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Her voice cracked the air, rivaling with my own. I never wanted to leave you. I never wanted anything so much as I wanted you. Pacing away, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had to calm myself, to let the weight of this discovery, the improbability of her explanation to sink into my water-logged brain.

I begged the supply ship crew to bring my letters to you. They always took them, but never brought one in return. I suspect they destroyed them, but I had no way of knowing. Turning back to face her, I felt like a mindless beast. Without a word, I leaned in and pressed my forehead to hers, allowing myself to breathe in her scent for the first time in a decade.

We stood suspended like that for a while, lost in time, and emerging from a purgatory neither of us had imagined ten years ago. I would have been content to stand like that forever, but Loralee burst into tears and wilted to the floor. I followed her down and opened the quilt to wrap us both inside. I held her tight while she cried. I finally got enough breath to speak again. The weight of it all came crashing down on me.

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She made no attempt to wipe her cheeks, but shook her head and stared at the rafters as though entreating the gods. Not at all. The familiar weight of grief squeezed my chest, and a few more tears escaped before I could stop them. Loralee took a few deep breaths and finally pulled away from me. She caressed my cheek and smiled weakly. And then, I think we should start at the beginning, back to the Great Plague and when we first met. Do you remember that? Smiling past the sadness, I covered her hand with mine and closed my eyes. Definitely, exercise is huge. Also proper levels of rest.

Before me was a one-room living space.

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An unmade bed sat in the left corner, dirty dishes cluttered the little dining table straight ahead, and towels were strewn about the floor near the bathing area to my right. A small hearth stood beside that, complete with a shelf full of cooking pots and utensils. I wrinkled my nose at the musty, moldy smell.

The place needed some airing out. Puddle hopped from my shoulder to the floor in one graceful leap, sniffing intently at our surroundings. His gray and black-striped tail swished as it did when he was really curious. I dropped my bag on the floor, surprised to find a divided door next to the dining table. I walked to it and opened the upper half. A lovely garden lay behind the cottage. From there, I could tell the tiny outer refuge had also been taken care of, but neglected for a little while. The grass needed trimming, but was turning brown like the bushes and trees in front. Leaves and wilted blossoms littered the stone walkway and a white bench under the twisted branches of a penuke tree.

The garden was tucked into a triangular nook inside the cliff walls. Though brown and wilted like the grass, sun-loving plants were situated in ideal positions to catch the light, while the vines and bushes that favored shade grew along the periphery. From the rightmost rock wall, a tiny waterfall flowed into a tiled, crystal clear pool.

A ceramic pitcher hung from a hook beside it. A full-body shudder ran through me. I glanced over my shoulder and spotted the cloth-covered revaeri just next to the hearth. I started back toward the front door to retrieve my bag when a shadow darkened the threshold. I froze. The dark form lowered itself directly in front of the doorway.

Oh, goddess.

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Puddle squealed and darted under the bed. Dull gray scales covered its head and what I could see of its neck. Then, it spoke. The rumbling voice reverberated in my chest. Make yourself known. Step forward so I can see you. I gnawed on an already worn-down fingernail and wondered why the creature would make such a request.

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I stood no more than ten feet from it. Either it had a vision problem or it intended to eat me. At the taste of blood on my tongue, I forced myself to stop chewing on my raw fingertip and tucked both hands behind my back. The journal never mentioned that aspect of dragon anatomy. I fell to my knees, shaking so hard my teeth chattered.

The wisdom symbol on my forehead tingled—a timely reminder to watch my tongue. It would not be wise to explain how I had been forcibly sent here, not until I knew how to handle myself around these creatures. Hugging myself tightly, I forced part of the truth past my clacking teeth, hoping it would suffice. Do you think me but a dragonling, ignorant of the deceitful ways of elven-kind? Another bit of information that would have proven useful before I became a snack. Another voice spoke from behind the gray dragon. Female, perhaps? Let me get a look.

Have I not told you to remain cave-bound while you go through the shedding? I dared a look at Kershar, finally realizing why his eye, and to a lesser extent, his scales, were so dull. My sister Prysilla had raised a virtual zoo of pets over the years. Every reptile and amphibian replaced their skin on a regular basis. Like those, Kershar must have been molting. The edges of the shedding eye scale had already separated from the new tissue beneath.

The olive-green dragon spoke again.

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My mate will not harm you. He is all smoke and no fire, and he is as mortal as you are. I am Xaxony, matriarch of the clan. Dragons can smile? Who knew? Loralee Munroviel. Kershar rumbled again. She cannot be a Keeper. Where is your mark, child? What mark…oh! I turned my back to Xaxony and parted the hair at the nape of my neck, hoping at least some of the dark birthmark was visible on my scalp.

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We should leave her in peace until she is settled. Come to the caves when you are ready, child, and I will show you the island.

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I nodded, then thought of something. Xaxony butted in again. Your stubbornness is as annoying as scale mites. He emitted a grumble that sounded like a rockslide. Speak, mortal.

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If you will hold still, I may be able to remove the shedding scales from your eyes. He grumbled again, but lowered his head to rest his chin on the threshold. Then, I pulled on it slightly, testing the resistance. It loosened more, and behind it, I could see the bright green of an iris and the tip of a vertical pupil. So far, so good. Pulling as gently and evenly as I could, I slowly removed the scale from his eye, until the platter-sized opaque disk came off in my hands.

Somewhere, hidden in the waters of the Southern Sea, lies an island unlike any other. Within the amber glow of its pyrogem-laden cliffs, legend says the very heart of the dragon god Drae keeps the island, and its occupants, alive.

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Captain Igrorio Everlyn, known as Sir Robert to his unit of Holy Paladins, has faced his share of hell, battling the evils of Emperor Sarvonn's tyranny and the dark god Tyr's abominations. But none of that compares to the ten years of hell he's been without Loralee, presumed dead.

One freak storm changes everything. Now the two of them must fight to reestablish the delicate balance of the island before the dragons take things into their own hands. Through it all, they discover the secrets that kept them, and their hearts, exiled for a decade. Create Widget. About Mysti Parker.