It is always her voice, begging me to answer, that starts the dream. “Sorrowlynn!” But when I open my eyes, I see two scale-covered feet with blood-tipped claws digging into black pebbles. A wave crashes over those claws, swirling the blood into the ocean and turning the water pink. I know not to look up. Looking up is what has made it impossible for me to sleep past sunrise for the past five and a half months, because if I stay asleep, I always look up at the beast and the two dragon heads attached to its one body—and every time two sets of eyes glare into mine, both heads lunge, and the only thing I can do to protect myself is throw my arms up to shield my face. The last time I did that, my arm got eaten.
Even though this is a dream, I know exactly how it feels to have my arm bitten off by a dragon—I remember the sensation of Zhun’s teeth sliding through my flesh and snapping my bones before he swallowed my arm whole. I try to open my eyes, but my body, lying in a small, hard bed in an Antharian stronghold, refuses to stir. Please wake up, I think. Wake up! But my body, weary from months of hard physical training, refuses. So I do the inevitable, the same thing I do every time I have this dream of black beaches and a woman’s desperate calling. I grit my teeth and let my gaze travel up the length of the dragon’s body until I am looking into two sets of blinking eyes.
A wave collides with the beast’s legs and fills the air with salt water, and I taste it. I shouldn’t taste salt in a dream, and yet there it is on my tongue. And now the two heads pull back and then lunge forward. Without a thought, I lift my arm to shield my head, and just as warm breath slaps against my face and sharp teeth snap down on my arm, grinding against bone, I see the woman standing far behind the beast, hands cupped around her mouth, yelling. But I do not hear what she says because pain has a sound all its own—a roaring, shrieking wail.
It is my hoarse scream that wakes me to my dim chamber, and the first thing I notice is the complete lack of pain in my arm. I whimper and hug my right arm to my chest, and burrow deeper beneath the blankets. With my mind, I probe the nearly dead coals in the hearth and pull out a spark of fire. It floats across the room and settles on the black wick of a candlestick. Next I tell the smoldering ashes in the hearth to burn. Flames jump to life, feasting as if on fresh logs, and not just their ashy remains. When autumn turned to bitter winter and no maid was sent to light a fire in the morning, I taught myself how to heat my chamber without getting out of bed. “Thank you, Zhun,” I whisper, for along with his treasure of knowledge, I inherited his fire magic. I quickly get out of bed and undress, trading my nightgown for a thick woolen shirt, woolen leggings and socks, and leather breeches that are worn over the leggings. My training begins promptly at sunrise every day, and based on the amount of light in the sky, the sun is just about to rise. As I run out the door, I buckle a sword belt and sword over my hips.
No one is asleep at sunrise in the western citadel. It is where the Antharian horse lords send their youth to be turned into the world’s fiercest warriors. The citadel, a massive gray fortress built into the side of a mountain, is surrounded on three sides by a stone wall at least four stories high and as thick as a house. The fourth side, the side built into the mountain, needs no wall to protect it. It is the only Antharian stronghold built to withstand dragon attacks, and that is the main reason I was sent here. Six dragons are still alive, and they are going to find me and kill me because I killed the fire dragon and learned their secrets—they have magic in their blood, and their treasures are passed on to whoever kills them.