prison, helped engineer her escape. Now she had a chance to let her mind live as freely as her body did. After all, didn’t she know best that freedom of the body could be fleeting? In this savage world, wouldn’t the advantage of being fully armed with her memories and any wisdom and insights she might gain from them be worth whatever small sacrifice she must make to take hold of this opportunity?
But even with this great power cradled in her hand, Alyss still hesitated to take it. All she had to do was consume her past, but it wasn’t so easy to do, and she knew it. The others kept their distance, trying to be kind and supportive without saying a word. They didn’t want to rush her. Everyone knew exactly how momentous this could prove to be.
But it was no good speculating what truths she’d find in her past. No, the time for thinking was over. The time for waiting and plotting and planning and putting off doing until tomorrow was done. It was time to know.
The leader of the Alchemists prodded her in the side to urge her on. “Do it,” Taiya said. Worry danced in her eyes, but still she urged the girl on. “Do it now before you think yourself out of it,” she said.
Alyss closed her eyes and placed the leaf on her tongue. The taste of it was green and heady like the first burst of a field in Spring, but burned going down as all Dragon magic had a tendency to. First all was quiet. Then flames enveloped her eyes and burst forth to project in midair. Vague figures danced across the fiery projection before they started to take shape as familiar faces- her’s, Aeron’s, everyone she’d met in her time in the Shadeworld this time had been in her memories as well.
Alyss couldn’t move a muscle or whisper even one word.
It was all too much to feel. The emotions became crippling in their intensity.
She wanted to turn away and hide. The urge to shout and demand that the others pretend her life wasn’t on display before them bubbled up inside, but she couldn’t do anything about it. All of the shadowy edges of her past that had been kept chained away in her mind for so many years burst out of their chains and into her consciousness, but the emotions they left exploded into being. Not a single sound left her as her eyes stayed glued to the projection.
The others crowded around were friends, yes, but something about the full extent of a person’s life drew them in to helplessly watch it all unfold. They were drawn by a horrible curiosity more than a gleeful desire to see her suffer, more like craning your neck to see a car crash than digging into the latest edition of a tabloid, but still their stares grated at her senses until the thoughts tore away all of her attention.
Drowning in emotions and moments that had gone by that had taken control of her body in a very real and literal way she had not expected before. It would have alarmed her more if she wasn’t so distracted by the things she could see. Her youth passed by for all to see. There before them was a little baby, barely old enough to crawl around, staring up as a woman dressed in stars and fire smiled and danced in a glen. Then there was a toddler, trying out newly grown wings and spreading them to soar off the end of a tower balcony as Aeron wrung his hands behind her. Then she was a little older, a preteen, showing him how to flex his own wings, until finally he jumped off himself as well.
Alyss stared in shock at the scene. At those gossamer appendages. She was flying. With wings! Once upon a time the girl had had wings like a real fairy! They had been able to carry her around, but they were so much more than a practical appendage to her, they were a comfort, an unbreakable connection that should never have been severed. Racing through those moments again was still as wonderful as if she were flying once again and as heartbreaking to have her limbs literally ripped off as they had been the first time- maybe even worse. Who knew if it was possible to grow back severed wings? She was fey, not a starfish. Magical, but not miraculous. It may just be that the thrill of flight would be gone forever from her life as soon as she’d relived the exhilaration it had entailed.
Then scenes of the teen in a throne room, her fist propping up her chin as some stuffy old guy droned on and on about the sheep harvest. Had that been who she was? Stuck in endless talks about the most boring matters? The teen realized in the present that though her mother had supposedly sent her to those endless audiences in the throne room for her education, in reality, Titania had likely been off cavorting with her friends and court or lounging in her room and watching her screen that showed her favorite telenovas broadcast all the way from Earth and leaving the responsibility and headaches to her only child.
Then another memory. Wings beating across her back as she threw swords at a giant target and giggled like it was a simple game of darts. Then, she knew, the next half of practice they would move on to using those swords and slashing at sparring partners while spells leapt from her hands to her enemies. Could it be, might it be possible, that’s who she still was? Laughing and happily throwing around weapons that could kill people? The memories burned in her thoughts- she hadn’t been happy because she’d known this was just practice. The girl of the past wasn’t giggling because some sort of make believe gave her emotional distance from what she was doing. No, she was happy to throw weapons, thrilling at the idea that she might hit a person. It was a sick feeling to know her younger self was as happy to impale someone as to talk with them and play after training was over. Is that actually what she’d been like? Not so human after all? The thought was sickening, but the revolutions wouldn’t wait on her to feel ready. They swept her on regardless.
Other scenes of her in a school room, gently teasing Richard stuck spending time working with the royal tutor while she and Aeron could zip through their self study assignments until they were finished and released to play outside.
Then more time had passed and Aeron was chasing after her, the both of them playing in a clearing. They laughed and sang a children’s song. How strange it was to feel that time once again, to remember that Richard had gotten a little too proud of always exceeding his older brother in their lessons and he’d become so boring. So she’d started to play only with Aeron more and more all the time, racing each other on their legs like humans or playing ball games with him as a tiny red dragon and her with her wings proudly out. They had been wild hooligans, causing so much mischief to their parents and the staff. They were never bored together, and they were never apart. And the closer they got, the more often Richard had to study because he had no one to play with instead of for the sheer enjoyment of it.
The scene changed again to the both of them racing for a game of Red Light Green Light and tripping over a stump. All the strength left her voice and the teen could barely whisper to herself. “I remember that,” Alyss said, “I had a dream of that just a few nights ago. It felt so real. I felt like I could jump into that time if I could only think hard enough,” she said. The laughter of the children echoed through the clearing, an empty hollow sound stripped of all its mirth. “I guess this means it actually did happen,” she whispered.
Then again there was the two of them tussling and gamboling around a childhood bedroom. One of the servants came in to the room with cookies and fireberry juice, and they both practiced a newly learned spell to set the juice actually on fire to match its name. What a stern scolding they got from the grown ups for scaring the footman like that! They’d been forced by the king to practice their new writing skills that day as well to write an apology letter.
There were so many fond moments sprinkled through her youth, her childhood, that had been locked away from her.
All the strange dreams she’d been having lately. Now Alyss knew they were all real. Every game, every adventure, every trick they’d pulled on each other. Heck, even every time they’d hugged and they promise to be friends forever was ingrained in her mind once more. Those moments when they’d promised to get married one day because both of the had been so sure they’d never find someone who understood them so well, who loved them so much. It was terrible that these memories had been stripped from her. It was terrible now that they’d been returned, and she could remember every broken promise and every time the people who claimed to love her had betrayed the blind trust of her youth. What had her mother been thinking?
Memories of being young, for so many years, dogged her. They zig zagged through the years, and the Alchemists looking on hardly understood what they saw in the frenzy. But the broken and bitter feelings from years of being half a person tinged each scene clear enough that the onlookers could feel it in their bones. Somehow having that revealed without her specific permission felt like a grave abuse of trust in this relationship between fey and outcasts that had hardly just begun.
Darien looked on more peacefully. The specifics of the memories were new to him, of course. He couldn’t blame the girl for hiding her origins, he’d done the same to her and they’d found that they could be more real and close to each other without any hidden past clouding the issue. It didn’t hurt that she had been separated from these memories herself just as much as she’d hidden them from him. Some memories were a revelation, though, and he hadn’t realized how miserable she’d been in their last home. It was a relief to know that at least some of her pain had been soothed with her changing circumstances. Still, it wasn’t the bleak desperation that pulled at him so. It was the hidden moments of friendship strung through the memories that pulled at him. He’d already hated the guy from school and hated him even more as the dragon that kidnapped his sister. But to see how deep the betrayal of trust really went, how agonizingly close they’d once been to each other, was staggering.
The wizard knew a thing or two about betrayal. He didn’t think she’d be aware of it, but he pulled the girl close into a hug just in case it might help.
Alyss leaned in closer, but this trip down memory lane was all consuming and left no room for comfort.
Her time living under those neglectful creatures she’d called parents for so long, always longing for some love or companionship until she’d finally stumbled upon Darien and latched on to him- but then they hadn’t really been her parents, had they? Her parents had banished her and even her own mind, locked up those pleasures of the past somehow, and even now her memory of her real parents was blurry- but not because it was missing still, but simply because she had so little to remember of them. A mere handful of moments were spent with her mother out of the thousands of snapshots of her life she’d just seen played out all over again. It was a terrifying thought- did this mean her real parent was as distant and uncaring as the ones she’d lived under back on Earth? But how could they be anything but neglectful when they had abandoned her to such unsuitable caretakers?
What kind of caretakers had they chosen, anyway? Her eyes widened as the teen tallied up little inconsistencies she’d faced growing up and realized her human parents in that human world were probably golems, just like those thoughtless sleeping magical cleaning androids she’d seen in that awful closet. What kind of person left a child to be raised by soul-less robots? What kind of real parent would send their daughter off to be raised in a world their kind had spent years creating Avalon to escape from and then empowered some restless humans to separate it from the planet completely and create their own Shadeworld to fully escape from it? It was just another blow to know they’d done it with only the most bare bones programing to ensure her guardians would care for and protect her? Sure, it had turned out that the Original- it was so hard to get used to calling the world she’d grown up in by a new name, but then it turns out she hadn’t really grown there anyway-but she knew from living there it wasn’t such an evil place as the stories here made it out to be. But did her mother truly know that and feel comfortable sending her off with the rare opinion that it was a fairly safe place to be?
Or had her people simply just abandoned her for convenience’s sake?
Some part of her, somewhere in her mind, had always dreamed that maybe someday she’d find her real parents, parents who were better than those she’d spent her human life cared by. Parents who would care about her, take her on movie dates, go to the circus together, spend time shepherding her around a playground. As she’d grown she’d dreamed of parents who would be excited by her first Science Fair, and would grill her prom date with a solid inquisition of his entire life story, and would need a box of tissues all by themselves at her wedding, and would cheer the loudest in the audience at her graduation, and buy a cake and make a huge fuss over her every time she had a promotion.
It had never come to that for her though.
Now her dreams of someday becoming close like an adoptive daughter to some elderly neighbors on Earth had been destroyed. Her little girl aspirations of someday being loved by her parents were ruined. Even her silly distant dreams she’d never really allowed herself to fully get immersed in of being loved and wanted by some other unknown generous souls, some parents who weren’t hers, was within her grasp. But now she knew. All of the heartbreak that her newly discovered real parents had thrown her out of her world was fresh. All her little dreams of mentors and parent figures she’d hardly allowed herself to dream of in the first place had been crushed by the memory that parents were a large factor in her ruined life.
And for what? What purpose could there have been in banishing a little girl to that forsaken Earth?
To suffer through a half life where from now on she’d probably never feel fully comfortable in either world, as a human or as a few, and she’d always be trapped between her two lives that had neither of them been allowed to fully come to pass.
That little girl had committed no crimes. Still, there had been years of punishment heaped upon her. Years of living with a body crippled into wretched health with all the magic every fey’s body depends on ripped away so she could just suffer over there. And for what? What purpose could there be in torturing a little child that way?
Her memory was now tuned to speed through time, a bewildering combination of a flashback and a sort of pseudo mind reading experience shared only by those who have an instant breakthrough in their amnesia. The day she was sent away from her home burned clearly in her mind’s eye, and she remembered now that she’d been cast out with very little explanation of why it was needed. All they said was just that it was necessary for her to be gone.
She’d been a child, trusting in the truthfulness and goodness of the adults in charge of her then. Even with all of the stories of how capricious and terrible the fey could be, she hadn’t paid any attention. She’d thought she’d be safe amongst her own people. Amongst at least her own family and only parent. Stuck in that comforting faith that adults were dependable. The world could be so scary to children, so all of them were stuck in that mindset at some point.
But she had been an older child, a silly and tricksy child. She had been confident in herself, confident that she was ever so clever. Alyss knew that the version of her back then would have thought she was so clever. She would surely have thought that she would have been capable of seeing the lies adults told to children for their own convenience. But she’d been too young and blindly trusted that the adults were telling the truth because of course they always tell the truth. But it was a lie. It was a lie, it had always been a lie, and now here she was at the end of the line with nothing better for her future in sight.
The fiery projection burned out, and the leaf her memories had been stored on turned to dust. She didn’t need them anymore, every memory was now burned inside of her brain like it had never even left.
She looked at the others. Their mouths were open, agape in shock. She couldn’t really blame them. She felt weak and shaken, like a bulldozer had run over her heart, as well.
Everything she had spent the majority of her life believing was a lie. Everything she had thought to be true in those fleeting scenes of the past, she now realized, was a lie as well. The child in the projections had become a character in a tragedy, unloved and directionless.
And Aaron! He had been a good friend. He had always cared about her. But to think that same Aaron had locked her up for weeks in what was little better than a jail cell. It was terrible. He was terrible for doing such a thing. And if her closest friend had betrayed her so, if for only family had done the same, begged the question: who could she trust? Who was on her side?
Darien squeezed her harder. She sniffed and turned to him. The wizard’s cheeks were wet from floods of his own tears from just watching her life play out, and just seeing that seemed to give her permission to bury her head in his shoulder and begin to cry.
Clearly it was time to get answers. And answers, she had found, tended to be found when you spoke to the people at the top. And there was no one higher in power than the King. Ruler of all the Shadeworld, even marginally ruler over her mother and the Seelie Court of the Fey. Ruler of her jailer, Aeron. He was at least partially to blame for her time locked in his son’s quarters. He was a spoiled rich boy who had been allowed to run free and unfettered, and the buck stopped at the man in charge of his behavior.
Alyss had to push her brother away and mumble that she was leaving to the others. Tears blurred her vision until she screwed them shut and ran blind out of the clearing, stumbling on little roots and grass clumps along the way. But still she kept going. It was embarrassing to be a mess in front of other people. Even worse, it felt rude to ditch the people who had risked becoming the enemies of the monarchy to free her. But there was no way to stay there and blubber with a full collection of virtual strangers that had just witnessed every embarrassing detail of her life. She couldn’t face herself yet, and she certainly couldn’t face all the friends standing there for her, least of all because she’d met them so recently and they had only her escape to connect them and little else. And Darien? He was her brother. The guy would understand.
It seemed like the only place that was right for her now was the palace.
Her entrance to the palace this time was, well, unusual. She had escaped as a runaway prisoner. But now it was obvious Alyss had returned as something else. No longer did she look scared like a feeble little human. Alyss held her head high and walked with her full stride.
She still wore the sneakers she’d worn on earth the months ago when she had been kidnapped. But now her shirt from her time imprisoned here was noticeably different for the telltale slits down her back.
Her wings popped out of those same slits in irritation as she was waylaid going in. The guards at the outer wall hesitated to let her in. Still, her wings were clearly made of starlight, a similarity to Queen Titania no one who knew anything could miss. Titania herself held a privileged position at the Dragon Palace, seeing as it was her own former home that she had given to Vovin as a gift when he sought to become ruler of all the peoples of the Shadeworld and unify all the courts so they would have strength together. This gift had cemented an alliance between dragon and fey, and the guards knew that they would be stirring up trouble they didn’t want if Titania herself was refused. Her daughter Alyss, however, was a gray area. She was imprisoned here, and had clearly returned as a runaway, so in normal circumstances the guards would have recaptured her and returned her to her cell. But though she had left as Alyss of Florida, it was clear she had returned as Alyss, daughter of Titania, Queen of the Fey. No one wanted to risk offending her. They also didn’t want to offend their prince. The guards held her, politely and gently as one would for any dignitary, but they wouldn’t let her inside or let her leave. As they blocked her entrance, though they started to sweat profusely, as they didn’t really want to keep her out, either.
They quickly conferred with each other on what to do. Then they offered to send a message to Aeron to request that he grant her right to entry as a free person. Alyss sneered her refusal and demanded to speak to Vovin instead. The message was quickly borne off, and quickly returned with instructions to send her in.
The guards offered to show her the way, but she swept past them. Alyss didn’t need directions like some palace visitor. She was herself again, and as a child she had grown up in these halls and knew every passage and every room.
“I hear you’ve returned to us fully this time,” the king greeted her as she came in. His throne was fully gilded and blinding with the light streaming in through the windows, so he stood on his dais to speak with her, either accidentally or purposefully spreading his expansive cloak so that his body and accoutrements shielded her eyes from the worst of it. Knowing him, she was sure it was done fully on purpose, and it was an unusual touch of thoughtfulness he didn’t stoop to with most of his subjects. It was a good sign of the direction the talk ahead of them might take.
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