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Chapter 1: Not so good news
The problem with realizing you’re in over your head is that you’re already in over your head.
Wrend hefted a crate of cheese and considered his brother’s suggestion. Accepting it could not only cost him his life, but also his eternal soul.
Yet, it could also be so tasty.
Grunting at the weight of the cheese, Wrend carried the crate up the steps and out the doorway. He blinked in the sunlight and stopped on the boardwalk as Teirn emerged with his own crate.
“Just think of it,” Teirn said. “Sardo cheese. Or just-right testouri.”
Wrend shrugged. “I’m not debating the value of cheese. It’s how the Master would react to my stealing it.”
Teirn rolled his eyes. “You only lose your soul if you’re caught. Besides, if you do get caught, at least you’ll know why the Master ends up wringing your neck.”
Wrend shrugged and raised his eyebrows. “Knowing why you’re having your head popped off is a definite plus. Although the dying part kind of spoils it.”
When Wrend was two, the Master—as tall as clouds and as angry as thunder—came into the playroom. The mothers started to sob. The more experienced children began to cry. From the midst of toys and playmates, the Master lifted a four-year-old girl and twisted her head off. The crunch still haunted Wrend’s dreams. He and Teirn had clung to each other and cried.
He’d witnessed scores more deaths since, and hundreds of other siblings had died outside of his sight. They simply disappeared. Wrend had probably only ever known why a dozen of them had perished, although the mothers and priests promised that the Master never killed without a reason. So the Parable taught.
Teirn made a skeptical sound and shook his head. “Cheese is worth it. Put it on the scales.”
Wrend imagined his soul on one side of a scale, and cheese on the other. “Hmm. . . danbo cheese?”
Teirn sniffed. “No—sardo. Or Testouri.”
The scales tipped in Wrend’s mind. “Well, that makes it easy. The cheese wins.”
With a laugh, Teirn darted ahead of Wrend and down three wooden stairs to the white and blue pavers. Wrend followed. To their right, a sea of wagons filled the Courtyard of the Wall, each with a red-tiled roof and iron-shod, shoulder-high wheels.
Wrend and Teirn had spent the morning and most of that afternoon loading a handful of the boxy wagons with supplies bound for various parts of the country. They’d carried everything from sacred books to barrels of wheat to tiny boxes of saffron and other exotic spices. Now, they worked on the last of their duties: loading the cheese wagon. It waited near the top of the courtyard, almost the last in the many columns and rows of wagons.
As they headed up the courtyard, Wrend gamed at getting ahead of Teirn, to reach the cheese wagon first. He feinted to the right or left, and tried to get ahead, but each time he made a move, Teirn responded by dodging aside and blocking his path. He’d already learned that trying to take a different route to the wagon didn’t work, since it made the trip up the courtyard longer.
To their left, a series of two-story buildings stretched up the canyon, toward the rear of the courtyard. The buildings—each painted a different color; red, blue, green, yellow, white—shared side walls, so it looked like they could have been a single building. A boardwalk ran along their fronts, up the entire length of the courtyard.
Each wooden building had a different shape, although each bore carved curls and twists of polished spruce around the windows and doors. The second level of some structures extended out over the boardwalk, while others simply had an awning. One had a balcony on the second level, with a fine white railing along the front. Others had gabled roofs with red shingles, and some had flat roofs. Most of them had rain gutters carved with vines, and hosted at least several draegon gargoyles stretched out in various poses of flight or attack.
Wrend could never walk in front of the buildings without suspecting an ambush from the gargoyles. It seemed they’d descended from the steep canyon walls behind the building, from among the pines and firs, and waited for just the right moment to attack.
A similar stretch of buildings lined the opposite side of the courtyard. Between the two lengths of buildings, at the front of the courtyard, stretched the Wall—although calling it a wall was a misnomer; it was really just a towering stone structure that reached from one side of the canyon to the other.
In preparation for the Reverencing, red cloth covered the wall, starting at the top, where red and black bunting stretched across the entire length of the parapet. Serving girls had sewed the bunting so that it looked like the lower half of a target, with concentric circles of black and red. The bunting also stretched over the thirty-foot recessed gates in the Wall’s center, and hung on the balconies at the tops of the stairs set at even intervals along Wall’s base. It dangled over the doors that gave ingress to the inner bowels of the Wall, where priests and serving girls lived in tight quarters.
From each half-circle of bunting along the parapet, or along the balcony in front of a doorway, a curtain of red cloth stretched down, so that all of the wall except for the doors was covered with red. Here and there, the breeze stirred the curtains, making them billow or lift, revealing the smooth gray stone beneath the wall.
The red, representing blood that would soon be willingly given, matched the red and black livery of the paladins standing along the parapet, at attention with shields and pikes, wearing masks that covered their rotting faces.
In a week, demigods would strip all of the bunting away, but they wouldn’t stop there. They would also tear down the ornamental woodwork—the carved rain gutters, gargoyles, and trim. They would rip the pavers up from the ground, destroying the intricate design of red swirls against a white background. Then the demigods would spend the next year rebuilding and redecorating the courtyard as part of a final test of ability and readiness to leave the Seraglio.
In two years, Wrend would undertake that test. He already had plans on what kind of design to create with the pavers. With luck, he would win the right to that task.
Other demigods, some of Wrend and Teirn’s siblings—although typically much older than Wrend and Teirn—also worked among the wagons. As they carried equipment, repaired a wagon, or completed any of a number of duties, they sang in unison about a demigod who’d lived out his days in service to the people of a southern district.
Teirn joined in the song for a few words, using a false bravado, and rolled his eyes.
“Why did they choose this insipid song?”
“I like it,” Wrend said. “The tune is catchy.”
He tried to squeeze past Teirn, to get ahead, but Teirn blocked him, nearly ramming him into a wagon, so he settled for adjusting his grip on the box and looking for an opening as they continued up past the wagons and buildings. He joined in the song, but without the sarcasm.
When they’d almost reached the top of the courtyard—the last building on their left, and the top of the row of wagons on their right—Wrend looked back at the double gates and frowned.
“I guess we were wrong,” he said. “The gates won’t open while we’re here.”
Teirn shrugged. “Too much to hope for, apparently.”
More than anything, Wrend wanted to get out of the Seraglio, to finish his education and get out into the world, serve the Master’s followers, and see more than just canyon walls. He chaffed at classes and trade lessons and lectures. He needed to get out and live life, but couldn’t until age twenty, when he would receive an assignment as a Caretaker. How lucky the other demigods moving around the courtyard were. How blessed the lives they lived out in the open world. They returned to the Seraglio only one each year, for the Reverencing.
As Wrend and Teirn approached the cheese wagon at the top of the courtyard, Wrend dodged to the left and surged forward. But Teirn jumped in front of him, nudging him so that he nearly fell against the boardwalk. With a laugh, Teirn reached the wagon first. At the base of the three steps that led up to the open wagon door, he smirked and looked back at Wrend.
“Sixteen for me. Fourteen for you.”
Wrend didn’t acknowledge the defeat with even a shrug.
Once Teirn had deposited his crate and exited the wagon, Wrend ascended the steps and entered. Inside, the dimness smelled like heaven, with the scents of half a dozen cheeses mingling into a greater temptation than a vast majority of things that ended up getting other demigods killed. Wrend would have liked to take a brick. Or five or six. It was as if the priests who’d given them the assignment knew his weakness and wanted to test him.
He deposited the box with the others, exited the wagon, and shut the door behind him.
“Finally done,” he said. “Now, to the square?”
Teirn frowned. “Why torture ourselves. The priests won’t let us take a peek at the decorations.”
“It’s worth a try.”
As demigods who hadn’t reached their majority, they couldn’t attend the Reverencing—though they’d done plenty of work to prepare for it. But everyone did. The Reverencing was the feast where the Master honored the demigods he would soon sacrifice to the people.
Voices called their names from behind. They turned to see two mothers striding up the boardwalk, past a bowing handful of serving girls in yellow dresses. One of the women, Calla, waved. Wrend smiled and waved back. The other mother was Rashel.
Teirn sighed. “I should have known we wouldn’t escape so easily.”
“We still might.”
They headed back down past the cheese wagon. The women descended a set of stairs and met them between the boardwalk and column of wagons. Calla embraced both of them in turn, exclaiming pleasure at seeing them. Rashel nodded and kept her hands on her hips.
Wrend couldn’t greet Calla without feeling like she accepted him. Her pleasant smile and warm eyes reached out in amity. Her hair, as dark as Teirn’s, flowed down her shoulders and back. She had a thin face with eyes like black pearls. Her tanned skin bore no flaw. She looked like Teirn, only older and female.
As usual, Rashel wore her brown hair in a loose bun. Unlike Calla, she had an undistinguished face. And where Calla emanated acceptance, Rashel emitted a stern challenge, a demand that you prove yourself before she accept you. Each time he saw her, Wrend felt like he had to verify his abilities anew.
Both she and Calla stood a head shorter than Wrend and wore the standard mother’s dress: red, split from the hips to the hem with a white skirt beneath; a white blouse with a laced bodice and the likeness of tree roots embroidered in gold up the center of their torsos; and sleeves that ended below the elbow.
“Have you finished your tasks for the day?” Rashel said.
“Of course, Mother,” Wrend said.
He addressed all of the Master’s hundreds of wives that way, since they all helped raise him and the other demigods. The Master preferred that none of his children knew exactly which mother had given birth to them. Only over time had Wrend concluded that Rashel was his mother.
“We thought,” Teirn said, “we would go take a look at the banquet square before they shut it off to the likes of us.”
“Well,” Rashel said, “that won’t be necessary. You’ll have an opportunity to see it later.”
Teirn grunted. “In about two years.”
“No,” Calla said, “the Master sent us to find you.” Her face became solemn. “Teirn, it’s time.”
Teirn’s brows knotted and his lips tightened. Calla returned his expression by raising her eyebrows. Wrend didn’t understand the sudden seriousness.
“Time for what?” he said to Rashel.
A message from the Master outside of the usual routine was an honor. That it came via Rashel reinforced Wrend’s notion that she’d borne him. In fact, whenever the Master had a certain task or specific information for Wrend, he sent Rashel. Except for Teirn, other children received messages via priests or a variety of mothers. For Wrend it was always Rashel. For Teirn it was always Calla.
It explained why they felt they held special status with the Master: everyone knew that the Master favored Calla and Rashel above all his other wives. It made sense for the children of favored wives to also be favored.
Rashel pursed her lips. “He wants you to sit at his right and left hands at the feast tonight.”
Wrend laughed. “He does not. Why would you even joke about that?”
“No,” Rashel said. “This is no joke.”
Her somber expression made Wrend pause. Why would the Master want him and Teirn at the places of highest honor, at the biggest feast of the year? Traditionally, demigods that the Master would sacrifice in coming weeks sat in those places. Novitiates didn’t even get to attend the banquet.
Wrend frowned at Teirn, who still glowered at Calla.
“Why does he want us there?” Teirn said.
Calla put a hand on his arm. “Wear your best clothes.”
“Be early,” Rashel said.
Calla nodded. “Arrive before anyone else, so that when everyone arrives they know who our god most loves.”
Wrend’s heart had started to pound. The mothers were serious. “Why does he want us to sit with him?”
Rashel raised her eyebrows. “He only indicated that today is a day he’s waited for since long before your births.”
Calla nodded. “He told me, ‘Tonight, it starts.’ Do you hear that, Teirn? It starts tonight.”
Teirn glared at her.
“What starts?” Wrend said to Calla. Then to Teirn, “What’s wrong?”
This summons made his heartbeat quicken, his legs and arms felt weak. Tonight would alter the course of his life. He could feel it. Everything would change in ways no demigod had seen before.
Teirn glanced at Wrend, then back at Calla, and started to turn away. “Come on Wrend. We should go.”
But Calla’s fingers tightened on Teirn’s arm. “No. I think you need to come with me. To talk.”
Teirn yanked his arm away. “There’s nothing to say.”
He headed uphill, toward the cheese wagon and the forest beyond.
Wrend frowned at Rashel, spread his hands in a question, and mouthed, What’s going on?
“Comb your hair,” she said. “I don’t want the back sticking up like usual.”
He grunted and headed after Teirn, up the lane lined by rows of wagons.
“Now’s the time, Teirn,” Calla said at their backs. “Don’t shirk your duty.”
“What’s going on?” Wrend said as he caught up.
“Bigger things than you know.”
“Well, tell me.” He looked back to see the mothers turn and head the opposite direction.
Teirn gave him a serious look. “You think this invitation is good, but it’s not. It’s abysmal. Disastrous.”
“Let’s get somewhere private, and I’ll tell you.”
Chapter 2: Laughter no more
It is inevitable that demigods will rise up against god from time to time. History has proven this; those with some divine power will always want more than is their right—and they will always seek to take it. When this happens, it is the meek and helpless who suffer most.
As he wheeled through the sky on his draegon, Athanaric spotted the trouble from far away. He’d looked forward to this nursery visit for weeks, but now his joy disintegrated, replaced with fear for his pregnant wives, the new mothers, and his newborns.
His duties as god and king demanded most of his time, so he came to the nursery at the top of the Seraglio much less often than he liked. Yet, the newborns’ innocence reminded him of mankind’s goodness, and the toddlers’ enthusiasm renewed his hope. Best of all, these children lived in safety from him. He’d vowed not to kill any of them before they turned two years old.
But from high above he saw the signs. Not a single mother had children out for a stroll on the boardwalk around the field and lake. No pregnant wives enjoyed the unusually warm day. The serving girls didn’t wait on the porch, ready with platters of food for him.
Instead, dozens of paladins lay about the grass between the expansive building and the lake, on the steps to the nursery, and near the doors. All decapitated. Their swords and pikes lay at their sides. The bodies of three demigods lay near each other in the spring grass in front of the nursery steps. Blood flowed from recent wounds.
Athanaric steeled his heart and commanded his draegon to the ground near the three bloody men. The wind rushed in his hair and the draegon’s fur rippled as they descended. Athanaric hardly waited for his undead mount to settle down before jumping from the saddle and running toward the nursery. He glanced at the three demigods lying there in the grass, newly dead, wounds puncturing their bodies, and knew what had happened.
His children had turned on him.
The three dead demigods, Nathran, Tryle, and Stoct, had recently joined the list of Caretakers conspiring against him. He’d known about their imminent treachery, their desire to dethrone him. But he hadn’t expected them to act so soon.
He leapt up the stairs past them, to the nursery porch toward doors gilded with the likeness of a many-armed and many-headed man. He grabbed the higher set of door handles, about five feet above the handles meant for most people, and shoved the doors open. He stepped into the foyer.
Here, his paladins had made a stand. Their bodies and limbs and heads lay in disorganized piles where they’d fallen in a struggle against his sons. For all of the carnage, not a drop of blood touched the floor or ceiling. Rather, the room bore the clinical smell of salt; when his priests embalmed the paladins, they drained the blood from the human bodies and filled the body cavities with nitrate to preserve them, to ensure that when Athanaric re-animated the bodies with the souls of dogs, they lived for hundreds of years.
Athanaric swallowed hard to suppress a cry. If his enemies remained nearby, he couldn’t let them know they’d touched his heart. He rushed past the bodies toward the doors at the foyer’s back, inlaid in gold with the symbol of a tree with expansive roots and branches bearing heavy fruit. Rocks of nitrate skittered away beneath his feet. He inadvertently kicked the hand of a paladin.
At the double doors he again closed his hands around the higher set of levered handles, about nine feet off the ground, at the level of his waist. After a moment of hesitation, he turned the handles down. They clicked. He cracked the door open—but not even enough to peer through.
Not a sound came from that place where hungry newborns had always cried and mothers had cooed in comfort, where he’d often heard the reckless laughter of toddlers. Now, he didn’t hear a single whimper. Not one shout for help or wail of pain.
His breath came short and shallow. Sweat gathered on his brow. His heart thundered.
He removed his fingers from the door handles. He couldn’t enter. He, god, couldn’t bring himself to look at the slaughter. For although he was god, he was also a husband of hundreds. A father of thousands.
He pulled the doors shut. They clicked, hollow and dead in the foyer.
He fell to his knees and knelt there with his forehead against the cold door, his chest constricting. He wished to hear the wail of an infant or the sob of a woman—anything to indicate that his traitorous children hadn’t acted so thoroughly.
But he heard nothing. Silence lay over the stillness, as if by stepping through the doors he would enter a painting.
His little ones. His beloved innocents. And his wives. His precious and pure wives. All murdered.
His breath caught. His hands and arms trembled. He clenched his teeth against the urge to weep, and instead reared his head back to scream. The rafters trembled at his voice. Rocks of nitrate vibrated on the ground.
Wester and the other renegades had done this. His own sons who’d spent the last two years conspiring against him even as they worshipped, praised, and served him. He’d let them gain confidence and boldness as they whispered their sedition and recruited other traitors, so he could gather their names in preparation for a cleansing. They were fruitless boughs in the tree of his family, and would need pruning.
He’d had waited for the right moment to eradicate his kingdom of the unholy alliance, to not spook the renegades and let some escape, but had never dreamed they would strike at him in this manner. Had they also attacked elsewhere, at his hundreds of other children and wives lower in the canyon?
The thought lifted him to his feet. He turned from the doors, and ran back past the paladins. Outside, he commanded his draegon, Cuchorack, to rise. The draegon snapped his wings open and stood. Sunlight shone through holes in the hairless wings, where the leather had decayed and fallen away. His black horns, turned down from the top of his head and extending past the end of his snout, glistened.
Athanaric swung up onto the saddle on the shoulders, between the wings and the serpentine neck. He grabbed handfuls of red fur, tightened his legs, and ordered the draegon to take him to the Courtyard of the Wall.
He would wait no longer.
The time had come to cleanse his kingdom of treacherous children.
As the draegon wheeled into the sky, a memory came, as clear as if it had happened one day past, and not two millennia before. The vision assaulted him every few years, in moments when he didn’t expect it, like a vision triggered by some small detail. Perhaps today, the glint of the sunlight on the wooden stairs leading up to the porch triggered the memory.
On that day two thousand years before, he’d entered the Divine Palace and found that his brothers had killed Fedron, the sibling who’d taught him in secret to use Ichor. He’d found his ten brothers standing over Fedron’s broken and still body. They’d looked at him apologetically, and said it had to be so.
Fedron. The brother who’d loved him most.
In the subsequent years he’d found revenge against them all, until only he remained to bring the land peace.
And now, his children had broken the peace again.
He turned the draegon westward, toward the Courtyard of the Wall.
Chapter 3: Unexpected attention
The only way to free a people is to enlighten their minds, to teach them how their world could be if they understood the lies they’ve learned from the cradle. For this reason, those in power always silence those who speak the truth.
Attending the Reverencing should have excited Teirn like it excited Wrend. Wondering at his brother’s unusual seriousness, Wrend followed Teirn up past the wagons and buildings, toward the trees that bordered the top of the courtyard. Beyond a thirty-yard expanse of open flagstone, the stone narrowed into a path that wound among pines and firs. To the right, along the back of the courtyard, other paths also led up into the canyon.
“What’s the problem?” Wrend said as they approached the trees. “What has you so worked up?”
Teirn looked back, his lips narrow and thin. “I’ve wanted to tell you for years.”
“What?” Wrend said. “Tell me.”
Teirn started to respond, but a voice called them from behind. They halted and turned.
Rashel and Calla had disappeared among the wagons, but an older demigod, a Caretaker probably in his forties, jumped down from the end of the boardwalk and approached them.
Like all male demigods older than twenty, he wore plain pants, a white button shirt, and a black vest. Golden thread decorated the shoulders of the vest and sleeves of the shirt in intertwining branches with broad leaves and heavy fruit. Wrend’s shirt bore similar embroidery, but without the fruit. At age twenty, when he passed from the status of Novitiate and became a fruitful bough in the Parable, he would earn the fruit-bearing design. He would also swap his white bracers for red ones, like those that extended halfway up this Caretaker’s forearm, covering the cuffs of the shirt.
Wrend recognized the Caretaker’s face, but didn’t know his name; most Caretakers spent so little time in the Seraglio that Wrend couldn’t hope to know any of the three hundred very well.
The Caretaker waved and called for them to wait. He moved past the last wagon and through the open space with the confidence only a Caretaker could possess. As he approached, he held out his hand in greeting, and as they met he closed his left hand around Wrend’s left bracers. Wrend returned the gesture, wondering what his brother could possibly want.
“I’m Wester,” he said. “I know that you’re Wrend and you’re Teirn. How are your studies?”
The greeting roused suspicion in Wrend. Teirn furrowed his brow and frowned.
“Has the Master taught you how to use Ichor, yet?” Wester said.
“No,” Wrend said. “We can harvest it, but not use it.”
Just talking about Ichor made Wrend focus on his discernment. As with all his senses, discernment was always there, but he didn’t recognize it unless he consciously thought about it. As he did, he saw waves emanating out from his stomach. They weren’t strong waves, since he hadn’t eaten in several hours, but he saw them clearly: green, measured, small.
However, saw wasn’t the right word, for he didn’t see the waves with his eyes. Felt also wasn’t the right word, for he didn’t feel them with his body or mind. He discerned them, and could therefore harvest them back into his body.
“Of course,” Wester said. He smiled and leaned in close. “Most of us don’t actually wait until the Master teaches us—“
A roar from overhead interrupted him. Wrend looked to the sky, searching for the source, but not finding it. He knew the roar. He’d heard it many times. It belonged to the Master’s undead draegon, Cuchorack. But as far as Wrend knew, the Master had never brought Cuchorack to the Courtyard of the Wall. The draegon’s size simply made it too much of a threat to the buildings and ground.
The singing of the demigods throughout the courtyard faltered and died. Serving girls on the boardwalk dropped to their knees. A lone priest near the back of the wagons also knelt—so did the few other dozen people that Wrend could see scattered among the wagons. All of them turned their attention toward the sky above the forest, to where Wrend couldn’t see because he stood so close to the trees.
Wrend descended to one knee and rested his elbows on the other. Teirn and Wester joined him.
Throughout the courtyard no one moved or spoke.
Cuchorack roared again. Wrend’s chest vibrated at the deepness of the sound—so much closer than before. The draegon descended into the back of the courtyard to Wrend’s left. It landed with its wings spread wide, yet slammed into the ground like a boulder falling from the sky. A tremor ran up Wrend’s legs. Where the draegon landed, the red and blue pavers buckled and shifted, rippled.
Wrend had seen Cuchorack many times, but never like this, in this place. Its posture bore a threat, a warning of imminent suffering. The threat shone in Cuchorack’s black eyes and glistened along its sharpened horns as it reared back onto its two hind legs, letting its forelegs hang down in front of its hairy body, and cast a shadow over the courtyard by snapping its wings open.
It extended its slender neck high, tilted its snout skyward, and roared. The noise filled the otherwise silent courtyard as if Cuchorack’s body had grown to fill the space. Its head reached well above the tallest trees behind it, and its horns curved down past its chin whiskers. Its tail curled up, reaching almost to the base of its neck.
Straps around Cuchorack’s shoulders and chest secured a saddle onto its back. In the saddle sat the greater source of Wrend’s awe: the Master; god and father; Athanaric.
At eighteen feet tall, the Master sat on the draegon as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Like always, he wore all black—except for the intricate pattern of golden tree-roots covering the front, sides, and back of his shirt. With every move of the draegon he adjusted his weight and held onto the reigns with a grace that bespoke his two thousand years. His every motion conveyed dominance and control, and everywhere his gaze passed, his children, priests, and servants shuddered.
He looked over the courtyard, his jaw set in anger. It meant something important that he’d brought Cuchorack to the Courtyard of the Wall on the day of the Reverencing.
It could only mean one thing.
Wrend bit his lip. The Master had come to kill a demigod. Wrend looked over the courtyard, trying to remember which Novitiates—demigods younger than age twenty—were there.
Who would the Master kill this time?
From his position near the trees, Wrend could only see a few dozen people, though he knew that perhaps a hundred knelt out among the wagons. Toward the Master, a pair of female Caretakers knelt along with a priest. Down between the wagons and the boardwalk, a handful of male and female Caretakers knelt and bowed their heads. On the boardwalk, a gaggle of serving girls trembled. No doubt other priests, serving girls, and Caretakers knelt throughout in the courtyard, among the wagons, but Wrend couldn’t recall seeing any other Novitiates in the past hour.
That could only mean one thing. The Master had come for either Wrend or Teirn.
A tingle ran along his arms and down his legs. He cast his mind over the recent day, looking for something he’d done to merit death; even favorite sons could fall from grace. But he found nothing. He’d done nothing wrong. He hadn’t even taken any cheese.
Teirn. The Master had come for Teirn.
Wrend reached over and placed a hand on Teirn’s shoulder. His brother’s eyes bored into his. A shared knowledge of impending death passed between them.
What could Teirn have possibly done?
The Master motioned for the draegon to let him down. The creature obeyed by dropping forward to all four paws, again sending tremors through the ground. With a flapping noise, it folded its wings against its weasel-like body and lowered its tail. The Master lifted one leg over the shoulders and saddle, and slid to the flagstone. His eyes swung back and forth over the courtyard and wagons.
Wrend held his breath.
The Master leapt forward.