Elysium's Fall Book One: Dark Hope of the Dragons
by Nikki McCormack
The dragons have been imprisoned in stone statues for over a century. Unbeknownst to humankind, they have been gathering power to regain their freedom and have placed that power in Dephithus, the beloved future heir to the throne of Imperious.
But the followers of the daenox—a dark power that was also locked away—have discovered the dragons’ plans. On his sixteenth birthday, they give Dephithus a cruel gift of their own, meant to thwart the dragons’ plans. A gift that will change his world forever.
For readers who are dealing with trauma in their own lives, note that this story contains a plot line involving sexual assault that may be difficult for those who have experienced it themselves.
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Title: Dark Hope of the Dragons, Elysium's Fall Book One
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Elysium Books
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Release Date: 07/30/2018
Excerpt from Dark Hope of the Dragons: Elysium's Fall Book One
by Nikki McCormack
Copyright © 2018 by Nikki McCormack. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
So did chaos find the lost
and give them purpose.
The babe Dephithus drew his first breath…
…and the stone dragon in the graveyard of Imperious, a fixed reminder of another time, became flesh.
Cloaked in the shimmering beauty of a starlit night, it moved its hands much like the infant did, first discovering his body, stretching and clenching long clawed fingers scaled in crimson. Leaning forward, it braced itself on muscular forelegs, every movement careful and deliberate, like things forgotten. It stretched massive wings and the stars reflected brilliant light off the gold sheen overlaying its crimson scaling. It drew in a long, deep breath. Held it. Stretching out its slender neck, it opened its jaw, displaying rows of tapered teeth designed for the rending of flesh, and let loose a ground-shaking roar filled with pain and pride. The sound chilled and saddened the hearts of those who heard it, but was quickly forgotten, for it came from a creature lost to the memory of mortal men.
With precise movements, the dragon resumed its position and turned again to stone…
…and the babe Dephithus exhaled.
Rakas startled awake, gasping and reaching for his throat, eyes wide as if he had dreamt of his own death and was shocked to find himself still alive. In the same moment, a tremor passed through Amahna. She fought the urge to wrap her arms around herself as she looked over her shoulder at him, disdaining him for reacting to the very jolt of panic she struggled to hide.
Haunting eyes, blackened over completely from long immersion in the daemon powers, focused first on her, narrowing as though suspicious of her presence there, then shifted to the painting behind her. Those pitch-dark eyes were mirrors, reflecting everything and revealing nothing, but she knew him well enough to recognize the distress in the cadence of his breathing, the slight tightening at the corners of his mouth, and the twitch of muscles in his jaw.
She turned to the painting inset over a natural opening in the limestone wall of the chamber. It depicted a magnificent blue dragon being driven back into the stone cauldron by warriors of the Imperious Legion, their long pikes tipped red with blood. The primal rage of betrayal in the beast’s long-snouted face was so perfectly wrought that a pang of pity stung her for it even now.
“That power came from the dragon web.”
Perhaps she should admire that he so readily put to words the alarming truth of what they had both felt. She did not.
The sound of water dripping and the gritty shuffle of someone moving through another part of the cave filled in the ensuing silence. Her gaze lingered on the painting. On the dragon. Wings spread. Intelligent blue eyes alight with exquisite fury, but also with hurt and confusion. Claws digging deep furrows into the earth, yearning to lash out but reluctant to harm those who had long been its allies. She could feel the black eyes of Rakas upon her back like the heat of a fire, waiting for her to turn and acknowledge his words, to confirm the improbable truth. She let him wait, intentionally drawing out his torment.
Amahna felt a peculiar kinship with the great beast in the painting. Two awesome powers, dark and light, daemons and dragons. Forces opposed by their very nature both driven into imprisonment by the same betrayal. Now both yearned for freedom. She herself was not trapped in quite the same fashion as the dragon. Her imprisonment was self-inflicted by her choice to join with the daenox, the daemon power that once ran free through the soil and rock like blood. If she wanted, she could leave this place, but until the daenox was unleashed and her lord, Theruses, able to emerge from this cave system by her side, she would never truly be free.
“So it would seem.” She turned to Rakas and he looked away, anger at her deliberate delay evident in the white-knuckled fist clutching at the blanket beneath him.
He rarely met her eyes anymore. The gradual darkening of her once deep blue eyes bothered him, more so because he had been the one to bring her here. One day her dark red hair and blue eyes would turn as black as his. It happened to anyone who immersed themselves in the daenox for too long. Until then the contrast of lingering color gave rise to guilt in him. Guilt she resented for the arrogance of it.
Did he truly believe she would never have come to this of her own volition? She belonged here, molding the daenox, serving Theruses. This was her fate. Her purpose. Rakas was merely the pawn that led her to it when the time was right. It could have been anyone.
He held his silence now with seemingly boundless patience. Or perhaps it was not patience anymore, but the distance that had grown between them over the last several years making him reluctant to engage her. She could almost feel the pent-up discontent that boiled up in him. Left to boil unchecked like a teapot with a broken whistle. Jealousy played a big role. Though he had been in these caves far longer, their lord favored her, a truth that took a heavy toll on his confidence and leached the passion from the once scalding heat of their relationship. Even the scent of him that mixed with the musty dampness of the cave had taken on an unpleasant tang, like some citrus fruit aged past its prime.
Before she could think of something to say that would not set off another argument, her skin prickled with the sense of something approaching and she spun to face the entrance.
Theruses entered the chamber cloaked in crushing silence, his very presence weighing down the air. His steps made no sound despite steel-hard talons at the end of long articulated toes that made his feet look more like those of a large reptile than a man. She could not tell his mood for the stillness of his expression and the eyes in that almost human face were as black as the deepest chambers of the cave, his pupils as lost within them as her soul. Perhaps if she gazed into that fathomless darkness long enough she would find herself again.
Brushing the thought aside, she sank to her knees on the cold stone and bowed her head as Rakas had already done. She could only see his feet now and the end of his tail lashing about them in apparent aggravation.
“You both felt the power?” His deep voice washed over her flesh like a phantom caress, making her shiver.
“Of course,” she answered, showing devotion with the speed of her response. In the corner of her field of vision, she saw Rakas grind his nails on the hard rock and smirked to herself.
“It came from Vanuthan, the Mother Dragon. From your old home in Imperious, Amahna.” The throaty rumble in his voice when he spoke her name could have been a purr or a growl. “You will send a message to your sister. Tell her how you have missed your old home. Ask her for any interesting news she can share to ease your sorrow. Perhaps her answer will provide some insight.”
She licked her lips and smiled, the knot in her gut that always came with his unexpected arrival unraveling. How fortuitous that she could be of use to him in this. “Yes, my lord. It will be done.”
Silence answered. He had already gone.
Without giving Rakas opportunity to comment, she rose and hurried off to another chamber to write a letter to her estranged sister. It had to be perfect. Contrite. Earnest. Her sister was soft and trusting. The right hint of remorse would win her over.
When that was done, she summoned a mountain hawk, binding the plentiful daenox within the caverns to call it and give it direction. Once the letter was securely fastened to the hawk’s leg, she sent it on its way, her heart pounding in her chest like that of a child eager to please a tempestuous parent. If her sister’s response provided insight into the mysterious surge of dragon power, she would climb even higher in their lord’s favor. That was, if she got a response at all. She had abandoned her home and family long ago without a word of explanation. What if her sister had changed? What if she was not willing to forgive?
Her hand came up to her mouth, the urge to chew at her nails almost overcoming her careful control. One never knew who might be watching. She forced the urge back down and stood calm at the mouth of the cave, staring after the hawk. It was raining outside. A gray drizzle. It always rained in the cave. The moisture in the earth dripped through every crack in the stone. It was always dark as well, the only light the soft illumination created from the daenox. The gray light of the sky stung her eyes. She turned away from the outside world and walked back into the cave.
The response came several months later. Her sister had born a child on the night in question. Not only was the timing right, but in her sister’s letter, after several long sentimental paragraphs about how she missed Amahna, she went on for some time about how special her new baby was.
Everyone believed their baby was special. Babies were not of interest to Amahna. Her sister’s child, however, was very interesting. The child was born with faint silver scaling over his shoulders and down his spine and had slit vertical pupils in his silver-green eyes. All traits reminiscent of the lost line of Dragonkin. There was little doubt now that the dragons had come up with some way to influence the world beyond their prisons and this child was somehow a result of that meddling. Though she did not yet understand exactly what had been done or how they meant to use the dragon-child, she knew it had to be part of some plan to break free of their stone prisons.
Rakas sat upon the shelf that was his bed in the chamber they sometimes shared, absorbing the part of the letter she had read to him about the baby. The rest of the content did not concern him, so she kept it to herself.
It irritated her to look at him now, so she stared at the painting, tracing the jaws of the dragon with one long fingernail. “Perhaps we could use the dragon-child. If we can reach him on his sixteenth year, when he is old enough to wed and begin influencing his world, we could plant daenox within him. We could make him ours. At the very least, it might make the dragons writhe in their prisons.”
Rakas shuddered, the sudden motion catching her attention from the edges of her vision and she narrowed her eyes at him to let him know that she had noticed, but she said nothing.
“Will you give this information to Theruses?” Respectfully, Rakas bowed his head and closed his eyes as he spoke their lord’s name, but there was underlying mixture of sorrow and bitterness that dripped like a thick poison from his tongue as he said it.
She glanced around the cave, familiar unease sinking through her skin, but rather than retreat to a safe corner as she was inclined to, she walked to the center and sat beside the crystalline pool that filled half of the chamber. She traced the damp edge of the smooth, rust-orange shelfstone with her fingertips, knowing the daemon power would protect the vulnerable formations from the oils in her skin. Theruses liked his realm spotless and had bound daenox throughout to keep it that way. Within the caves where the daenox was imprisoned, pulsing within the rock all around them, its use was almost unlimited. Outside, the daenox could be used only in the most restricted of ways. The imprisonment of that power was not as complete as some might have hoped, and she now knew ways of gathering and storing it like one might collect sap from a tree. Theruses had taught her how.
“He hasn’t paid many visits of late.” Despite her rigorous self-control, she could not keep an edge of longing from her voice and she instantly dreaded his response.
Rakas had often offered himself as an alternative bedmate in response to such comments, as if he were at all a worthy replacement for Theruses. He must be growing weary of her rejections for he said nothing this time. It was hard not to pity him. She knew he had found many fine intimate companions to replace her with among the other residents of the cave, but whenever he dared favor any one slave too much, Theruses would take that one and use them until their flesh gave out. Perhaps it was their lord’s way of punishing Rakas for his frailty. Regardless of the motive, it taught her former lover to be cautious and cold about seeking partners.
“I’m sure he’s just been preoccupied.” His voice faltered and another tremble shook him. He stood abruptly and started to pace with quick, jerking strides, then stopped just as suddenly and tensed like a startled deer before retreating to one corner of the chamber.
“Have I been neglecting you?”
The sensual voice was soft within her, though it filled the chamber with an almost overwhelming pressure of power. Even before he entered, Amahna could feel his phantom caress on her neck and the musky scent of him filled her nose, chasing away the smells of water and stone and Rakas. It numbed her thoughts and quickened her pulse.
She gasped in surprise when Theruses appeared before her and slid a finger under her chin. Her eyes closed as he lifted her from the floor, balancing her weight on daemon power. He kissed her hard, driving his tongue back to her throat as his tail snapped out, wrapping around her bare calf with a force that was both painful and arousing. She feared she might choke from the force of him, yet she longed desperately for more, yearning for him to do as he wished with all of her. Her muscles quaked with carnal need. Then he pulled back and kissed each eyelid, silently giving her permission to open them.
“Your idea is a good one.”
She hung there helpless, dangling from his fingertip, but the sensation only heightened her desire. A hint of pale gold scaling showed on his bold forehead below a thick raven black mane of hair. His features were strong and commanding and her need for him caused her sex to weep with longing. The pale gold scaling showed again at his shirt collar and many other places she knew that could not been seen when he was clothed.
He responded with a feral grin. “When the dragon-child nears his sixteenth year, the two of you will go to attend his birthday celebration. You will bring him a very special gift from me. You will plant daenox within him and make him mine.”
He kissed her again, choking her with his tongue and his power until she could think of nothing beyond the need to have him inside her. She whimpered when he bit her lip and licked once at the blood that welled there then drew back, his black eyes blazing feverishly.
“Leave us, Rakas,” he commanded, the hunger in his voice promising unworldly pleasure and pain. A slight grin curved his lips then. “Or stay if you like. You might learn something.”
Rakas hurried from the room as Amahna shivered again with dreadful anticipation.