TJ & Rita Webb

The prodigal son finally shows his face.

Deceiving Dragons

Chapter 7, Part 2

Deceiving Dragons cover - beautiful woman with black hair wearing leather, sitting in a hoop, magic swirling behind her

They call her broken doll,
soulless monster …

…all she wants is to be a real girl.

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Chapter 7, Part 2

~ Emperor Nyzald ~

The double doors to the throne room swing open, and Dare strides in, still wearing his dragon-hide armor. His face smeared with dirt, he looks like he only flew in moments ago.
“The prodigal son finally shows his face.” Kage licks his lip. “You were summoned days ago.”
Dare, in human form as is the law before the Emperor, stoops down on one knee before Nyzald. “Sire, I am sorry, but I could not come when you called. I had to attend to my people.”
His sorrow seethes around him, twisting with the guilt and self-loathing. Nyzald probes Dare’s mind, but it is closed tight like a vault. His emotions are another matter. Nyzald stokes the guilt and self-loathing. Manipulating emotions requires a gentle touch, or Dare might crack under the pressure.
<I have a report here,> Nyzald says, <that you failed to secure the plague sample, and that you are responsible for the loss of two highly decorated officers. And something happened to the messenger I sent to retrieve you a few nights ago.>
Dare lifts his bowed head and looks the Emperor in the eyes. “Your communication problems are not my concern.”
Staring back, Nyzald realizes he underestimated the intensity of Dare’s rage. Compressed inside, it churns around his core, masked by the pain and guilt that whips around him. Manipulating him will require a more delicate touch than he had first expected.
Kage slinks forward, circling his prey. “Did you kill the messenger, Dare? How cliché. You really should get a hold of that temper of yours. Is that what happened to your team? Did your lack of control endanger their lives?”
The guilt arches higher. Good.
<We need to know if you are fit to continue serving as our Elite General. Walk us through what went wrong.>
“We were investigating the site when we heard a scream from the direction of one of our other teams.”
Kage sneers. “You split your team into groups of inadequate sizes to deal with the situation. Did you really think that would work?”
“It is standard operating procedure,” Dare snarls, “to split into four teams to initially access the situation during first contact. Especially when we are given limited assistance from the intelligence community.”
“Don’t blame my network for your mistakes. Do you always accuse others to cover your own incompetence?”
“I’m stating the facts.” Dare grits his teeth.
A little more push on the pain… Good.
<Then what happened?>
“We entered the room where we found Sergent Greatfang being devoured by a sentient plague blob.”
“Sentient?” Kage asks. “Too bad you botched this operation so thoroughly. That would have been most helpful in furthering our research. We need to stop these plagues before they wipe us out, and that can only be done by knowing more about them. Do you want to wipe out the whole world?”
“You smug little bastard!” Dare’s control slips a tiny bit. Wonderful. “We tried everything to capture this plague. It literally eats magic. Our investigation indicated that it does not like fire. I used that to save Greatfang’s life.”

“So if you knew so much about it, how did you lose Jade? You saved the useless life of an orc dragon, but you let a valuable full-blooded dragon die. Where are your priorities?”
Dare’s rage explodes. Dragon fear rolls off him, and Kage stumbles to the floor. It washes over Nyzald, a moment of panic stealing his breath, his heart beating wildly, before he could get himself under control. Did he do that on purpose?
Memories skitter over his skin like icy pricks on his scales. It has been years since anyone made him feel so vulnerable. Years since he was the victim, a helpless half-dragon in his father’s court, too weak to stop the bullies. Dare would pay for this.
“Jade died to save my life when this piece of shit charged me. She died screaming, and you have the nerve to pretend like you give a rat’s ass? You sniveling piece  of shit!”
An invisible force blasts out from Dare, throwing Kage into the wall and Nyzald backward into a column, causing him to hit with enough force to crack the marble. Pain lances through his back.
Outraged, Nyzald stands and shakes his scales in indignation. Across the room, Kage is pinned motionless by an invisible hand, and Nyzald can tell Dare is inside Kage’s mind, ripping into him. He doesn’t even realize what he did to the Emperor.
Was that telekinesis? What other secrets is he keeping? Dare has become much too powerful.
<Enough!> Nyzald roars. <Dare, you are hereby on probation. Kage has proven to me that your priorities need adjusting. You will report to our base in South Dakota, Earthside. Kage will be monitoring your progress there. One more mistake and you will be demoted. Am. I. Clear?>
“Yes, your Imperial Majesty.”
The anger still blazes inside him, but his mind is blank, shielded completely from the Emperor. Before the end, he would break his will. He would own Dare, heart and soul.
Dare leaves, back straight. His guilt and self-loathing still eddy around him, a tumultuous whirlpool, but Nyzald could now see that none of it is for him, his rightful liege. All of it is for his lost people — his father, his brother, his comrades. He would change that before the end.
<Kage, he’s all yours. I will show you what needs to be done.>
The sorcerer’s ecstasy nearly overwhelms him. “Thank you, Sire. You are truly magnanimous and kind.”
<He must trust you completely. You must own his will without breaking it.>
Kage’s smile falters. “That’s not possible, Sire.”
The Emperor chuckles, a deep rumbling that rattles the walls.
<Empathy is the key. Do not worry. The two of us can capture an empathic signal I’ve made specifically for him. We’ll bind it in a spell, an artifact.>
With a sinister smile, Kage bows and backs out of the throne room, his raven staff’s red eyes glinting.
This is all playing right into Nyzald’s plans. The prophecies of the Mad Dragon speaks of the elite general and the choice he must make, and Nyzald knows exactly how to manipulate the situation to create the future he wants. With Kage in Dare’s body, the future where plagues are unleashed and nightmares — his nightmares — stalk the worlds is imminent.
Then not even the broken doll, whoever that might be, can stop his ultimate victory.
Where are you now, Father?
He laughed. Oh right, his father was trapped in a pink stone prison where Nyzald’s mother had imprisoned him after he nearly broke the world, nearly killed his own son, to stop a future of his son’s making. Funny how attempts to stop prophecy is what brings it about. If his father protected him rather than attempting to murder him, things might have played out differently.

Instead, he left him a roadmap to follow.
This was how he would leave his mark on the world, with its destruction.
With the last rune dragon’s body as his own, he could fulfill his destiny.
Everything he wanted, almost within his grasp.

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