The Great Guilds had conspired for centuries to keep Dematr unchanged. The Mechanics Guild kept secret the technolgy for steam locomotion, rifles, and far-talkers, leaving most people to live in a world of oil lamps, crossbows, and horse cavalry, while the Mages treated all others as if they were nothing - until Master Mechanic Mari, dragon slayer and pirate queen, and Master of Mages Alain raised the army of the new day to free their world.
Kira of Pacta Servanda, the daughter of the two greatest heroes of her world, was six years old the day she stood on a battlement in Dorcastle, kept safe from the nearby crowds by bodyguards as she stared up at a statue of her mother. As the morning sun cast the shadow of Mari's statue over Kira, she realized that she would spend the rest of her life in that shade.
Then the world of Dematr learned that a new kind of ship had left the far-distant world of Urth. The ship would take just 10 years to cover the immense distances between stars. Of all the colony worlds, the ship was coming to Dematr. But for what purpose? Kira was 16 when the ship from Urth arrived, and she discovered that her world still needed heroes.
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The Mages of the world of Dematr sometimes see visions: glimpses of the future or of a possible future. But understanding those visions can be very difficult. The future rarely happens as people expect, and even those people with the firmest belief in what their future will hold can be very mistaken.
Especially when that person is the daughter of the two greatest heroes of her world.
Kira of Pacta Servanda was six years old the day she stood on a battlement in Dorcastle, staring up at a statue of her mother while surrounded by bodyguards who fenced Kira off from the nearby crowds. As the morning sun cast the shadow of her mother's statue over Kira, she had felt both invisible and an object of curiosity, and had realized that she would spend the rest of her life in that shade.
Kira was still six years old when the world of Dematr learned that a new kind of ship had left the far-distant world of Urth. The ship would take only ten years to cover the immense distances between stars. Of all the colony worlds, the ship was coming to Dematr. Because of Kira's mother.
When she was ten, Kira's father, the wisest of Mages, discovered that she had inherited some of his abilities as well as her mother's skill with machines, something thought impossible. But that one thing that might have made her special had to be kept secret from others, a source of worry rather than pride.
Kira was sixteen when the ship from Urth arrived, and she discovered that her world still needed heroes.
* * *
Outside, birds sang to greet the early morning. Inside, the irresistible force and the immovable object confronted each other.
"I don't want to go," Kira said to her mother.
Master Mechanic Mari, also known simply as Lady Mari but most often as "the daughter," stared at her own daughter in disbelief.
"Why wouldn't you want to be there? This is the most important thing our world has experienced since ..."
"Since you saved the world?" Kira asked. "Go ahead and say it! Everybody else does!"
Her mother sighed. "I had a job to do. I did it."
"And my job is to follow you around so people can see the freak."
Mari stared at her, shocked. "Freak? Who calls you that?"
"Everybody!" Kira said. "Oh, they don't say it out loud. Usually. There she is! The daughter of the daughter! The girl whose mother died years before she was born!"
"I didn't die."
Kira shook her head, feeling frustrated at the same answer Mari always gave when someone brought that up. "Mother, I've talked to some of the healers who were there. They were all eager to tell me how you died and then Father came running in and brought you back."
"Your father will tell you that as far as he could tell I was still there," Mari insisted. "He just helped heal the bullet wound in ways my body couldn't manage on its own. Haven't we talked about this?"
"No, we haven't. Father and I have. We never talk about anything."
Mari looked at her, her sadness so obvious that Kira felt angry at herself. "Dearest ... it's hard to speak about some of the things your father and I went through during the war. Even so long after the war the things we had to do, the things we saw, want to stay locked inside. I know it's difficult for you to understand."
Kira shook her head, trying to sort out her feelings. "I don't — It's just —" She clenched her fists. "I can't talk to you."
"I have the same problem." Her mother raised her voice. "Alain, come try to talk to our daughter!"
As Kira's mother left the room her father came in, calm and composed as he almost always was, his Mage robes contrasting with the shirt and pants Kira wore. "What is it, Kira? Why are you angry?"
He could read anyone's emotions, and seemed particularly good at seeing what lay inside Kira. She blurted out the truth. "I don't know. Except that it's so hard. It's bad enough being somewhere alone, and I'm almost always alone, except for the guards."
Her father looked at her, openly saddened. "I know a girl your age should have friends. Many friends. I do not ..."
"I know, Father, I'm sorry," Kira said. Her father hadn't had friends growing up. Literally none, since the Mage Guild that had taken him from his family did its best to erase the very concept of friends from the minds of acolytes. "It's not your fault. It's just too hard. Anyone who wants to visit here has a hard time because of the security, and if I want to go somewhere I have a hard time because of the security, and then we found out that anyone I made real friends with might get targeted by Mother's enemies, and how could I do that to anyone? So I've got guys like Gari way off in Danalee and girls like Devi way off in Tiaesun, but ... that's not it, Father. Not today. Everybody is going to be there today, and when I'm with Mother everyone looks at me and thinks —" Kira clamped her mouth shut, staring toward the nearest window at the open country around their home.
"You look very much like your mother did when she was younger." Her father said that in a way that made it sound like the greatest thing ever. Kira felt combined affection for him and irritation at the comparison.
"Do you know what they say?" Kira asked in a low voice. "Some people say that because Mother died once she couldn't have a child the normal way, so you cast some spell that made a baby copy of her. Me."
"You should not listen to such nonsense," Alain said.
"Why do I have to go?"
"We think it could be important to have you there," Alain said.
"We're going to look primitive, aren't we?" Kira waved around to encompass the room and the world. "They have all those amazing things, and we have ... steam locomotives."
"I thought you liked steam locomotive creatures."
After all this time her father still thought of locomotives as being like Mage creatures rather than Mechanic devices. That managed to get a smile out of her. "I do. They're cool."
"Kira," her father said, "if these people from Urth believe they are better than we are because they have Mechanic devices better than ours, they are fools. We intend to show them the sort of people we are. We do not know what sort of people they are."
"You're ... concerned about them?" She had started to say scared, but that was ridiculous. Nothing scared her father.
"Why would you want me there, then?"
Alain studied Kira for a moment before replying. "It is important that you be there. You have a role to play in what will happen."
She felt a chill. "Father, is that foresight? Did you see something about the future involving me?"
He paused again, this time considering his words. "Yes. It is time you were told. The vision came before you were born. Its meaning remains unclear. But you were there."
"Before I was born?" Kira stared at her father in shock. "And nobody mentioned this until now? What was I doing? What am I supposed to do? What —?"
Her father held up one hand, halting her burst of questions. "I do not know the answers to those questions. I do know that you will be equal to whatever challenge arises."
Kira inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself. "I'm not you. I am not her. Just because I look like Mother —"
Her father came closer, his gaze intent. "You are very like her in more ways than you realize."
"Father, I can never be anything like —"
"Have I ever lied to you?"
"No." The word of a Mage was still common slang for something worthless, but when she was younger Kira had gotten into more than one epic fight with peers who thought that saying applied to her father. "All right. I'll go."
"Quickly. Please," her father added. The word please still sounded slightly stilted, a legacy of his early Mage training, when he had been forced to think of all others as merely shadows deserving of no notice. He had only learned to see other people as real again thanks to her mother.
There was absolutely nothing in the world that was not about her mother, Kira thought despairingly.
Kira ran up the stairs to her room, her thoughts tumbling over each other. Foresight about her? And this ship from Urth? I know who the heroes in this family are. My mother and father. Not me. Am I fated to mess things up somehow?
She knew that a lot of people believed she lived in some grand estate. It had been so long since Kira had been comfortable trying to have friends visit, especially after that disastrous surprise twelfth birthday party where Kira had barely known any of the boys and girls who had been invited, that she wondered if anyone she had known remembered the truth. Lady Mari could have had a great house for the asking, but had refused to accept anything other than a decent place with a house, the barn, and the small workshop, as well as enough open land around it to make it easier to protect her family. They wouldn't even have had any of the still-rare electric lighting if her mother hadn't needed the power for the long-distance far-talker her responsibilities required.
Kira ran a finger over the broken portable far-talker she had been fiddling with. Her mother, her aggravating and impossible and difficult mother, had given the valuable device to her immediately when Kira asked if she could try to fix it.
Her uniform as an honorary officer in the Queen's Own Lancers caught Kira's eye. If there might be trouble, that gleaming chest armor and helm could be useful. But Lady Mari had to be totally impartial in disputes between countries. If Lady Mari's daughter showed up in a uniform of Tiae's military at a very public appearance with her mother, the world would notice and not in a good way.
She kicked off her boots, pulled off trousers and work shirt, yanked on her nicest slacks, slid into her calf-high leather cavalry boots, buttoned up her nicest white shirt with the frills along the front, and topped it off with her fitted dress coat that came down just below her hips.
Her eyes came to rest on the pistol hanging in its holster. Looking like Lady Mari was not just aggravating. It could be very dangerous. Not everyone had been pleased when the Great Guilds were overthrown. Many of the Senior Mechanics who once controlled the Mechanics Guild that had controlled the world hated her mother for destroying their power. The Dark Mechanics who had exploited their knowledge for crime also hated her. There were Mages who, while never admitting to an emotion like hate, had never accepted being forced to follow the same laws that other people did. The list didn't stop there, Kira knew. Some of those people still wanted revenge, as she was frequently reminded. And her father, of all people, was worried about today.
Yanking off the dress coat, she pulled on the shoulder holster, checked the pistol to be sure the safeties were set, then put the coat back on and made sure it concealed the holster straps.
She eyed her small collection of jewelry, then plucked out the Roc earring — a jeweled depiction of one of the giant Mage birds dangling as if in flight — and fastened it on her right ear. Mage Alera might be there today, and Kira had always liked the shy older woman and her Roc Swift.
As she hurriedly brushed her short hair, raven-black like her mother's, Kira paused to look at herself in the mirror, seeing a younger version of her mother. So did everyone else. She could have put on Mage robes or an Imperial legionary uniform and people still would have looked at her and seen Master Mechanic Mari of Caer Lyn, the woman who had held the last wall of Dorcastle against impossible odds, who had fulfilled the long-ago prophecy of the daughter of Jules to free the world from the grip of the Great Guilds, and since then had used her moral authority and vast popularity to help resolve disputes and prevent more wars.
Kira's hand went to the hair above her temple, where on her mother a bright streak of white had remained since the day her father saved Mari's life, nearly dying himself in the process. "Why couldn't I have looked like somebody else?" Kira asked her reflection. "Isn't it hard enough to have a mother who's so famous and did so many amazing things? Who is ever going to look at me and see me?"
As usual, her mirror offered no answers.
Downstairs again, Kira saw to her dismay that her mother, who rarely wore any ornamentation besides her promise ring, was wearing a Roc earring similar to hers. At least her mother was wearing her dark Mechanics jacket rather than something matching Kira's outfit.
The country of Tiae was far enough south that it rarely got cold, but the weather this morning had enough bite to it that Kira was glad for the covered coach waiting for them. Twenty cavalry from the army of Tiae waited to ride escort in front of the carriage and twenty more waited behind, the breath of the horses forming small clouds in the chilly air. The cavalry were all from the Queen's Own Lancers, their commander saluting. Feeling self-conscious, Kira returned the salute along with her mother.
Her parents sat in the back, facing forward, and Kira sat in the front, facing them. She kept her eyes out the window as the driver flicked her reins and the coach's horses started forward, straining to get into motion a coach rendered heavier than usual by the armor plate in the sides.
The coach, accompanied by the alert cavalry, rolled past the small plot of land with a low fence around it and a single stone marker. Kira gazed at the place where her little brother Danel had rested since dying soon after his birth, feeling the same old sense of loss. She looked at her mother, who was also gazing that way. "I'm sorry."
Mari nodded. "It happened."
"I wish you could have had more children."
"What, are you lonely?" her mother asked, trying to make a joke of it and failing. "Yes. That would have been nice. But I can't complain. I have you."
Kira looked away again, emotions swirling inside. "They still can't do anything about it? Even for you?"
"No," Mari said. "The things that went wrong inside me can't be fixed. Not by healers. Not by your father." She rubbed her face. "Let's talk about something else."
"We always do," Kira said.
Her father leaned forward. "Do not judge."
Kira nodded wordlessly, wishing that whenever difficult topics arose they didn't get shunted aside, but not wanting to get into that old argument again.
"There's something important we need to ask of you," her mother said to Kira.
"About the foresight thing?" Kira said, letting her voice grow sharp and a little accusing.
Mari glanced at Alain. "Yes."
"Because it sure would have been nice to have a little time to prepare."
"Kira," her mother said, her voice taking on an edge, "we've been preparing you for things like this your entire life. Here is what we need from you. While we're dealing with the people from Urth, keep your eyes and your ears open. Since you're still young, they might underestimate you and say something they wouldn't in front of Alain or me."
"Like when we meet with the Imperials?" Kira asked.
"Yes," Mari said. "Just like that. We really don't know what's going to happen. The Urth peoples' messages to us have been friendly and peaceful, but also frustratingly vague, and your father and other Mages have had visions that imply some sort of threat."
"How dangerous is this?" Kira asked, suddenly more aware of the pistol resting under her arm, its weight both reassuring and disquieting.
"We don't know. You have a role to play in what's going to happen. We don't know what that is," her mother added, "but your father and I will be with you."
That was reassuring despite the worries churning inside her. Lady Mari and her Mage had defeated the most powerful forces on Dematr when freeing the world, and surmounted every challenge since then as well.
"Your father has been teaching you how to spot when people aren't being truthful," Mari continued. "Are you confident you can do that?"
Kira nodded. "Yes. Maybe not with a Mage, but with most people I can tell."
"That's my girl." Her mother smiled at Kira. "Don't worry. I'm sure we can handle whatever happens."
Kira managed to smile back instead of pointing out to her mother that she had just said she could tell when someone wasn't being truthful. She glanced at her father, who gazed back with a clear message not to call her mother on it.
Kira leaned back in her seat, pretending to sleep as the coach and their cavalry escort headed down the road toward Pacta Servanda.
Pacta Servanda, once only an old town, nowadays popularly known as the city the daughter had built.
The field where the ship from Urth would land lay outside the city and was already surrounded by an immense crowd, kept back by large numbers of soldiers. As the coach swept through a lane kept open in the crowd, Kira huddled back into her seat, embarrassed by sharing the privilege of Lady Mari. It wasn't like she had earned such treatment. "What exactly is landing here?" she asked her mother to distract her thoughts. "Not the whole ship?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Daughter of Dragons"
Copyright © 2017 John G. Hemry.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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