"We should have stopped her."




We'd left the Elven woods.  We're heading back towards the Capital.  We're right on the outskirts...our dragons hidden away in the nearby mountains so that none of the scouts would know we are here.  I think it's pointless to hide the dragons.  They are looking for me, sure, but the scouts wouldn't be looking here.  No one thinks we're dumb enough to come back to the Capital of all places.   This was the last place we should be but Maxim likes to remind me that we needed help and the Capital was the only place we had help.


It was also the only place that we had enemies.






"We should rest here. I'll sneak into town to have Raisa and Natasha rendezvous with us.  I'll update them on our progress. We'll make a plan from there."


"You aren't listening to me."


"What did you say?"


"We should have stopped her," I state, "She was right there. The most dangerous woman in the world and we let her go.  We should have stopped her."


"How do you presume we would have stopped her?"


"How do you think?"


Maxim gives me a weird look.




"She's your mother."


"She has an army of dragons."


"She's still your mother.  Your pregnant mother."




All I can see is red at this point.  I was tired of being betrayed.  I was tired of being backstabbed.  This woman had left me and I felt emptiness inside.


"She's dangerous."


"Show me."




He pulls out his dagger and lays it on the ground next to me, "Show me how you would have stopped Nikoletta."


I don't know what he's trying to prove at this point but I'm so mad that I take the bait.  I grab the dagger and head towards him.  Red is all in my eyes.  I'm quick attempting to swipe at him and cut his arm but he quickly moves back.  He has on heavy armor and all but he still happens to be fast.  I try again.  This time he catches my arm.  In a single move Maxim sweeps me off my feet and I'm laying face down on the ground.


He's proved his point.




"Nikoletta was one of the fastest and strongest knights in the Empire.  If she is half the woman she was before she awoke...you wouldn't have stood a chance.  We didn't spare her.  She spared us."


I hate to think he was right.   Maybe it was all still painful.  We had walked away from the meeting in the woods knowing that our mothers were working together.  We walked away without a scar but still I felt wounded.  That's the only way you could describe it.  She might as well have taken a knife and drove it through my heart.


"Now what?"


"Now I go meet with Raisa and Natasha."


"I'm coming."


"Don't be stupid.  You're staying here.  The Capital is swarming with people looking for you.  They think you're the Bringer of Flames.  Maybe if Raisa spoke with the Emperor."


I was being hunted.  He knew and I knew that the Emperor wouldn't listen to Raisa.  He wouldn't listen to anyone.   This time if they caught me, they weren't going to let me go.  There was no way in hell that was going to happen.


It's pointless to argue with him though.




I shrug, "Fine."


I had to give in.  This time I had to leave it to chance.




Darkness descends and the night comes really quickly.  I'm beginning to worry.  Maxim has been gone for hours at this point and there has been no sign of him.  From the hills I'm staying I can see the city at the bottom.  The Capital is sweeping so far that my eyes can't see it all.  Yet I know there is something different about it.  The sound of catapults.  The lights that shouldn't be on.  The soldiers marching in the distance.  The dragons flying over head.


This was a city that was preparing for war.




And they didn't stand a chance.




"He'll be fine," a voice states.


I turn.  It's the Dread.




"I know Maxim will be fine," I state.


"You don't seem like you know.  You seem like you're worried.  I can feel your emotions Nik.  You don't have to lie to me."




My voice is raised booming as I try to walk away.  It's pointless.  He's attached to me.  There is no walking away from the Dread.  There never really was.  I knew that and so did he.  Maybe that's why he entertains me for a little bit disappearing only to reappear after a little while.


"You're upset?"


"Did you know she was pregnant?"


He shakes his head, "No.  I promise I didn't."


"How is it possible?"


"It isn't," he responds, "She was angry, but I promise you it isn't possible for me to get her pregnant."


"You're saying she's lying?"


He sighs a little bit.  I don't think he wants me to believe that my mother is a liar.  So, what exactly is it that he wants me to believe?  What exactly is he trying to tell me?


"I'm saying that there was a time I wished she was pregnant," he states, "I wished that I could make her pregnant.  When I saw her with you and your brother...I wished you were my children.  I wished I could give her what she wanted.  It was something that I couldn't do.  And one night...one final night was the last time I saw her. We made love..."


He stares out into the darkness.  Soul or not I can feel him in that moment.  I can feel this love that I'd never experienced between him and I.  There was this connection there.  It's written out in his eyes and he can't hide it even if he wanted to.






"When you saw her, it was almost like you were stuck," I ask, "Almost like you were lost."


The Dread had mentioned that I could be his son.  Him saying something like that to his lover made it feel as though his main concern at that moment was my mother.   The truth was the Dread wasn't my father.  My father had died alongside my brother in the burning of the Wilds.  Something that my mother and her elven friends caused to hide their prophecy long enough so that they can raise an army of dragons.






"She is the love of my life..."


"Is?" I ask.






"Was," The Dread corrects himself, "I went to them. They told me it was possible to impregnate her.  I felt like if only I could give her what she wanted she'd stay with me forever.  But they told me not to do it.  It was...unnatural they said.   But I forced them to tell me how to make her pregnant.  I didn't know I succeeded."


"Who is they?"


Before I get the chance to have the answer question we are interrupted.  Someone is approaching.  The Dread disappears and instead I see Raisa, Natasha and Maxim appearing on the backs of dragons.  They aren't alone though.  There is a silver dragon with them.  The wings on the silver dragon reflect all manners of light.  It's face is not terrible and dangerous like the Dread.  This dragon has an elegance to it.  An ease.  It almost looks in peace as it lands it's large silver wings on the ground sending a long hard gust that makes me stagger back as though taken away by a breeze.




"Paramour Silva?" I realize, "What is he doing here?"






The silver knight is fully decked out in armor.  I didn't trust him.  I never quite did.  For a moment I wonder if this is a trap.  Had he somehow managed to turn Raisa and Natasha against me. .


As he approaches he puts his hands up.  He has such a handsome face.  Just as handsome as Maxim but not in the innocent, noble way.  Silva was one of those handsome men who had a face that just looked like trouble.


"He's here to help," Raisa offers.


I don't take my eyes off of the Silver knight, even when he turns his back towards me.  He's looking around.  I have no doubt that he's looking for the Dread.  I'm confused.


"What made you change your mind about me?" I ask.






Silva gives me a look, "The Shimmering Islands were attacked.  That is the seat of House Silva.  My family was attacked.  Half the inhabitants were destroyed.  Most would have been destroyed if not for the underground mines under the Shimmering Islands.  The only survivor in my family was my sister.  She came back with a story.  A story that no one in the Empire believed.  No one but me."


Hearing that his home was attacked hit home.  He might have been an asshole.  He might have been a slime ball but in this moment I felt bad for him.  I just felt uneasy.








"I'm sorry," I tell him.




"No I'm sorry.  I was one of the people who convinced the Emperor that you were dangerous.   I was so upset that you didn't chose to be my squire that I turned the Round Table against you.  I should have believed you..."


There is a haunting tone to his voice.  For the first time since I've met him I don't' think he's up to anything.  He doesn't have it in him to be up to anything.  His face is saying it all.  Paramour Silva is terrified.  There is no other word to describe it but pure, uncalculated horror.




"What story did she say?"


"Thousands of dragons being led by only one dragon rider.  Your mother."


No wonder she didn't bother killing me back in the Elven woods.  There was no point at this time.   She'd already begun her attack.  No reason to create confusion and hide her secrets by eliminating any survivors in the wilds.


"She's begun," I state.






It was only a matter of time.  Only a matter of time before everyone died.






"We tried to warn the Emperor.  He isn't listening."


I feel pissed off just by the thought of it.




"Is he an idiot?" I ask.






It might have been treason to talk like that about an Emperor but he was completely ineffective.  Everything that he's done was wrong.  Everything.  First he didn't believe that the dragons were a main threat.  Now when he finally got the proof of that he wasn't willing to believe that my mother was behind it.


"He's not...well..." Silva suggests.


I'm not sure what Silva means by that but he seems concerned.






"Maybe it's time he be removed," I suggest right back, "And replaced."


They all look at me.  They have concerns in their eyes.  It's strange none of them thought about it yet.  Maybe it was ridiculous but how long were they going to sit around and let this man fuck up over and over.


"By who?" Raisa asks, "You?"


"I didn't say that," I respond, "I'm saying my mother is going to burn down the world and fortifying your castles won't help.  Dragon fire will rain on this Empire and there will be nothing to stop her."


Raisa isn't having it, "Emperor Cicero is a Rurik.  By law the Rurik family must lead...effective or not..."


"No one says it has to be THAT Rurik," Maxim states.






"Then which?" Raisa argues, "Alexander?  He's half crazy.  Or his brothers Sasha and Misha?  They wouldn't even be able to lift the crown before Alexander slits their throats."






"Dominica," I suggest.


They all look at me.  Their eyes gleaming with a strange concern.




"You want to give the throne to the Empress Dowager?" Silva asks.


His eyes squint as though what I'm saying is madness.




All of a sudden I see a light flicker on in his eyes as though his Shimmer dragon has begun to glow again.  Paramour Silva's eyes light up.


"Maybe that isn't the best idea.  Maybe we just talk to Prince Alexander.  Let me talk to him.  He has sway with his father..." Maxim suggests, "He'll listen to me."


"Alexander is power hungry and we all know that.  If a Rurik has to rule the Empire then it needs to be the most qualified in a time of war.  Dominica."


"This is ridiculous," Raisa states.






"Think about it," Maxim argues, "I know you're upset with your mother but we are talking about usurping the throne.  This is treason."


I shrug, "The Emperor is already hunting me."


Raisa shakes her head, "I don't support this."


"You don't have to Mistress Raisa," Silva interrupts, "I have friends on the Round Table.  People are beginning to not trust the decisions of the Emperor after the dragons were spotted in the Wilds.  We can meet with the Empress Dowager.  We can force the Emperor into submission."


"This could lead to a civil war," Raisa shrugs, "Not at a time like this when we have an enemy in the background."


"Not if we do it in secret.  We kidnap the Emperor and the Princes.  We force him to abdicate in favor of his mother."






It could work.  Looking at Silva I don't see why he would be so excited unless it was going to work.  This had to work.  I could see the uneasiness of the other.  All of them were knights.  All of them were honorable but right now we didn't have time to be honorable.  We had a fool leading us against the biggest threat ever.


"I want no parts of this," Raisa explains.






Raisa didn't understand.  It wasn't her mother who was about to cause the end of the world.  She could step aside if she wanted to.  But I wasn't going to have it.


I was going to stop my mother...no matter what.




I shrug and look over at Silva, "When can we arrange a meeting with the Empress Dowager?"


Silva smiles, "Immediately."




I'm sitting in a room in the Capital.  These are the Silva estates.  I wouldn't expect anything different from the Silver knight but lavish estates that rivaled the Imperial palace itself.  Still even as loud as this place was, I knew it was safe for now.  The emperor would never think to look for me here.  I was hiding in plain sight right underneath his nose.






Natasha is with me.  She stays quiet.  I know she probably doesn't agree with what we are doing but I'm surprised at the fact that she hasn't left in anger like Raisa.   I wasn't' surprised when Raisa left.  I was more surprised when Natasha stayed.


"Do you trust him?"


"Silva?" I ask, "Of course not.  He's ambitious.  He's cunning.  He's a snake but right now he's our snake.  We might be able to use some extra venom right about now with my mother attacking the Empire."




"Not Silva," she states, "The Dread."


Hearing Natasha say something like that is strange to say the least.


"What makes you ask that?"  I ask.




"Maxim told me about him impregnating your mother," Natasha explains, "Your mother is somehow carrying a dragon inside of her.  That dragon is the reincarnation of the Great Immortal Dragon.  It's not just the G.I.D though.  It's also the Dread's child.  Can we trust that he'll want to destroy that?"


I hadn't thought about it.


It was a good point.






All of a sudden there was a knock on the door that interrupts us.




"The Empress Dowager is ready," Maxim states.




Natasha is the first to get up, "I'll go greet her."


She leaves the room.  She leaves me with Maxim.  I get ready myself but I can see Maxim staring at me.  He wants to say something but the words aren't coming out of his mouth.   It's almost as though they are stuck or something.


"What?" I ask, "What is it?"


"I don't agree with what you're doing but my loyalty is to you," he states, "I'll stick by your side.  No matter what."






"Thanks Maxim..." I state, "But once you side with me.   You'll be a traitor to the Empire.  Even if the Empress agrees there's no telling when the Emperor will take back power.  We'll be burned alive.  All of us.  There is no turning back."


Maxim doesn't budge.  Not even a little bit.


"I'm by your side," he promises, "No matter what."


With that he leans forward.  He gives me a kiss.  His lips are soft.  He presses them up against me and I feel so overwhelmed by it.  I wonder if this is love.  I wonder if this is really the emotion that I'm feeling in this moment.


As he leaves the room I see the Dread staring at me.






"He loves you," The Dread states.




I sigh a little bit, "I know..."


"You should be with him."


I turn to him.  Hearing the Dread say something like that at this moment destroyed me.






"What are you saying?"


The Dread gives me a long look, "He'll make you happy.  He'll be what I can't be for you."


"What are you saying?" I ask again.






"I can't join this fight.  I can't fight her..."


I should have seen this coming.   I should have seen this coming but I didn't want to see it.  The way the Dread was shutting down.  The way that he was changing.  Maxim may have stayed loyal but the Dread was compromised with my mother showing up.


"I don't know what you're about to do...but I need you.  There's a fight coming.  I need you."


"I'm sorry---" The Dread states.


That's when I feel it.  A breaking.  It's a separating.




And that's when I know the attachment between the Dread and I is gone.  He's abandoned me.


To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com