With the long-chained dragon now free and the rebels’ invasion smashed by her exultant fury, the balance of power has changed. Young emperor Chien Hua is no longer struggling for survival; now he is ambitious to strike back. As treacherous General Ping Wen whispers in the emperor’s ear, not even Chien Hua’s beloved concubine or his most trusted bodyguard can reason with him. Worse, prolonged exposure to magical jade is changing him radically: His increasingly godlike powers are making him dangerously rash.
But with the dragon patrolling the skies above and the strait beneath, the emperor’s forces have no hope of launching a counterattack—until a goddess moves to interfere. Yet neither the clash of armies nor the opposing wills of goddess and dragon can decide ultimate victory or defeat. The fate of the war lies in the blood-deep bonds between the dragon and the boy Han, her jailer and her liberator—and in the prices both will pay for their freedom.
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Han flew, behind the dragon’s eyes.
He didn’t ride her, no. His body was somewhere else, below, and she would eat it if she could. Eat him.
As it turned out, though, she couldn’t. She did try. But a little of him, the least little fragment of life that was himself sat somewhere within the enormity, the outrage, the cruelty of scale that was herself—and directed her just a touch, a veer away from what she most wanted, where she meant most harm.
He had willfully cut her chains, and they were still bound together. That didn’t seem fair, even to him. She was enraged past measure to have this puny passenger abiding in her head. Her thoughts were storms, if those were thoughts, if he understood her at all: banked like clouds but dense like solid water, more violent than the typhoon, churning and crashing together, flaring with a vicious light that meant no good to him or his.
She knew where he stood, and what he had done. He had cut her free, and watched her destroy the impertinence of ships on her waters—a whole fleet in shatters now, all their crews drowned or swallowed or clinging helplessly, hopelessly to turbulent wreckage. She had relished that, but he could feel the hint of doubt in her now. Had it really been her choice? Or had he pushed her to it, his little insolent hands in her head, nudging her anger, using her . . .?
It was all for him now, that anger: a gift, his own. She brought it to him.
He stood on the Forge, at the highest peak of that mountain-tip where it jutted from the strait, with the only people he cared about in the world: love and fear and respect, unequally divided. They all cared about the dragon, necessarily; they all feared her.
All his awareness was with her, in the air. In her mind, in her temper as she soared, as she spied, as she stooped like a hawk, like a queen condescending to pick out the petty ones she would destroy.
As it turned out, though, she couldn’t harm him, or anyone in his shadow.
Not here, not now. Not yet.