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The Fifth Magic (Book 1)
 

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The Fifth Magic (Book 1)


  The Fifth Magic

  Book One of The Artifacts of Power trilogy

  Brian Rathbone

  Copyright © 2014 Brian Rathbone

  White Wolf Press, LLC

  Rutherfordton, NC 28139

  Acknowledgments

  Special thanks to Amber Setters, Clay Cook, C.M. Lance and all those who've helped and supported me along the way.

  The World of Godsland fantasy series in order:

  The Dawning of Power trilogy

  Call of the Herald

  Inherited Danger

  Dragon Ore

  The Balance of Power trilogy

  Regent

  Feral

  Regal

  The Artifacts of Power trilogy

  The Fifth Magic

  Dragonhold

  The Seventh Magic

  Chapter 1

  Honor feeds no children.

  --Sevellon the thief

  * * *

  Lies.

  Like the patina of a thousand years, deceptions, half-truths, and full-on lies coated everything in Sinjin Volker's life. He had things he'd never have dreamed of: a beautiful wife, a dragon, and the Dragon Clan at his command, but it was tainted.

  As he gazed out along the horizon, across the Endless Sea, wind gusts resonated within Windhold, casting Sinjin's long hair back. Kendra said she was responsible for cutting his hair, but he was afraid to ask, partly because he wasn't sure he trusted her with a knife near his neck at the moment and partly because she'd made it clear, to him and others, she hated it when his hair got long. To ask for a haircut would mean admitting defeat. Though he knew it was childish, he refused to give her the victory. He justified it by telling himself he needed the Dragon Clan and the Drakon to respect him. Giving in to Kendra was unlikely to better their opinion of him. Using a strip of leather, he pulled his hair back and tied it up, which kept most of it out of his mouth and eyes.

  The air smelled of a coming storm. Wind gusts grew more frequent and powerful. Windhold was aptly named, and riding out storms in the hold was unpleasant at best. Better to saddle the dragons and fly. The Dragon Clan could retreat to the lower hold and stay warm and dry. He turned back to those in the hold to give the command, but no one was looking at him. Even Durin was already saddling Valterius, and Sinjin's dragon watched his friend with a mildly suspicious eye. Durin had saddled Valterius many times, but Al'Drak liked to keep everyone sharp; his status among the dragons was unchallenged. Sinjin tried not to be upset no one had looked to him for command or even guidance. It was a sign of his poor leadership skills and it stung. Valterius moved suddenly to one side, and all Sinjin could do was watch. The words of warning had barely formed on his tongue when the dragon's tail flicked, catching Durin in the back of his knees and sending him flying. The Drakon pretended not to see, though a few smirked, knowing Valterius had a sense of humor.

  Durin pulled himself from the stone floor. "Your dragon."

  "Yeah. I know," Sinjin said. Valterius managed to look innocent, and he couldn't help but laugh.

  "Thanks," Durin said. "You never seem to find it funny when he does it to you."

  "Not for a while at least," Sinjin said, and he helped Durin finish saddling Valterius. The dragon was happier with two of them working on him. As long as he was the center of attention, he was well behaved. Sinjin had been working with him on obedience. Convincing the dragon he was the leader and that his commands were to be followed was proving to be something of a challenge. Still, there was something new in their relationship. Perhaps grudging respect, Sinjin thought, but he flinched when the dragon twitched his tail, which made him reconsider. He mounted without incident, but Valterius stared at him, and he could rarely venture a guess at what the creature was thinking. "Let's make for the shallows," he said after strapping himself in. Using the reins, he guided Valterius into the main wind hall.

  Rather than walk toward the opening as they normally would, Valterius chose to show off his skill. Spreading his wings, he hovered in place for a short time, and with nothing more than minute, barely perceptible muscle movements, he moved with the wind and soared from the hold without ever flapping his wings. The Drakon followed. Like leaves from a mighty tree, shaken and thrown into the wind, they glided away. Inescapable wind gusts more violent than Sinjin was comfortable flying in were inescapable. The storm rushed in and surrounded them faster than thought. Strong fliers, the Drakon not so easily overcome. Pushing along the storm's outer edge, Valterius used the winds to their advantage and sent them racing to the south and west, toward the shallows.

  For once he'd chosen to allow Sinjin to set their course with nothing but his knees. A squeeze to one side or the other was all it took to express his intentions. Kendra flew Gerhonda close; Valterius didn't object.

  "We should just fly straight to the Terhilian Keys for the council," she shouted. "We could sweep the area and make sure there are no surprises."

  "This is a council designed to keep the peace. We cannot show up with our entire strength. That would be an act of aggression."

  "I see nothing wrong with a little aggression," Kendra said. "From what I've been hearing, Trinda and the Dark Queen have some of their own."

  "We've no proof of that," Sinjin said.

  "Have you any proof otherwise?" she asked.

  He didn't answer.

  "Then how can we discount either possibility? We cannot."

  "Valterius and I are going, and you may ride with me if you wish, but we will not bring a show of strength to the Council of the Known Lands."

  The air between Valterius and Gerhonda grew turbulent, and some distance soon separated them. Valterius continued to fly toward the shallows, and Sinjin realized he might have finally won an argument. He'd always wondered what that might feel like.

  * * *

  The Serpent was a ship like no other, despite the masthead being an imitation of the legendary Dragon's Wing. The Serpent, too, bore a Kyrien's likeness, but it was much more hastily created and was best seen from a distance. Both ships could fly but in entirely different manners. Where the Dragon's Wing flew by the power of a flightmaster and thrustmaster, the Serpent flew under her own power and the wind in her sails, as her captain said a proper ship should.

  "Perhaps the best way to keep a ship from sinking is to never put it in the water," Kenward Trell reminded Brother Vaughn as they moved through the mostly clear skies with almost graceful ease. The smell of burning wood and coal, along with the black smoke pouring from the chimstack and a constant low-pitched whistle proved brute force was required to keep them aloft.

  Brother Vaughn asked himself once again what he'd been thinking when boarding this ship. Kenward was world renowned for his recklessness, and the Serpent appeared to have been built under the premise it might soon be scattered across a mountainside. The lure of knowledge held by those within the Heights had been enough to blind Brother Vaughn, but he'd regretted it ever since they departed the Firstland. The chance to see verdant dragons under peaceful circumstances also drew him on, but it was less and less likely they would get there alive.

  "Airships once ruled the winds," Kenward said. "And so they will again. The Serpent proves any man can sail the skies, whether they are touched by the gods or not."

  Brother Vaughn caught himself about to run his hands along the railing, but he'd already gotten two splinters that way, and a third one would be his own fault. In truth, much of what was shoddy about the Serpent was a result of the materials from which she'd been built. Though rare and difficult to find, flakewood was by far the lightest building material strong enough to support a ship this size. The archives revealed much, and Kenward had proven determined to use the ancients' knowledge to his advantage
.

  Aside from being light, the flakewood splintered easily, possessing none of greatoak's malleability. Gaps between the planks made Brother Vaughn shiver, knowing the ship was in no way water tight. "You could've at least made the planks fit together," he said.

  "No point in making her seaworthy if you're never going to put her in the water," Kenward said. "Besides, flakewood floats better than lightwood, so the Serpent should still float."

  "Should . . ."

  Kenward shrugged. Brother Vaughn had already heard his argument. "We've only tested the Serpent in the air. If she ever ends up in the sea, we'll find out if she floats."

  Even Kenward had shown his concern a number of times during their flight over what was called the Endless Sea. But they'd stayed aloft, and Brother Vaughn had long since tired of seeing water beneath them through the cracks in the deck and the hold below.

  "Never have I worried so much over weight, Vaughn," Kenward said. "Maybe you could catch a ride to the council with Onin. Based on my calculations, I'll have plenty of room in the hold but too much weight aboard to fill it. A partially filled hold offends my sensibilities."

  "If Onin will have me," Brother Vaughn said. He'd have said more, but he didn't want to give Kenward any more reason to toss him overboard.

  "Sevon!" Kenward shouted, and a short, skinny man with thin, straggly hair answered the call. "Go tell Farsy to redo our estimates assuming all passengers find their own ways home."

  The man nodded and did not meet Brother Vaughn's eyes when he turned. Brother Vaughn kept his hands in the pockets of his robes to keep them warm, and he fondled the ornately carved cube he always kept with him. Kenward had been the one to reveal its true purpose, and it had kept him up at night ever since. A key. It was an elaborate and ancient key meant to open a ship's secondhold--the place where a captain might hide his or her greatest treasure. Brother Vaughn knew the location of the ship this key went to. It taunted him, making him wonder, over and over, what might be within the secondhold of a ship resting at the bottom of the God's Eye for thousands of years. But the God's Eye was denied to him, as was all of Dragonhold, making it a puzzle with no solution.

  This trip, in a way, had been about escaping knowledge he could not pursue. The cube was a reminder he sometimes wished he'd left behind, but he could entrust it to no one else, and there was no place he considered safe enough to leave it. Thus, its constant presence continued to make him wonder.

  "Land below!" came a shout from the crow's nest, and Brother Vaughn gripped the rail. It took a moment for the clouds below them to clear, but when they did, the view was magnificent. Beneath them was an emerald marsh, teeming with life. Rising from a still-distant plain, waited the Heights. There, Brother Vaughn knew, wrapped in low-lying clouds, was the forest in which Thundegar and Allette had lived. Seeing this place so alive gave him greater context for the tale reshaping his world.

  Knowledge spread following the first Council of the Known Lands. Even the design of this ship would have been unknown to them if not for that communication. Revelations from the scrolls Catrin had found within Ohmahold and other discoveries within Dragonhold had profound impacts on those within the Heights, the Mids, and across all of Godsland. Most agreed a new age was upon them; Brother Vaughn hoped it was an age of enlightenment and not an age of conflict.

  Thus far, the Council of the Known Lands succeeded in maintaining peace, but rumors of tension reminded nothing was certain. Diplomacy was the reason most believed Brother Vaughn was on this trip, and he did hope to foster good will, but he wondered just how much he could do. In many ways, Kenward was a far better ambassador. Trade was a language everyone understood, and Kenward brought with him as many valuable items as he hoped to leave with.

  A cold wind descended on them with sudden force and ferocity. The ship dropped through the air like a stone, and Brother Vaughn's guts raced toward his chin. There had been no warning, and crewmen were tossed about. When the ship just as suddenly slowed its descent, people slammed into the Serpent's unforgiving deck.

  "Boiling downbursts!" Kenward cursed. "Anyone injured?"

  Moans broke the silence, and Kenward moved toward the closest source. Just before he reached Bryn, another body collided with him, and he reached out to steady the man. It was the one they called Sevon. Brother Vaughn hadn't known him prior to this flight, but Kenward had been forced to find some new crewmen to man the Serpent. It was not a change all sailors could make; Sevon, though, was at home on the airship and generally moved about with lithe dexterity.

  Brother Vaughn steadied him.

  "Sorry," Sevon said.

  Attended to Bryn, who was now coming around, though he was bleeding from his forehead, Brother Vaughn paid Sevon no more mind.

  "Pelivor warned me about these blasted downdrafts," Kenward said, "but I'll be boiled if I can see 'em coming."

  Luckily, no one was seriously injured, and Kenward moved back to the rails. The marsh was a great deal closer now, and Brother Vaughn could see the swamp pigs Thundegar had described. Glistening, the creatures moved through the channels they created, cutting the otherwise complete carpet of vegetation into pieces like a woodsmith's puzzle only with sunlight reflecting through the gaps.

  Beneath them flashed darkness embodied, and the ship's hull issued an echoing thrum. With terror in his heart, Brother Vaughn watched the feral dragon slip just as quickly away from them and out of view. Looking around, frantic, he could not locate the dragon, and he once again knew true fear. He had faced these creatures before and barely survived, and now he was exposed and vulnerable once again. The feeling grew more intense as the Serpent lost altitude.

  Black smoke poured from the chimstack, and steam billowed around it.

  "We got a leak!" someone cried from belowdecks and the crew worked to stem the flow. The ship's shadow danced along the vegetation and grew closer. It was just a matter of time before they crashed into it. Not far in the distance, the greenery ended and desert began. Brother Vaughn wasn't certain what to wish for, so he simply prayed the crew could fix the steam leak in time. The billowing air bags rippled above them in danger of collapsing. Brother Vaughn braced himself. He'd thought flying on a dragon or on a ship with a flightmaster was terrifying. This took fear to a new level.

  The ship's shadow raced along the desert, a sand cloud swirling in their wake. The cries from below changed in pitch, and after a fevered moment of shouted orders, the steam rising from belowdecks decreased. The wind socks--or bladders, as Kenward called them--firmed and snapped taut. The ship began to rise, and Brother Vaughn prayed they were not too late. A stiff wind now pushed them toward the heights faster than any of them would have liked. Kenward called out more orders, and the Serpent responded--somewhat. As if waking from a long sleep, the ship lumbered upward; cast like a leaf in the wind, it twisted. The ropes holding the air bags popped and whined but continued to hold. By some luck, the wind straightened the ship, line, and sail.

  Pointed in the right direction, Kenward took advantage. "More flame!"

  Black smoke grew thick. The ship ascended into it then leaped higher, supported by thermals rising above the sands. With the increase in smoke came more steam, and Farsy shouted from belowdecks, his words distorted but his intention clear. The black was choked to a fraction of what it had been, and the steam lessened. The Serpent could climb only so high so fast. Fortunately the thermals did most of the work, leaving them drifting higher and higher in a lazy circle. Tilted sails caught uprising air, the angle of one side less than the other, allowing them to spiral upward.

  The people of the Heights had been notified the Serpent was coming, but Brother Vaughn still wasn't certain what to expect. At that point, just about anything would be better than being on Kenward's airship. What had he been thinking?

  The captain appeared to be feeling quite good about himself. Brother Vaughn could imagine his words, "First person to ever fly a steam-powered ship across the Endless Sea and do trade with the Heights."

/>   A crowd appeared along the edges of the gaping openings in the mountains. With the sun setting behind them, Kenward guided the Serpent away from the thermals and toward the tallest spire. There waited an official delegation, and he guided the airship closer.

  Erratic wind gusts and vortices tossed the ship during the final approach, and those waiting within the cavernous chamber scattered. With the lines creaking and groaning from the strain, the Serpent cleared the expansive opening with excessive speed. Again the wind gusted, catching the air bags in the gale. Into the stone floor the hull slammed, jolting all those aboard, before changing direction and being dragged back toward open air.

  "Cut the lines!" Kenward shouted, his voice high. "Quickly!"

  Moving with all the speed they could muster, the crew worked to cut the ropes. They would not be quick enough. Brother Vaughn would have jumped, but he was not strong enough. Others made the leap and landed on solid stone, but he remained rooted and would go where the ship went. The world stopped moving suddenly and completely. A deep boom rattled his being, and Brother Vaughn's eyes felt as if they might be torn from his head. When he opened them, his vision was blurred, and it took a moment to see the largest eye he'd ever seen gazing down upon him. The mighty verdant dragon, his head nearly as big as the ship, snorted and rattled the chamber, then roared. Brother Vaughn would always remember it as if the dragon had roared at him personally.

  Grateful for the leviathan's help, Brother Vaughn tried to be thankful while he pulled himself over the rail to drop onto the cavern floor. The dragon had stopped the Serpent from being dashed against the rocks, but he had also nearly deafened Brother Vaughn and risked giving him a heart attack. Men in white linen robes with shoes that shone even in the failing light approached.

  "I am Brother Vaughn."

  "Your people certainly know how to make an entrance," said a fat man with a lopsided grin.

 
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