It should have been beautiful, Suzanne thought as she approached Aaron’s Palace. But instead, it was barren, empty, and ugly. Aaron had stripped the land so that the Palace and all its glitter would be the only thing people would see. Aaron and his greed were on display.
She was exhausted. The trip from the Islands of Lopel and Hetale had taken much longer than she had expected. Her envy of other shapeshifters that could be anything had reared its ugly head more than once during the trip.
She thought she had gotten rid of that envy long ago. But as she traveled, Suzanne thought how much easier it would have been if she could shapeshift into something other than a dragon.
If she could turn into a mouse, she could have traveled with Bolong’s crown of dragons through time and arrived days ahead. She could have hidden away beneath one of their wings, Sawdi none the wiser that they had a stowaway.
But no. She had to be only a dragon—a very distinctive one at that. In the earth realm, she had often passed as a pileated woodpecker, and that red stripe on her head remained even here on this god-forsaken planet, Thamon.
God-forsaken was the right term for it. It had been god-forsaken ever since Aaron, Stryker, and Sawdi decided to make up a religion, turn Aaron into a God, and banish all other gods and even magic of all kinds. Yes, god-forsaken, but hopefully not for long.
She and the rest of the rebellion were ready to fight. She hoped nothing significant had happened while she flew to the continent of Edes where Aaron lived. Stryker and his crown of dragons and Warrior Monks were so far ahead of her they had time to prepare whatever they were going to do next. Their trip had been easy, unlike hers.
Suzanne’s trip to Aaron’s palace was exhausting. Not only because of how far away it was but because she had to travel without being seen. All dragons except Sawdi’s were killed on sight, no questions asked.
But the journey was so long, many times she needed to stop to rest on islands, or even rocks, that jutted out of the ocean. She tried to pick places where no one was living, but sometimes that wasn’t possible. Ironically, her last stop had been the one that almost did her in. She thought it was a deserted strip of land, but had spotted a group of people right before landing. But she had no choice; she was too exhausted to keep flying. The people saw her and started pointing and yelling.
She had no idea if they were pointing because they were planning to report her to the local Kai-Via or simply because they hadn’t seen a dragon for so long that they were curious. Either way, after she landed, she quickly shifted back to being a woman and ran into the woods and hid for the rest of the day, sleeping within a cavity of a tree.
That night, under cover of darkness, she stole food from one of the farmers, wishing she had something to leave in return. She had consoled herself, saying that she was on a mission to free these people from the tyranny of Aaron-Lem.
She hoped that if they knew that they would have fed her. Still, she couldn’t take any chances, because at the moment most of the people on the planet of Thamon were completely under Aaron-Lem’s spell.
She had thought she would see some evidence that people were revolting. Aaron’s new decree commanded that the people give him all their gold and jewels and a large portion of what they earned either as craftspeople or farmers. But on that tiny slip of land, there was no sign of rebellion. Perhaps Aaron hadn’t gotten to them yet to ask for anything.
Suzanne made a quick pass over the Palace, flying high enough that she hoped no one would see her. After getting her bearings and locating the cave where Bolong had told her he and his friends lived, she flew over a low range of hills a few miles from the Palace and descended into the woods behind them, praying that no one saw her.
Suzanne hoped that if she were spotted, since they were so close to the Palace, they would think that she was one of Sawdi’s dragons. Except that Sawdi’s dragons remained dragons and would never turn into a person, let alone a woman.
Bolong had shared the story of how he and the other four dragons had been placed under a spell by Sawdi a long time ago. Now they would be men, or so they assumed, having never been able to shapeshift again.
The only people who would know that she wasn’t part of Sawdi’s crown of dragons were Sawdi or Aaron. Hopefully, neither one of them was nearby. They are too busy plotting evil, Suzanne thought as she started walking towards the cave.
If Sawdi or Aaron had walked the woods once in a while and listened to the animals that lived there, perhaps they might not have turned into the men they were today. Where she came from, everyone knew that magic and nature were intertwined, and they lived within the harmony of that awareness.
Well, most people. Her sister, Meg, had been too busy being full of herself to notice and had run away to Thamon. Now they were in Thamon where magic was banned. And instead of harmony, there was the fake god Aaron and his false religion of Aaron-Lem.
She had plenty of time to think as she traveled across the ocean to join forces with the dragons and the other rebels waiting for a revolution to begin.
On the Islands they had already begun, and won, their revolution, giving them hope that they would succeed on the rest of the planet.
Now that tiny band of rebels had split up. Many of the rescued Mages had stayed to protect the Islands after saving them from Sawdi and the Warrior Monks. It was their magic that had helped cloak the people of the Islands when the Warrior Monks had come looking for them.
Ibris, the Preacher, and Dax, the head of the Islands’ Kai-Via, stayed too. Having been the ones who helped convert the people in the first place, they knew they needed to stay and support the people as they adjusted to living without Aaron-Lem. It would not be an easy task.
A few of the rebels had taken some of the survivors of the prison camp to the Sanctuary on Turva. It was where some people, following the warnings of the prophecies, had gone to hide before Aaron-Lem took over. At least Suzanne hoped that was where they were.
Of course, Stryker had betrayed them all. He thought he had outwitted them by running away. But he was wrong. They had set him up to run so that Sawdi and the Warrior Monks would leave the Islands and go after him.
Suzanne ducked under a tree branch and thought about how the last few months had been filled with betrayals, twists, and turns. She knew that wasn’t over yet. There would be more.
In the meantime, Stryker was heading to where he thought he would find the next part of the pendant. The rest of the rebels, including Suzanne’s sister, were on Captain Lira’s ship, the Eos, trying to get to the pendant before Stryker. Her job was to find Bolong and get caught up on what had happened since she saw him last. Then they had their own rebellion to plan.
But first, rest. Because no matter what Bolong told her about what was happening, and how anxious they were to begin, she needed to rest first.