For a thousand years, since their defeat of the Shadow at Eyr, the dragons have slept under the mountains. Now their king, Tarnamell, has woken. Driven mad by loneliness, he hurls himself south until he finds and tries to claim the Alagard Desert. Unfortunately, the desert already has a guardian spirit, and he doesn’t want to share. Amused by the cocky little desert spirit, Tarn retreats, planning to return in human form.
When his caravan enters the desert, however, Alagard is missing. Rumors fly of a dark power, and soon Tarn’s caravan encounters the living dead and an amnesiac mage called Gard.
Forced to take refuge in the Court of Shells, a legendary fortress in the heart of the desert, Tarn, Gard, and their allies decide to seek out the Shadow before it destroys the desert. But to confront the Shadow, Tarn needs to gather his strength. A dragon’s power depends on the love and loyalty of his human hoard, but Tarn’s original hoard has been dead for centuries. Before he can face his most ancient enemy, he must win the trust of new followers and the heart of a cynical desert spirit.
Second Edition. First Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2014.
THE DRAGON came out of the cold north, riding the wind on vast golden wings. He had been sleeping for centuries, his dreams barely disturbed by the rise and fall of the great empires and realms of men. The mountains had grown wild around him; forests had hidden his resting place and had risen along the long ridge of his spine. Great spars of quartz had formed between his gleaming scales, and his claws had furred over with moss and lichen whilst sleep healed his wounds from the last great battle that had felled his brothers and nearly brought all that lived and loved in the world to naught.
Some shadow moving through the world had disturbed his slumber and woken him to the sight of his dark and empty citadel. Now, maddened by the cold air and the lifeless green remnants of his hoard, he threw himself south in search of warmth.
He eventually found a desert—where there had been an ocean in the days when he had last walked among men—and followed the wind down into rolling salt-pale dunes covered in shimmering films of shifting sand. He curled himself into the sand and sank down between the curves of the dunes, digging his claws in deep and rolling out his wings in a slow stretch.
He wasn’t ready for the long sleep again, not so soon, but flight had stretched muscles long unused, so he relaxed slowly, unwilling to move again. The hot sands slowly warmed his blood, and the sun blazed down from a gem-bright sky, heating his long back and drying out the damp wads of forest along his spine.
Breathing in the dust-dry scent of the wind, he tasted the desert. It fizzed with life: scuttling lizards, fleet-footed rats, and birds that hung on the wind. Cool oases added a tang of sweetness, and the prickly flowering plants of the high steppes and central mountains layered in more scents and flavors. Above all, the desert tasted loved.
It was not a human love, smutty and dense and urgent, but a bubbling, laughing love that had its roots in the bedrock and arched as high as the sky. It felt like his love for his hoard—the love of a creature of spirit and elements.
The dragons were still sleeping, though, and this desert was too young for any other solemn and daunting spirit to have arisen here. There could be no one here equal to him in power and dignity. Ignoring the clear sense that the place was already occupied, the dragon went to sleep, contemplating how pleasant it would be to claim this place and make it his new home.
He was woken by an itch.
It was only a little itch, nipping at the end of his tail. He smacked his tail down irritably, and it stopped.
Then it started again, above his right nostril. Then on his spine, at the back of his neck, on the soft scales in the fold beneath his knee.
Annoyed, the dragon woke to see that he was surrounded by tiny whirls of sand, spinning against the wind to attack him from all sides.
The dragon was, like all his kind, a creature of air and fire. Mildly amused, he took a deep breath, filling the great hollows of his lungs. Then, with a twist of his head, he blew the dust devils away.
They reformed almost instantly as one dark whirl of wind, sand, and indignation.
“Go away!” the desert spirit demanded. “This is my country. I don’t want you here!”
“I like it here,” the dragon said, his voice creaking with long disuse. “Begone, sprite.”
“I am the Great Desert Alagard!” the spirit corrected, picking up more sand in its fury. “I span nations and spurn conquerors! I am the Dry Death and the Devourer of Souls! You are not welcome here!” Then it added, voice shrill, “And don’t call me a sprite, you overgrown lizard!”
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Amy Rae Durreson is a quiet Brit with a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though these days she mostly uses this knowledge to bore her students. Amy started her first novel twenty-one years ago and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semicolon. She was a runner up in the 2014 Rainbow Awards.