Mary Kirchoff

The Black wing


Like switchblades snapping open one by one, the black dragon's pearly talons flexed. Khisanth's foreclaws lingered on the tooled leather binding of the spellbook she'd found in the ruins that were Xak Tsaroth. Sighing, the dragon slapped the tome shut; she couldn't bear to memorize another spell today. She set the book at her horned feet and hopped down from the stone altar. The dragon's wings stretched open with a muffled sound, leathery sheets billowing in the wind.

Khisanth's eyes had aged from tawny yellow to angry red in the dark confines of the sunken city. Her orders were to guard a staff she was to neither touch nor see. Unbeknownst to Highlord Verminaard of the Green Wing, Khisanth had seen the staff. More than a little curious, the dragon had once shapechanged into a mouse and taken the gully dwarves' odd lift to the upper level of the ruins. No draconians would report to Verminaard that a mouse had slipped through the golden doors to the Hall of Ancestors. Inside, Khisanth had found a statue of a woman. Held in her marble arms was a staff of plain, unimpressive wood. Some sense had stayed Khisanth's hand from touching it. She had no desire to add a stick to her hoard, anyway.

What a waste of time and talent this assignment is, she fumed.

Khisanth had once led the infamous Black Wing, but her time in the Dark Queen's army was a distant memory, before her reassignment to this hole. In fact, it was the reason for it. Her demotion was just another indignity in a long life that deserved greatness, but had received only betrayal and deception.

Khisanth was bored enough to contemplate walking from the huge, domed chamber that was her underground lair to engage one of her draconian minions in conversation. But she spotted in the dim light a filthy gully dwarf. The witless crea shy;ture in the floppy shoes was getting dangerously close to the shiny piles of gems and other treasures. Khisanth lashed out with a claw and snapped up the wide-eyed creature before it even knew the dragon was near. Popping the morsel into her jaws, Khisanth closed her eyes languorously as she savored the crunch of moist bones.

The dragon spit out the shoes. Underground there were only shoes. No hooves of wildebeests. No elk horns. Khi shy;santh's ever-hungry stomach growled, as if it, too, remem shy;bered when the dragon had freely hunted the forests of Endscape. The entire Khalkist Mountain range had been her larder. Then, with one swipe of the mightiest hand, her rank, her freedom-everything-had been taken away.

The black dragon's mind frequently wandered to the people and events that had led her to this low point. It com shy;forted her to realize that she'd slain nearly everyone who had ever thwarted her. Khisanth had high hopes for getting revenge on the ones who had eluded her grasp in recent years. A dragon's life was long, and one day, she would claw her way out of this predicament, too.

In her time, Khisanth had known the innermost thoughts of only three other beings: a dragon and two odd little crea shy;tures, whose lives she had valued. And one other, the dragon amended: a human knight named Tate. She had killed him, too. All of them were dead now….

Strangely, their deaths were tied to the destiny that the goddess Takhisis herself had laid on Khisanth, a destiny that had yet to be realized.

And never will be, the dragon told herself sullenly. Here I am, confined to Xak Tsaroth, while the war is just beginning to rage across the world. Nothing interesting will ever hap shy;pen here.

Khisanth pushed aside the bitter thoughts. She'd been trapped underground once before. Then, too, she'd thought she would never see the light of day again. It had been a time long ago, even before Takhisis had pronounced her destiny….

Part One

Chapter 1

The gossamer wings of the tiny nyphids fluttered in silent syncopa shy;tion as they hovered above the sleeping dragon's broad, curved spine. The darkness of the small pit was illuminated by the melon-sized maynus that floated between them, blue lightning streaking within the glassy orb. Kadagan, the younger of the two nyphids, arched one dark, delicately curved eyebrow in surprise at the creature.

'We were right, Toad,' he breathed softly to his elder, glancing down the length of the black-scaled dragon beneath him. The beasf s ribs, as wide as the hull of a ship, gently rose and fell. 'It «s a dragon. The rumors of their return are true. I thought they were but stories told to children… like me.'

'What's that?' Kadagan asked suddenly, tilting his head toward Joad. His luxurious mane of dark hair bounced on his slight shoulders. Listening to Joad's silent conversation, Kadagan's expression grew dark. 'Yes, I know we've got to hurry. How dost thou propose we wake it up?'

Shrugging, Joad reached down with his slim index finger and lightly touched the dragon's spine. Like flint on steel, the touch caused blue sparks to zag crazily in the blackness of the stony pit. The dragon's limp body jumped once off the dirt floor, as if struck by a thunderbolt, then settled back down with a loud wumppph. The nyphids winged their way upward to the safety of a ledge, dimmed the maynus globe, and watched with stunned fascination as the dragon awoke.

Khisanth opened one enormous golden eye in confusion. Drawing their first conscious breath in centuries, her lungs nearly exploded in a great, barking cough from the acrid taste of scorched flesh and sulfur. The movement brought her sensitive snout scraping against rough stone. She opened her other eye and looked around.

Where am I? her sleep-fogged brain demanded. Water dripped and echoed hollowly nearby. What did I do to land myself in such an impossibly small cave? she thought, taking rueful note of the damp, stone walls just inches away on all sides. Her last memory came back slowly, murky and distant and dreamlike.

The geetna had brought her mountains of food in a similar chamber. Khisanth's crimson tongue slithered greedily over knifelike teeth as she remembered the way she had gorged. The geetna, a snaggle-toothed matron of the lizardlike bakali race, had encouraged her.

'Eat, eat, Khisanth,' she'd said in the odd hisses, growls, and smacks that were the bakali language. Khisanth had always found its timbre oddly soothing, though she had only half heard the ancient one over her own noisy gulping of raw rodents. 'It will be many centuries before you feast again.'

Where was her old geetna now? The tumble of memories continued.

'I am too old for the Sleep,' the bakali had said, 'and I would be of little use to our queen when she returns to raise her legions, as she has promised. But you, Khisanth, you are more cunning and perceptive than the other young dragons.

You will see greatness done in her name.'

Khisanth had understood little of what her geetna was say shy;ing, until she saw the old bakali's withered, leathery arm, more like a human's than a dragon's, lift high and sprinkle Khisanth's snakelike head with a glittering, silvery sub shy;stance. The dust had tickled her nostrils.

'There, I have done my last magic,' the elder bakali had sighed. 'Sleep now, as it is ordered, until Takhisis awakens you.' Soothed and sated, Khisanth had drifted into slumber.

The black dragon's eyes opened wide now in wonder. The Dark Queen herself had awakened her! The geetna had said it would be so. That must mean Takhisis was raising her legions. But why? Khisanth had been young before the Sleep, had known little of the world beyond the warren. How long had she slept?

Khisanth's stomach rumbled, finally awakened by the memory of her last gorge. The gnawing hunger drove all other thoughts from the black dragon's mind. Her flared nos shy;trils detected the meaty scent of rats. Rats and worms. Some shy;thing nibbled at her tail. She wriggled on her belly to thrash it away, but she discovered again

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