Sequestered deep in the capital, the tyrannical Emperor Vosper weaves a plan to destroy all the dragons. He succeeds in driving them to the very brink of extinction. Only a handful of dragons and riders remain; living in exile in the desert. When young Elias Dorgumir finds a carved dragon stone in the forest, it brings empire soldiers to his doorstep, and puts Elias on the run with a bounty on his head.
With some help from his friends, Elias must escape the emperor's wrath and try to make it to the safety of the dwarf caverns. Elias holds the key to the salvation of the dragon race. Is Elias strong enough to save himself and halt the evil that is spreading across the land?
Return of the Dragon Riders
The evil emperor Vosper gathers his troops in the east, poised to conquer the entire continent. His target is the rebel city of Parthos, a constant thorn in his side, and the last sanctuary of the Dragon Riders.
Besieged from all sides, the remaining Dragon Riders come out of hiding. Forced to fight for their lives, they leave the safety of the desert, traveling across the land to gather intelligence and shore up forgotten alliances.At the center of it all is Elias Dorgumir, the key to an ancient prophesy, and Vosper will do anything to get his hands on him. Is it too late for the Dragon Riders to save Elias and stop Vosper from destroying the only refuge they have left?
As the races of Durn stand on the brink of war, the power-hungry emperor plans his conquest of the entire continent.
The dragon riders are fragmented. They have been scattered across the land; weakened by the discovery of a traitor in their own ranks.
Are the riders strong enough to defeat Vosper before he destroys them all?
Publication Date: July 31, 2015
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
FROM RETURN OF THE DRAGON RIDERS
“Yes, if you enjoy the rain,” Elias said.
The weather was miserably cold, and a steady drizzle dampened his already foul mood. Thorin and Elias had been traveling on the Orvasse for two days. The weather slowed their progress, and they took extra precautions in order to conceal Elias’ presence. Elias noticed they were moving towards the shoreline. “Thorin, are we going ashore?”
“Aye, we must dock briefly,” said Thorin. “Our food has run out, and I must feed the horses. I told the captain to dock at Esther Downs. It’s a minor trading station along the river. I think it’s safe to stop.”
Captain Gremley maneuvered his vessel near the marina. Once the boat was parallel to the dock, Thorin and the captain jumped out and moored it with a sturdy rope. The sun had already set, but the fort was still bustling with activity. A dozen men mingled outside, and a dozen other boats sat moored to the dock.
Elias could see inside the outpost, which was lit by dozens of oil lamps. There were a few men chatting at the door. Merchants sold different types of goods, and there was a man selling prepared food outside from a donkey cart. His stomach growled, and his hand flew to his midsection, embarrassed by the noise. His last hot meal had been at Hwīt Rock.
Gremley turned to Thorin. “I’m going to get some provisions. Do either of you want to come inside?”
“Nay, Elias and I are going to lead the horses to some grass,” replied Thorin. “Here—take these coppers; pick us up something to eat, eh?”
“All right,” replied the captain, accepting Thorin’s coins. Gremley walked towards the outpost.
Thorin waited until the captain was out of earshot, and then turned and whispered, “Elias, we can’t risk going inside. Someone might recognize ye. Vosper’s soldiers have probably been distributin’ the reward posters here, as well as everywhere else. Let’s ride down the road a ways, so the horses can graze. It’s dark. Just keep your hood up. We’ll find a quiet spot where ye can practice some spells.”
“Okay,” said Elias, pulling his hood over his head. It obscured his face almost completely. “I’ll bring my grandmother’s spell book with me.”
Both of them mounted their horses and rode quietly away from the outpost. Elias’ eyes adjusted to the darkness. The moonlight was bright enough to follow the road to a secluded area. He followed closely behind Thorin, whose dwarf vision was superior to his. A few cottages bordered the roadside, and Elias saw sheep grazing nearby. They dismounted in a grassy meadow and the horses began to graze. The drizzle continued unabated.
“Even though the weather is miserable, it feels great to get some fresh air. Being cooped up in the ship’s hold gets tiring,” said Elias, stretching his arms. “I shouldn’t complain though. The free time made it easier for me to study. I’ve memorized almost all the spells in my grandmother’s journal.” Elias pulled out the little grimoire and caressed the worn cover.
“That’s good, lad. Those spells will come in handy. I pray ye won’t have to use them though. I’d like our trip to be as peaceful as possible.”
“You and me both. When the emperor’s soldiers came to Persil, I was shocked. I’d never seen an empire soldier before. And then when they attacked us…”
“Not the greetin’ ye expected, eh?” said Thorin.
“No. Not at all. When I was little, I used to dream about working for the empire—I thought that one day I might visit Morholt and become a soldier. Our town butcher was a former soldier, and he used to tell us fantastic stories about his travels. I imagined the streets of Morholt lined with gold. I was a fool to think that way.”
“Nay, not a fool. Ye were just a boy. Ye didn’t know any better. Travelers’ stories are always exaggerated. People describe the empire city as a splendid place. In reality, most people have never set foot there. The reality is less temptin’. Morholt is full of thieves, and Vosper’s soldiers are bullies. The city is terrible, dirty, and oppressive, because Vosper’s a tyrant.”
Elias glanced over his shoulder. “I’m uncomfortable when you talk about the emperor like that,” he said quietly. “You never know who might be listening.”
“Don’t worry yourself, boy. We’re all alone out here, and no one in Esther Downs has any love for the empire. That’s what happens when ye rule with terror, rather than with common sense. All of the outposts along the Orvasse have been squeezed to the breakin’ point by Vosper’s tax collectors. The people are desperate. The emperor made enemies among the common people, and that will be his downfall.”
Elias nodded. Thorin was right. The soldiers that came to Persil were ruthless. They would have stomped his grandmother to death had she not been a mage. In the end, she died anyway, defending herself and her grandson.
“Let’s walk for a while,” said Thorin. “No more unhappy thoughts!”
“Sure,” said Elias. They both walked a few minutes and settled down behind a grove of trees. Elias pulled out his grandmother’s grimoire.
“We’re secluded out here. Why don’t ye show off some of the spells ye’ve been practicin’?”
“Okay,” said Elias. “Most are for healing, but a few are for defense.” Elias flipped through the book and stopped on a page at the end. He traced the runes with his index finger, mouthing the words silently. “This one generates an illusion. It’s designed to distract an attacker.”
“Well, let’s see it!” said Thorin, who sat down on a stump and began stuffing his pipe with smokeleaf.
“Dreyma-lita!” Elias’ breath caught in his throat. An image shimmered in the air and materialized. It was a dragon! Enormous and white—with shining mother-of-pearl scales. An enormous diamond glittered at its throat. The phantom dragon roared, fire spewing from its lips.
Thorin was so surprised that he fell backwards. “Whoa!”
The apparition only lasted a few seconds.
“Ugh, sorry! That was loud—and larger than I expected.” Elias slumped to the ground, drained. “The dragon stone fed me energy—like power was pouring out of it.” Elias reached into his tunic and pulled out a leather pouch. He loosened the string, and the green dragon stone rolled out onto his palm. It glowed, pulsing with energy. He could feel it. He wondered how that was possible, since the dragon stone wasn’t his.
Thorin popped back up, his pipe hanging precariously from his lower lip. “Most impressive, lad, although I don’t think we should do any more experimentin’. I’m sure the people in the outpost heard that.”
“The illusion took on a life of its own. I couldn’t control it at all. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Elias stopped staring at the dragon stone and tucked it back under his tunic.
“Ah, ye live and learn, lad,” said Thorin. He reached into his pocket for more smokeleaf and calmly repacked his pipe. As always, Thorin seemed unruffled. “Ye know, that looked just like a proper white dragon. I’ve only ever seen a white dragon once in my life, long before the Orc Wars. Nydeired was his name. He was wild, but he fought alongside the riders during the Dragon Wars. Nydeired was killed during the war. I watched him fall from the sky with me own eyes. White dragons are the rarest and the most powerful. How did ye know what it would look like, to create the illusion?”
“I—I don’t know. An image just popped into my head, and that’s what appeared. I don’t think it means anything.”
“A vision, eh? Now that’s something.” Thorin wagged an index finger at Elias. “Listen, boy. I’m going to give ye some valuable advice. Pay attention to your visions. They’re important.”
“You think it was a sign?” asked Elias.
“I’m sure of it. Ye’re mageborn. Ye haven’t been properly trained, but that’s no fault of yours. Ye may even have the gift of prophesy. It’s a rare gift indeed.”
Elias’ mind was spinning. It was too much to think about. He decided to change the subject. “I think my phony dragon spooked the horses. I don’t see them in the clearing anymore.”
“My night vision is better than yours. I can see them at the far end of the meadow,” said Thorin, pointing south. Elias squinted, looking in the distance, but he couldn’t see anything beyond a few paces.
“So dwarves have better eyesight and hearing than humans?”
“Aye.” Thorin nodded. “Better than most humans, anyway.”
“How about elves?” asked Elias.
“Elves can see and hear better than all the other races of Durn. Their eyesight is perfect. They also have their shortcomings, but poor eyesight ain’t one of them.”
“Thorin, have you ever met an elf?”
“Aye, a few. During the Orc Wars, a small number joined the battle. Those who came to our aid did so against their queen’s advice. Brighthollow doesn’t involve itself in mortal wars. Elves always choose neutrality, at least officially. Only a handful of elves came to our aid during the Dragon Wars. They even fathered children with some of our women. Eventually they all returned to Brighthollow. They always do. The intrigues of the mortal races become tiresome, and they return to their magical city. The elves are content to live their lives in isolation.”
“Are elves immortal?”
“Yes and no. Elves are immortal beings, but even they can be killed if they’re injured badly enough. A decapitation will kill an elf, but sometimes grave injuries won’t kill them, if they receive immediate attention from a healer. A few died in battle during the Dragon Wars. They are valiant fighters.”
“Are you friends with any of them?”
“No, I can’t say that I am. I’ve fought side-by-side with elves, but I’ve never called an elf a friend. Elves are aloof in a way that’s difficult to describe. They’re impulsive and bore easily. They’re unpredictable. One minute they adore ye, and the next minute they scorn ye. Elves are neither good nor evil. They simply exist—driven by their desires. They do have long memories though. The main reason they got involved during the Orc Wars was because the elves still hold an ancient grudge against the orcs—it’s an old bitterness that predates even dwarf records. Elves hate the orcs, even more than dwarves do, and that’s sayin’ a lot.”
Suddenly, they heard shouts coming from the outpost. “Blast. What now?” said Thorin.
Elias’ eyes widened. “Do you think they saw my illusion?”
“No… I don’t think so. We’re pretty well-concealed. I can hear men arguin’, but I can’t decipher the details. We have to get closer. Elias, do ye think ye can cast a concealment spell around both of us and the horses?”
“Maybe. But I can’t hold it for very long.”
“That’s fine, lad. A few minutes should be plenty—long enough to find out what’s happenin’.” Thorin placed his fingers in his mouth and whistled: two short bursts and then a long, high note. Duster and Buttercup trotted back obediently.
“That’s a neat trick,” said Elias.
“It’s not magic. I just have a way with horses. Always have,” said Thorin, winking. “We dwarves have our gifts, too, lad.”
They mounted their horses and rode in the direction of the marina. As soon as they could see the outline of the fort, Thorin turned and said, “Now, Elias—cast your concealment spell around us.”
Elias raised his hands in a circular motion and said the words in the ancient language: “Hud-leyna!” The air shimmered around them and then stabilized. Once the spell was cast, Elias felt the sensation of being inside an egg. The horses walked closer together, but otherwise seemed unbothered by the spell.
“Okay—it’s complete. Whew!” Elias exhaled. “It’s draining a lot of my energy.”
“Just hold on, lad. We’re nearly in front of the outpost. I can see a bunch of men yellin’.”
The shouting got even louder.
A minute later, they reached the outpost. There was a circle of men shouting at each other. Gremley, the captain of their vessel, was in the center of the fray. Two armed men pointed frantically at the Chipperwick. They didn’t look like empire soldiers—they wore leather armor, patterned with blue dye. They each had blue tattoos, in the shape of a triangle, on their necks. Each man carried a broadsword and a few other visible weapons. They got close enough that Elias could hear the heated exchange.
“I don’t have any passengers! I’m here alone,” said Gremley. “I was transporting goods. That’s all.”
“I think we should search his ship. I saw two people come off his boat as soon as he came into the marina,” said one of the men.
“You’re mistaken,” said Gremley. “And I’m not letting you search my ship, outlander.” He crossed his arms and lifted his chin defiantly.
“He’s right! You don’t have the right to search any of us,” said another man in the crowd, siding with Gremley. “You’re not empire soldiers—you can’t force us to do anything.” The man was tall. He stepped in between Gremley and the outsiders, planting his feet squarely in front of them.
“Get out of the way, you oaf!” yelled one of the armed men. “This matter doesn’t concern you!”
“Who are those men?” whispered Elias. “I don’t recognize their uniforms.”
“Bounty hunters,” Thorin whispered. “Ye can tell by the patterned armor and the blue tattoos. They work for Vosper but only informally. Vosper simply gives them a directive, and if they succeed in the capture, they get the bounty. They’re ruthless. This is bad news indeed. The emperor’s reward has made you a prized target.”
“Look, friends, friends! Let’s just calm down,” said the other bounty hunter, trying to placate the crowd. “We’re not trying to cause trouble. We’re looking for a boy, that’s all. If you’re not harboring anyone illegally, then there won’t be any problems.” The man smiled, but his hand drifted to his sword hilt.
“Gremley, why fight it? Just let ‘em search your boat,” said a sweaty little man. “I can’t afford any trouble here, especially with the empire.”
“That’s the constable of the outpost,” said Thorin quietly. “Ye can tell by the symbol on his waistcoat. He’s a jittery one.” The constable paced back and forth, mopping his brow with a filthy handkerchief.
“Thorin, we should leave. I don’t want to put Gremley in any danger,” said Elias. “Plus, I’m struggling to maintain the concealment spell. We need to go—and the sooner the better.” Drops of perspiration trickled down his back.
“You’re right. Let’s go,” agreed Thorin, spurring his pony.
They turned the horses around and headed towards the road. Elias glanced back and saw the bounty hunters searching Gremley’s ship. Even from a distance, he could tell that the atmosphere was tense.
As soon as they were out of sight, Elias released the concealment spell. “Whew! That was exhausting. Concealing the horses made it much more difficult. I’ve never tried to conceal something so large before.”
“Ye did a good job, lad. It’ll get easier with practice.”
“Thorin, I’m glad we didn’t get Gremley in trouble, but how are we going to make it to Mount Velik without a ship?”
“Don’t worry, lad. We’re near Ravenwood Forest. I can get us through Ravenwood—I know it like the back of my hand. It’s south of Mount Velik, and I’ve explored it a thousand times. Our trip will take a lot longer on horseback, but it’s the only option we have.”
“Are the bounty hunters going to search for us?”
“Probably. We’ll just keep ridin’ through the night. If we’re lucky, we’ll reach the border of Ravenwood tomorrow.”
“Where do we go from there?” asked Elias.
“There’s an ancient path that goes through the forest. It’s a dwarf path, used centuries ago, when me people lived above ground as well as in the mountain. The path is marked with dwarf runes, but they’re difficult to find. After that, Mount Velik isn’t far. The bounty hunters will be lookin’ for us, but I doubt they’ll be able to find the path. We just have to cover our tracks as we go. Hopefully they won’t start searching in earnest until tomorrow.”
The noise from the outpost grew fainter as they rode on. Soon, Esther Downs was out of sight and only the hillside was visible. Elias’ eyes adjusted to the moonlight, and he was able to follow Thorin without difficulty. Duster and Buttercup kept up a steady pace. Elias heard only the sounds of the forest and his own breathing. They traveled in silence until dawn, and then Thorin paused.
“Here we are. We’re at the edge of Ravenwood. You can tell by these trees—see the pink blossoms? This is a rexel tree. Ravenwood is filled with them, and they only grow in this part of Durn. The blossoms’ perfume is intoxicatin’—literally.”
“What do you mean?” asked Elias.
“Smelling the flowers of a rexel tree will put a man in a drunken stupor. And the pollen can cause deafness. This is an ancient forest and full of dangers. But as long as ye respect the forest, it will respect ye.”
“An entire forest of poisonous trees?”
“Not all of them are poisonous, but most of them are,” said Thorin. “Just don’t eat or touch anything without asking me first.”
Elias shook his head. “This trip is getting more frightening every moment.”
“It’s going to be fine, laddie.” Thorin smiled and started to whistle. He took everything in stride. They continued to ride for hours into Ravenwood, well past dawn and into the next day.