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The Chronicles of Nerissette
By Andria Buchanan, Libby Murphy, Danielle Poiesz
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Andria Buchanan
All rights reserved.
I stood in the middle of the square in front of the Fort of Neris as the sun came up — alone. Which was strange because the square was never empty. There was always someone around, even if it was just a guard standing watch, waiting for the giants and trolls that could attack our home at any moment. That was my first sign that this was a dream.
The sun peeked over the horizon, and I watched the red-gold light fill the sky, heralding the dawn. Something slithered against my ankle and I glanced down. The square was flooded, and blood-tinged water lapped at my ankles.
Definitely a dream.
I lifted the heavy, impractical skirts that Dream Me had apparently decided to wear and sighed. Whatever it took to get out of this dream, I wasn't going to find it standing here in a crappy dress, getting waterlogged. I turned toward the main gates, prepared to start the long hike uphill to the Crystal Palace. I really didn't feel like hiking five miles — even if it was a dream — in a floor-length gown, of all things.
I jumped at the sound of Esmeralda's voice and saw her sitting on top of the water. I stared at the sorceress-turned-black-and-white cat. She had gone missing three months before, during the first days of the war against the Fate Maker for control of my kingdom, and no one had heard from her since. "Es? What are you doing here? Where have you been?"
"I've been forgiven," Esmeralda said. "I have been released, but I still choose to protect you because you are the greatest thing — the only good thing — I have ever done for my people."
"That's not —"
"They are coming," she repeated. "No one is safe. You are not safe."
"Who's coming?" I asked.
She looked over her shoulder, and I followed her gaze. On the horizon a huge black dragon circled in front of the sun. Kuolema. The Soul Eater. One of the four guardians of the Bleak, an eater of the dead, a dragon who called the darkness between worlds his home. The dragon who always haunted my nightmares. But this time there were two figures sitting atop his back. There had never been anyone with him in my dreams before.
A man, raven-haired, hunched his long, thin body over the dragon's shoulders, his black and silver robes flapping around him. The Fate Maker. I tried to stay calm as I moved my attention to the person behind him. All I could tell from this distance was that it was a woman, her crimson skirts draped delicately over the dragon's flank and her red hair gleaming like fresh blood in the sunlight as she clung to the Fate Maker's waist. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and all I wanted to do was run. Run as far and as fast as I could away from her. If she was on the back of a dragon with the Fate Maker, no matter who she was or what she wanted here in Nerissette, it was bad. Very, very bad.
"No." I shook my head and stepped back, lifting my skirts even higher so that I could make a dash for it if need be.
"The world they bring with them is too evil to contemplate."
"But he's dead." I swallowed. "All of you are dead. You. The Fate Maker. Heidi and Jesse. We have their bodies."
"Are you certain?" Esmeralda asked.
"There were bodies. Skeletons."
"Are you sure they're the right bodies?"
"No, but dragon fire is hot and we did our best to identify them. We buried Heidi and Jesse."
"When you looked at them, what did you think?"
"I didn't actually see them myself, but we buried bodies. They're dead. They died that day and nothing I can do will change that. They died, Esmeralda, and we buried them. We buried their bodies."
"And me? Did you bury me? The Fate Maker — did you bury him?"
"You and the Fate Maker just disappeared into thin air! Like you spontaneously combusted or something. So you're dead — you have to be. Aren't you? What are you if you aren't dead?"
"I am at rest," Esmeralda said. "Or as much at rest as I can allow myself to be now that you're in danger."
"And the Fate Maker?"
"He is coming and bringing an army of monsters with him like this world has never seen. If you are not prepared to stand up in front of the gates of Nerissette and face him, he will drench this world in a river of blood and tears that will wash Nerissette back into the Sea of Nevermore. Then he'll march into the World That Is and burn every world between here and the stars."
"So what do we do?" I begged, my eyes fixed on the dragon, drawing ever closer to us. "What do I do?"
"Don't let him find the rest of the relics that I've hidden. Stop him and stop Fate once and for all. Destroy any monsters that they put in your way, and don't let them find a way to get into the World That Is."
"But how?" I asked.
"That ..." Esmeralda bowed her head and I watched in horror as she began to fade away. "I do not know."
She looked up at me again, her eyes glowing constant even as her body started to shimmer like a heat mirage.
"Don't." I held out a hand to her. "Don't go. Stay and help us defeat him. Then we can all be free. All of us."
"Oh, Your Majesty," she sighed. "I am always with you."
The cat disappeared then, and I heard the beat of the dragon's wings as it flew closer.
"This world, Nerissette, is mine," the Fate Maker's voice taunted from inside my mind. "And I'm coming for it."
Instead of fleeing I stood my ground, waiting, terrified but holding my head high as the dragon swooped lower. He veered toward me as if to tackle me to the ground. No matter what happened, though, I knew I wouldn't move. I was firm, steady, and this — this — was nothing more than a dream.
"Your Majesty?" A soft voice sounded next to me, and I felt a touch on my shoulder, jerking me out of my nightmare. The small, smiling maid was leaning over me. "Your Majesty, you were screaming in your sleep. Again."
"Right." I swallowed and then sat up. "Sorry. It was just a dream. Just a very, very bad dream."
"Of course it was, Your Majesty," the maid said absently. "Now come on, up you get. You've got your Great Hall after breakfast."
The Great Hall. That was today. The one day a month where I sat on my throne and allowed my subjects to come to me so that I could pass laws and judge disputes and basically rule them. Otherwise known as the worst day of the month since I'd become the Golden Rose of Nerissette, the rightful queen of the World of Dreams.
"Thank you." I studied her face, trying to remember her name. There had been a lot of new faces around the castle since my coronation three months ago, and I still couldn't keep everyone straight.
"Brigitte," the maid replied. "From Sorcastia. I've only been here a week."
"Oh." I nodded. "So how is it? Working in the palace? Do you like it?"
"Much better than working on a farm, Your Majesty." She smiled. "That was what had been in store for me, but once you came, I knew that I could do better and, well ..."
"Here you are." I couldn't help thinking that if war came again Brigitte, and all the others who'd flocked to Neris, would have been better off if she'd stayed put. They still believed the lie that their lives were controlled by the invisible, nonexistent, goddess Fate.
"Here I am." She laid out a brilliant sapphire-colored dress with silver vines embroidered on it and placed my sword beside it. "Maid to the Golden Rose herself. Dressing her for her Great Hall."
"Right." I rolled my eyes at her. "The Great Hall. Yay. Bring on the Great Hall."
She giggled lightly. "Master Timbago said that you might say something like that. So he told me to tell you that the cook is making eggs in honor of your big day."
"Because that's supposed to make everything better." I rolled out of bed and started tugging off my nightgown.
"Yes, Your Majesty," she said and then smiled at me.
"Come on, let's get me ready to go administer some justice. Deal with some land disputes and maybe argue about a pig or two."
"I heard about your decision on the pig," Brigitte said. "It was particularly inspired. Telling them that they had to split the pig exactly in half or they both had to forfeit their land in repayment? That was brilliant."
"Yeah, who said the Bible didn't occasionally come up with a good idea or two?" I shrugged.
"The what?" she asked.
I picked up my dress from the bed and slid it on before turning so that she could do up the laces. "Never mind."CHAPTER 2
"Okay, so let me get this straight. Because I'm not really sure I know why you're both here." I looked first at the farmer standing in front of my throne wringing his hands. Then I turned to the tall, red-haired man standing beside him.
The first guy was big, but the other one had broad shoulders and arms the size of tree branches, and moved like a mountain settling as he shifted from foot to foot. He'd have been creepy except for the scrawny, freckle-faced boy cowering behind him, his own curls standing out against the dark brown of his father's shirt.
The red-haired man huffed and a short plume of smoke curled out of his nose. Dragons. They were notoriously impatient, and the red dragon clan was the worst from what I'd seen.
"You" — I pointed at the farmer — "have a farm outside Sorcastia, and since it's the beginning of summer your fields are full of ..."
"Wheat." The farmer glowered at the other man before turning his wrath on the boy. "Wheat that is turned into fine bread for your gracious Majesty's table. Not that these barbarians would know anything about fine bread or the hard work it takes to grow the crops we eat."
"Barbarians?" The redhead's muscles rippled over his chest. "Who are you calling a barbarian, you dirt lover? I am Lavian, son of the great dragon warrior Cathane. I'm the delegate to the Council of Dragos and war chieftain of the red dragon clan. How dare you —"
"Hey." I turned to him. "Nobody's daring anybody to do anything. Now, like I was saying, he had a crop of wheat. You took your son out to fly, and you ended up in Sorcastia near his field. What happened next?"
"My son may have let out a few plumes of smoke as he was flying overhead. But accidents happen."
"Accidents!" the farmer raged. "You call what that boy did an accident?"
"He is learning to manage his transformation. He's come of age and it's time he embrace his fire." Lavian stomped one of his large, booted feet. "It is time he takes his rightful place in our clan. He is a dragon, not a weak child of men. You wouldn't understand."
"Careful. That's the Golden Rose you're insulting," Winston said, his voice a low growl.
I turned to see my crown prince, the new head of the Dragon Nations, war chieftain of the black dragon clan, head of the blah blah blah, otherwise known as my boyfriend-slash-official-consort and possibly ceremonial husband. Did he have to be so protective all the time?
Lavian stepped forward and Winston rose swiftly from his seat beside me. His form started to waver between his usual shape — a sixteen-year-old boy with close-cropped black curls and coffee-colored skin — and his other form: a very big, extremely intimidating, black dragon. He didn't shift completely into dragon form but his point was clear. If Lavian wasn't careful, he just might end up a piece of charcoal.
"I would —" Lavian started.
Winston's form wavered again, his blue-black scales visible this time. "Apologize," he said, his voice cold. "Now. Or your son may not be the only member of your clan cowering in fear before this throne."
"My apologies," Lavian said through clenched teeth.
"Right. Sure. It's fine." I turned to Winston, trying to project just the right mixture of appreciation for stepping in and back off already, numbskull. Somehow I had to manage the rest of my Hall without two dragons getting into a fistfight. "Isn't it?"
"As long as he remembers you're his queen, and that means he either speaks to you with respect or not at all."
Lavian hissed under his breath and took a step forward. Winston started toward him and I grabbed his jacket, pulling him back.
"It's fine. Stop showing off your scales and breathing smoke at each other so we can get this figured out," I snapped.
"My Queen." Winston shifted fully back to his human form and glared at Lavian, his upper lip curling like the dragon version of a German shepherd. Winston took his role of protector seriously, and while it shouldn't have made me go all wibbly, I wasn't embarrassed to admit that it did. Almost as weak-kneed as the few stolen kisses we'd managed since our defeat of the Fate Maker three months ago when I'd reclaimed my throne.
I shook my head and tried to focus on the two men. Now was really not the time to be thinking about kissing, not even really good kissing. Which made me wonder, how the heck did I end up stuck here listening to other people's problems instead of kissing the boy by my side under the school bleachers?
Oh wait, that's right, I fell through a book that was actually a magical portal between worlds, watched my friends get turned into magical creatures of myth and legend, was crowned Golden Rose, started a war, and destroyed our only doorway between here and home. That obviously meant I had to spend one day a month dispensing justice in the kingdom as my punishment. Yeah, now I remembered. I resisted the sigh that wanted to escape. Stupid me, I had thought biology class was the worst thing that could happen in my day when I was back in the real world. If only I had known there were things that were way, way worse.
"Okay, so you ..." I nodded to the farmer. "You grow wheat. And you ..." I swung my finger over to Lavian. "You have a son who needed to learn how to manage his transformation between human and dragon form. None of that tells me why the two of you are here."
"The barbarian and his son —"
"The dirt lover insulted my honor and —"
"Enough!" I yelled, and then stood, glaring at both of them with my hands on my hips.
"You." I motioned to the small red-haired boy, and he cowered farther behind his father's large form. "Come out and tell me what happened. If we let the grown-ups do it we're all going to die of old age before they ever tell me what's wrong."
"He set fire to my crops!"
"What?" I froze, and then whipped my head around to look at the farmer standing in front of my throne. Suddenly this seemed a lot more serious than a couple of guys yelling at each other for the heck of it. "He set fire to your fields? Why?"
"They were barely singed," Lavian huffed.
"He burned the entire crop. There are scorch marks on the dirt itself. I won't be able to plant again in that field for at least another season. A year's planting gone. Another year's crops lost as well, and he claims they're barely singed."
"Do you have any explanation for this?" I asked Lavian sternly.
"It wasn't intentional," Lavian said, his shoulders tensed around his ears. "My —"
"It was an attempt to steal my lands," the farmer interrupted. "The dragons would destroy the land of Nerissette and place one of their own on your illustrious throne if they could. They can't be trusted. None of them can be trusted." He turned toward Winston and narrowed his eyes, in case I hadn't somehow already gotten his drift.
"Why would we want a dung heap?" Lavian ground out. "It serves no practical purpose for us. Besides, due to the alliance between your Rose and the war chieftain for the black dragons we are joined with your precious throne. We have yoked ourselves to the dirt lovers and their petty squabbles."
"One more 'dirt lover' out of you, one more insult against the race of men, just one more," I said, "and you're not going to like the result. Trust me."
"I highly doubt —"
"Lavian," Winston said, letting his form waver again. The other dragon immediately dropped his head and stretched out his neck in what I'd learned was the way that dragons kept themselves from getting barbecued and eaten. Not that I thought it was going to do Lavian much good with the mood Winston was in. The man was going to become flambé in about ten seconds if he didn't get his act together.
"Now, you tell me what happened," I said, my eyes fixed on Lavian's son.
He stepped forward, staring hard at the floor, and his shoulders started to shake. "I'm —" He gasped and his entire body began to tremble. "I'm so sorry," he sobbed.
I had to grab the arms of my chair to keep from wrapping my arms around him. He'd set fire to a field. I couldn't just tell him that it was okay. I didn't want to punish him, but he could have killed people.
"Your Majesty —" Lavian said.
I held a hand up to silence him before I stood and made my way to the boy. I may not be very good at being a queen yet, but I knew what it was like to be a scared kid. I'd been just as scared as he was ever since my mother had ended up in a coma and I'd gone into foster care.
I dropped to my knees beside the boy before looking up at the two grown men staring down at us. "You two stay quiet. Otherwise I'm going to send you all to the dungeon to think about your manners."
Rhys, the head of my army and one of my closest friends, let out a barely muffled snort from his post behind my throne. I reminded myself to make a list of all the things he'd missed in the five years he'd been in Nerissette later and then spoil each and every one of them for him. Didn't he see I was trying to do my queen thing right now?
Excerpted from Evanescent by Andria Buchanan, Libby Murphy, Danielle Poiesz. Copyright © 2013 Andria Buchanan. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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