Rise of the Dragons
“Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
– William ShakespeareJulius Caesar
Copyright © 2014 by Morgan Rice
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Jacket image Copyright Photosani, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
Morgan Rice is the #1 bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the epic fantasy series THE SORCERER’S RING, comprising seventeen books; of the #1 bestselling series THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS, comprising eleven books (and counting); of the #1 bestselling series THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, a post-apocalyptic thriller comprising two books (and counting); and of the new epic fantasy series KINGS AND SORCERERS, comprising two books (and counting). Morgan’s books are available in audio and print editions, and translations are available in over 25 languages.
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Select Acclaim for Morgan Rice
“If you thought that there was no reason left for living after the end of THE SORCERER’S RING series, you were wrong. In RISE OF THE DRAGONS Morgan Rice has come up with what promises to be another brilliant series, immersing us in a fantasy of trolls and dragons, of valor, honor, courage, magic and faith in your destiny. Morgan has managed again to produce a strong set of characters that make us cheer for them on every page.…Recommended for the permanent library of all readers that love a well-written fantasy.”– Books and Movie ReviewsRoberto Mattos
“RISE OF THE DRAGONS succeeds – right from the start…. A superior fantasy…It begins, as it should, with one protagonist's struggles and moves neatly into a wider circle of knights, dragons, magic and monsters, and destiny.…All the trappings of high fantasy are here, from soldiers and battles to confrontations with self….A recommended winner for any who enjoy epic fantasy writing fueled by powerful, believable young adult protagonists.”– Midwest Book ReviewD. Donovan, eBook Reviewer
“[RISE OF THE DRAGONS] is a plot-driven novel that’s easy to read in a weekend…A good start to a promising series.”– San Francisco Book Review
“An action packed fantasy sure to please fans of Morgan Rice’s previous novels, along with fans of works such as THE INHERITANCE CYCLE by Christopher Paolini…. Fans of Young Adult Fiction will devour this latest work by Rice and beg for more.”– The Wanderer, A Literary Journal (regarding Rise of the Dragons)
“A spirited fantasy that weaves elements of mystery and intrigue into its story line. A Quest of Heroes is all about the making of courage and about realizing a life purpose that leads to growth, maturity, and excellence….For those seeking meaty fantasy adventures, the protagonists, devices, and action provide a vigorous set of encounters that focus well on Thor's evolution from a dreamy child to a young adult facing impossible odds for survival….Only the beginning of what promises to be an epic young adult series.”– Midwest Book Review (D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer)
“THE SORCERER’S RING has all the ingredients for an instant success: plots, counterplots, mystery, valiant knights, and blossoming relationships replete with broken hearts, deception and betrayal. It will keep you entertained for hours, and will satisfy all ages. Recommended for the permanent library of all fantasy readers.”– Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos
“Rice’s entertaining epic fantasy [THE SORCERER’S RING] includes classic traits of the genre – a strong setting, highly inspired by ancient Scotland and its history, and a good sense of court intrigue.”– Kirkus Reviews
“I loved how Morgan Rice built Thor’s character and the world in which he lived. The landscape and the creatures that roamed it were very well described…I enjoyed [the plot]. It was short and sweet….There were just the right amount of minor characters, so I didn’t get confused. There were adventures and harrowing moments, but the action depicted wasn’t overly grotesque. The book would be perfect for a teen reader… The beginnings of something remarkable are there…”– San Francisco Book Review
“In this action-packed first book in the epic fantasy Sorcerer's Ring series (which is currently 14 books strong), Rice introduces readers to 14-year-old Thorgrin "Thor" McLeod, whose dream is to join the Silver Legion, the elite knights who serve the king…. Rice's writing is solid and the premise intriguing.”– Publishers Weekly
“[A QUEST OF HEROES] is a quick and easy read. The ends of chapters make it so that you have to read what happens next and you don’t want to put it down. There are some typos in the book and some names are messed up, but this does not distract from the overall story. The end of the book made me want to get the next book immediately and that is what I did. All nine of the Sorcerer’s Ring series can currently be purchased on the Kindle store and A Quest of Heroes is currently free to get you started! If you are looking for a something quick and fun to read while on vacation this book will do nicely.”– FantasyOnline.net
Books by Morgan Rice
KINGS AND SORCERERS
RISE OF THE DRAGONS (Book #1)
RISE OF THE VALIANT (Book #2)
THE SORCERER’S RING
A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1)
A MARCH OF KINGS (Book #2)
A FATE OF DRAGONS (Book #3)
A CRY OF HONOR (Book #4)
A VOW OF GLORY (Book #5)
A CHARGE OF VALOR (Book #6)
A RITE OF SWORDS (Book #7)
A GRANT OF ARMS (Book #8)
A SKY OF SPELLS (Book #9)
A SEA OF SHIELDS (Book #10)
A REIGN OF STEEL (Book #11)
A LAND OF FIRE (Book #12)
A RULE OF QUEENS (Book #13)
AN OATH OF BROTHERS (Book #14)
A DREAM OF MORTALS (Book #15)
A JOUST OF KNIGHTS (Book #16)
THE GIFT OF BATTLE (Book #17)
THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY
ARENA ONE: SLAVERSUNNERS (Book #1)
ARENA TWO (Book #2)
THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS
TURNED (Book #1)
LOVED (Book #2)
BETRAYED (Book #3)
DESTINED (Book #4)
DESIRED (Book #5)
BETROTHED (Book #6)
VOWED (Book #7)
FOUND (Book #8)
RESURRECTED (Book #9)
CRAVED (Book #10)
FATED (Book #11)
Listen to KINGS AND SORCERERS in its Audiobook edition!
Kyra stood atop the grassy knoll, the frozen ground hard beneath her boots, snow falling around her, and tried to ignore the biting cold as she raised her bow and focused on her target. She narrowed her eyes, shutting out the rest of the world – a gale of wind, the sound of a distant crow – and forced herself to see only the skinny birch tree, far-off, stark-white, standing out amidst the landscape of purple pine trees. At forty yards, this was just the sort of shot her brothers couldn’t make, that even her father’s men couldn’t make – and that made her all the more determined – she being the youngest of the bunch, and the only girl amongst them.
Kyra had never fit in. A part of her wanted to, of course, wanted to do what was expected of her and spend time with the other girls, as was her place, attending to domestic affairs; but deep down, it was not who she was. She was her father’s daughter, had a warrior’s spirit, like he, and she would not be contained to the stone walls of their stronghold, would not succumb to a life beside a hearth. She was a better shot than these men – indeed, she could already outshoot her father’s finest archers – and she would do whatever she had to to prove to them all – most of all, her father – that she deserved to be taken seriously. Her father loved her, she knew, but he refused to see her for who she was.
Kyra did her best training far from the fort, out here on the plains of Volis, alone – which suited her well, since she, the only girl in a fort of warriors, had learned to be alone. She had taken to retreating here every day, her favorite spot, high atop the plateau overlooking the fort’s rambling stone walls, where she could find good trees, skinny trees hard to hit. The thwack of her arrows had become an ever-present sound echoing over the village; not a tree up here had been spared from her arrows, their trunks scarred, some trees already leaning.
Most of her father’s archers, Kyra knew, took aim at the mice that covered the plains; when she had first started, she had tried that herself, and had found she could kill them quite easily. But that had sickened her. She was fearless, but sensitive, too, and killing a living thing with no purpose displeased her. She had vowed then that she would never take aim at a living thing again – unless it were dangerous, or attacking her, like the Wolfbats that emerged at night and flew too close to her father’s fort. She had no qualms about dropping them, especially after her younger brother, Aidan, suffered a Wolfbat bite that left him ill for half a moon. Besides, they were the fastest moving creatures out there, and she knew that if she could hit one, especially at night, then she could hit anything. She had once spent an entire night by a full moon firing away from her father’s tower, and had run out eagerly at sunrise, thrilled to see scores of Wolfbats littering the ground, her arrows still in them, villagers crowding around and looking with amazed faces.
Kyra forced herself to focus. She played through the shot in her mind’s eye, seeing herself raising her bow, pulling it back quickly to her chin and releasing without hesitation. The real shooting, she knew, happened before the shot. She had witnessed too many archers her age, on their fourteenth year, draw their strings and waver – and she knew then that their shots were lost. She took a deep breath, raised her bow, and in one decisive motion, pulled back and released. She did not even need to look to know she had hit the tree.
A moment later she heard its thwack – but she had already turned away, already looking for another target, one further off.
Kyra heard a whining at her feet and she looked down at Leo, her wolf, walking beside her as he always did, rubbing against her leg. A full-grown wolf, nearly up to her waist, Leo was as protective of Kyra as Kyra was of him, the two of them an inseparable sight in her father’s fort. Kyra could not go anywhere without Leo hurrying to catch up. And all that time he clung to her side – unless a squirrel or rabbit crossed his path, in which case he could disappear for hours.
“I didn’t forget you, boy,” Kyra said, reaching into her pocket and handing Leo the leftover bone from the day’s feast. Leo snatched it, trotting happily beside her.
As Kyra walked, her breath emerging in mist before her, she draped her bow over her shoulder and breathed into her hands, raw and cold. She crossed the wide, flat plateau and looked out. From this vantage point she could see the entire countryside, the rolling hills of Volis, usually green but now blanketed in snow, the province of her father’s stronghold, nestled in the northeastern corner of the kingdom of Escalon. From up here Kyra had a bird’s-eye view of all the goings-on in her father’s fort, the comings and goings of the village folk and warriors, another reason she liked it up here. She liked to study the ancient, stone contours of her father’s fort, the shapes of its battlements and towers stretching impressively through the hills, seeming to sprawl forever. Volis was the tallest structure in the countryside, some of its buildings rising four stories and framed by impressive layers of battlements. It was completed by a circular tower on its far side, a chapel for the folk, but for her, a place to climb and look out at the countryside and be alone. The stone complex was ringed by a moat, spanned by a wide main road and an arched stone bridge; this, in turn, was ringed by layers of impressive outer embankments, hills, ditches, walls – a place befitting one of the King’s most important warriors – her father.
Though Volis, the final stronghold before The Flames, was several days’ ride from Andros, Escalon’s capital, it was still home to many of the former King’s famed warriors. It had also become a beacon, a place that had become home to the hundreds of villagers and farmers that lived in or near its walls, under its protection.
Kyra looked down at the dozens of small clay cottages nestled in the hills on the outskirts of the fort, smoke rising from chimneys, farmers hurrying to and fro as they prepared for winter, and for the night’s festival. The fact that villagers felt safe enough to live outside the main walls, Kyra knew, was a sign of great respect for her father’s might, and a sight unseen elsewhere in Escalon. After all, they were a mere horn sounding away from protection, from the instant rallying of all her father’s men.
Kyra looked down at the drawbridge, always packed with throngs of people – farmers, cobblers, butchers, blacksmiths, along with, of course, warriors – all rushing from fort to countryside and back again. For within the fort’s walls was not only a place to live and train, but also an endless array of cobblestone courtyards which had become a gathering place for merchants. Every day their stalls were lined up, people selling their wares, bartering, showing off the day’s hunt or catch, or some exotic cloth or spice or candy traded from across the sea. The courtyards of the fort were always filled with some exotic smell, be it of a strange tea, or a cooking stew; she could get lost in them for hours. And just beyond the walls, in the distance, her heart quickened to see the circular training ground for her father’s men, Fighter’s Gate, and the low stone wall surrounding it, and she watched with excitement as his men charged in neat lines with their horses, trying to lance targets – shields hanging from trees. She ached to train with them.
Kyra suddenly heard a voice cry out, one as familiar to her as her own, coming from the direction of the gatehouse, and she turned, immediately on alert. There was a commotion in the crowd, and she watched as through the bustle, spilling out of the throng and out onto the main road, there emerged her younger brother, Aidan, led by her two older brothers, Brandon and Braxton. Kyra tensed, on guard. She could tell from the sound of distress in her baby brother’s voice that their older brothers were up to no good.
Kyra’s eyes narrowed as she watched her older brothers, feeling a familiar anger rise up within her and unconsciously tightening her grip on her bow. There came Aidan, marched between them, each taller by a foot, each grabbing his arm and dragging him unwillingly away from the fort and into the countryside. Aidan, a small, thin, sensitive boy, barely ten, looked extra vulnerable sandwiched between his two brothers, overgrown brutes of seventeen and eighteen. They all had similar features and coloring, with their strong jaws, proud chins, dark brown eyes, and wavy brown hair – though Brandon and Braxton wore theirs cropped short, while Aidan’s still fell, unruly, past his eyes. They all looked alike – and none like her, with her light blonde hair and light gray eyes. Dressed in her woven tights, woolen tunic, and cloak, Kyra was tall and thin, too pale, she was told, with a broad forehead and a small nose, blessed with striking features that had led more than one man to look twice. Especially now that she was turning fifteen, she noticed the looks increasing.
It made her uncomfortable. She did not like calling attention to herself, and she did not view herself as beautiful. She cared nothing for looks – only for training, for valor, for honor. She would rather have resembled her father, as her brothers did, the man she admired and loved more than anyone in the world, than have her dainty features. She always checked the mirror for something of himself in her eyes, yet no matter how hard she looked, she could not find it.
“I said, get off of me!” Aidan shouted, his voice carrying all the way up here.
At her baby brother’s call of distress, a boy who Kyra loved more than anyone in the world, she stood ramrod straight, like a lion watching its cub. Leo, too, stiffened, the hair rising on his back. With their mother long gone, Kyra felt obliged to watch over Aidan, to make up for the mother he never had.
Brandon and Braxton dragged him roughly down the road, away from the fort, on the lone country road toward the distant wood, and she saw them trying to get him to wield a spear, one too big for him. Aidan had become a too-easy target for them to pick on; Brandon and Braxton were bullies. They were strong and somewhat brave, but they had more bravado than real skills, and they always seemed to get into trouble they could not quite get out of themselves. It was maddening.
Kyra realized what was happening: Brandon and Braxton were dragging Aidan with them on one of their hunts. She spotted the sacks of wine in their hands and knew they’d been drinking, and she fumed. It was not enough that they were going to kill some senseless animal, but now they were dragging their younger brother along with them, despite his protests.
Kyra’s instincts kicked in and she leapt into action, running downhill to confront them, Leo running by her side.
“You’re old enough now,” Brandon said to Aidan.
“It’s past time you became a man,” Braxton said.
Bounding down the grass hills she knew by heart, it did not take Kyra long to catch up to them. She ran out onto the road and stopped before them, blocking their path, breathing hard, Leo beside her, and her brothers all stopped short, looking back, stunned.
Aidan’s face, she could see, fell in relief.
“Are you lost?” Braxton mocked.
“You’re blocking our way,” Brandon said. “Go back to your arrows and your sticks.”
The two of them laughed derisively, but she frowned, undeterred, as Leo, beside her, snarled.
“Get that beast away from us,” Braxton said, trying to sound brave but fear apparent in his voice as he tightened his grip on his spear.
“And where do you think you’re taking Aidan?” she asked, dead serious, looking back at them without flinching.
They paused, their faces slowly hardening.
“We’re taking him wherever we please,” Brandon said.
“He’s going on a hunt to learn to become a man,” Braxton said, emphasizing that last word as a dig to her.
But she would not give in.
“He’s too young,” she replied firmly.
“Says who?” he asked.
“And are you his mother?” Braxton asked.
Kyra flushed, filled with anger, wishing their mother was here now more than ever.
“As much as you are his father,” she replied.
They all stood there in the tense silence, and Kyra looked to Aidan, who looked back with scared eyes.
“Aidan,” she asked him, “is this something you wish to do?”
Aidan looked down at the ground, ashamed. He stood there, silent, avoiding her glance, and Kyra knew he was afraid to speak out, to provoke the disapproval of his older brothers.
“Well, there you have it,” Brandon said. “He doesn’t object.”
Kyra stood there, burning with frustration, wanting Aidan to speak up but unable to force him.
“It is unwise for you to bring him on your hunt,” she said. “A storm brews. It will be dark soon. The wood is filled with danger. If you want to teach him to hunt, take him when he’s older, on another day.”
They scowled back, annoyed.
“And what do you know of hunting?” Braxton asked. “What have you hunted beside those trees of yours?”
“Any of them bite you lately?” Brandon added.
They both laughed, and Kyra burned, debating what to do. Without Aidan speaking up, there wasn’t much she could do.
“You worry too much, sister,” Brandon finally said. “Nothing will happen to Aidan on our watch. We want to toughen him up a bit – not kill him. Do you really imagine you’re the only one who cares for him?”
“Besides, Father is watching,” Braxton said. “Do you want to disappoint him?”
Kyra immediately looked up over their shoulders, and high up, in the tower, she spotted her father standing at the arched, open-aired window, watching. She felt supreme disappointment in him for not stopping this.
They tried to brush past, but Kyra stood there, doggedly blocking their way. They looked as if they might shove her, but Leo stepped between them, snarling, and they thought better of it.
“Aidan, it’s not too late,” she said to him. “You don’t have to do this. Do you wish to return to the fort with me?”
She examined him and could see his eyes tearing, but she could also see his torment. A long silence passed, with nothing to break it up but the howling wind and the quickening snow.
Finally, he squirmed.
“I want to hunt,” he muttered half-heartedly.
Her brothers suddenly brushed past her, bumping her shoulder, dragging Aidan, and as they hurried down the road, Kyra turned and watched, a sickening feeling in her stomach.
She turned back to the fort and looked up at the tower, but her father was already gone.
Kyra watched as her three brothers faded from view, into the brewing storm, toward the Wood of Thorns, and she felt a pit in her stomach. She thought of snatching Aidan and bringing him back – but she did not want to shame him.
She knew she should let it go – but she could not. Something within her would not allow her to. She sensed danger, especially on the eve of the Winter Moon. She did not trust her elder brothers; they would not harm Aidan, she knew, but they were reckless, and too rough. Worst of all, they were overconfident in their skills. It was a bad combination.
Kyra could stand it no longer. If her father wouldn’t act, then she would. She was old enough now – she did not need to answer to anyone but herself.
Kyra burst into a jog, running down the lone country path, Leo by her side, and heading right for the Wood of Thorns.