Seven years have passed since lowborn Pomella AnDone became an unlikely Mystic’s apprentice.
Though she has achieved much in a short time, as a rare celestial event approaches, Pomella feels the burden of being a Mystic more than ever. The Mystical realm of Fayün is threatening to overtake the mortal world, and as the two worlds slowly blend together, the land is thrown into chaos. People begin to vanish or are killed outright, and Mystics from across the world gather to protect them. Among them is Shevia, a haunted and brilliant prodigy whose mastery of the Myst is unlike anything Pomella has ever seen.
Shevia will challenge Pomella in every possible way, from her mastery of the Myst to her emotional connection with Pomella’s own friends—and as Shevia’s dark intentions become more clear, Pomella fears she may be unstoppable.
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THE FORTRESS OF SEA AND SKY
On the island of Moth, beneath a sweltering summer sun, Pomella AnDone lifted her hands above her head.
"I surrender," she said.
The two bandits pointing crossbows at her looked at each other in confusion. Pomella silently thanked the Saints that they hadn't loosed quarrels at her. She had intentionally made plenty of racket approaching them but still managed to surprise them. Not the best-trained bunch of bandits she'd run into, then. Not that the idea of handing herself over to these twerpers showcased her stunning intellect, either. Yet here she was.
As if to punctuate how blathering stupid this idea was, Pomella's horse shook his head and stomped a hoof.
"Easy, Quercus," Pomella soothed.
"Quiet!" one of the bandits yelled. He was dressed in a heavily padded cloth shirt. Greasy blond hair spilled out of his cap and plastered against the side of his head.
The other bandit, a man with an enormous gut and gray beard, shook his crossbow for emphasis. "Keep yer hands up!"
Pomella quirked an eyebrow at him. "They're already up," she said. By the Saints, with this heat they must be melting in all those layers. "Don't you want to come seize my horse and tie my hands?"
The bandits looked at each other again, uncertain of how to handle a volunteer prisoner. They were saved from having to use their brains, however, when all the commotion drew their captain, a sharp-nosed woman resembling a vulture. Unlike her underlings, she wore well-stitched leather armor that fit her long figure. She looked even more miserable in the heat than the crossbowmen.
"Who'n the dyin' hells are you?" Vulture-woman asked. Her accent was Rardarian, not Mothic.
Pomella kept her hands up but lowered her voice and eyes. "Forgive me, Mistress. I have no name."
The bandit captain eyed Pomella's ragged gray work dress and pulled-back hair. "You don't look Unclaimed. Why isn't your head shaved?"
"A thousand apologies, Mistress," in her meekest voice. The dress she wore was an old dress she'd made years ago, shortly before she'd left Oakspring to accept the invitation to the apprentice Trials. It had fit nicely back then, if a little tight in places, but now it barely fit the curves of her older body. "The watcherman banished me yesterday. I ... I just c-couldn't do it." She scrunched her face up and hoped the performance would be convincing enough.
"You're Unclaimed but have a horse?" the captain said.
"He's my fathir's," Pomella said. "He said I should trade him for food."
The captain looked at her skeptically and Pomella could see her thinking it through. "Tie her hands, Stavin. Get the horse, Kel."
The greasy-haired bandit leaped to bind Pomella's hands while the other, bearded one kept his crossbow trained on her heart. "You sure 'bout that, Jeca?" said the bearded one.
"I gave you a jagged order, Kel," the captain said.
Kel reluctantly lowered his bow and spit into a nearby bush.
Pomella held her wrists out for Stavin, and waited as he struggled to tie them properly. Pomella bit her lip, forcing herself to not offer advice. Likely the bandit was trying not to touch her. She was Unclaimed, after all.
They led her east along a thin trail that hugged the southern edge of the Ironlow Mountains. With the sun blazing, Pomella wished for the shade of her traveling cloak. She considered asking for water but thought better of it.
After nearly an hour on the trail, the captain directed them north, in the opposite direction from the main road. She brought them to a camp surrounding a nearby spring. Pomella's eyes widened. The camp was far larger than the rumors had said. At least twenty bandits milled around, grooming their horses, moving prisoners, or walking on patrols. Three large tents stood near the spring.
But what really surprised Pomella was the number of prisoners she saw. More than a hundred disheveled men and women shuffled around in large groups, letting themselves be herded like cattle.
The lowest of the low in every society, the men and women being held by these bandits — these slavers — had each received a punishment that ostracized them from society forever. By law and tradition, the Unclaimed could own nothing beyond what they could carry. Nobody could touch them, speak to them, or give them shelter. It was a disgusting part of their culture. Nobody was born to this lowest caste.
Rumors had reached Kelt Apar that there was a large enclave of Unclaimed in the area and that it had been raided recently by bandits. In theory, each Unclaimed person had committed a horrible deed to earn this irrevocable title. But the reality wasn't that simple. The nobility generally bristled at the slightest perceived offense from those they saw as beneath them, and handed out horrible punishments for "crimes" as simple as leaving the barony, or owning a more beautiful horse than the baron, or having a more beautiful wife. The lives of the Unclaimed were bad enough, but in the past year somebody had begun rounding them up to sell as slaves to the Continent.
The captain led Pomella and the other bandit Stavin toward one of the tents. At the entrance, a short bald man wearing a leather vest over a loose shirt snapped directions to another bandit. "Brigid's tits, man, I don't care what kind of mudshite hovel you find them in, get those filthy culks cleaned! I won't have them dyin' on the ship 'cause they're covered in their own shite! You don't have to touch 'em, but get 'em to scrub themselves and each other."
The man he'd been berating knuckled a pathetic salute and practically ran away. The bald man turned and saw Pomella and her captors. "Who ya got here, Jeca?"
"Fresh meat, Paks," said the bandit captain, not bothering to dismount. "Turned herself in."
Paks eyed Pomella. "Ain't even shaved yet? Have ya touched her?"
The captain narrowed her eyes. "Course not. I ain't no animal."
"You don't look like you're from Moth," Paks said to Pomella.
"Where I come from doesn't matter," Pomella said.
Pomella knew it was her dark skin that made him say that. Her parents were native to Moth, but her grandmhathir on her fathir's side, whom she strongly resembled, had come from the distant nation of Keffra.
Paks sneered. "Haven't learned how to speak to your betters yet, eh?" He nodded to Stavin. Pain exploded across Pomella's jaw as the bandit slapped a pole across her cheek. Pomella stumbled but managed to stay on her feet. Blood dripped from her lip, but she quickly caught it with her bound hands. She'd hoped to avoid getting hurt like this, but sometimes you had to invest in a little pain. Pomella rose carefully to ensure none of her blood landed on the ground. She didn't want to draw Oxillian's attention.
"Careful," Jeca said, still sitting atop her horse. "We'll get less if her pretty little face is mangled. The Shadefox won't be happy."
"She'll heal up on the voyage," Paks said. "Besides, her hands still work. The Shadefox won't have to know."
"You won't be giving me to the Shadefox," Pomella said, dabbing her face again. "Nor will you be selling any of these other people."
Paks stepped toward her. "I don't think Stavin hit you hard enough," he said. "Looks like you're too much of a hetch to even be Unclaimed."
Pomella narrowed her eyes. She hated that vulgar term for a filthy, lowborn woman.
"Get rid of her," Paks said, and turned away.
Pomella closed her eyes and inhaled. All around her, the Myst, the invisible energy of the universe that lay everywhere, permeating everything, swirled like a cloud caught in a wind. According to her teacher, Grandmaster Lal Faywong, the Myst was the only thing that truly existed and it was alive and supremely aware. The whole island, its people, Pomella, these bandits, and all of their feelings and thoughts were simply limited expressions of the Myst.
That was the theory, at least. At the moment, what concerned Pomella was completing her task.
Silver streaks of light circled her like a Springrise ribbon. A tide of energy arose within her. She opened her eyes just as Stavin yanked on the rope binding her wrist. She yanked back at the same time, and used the Myst to hurl the bandit over her head and across the ground.
"Shite!" Paks screamed.
Pomella lifted her bound wrists above her head, then willed the Myst to wind itself around the rope. As the tiny threads of Myst settled into it, she ignited them with a mental command, and they vaporized into dust.
Time to bring in her helpers.
Pomella stilled her mind and silently summoned her hummingbirds, Hector and Ena. Quick as luck'ns they appeared, zooming through the air, trailing silvery smoke behind. They crossed above her head and dropped a polished oak staff into her hand. As her grip tightened around it, the Myst surrounding her focused and surged.
"She's not Unclaimed, you culks!" Paks roared. "She's a —"
Pomella silenced him with a sweep of her staff, wrapping him in a binding of Myst and stuffing his mouth to shut him up. She spun and threw a barrier up just as a crossbow bolt sounded behind her. It had come from Kel, the fat bandit who'd first found her. Pomella tied his feet together with the Myst and threw him sideways into Stavin.
She didn't really consider herself a warrior, but after shutting down a double handful of slaver operations she'd picked up a trick or two.
A wave of panic rippled across the camp as bandits abandoned their posts and ran. One by one Pomella wrapped them up and dragged them together into a pile of grunting and struggling bodies.
"There now," she said. "Let's talk business. Who's in charge? Is it you, Paks?"
Paks' jaw worked in a vain attempt to curse past the silvery gag. Pomella twitched a finger and it dissolved, releasing his voice.
"When and where were you going to meet the Shadefox?" she demanded.
"Choke on gunkroot," Paks said.
Pomella sighed. She hadn't expected to get a lot of information from the bandits by asking nicely. Very likely they knew little about the Shadefox. Few people did. It seemed as though he operated within carefully contained cells and used proxy representatives in order to limit exposure.
All around the camp, handfuls of Unclaimed had gathered to watch. No matter how many times she saw them, her heart ached at seeing their filthy state. Most wore rags that barely passed as clothes while some were outright naked. None of those noticed or cared about their nakedness, though. When you were Unclaimed, even your bodies were worthless.
Pomella straightened her back. Hector alighted onto the top of her staff while Ena landed on her shoulder.
"All of you are free to go. These men and women won't hurt you," she promised. "My name is —"
"The Hummingbird!" an Unclaimed woman said. She was around Pomella's age, in her early twenties. A mote of light sparked in her otherwise-dull eyes.
"That's what they call me, I guess," Pomella said. "I am going to Port Morrush tonight. There will be food for you there."
Paks chuckled behind Pomella. "What're ya gunna do, Hummingbird?" Pomella peered over her shoulder at the man. "Yah can't feed 'em all. They're Unclaimed. You're as far above 'em as you can be. Their lot won't change. Besides, look at 'em. They don't wanna change! You can lord over them all you —"
Pomella made a cutting motion with her free hand, stuffing Paks' mouth again with the Myst.
A thundering of hooves sounded on the far side of the camp. A full complement of the baron's Shieldguard stormed toward them. The burning afternoon sun glinted off their plate armor and lance tips upon which the ManHinley banner flew. They didn't bother to slow down for the Unclaimed, who had to scramble to make way.
The riders circled Pomella and the bandits and brought their horses to an easy rest. One of the soldiers, the captain according to his additional knotted shoulder rope, removed his helmet, revealing a dashing face with a square jaw and well-groomed red beard.
"I hadn't expected to find one of your kind in charge here," he said, inclining his head only the barest amount. He held a sword in his gauntleted hand.
"You arrived just in time, Captain," Pomella said. "But you won't need those weapons."
The captain hesitated only a heartbeat after her command. "As you command, Mistress." He sheathed his sword, but Pomella noted that none of his soldiers did. "My name is Captain Lucal Daycon. I'm sure you understand that I have orders to fulfill. I've been commanded to arrest every one of these people and submit them to the baron's justice."
"You may arrest the slavers," Pomella said, "but the Unclaimed are free to go at my command."
"The baron and baroness do not take kindly to Unclaimed loitering on their lands," Lucal said.
"And if none of the barons welcome them, then where do they go? It's a problem, isn't it, Captain? But don't worry. I'll be speaking to the baron and baroness this evening anyway. You may proceed with taking these" — she gestured to the bandits behind her — "to Port Morrush. We'll see what justice the baron and baroness have in mind."
"As you say, Mistress," Lucal said. Pomella knew he wouldn't disobey a direct order from her. The deep, centuries-old rules of society forbade it. But once she was out of sight, she worried Lucal would take justice into his own hands.
"You will escort me and these criminals to the Fortress of Sea and Sky," Pomella said. "Learn what you can from their leaders, but do not harm them or you will answer directly to me. I expect a report this evening. I'm especially interested in whatever you can learn about the man known as the Shadefox."
"You are quite the vigilante, Mistress ...?"
"Pomella. My name is Pomella AnDone. And I am not a vigilante. I am a Mystic."
* * *
Well past highsun, as the caravan of soldiers and arrested slavers approached the mighty Fortress of Sea and Sky, a familiar tingling sensation tickled Pomella's senses. She peered into the startlingly blue sky and caught sight of a silver bird.
It was a fay eagle, soaring like a festival kite. Wispy trails of mist drifted off the bird's wings, as if they painted clouds with their passage. It lingered for a full minute, drifting in the air, which struck Pomella as unusually long for a fay casually drifting into the human realm. Finally, like passing thoughts, it vanished, returning to the invisible world it had come from.
Pomella waited until the last of the eagle's misty presence faded before turning to Lucal. "Did you see that eagle, Captain?"
From atop his brown gelding, the young soldier shaded his eyes and looked up. "No, Mistress. Most of them nest along the eastern edge of the Ironlows. Few come this far south."
"Yah, I suppose so," she muttered. Most people usually couldn't see the fay, but there had been increasing rumors of occurrences in which they did. Anybody could be taught to attune themselves to the Myst, but generally only Mystics and rare individuals who had a natural affinity for the Myst were able to perceive the fay without training. She herself had been one of those individuals, before fate and chance had conspired to lead her to a life as a Mystic.
Putting thoughts of the eagle aside, Pomella turned her attention to the imposing stronghold looming in front of them. For nearly five hundred years, the Fortress of Sea and Sky had dominated the southern tip of the Mothic Mountains. During those centuries, it had welcomed countless wandering Mystics, and on rare occasions played host to the island's High Mystic. But on this day, Lucal led his company and Pomella beneath the front gates and into the open courtyard beyond, the first time in the fortress's storied history that it had welcomed a common-born Mystic.
Pomella kept her hood up despite the day's heat. She found comfort in the hidden depths of the cloak, which she'd retrieved from her saddlebag along with a proper riding dress. The hood also ensured that everyone in the fortress wouldn't see her drenched in sweat from the long ride. She resisted the urge to knuckle her back. Someday, she'd learn how to ride a horse properly. Maybe, anyway.
Lucal signaled his soldiers to break off and take the prisoners to wherever it was they were to be kept. He motioned for Pomella to follow.
A pair of mailed guards holding pikes stood on either side of the inner keep's double doors. The guards turned in unison and pulled at the heavy iron rings bolted on as handles. The doors opened, yawning like the maw of a great beast opening into a gullet of shadows.
Lucal bowed in farewell and left Pomella to cross the keep's threshold by herself. She dismissed her hummingbirds, who flew up and away into the higher portions of the keep. Pomella entered the fortress and sensed the Myst stir, an unseen rush of energy swirling in the entryway, dancing with delight by her presence.
The guards stood at attention, hands on their long weapons. Beyond them, the baroness and her husband waited inside the foyer. Pomella's attention turned to Kelisia ManHinley, the ninth-generation ruler of the southern Mothic barony, wringing her hands nervously. The baroness bowed to her, followed by her husband, Pandric. Even after all these years, Pomella still felt a rush of anxiety when a noble bowed to her. She fought the urge to bow back, even lower.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mystic Dragon"
Copyright © 2018 Jason Denzel.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
One: The Fortress of Sea and Sky,
Two: The Woodsmith,
Three: The Rolling Forge,
Four: The Thornwood,
Six: The Color of Blood and Fire,
Seven: The High Mystics,
Eight: The Oracle,
Nine: Visions of Pain,
Ten: The Eyestrom,
Eleven: The Uppermost Chamber,
Twelve: Finding Bith Yab,
Thirteen: Before the Third New Moon,
Fourteen: A Moth in Glass,
Fifteen: The Outcast,
Sixteen: Sitting Mother,
Seventeen: The Old World,
Eighteen: The Velten,
Nineteen: A Path of Silver Light,
Twenty: The Man with No Future,
Twenty-One: Reborn in Flame,
Twenty-Two: A Thousand Burning Suns,
Twenty-Three: Saint Brigid's Tears,
Twenty-Four: The Tower of Eternal Starlight,
Twenty-Five: Master of Fire,
Twenty-Six: The Fall of the Crossroads,
Books by Jason Denzel,
About the Author,