The Dragon Hand Preview

A Preview of The Dragon Hand

Yakov Merkin

 

CHAPTER 1

Serivak opened the top of his transport wagon, stood, and spread his golden wings. The air was crisp and clear, the surrounding forest lush and green, the kind of day that threatened to put you at ease. The soldiers marching and riding next to the wagon glanced over at him when he emerged, but none reacted any more than that. Serivak liked that about them; to them he was simply their superior officer, a competent enough leader and a potent force on the battlefield himself. It did not matter that he was a dragon. Of course, there was also the fact that many—but not all—of these men were too young to remember much of anything from the last war.

Serivak took to the air, soaring above his soldiers as he looked down at Turat, the town they were rapidly approaching. Already he could see a delegation waiting at its entrance.

He stayed aloft for a few minutes, enjoying the free, crisp air that unfortunately he could only enjoy alone, then swooped down to land just in front of the delegation as his men arrived. Previous operations had shown that a dragon landing in front of people often made them more compliant.

“Good morning, Mayor Narel,” Serivak said as he landed, pleased to note that most of the group had jumped back and all looked startled.

“Lord Serivak,” the mayor said as he inclined his head.

“You know why I am here,” Serivak said. There was no reason to waste time with further pleasantries.

“Yes, yes of course, my lord. I was hoping you would join us for a meal in the park, where we can discuss the situation.” The mayor ran a hand along the bony crest on his forehead. A nervous habit of many Tehlmans, Serivak had learned over the years. But was this man nervous because he was hiding something or because he was standing before a dragon, even one as small as Serivak?

“Actually, mayor, I’d prefer to do our business right here. I am very busy, and I see no need to draw this out.” As he spoke, Serivak noted that his men were moving up behind him, and the two wagons were properly positioned. “I want Parzen’s location, Mayor Narel. In return, once this rebellion has been dealt with, I will recommend that the king forgive your treason in assisting the rebels, and no punishment more severe than a fine and a public swearing of loyalty will be necessary.”

The man glanced at his companions, then back to Serivak. “Here? This is hardly a place for discussions.” Serivak noticed one of the men behind the mayor slip away, but decided not to act yet.

“Was I not clear?” Serivak growled, then lowered his head to look the mayor in the eye. “There is to be no ‘discussion.’ You know the terms. You were to give me what I needed. If not, then you have wasted my time.”

Before the mayor could respond, Serivak snapped his head toward the outskirts of the town, where the sounds of fighting had just begun. “A foolish mistake,” he said as he took a step forward. “Did you really think I’d allow any rebels hidden here the chance to flee? My men had this dump of a town surrounded before I set foot here.”

Serivak was about to continue menacing the mayor when a loud boom split the air, followed by the appearance of dozens of armed men springing from inside and in between nearby buildings. Most of them were relatively crudely armed, with armor and weapons heavily worn from use and age, but several carried boxlike objects that had to be weaponized derrivals. One pointed his weapon at Serivak, and he felt himself suddenly knocked to the side by a strong concussive force. Serivak snarled as he regained his footing, then angled his head toward the rebel and opened his mouth wide. The familiar feeling of growing heat deep inside him was released in a narrow beam of bright gold flame. The rebel was blown in half, and the beam continued on through the building behind him, setting it ablaze.

“Take them all!” Serivak roared. “Be careful engaging the derrival wielders, but take as many as you can alive. I need Parzen!”

Serivak took to the sky, and reached into the large pouch he wore slung across his front. He pulled out a large red cloth and let it billow out as he roared and fired a blast of fire through the air to draw his men’s attention upward. A moment later, he let the cloth go, signaling that their previous orders to simply contain the village were superseded, and this was now a full subdue and capture operation.

His order given, Serivak kept an ear out for more booms from the rebels’ crude derrivals. It was unlikely they had access to any military-quality devices, but anyone could learn how to make one—though the sequences that powered weapons were supposedly closely guarded, their sale very limited—and the necessary parts could be gathered, at a cost. If any of the rebels were a galvanizer, however, it would be all the easier for them, as they wouldn’t need as many powerstones. For the moment, Serivak considered himself and his men lucky. If the rebels had had high-grade weapons, Serivak could have been seriously injured or killed back there on the ground, dragon or no, and there would be a real risk of losing men today.

A series of booms in one general area drew Serivak’s attention, and he changed his flight path to dive toward the sound, where he saw dust filling the air, and several of his men pulling themselves up off the ground as nearly two dozen rebels, all barely distinguishable beneath their rough beards and cloths that covered their faces, tried to break free of his perimeter. This was their move, and he had to stop it.

Serivak quickly sped toward the ground, and tucked his wings just as he reached the tops of the trees that surrounded the town, landing with a thud just in front of the rebels.

They stopped short, clearly surprised, blinking through the quickly settling dust. Serivak prepared to deliver his ultimatum, but one of the rebels shouted an order, and the derrival holders stepped out, to the side of the group.

No you don’t. Serivak quickly opened his mouth wide. A moment later, the familiar narrow beam of bright orange flame jetted from his mouth. It swept down the line of derrival holders, cleaving them in two, a chunk was blasted out of a thick tree, and several bushes were almost totally destroyed, their remnants set alight. The rest of the rebels cried out in horror as he fired, and then clumsily dropped to the ground.

When Serivak stopped breathing flame he left his mouth open for a few moments, both to keep the rebels wondering whether he would incinerate any more of them, and to let the built-up heat dissipate. It also kept Serivak from inhaling the full smell of burnt flesh, at least for a few moments. After a few seconds, Serivak closed his mouth, which was still warm—the heat was not an issue for him, of course—and glared at the rebels, who were rising carefully to their feet, muttering to each other as they lifted their weapons.

“In the name of King Arsel Helanian of Darylan,” he said, raising his voice as loud as he could, “you will stand down and surrender. Your rebellion is over; your cause is not worth dying for. My men have you surrounded, and are securing the town as I speak. If you do as I command, no more will die today. Should you refuse…” Serivak trailed off, and turned his head toward the remains of the men who’d tried to attack him.

Fortunately, the rebels did not move to attack or flee, even as Serivak’s galvanizer forces, many now covered in black soot as well as plant life from their long stakeout, caught up and surrounded them. The rebels had to know that their choices at this point were surrender or death. They were simply unequipped to deal with Serivak. One of the bearded ones spat toward Serivak, who shook his head—it was a truly pointless act of defiance—but none of them said a word as they dropped their weapons and placed their hands behind their heads. While they remained silent and compliant, their eyes told a different story altogether, and Serivak was glad they had not had anything that could actually harm him.

Serivak wondered for a moment if he should sympathize with them in their defeat—his own kind had been similarly defeated by Darylan some decades before—but could not bring himself to do so. They had broken the law of the land and started a needless conflict, just as the dragons had, and he had enforced the law, just as the Tehlman nations had during the Second Dragon War. And, perhaps more importantly, he had proven his effectiveness as the King’s Hand and loyalty to Darylan. Questioning his own actions would get him nowhere.

A few moments later, the rest of his soldiers finally arrived and began restraining the rebels, who fortunately did not resist, though many did not refrain from cursing at the soldiers or shouting tired slogans. Once they were all shackled and lined up to be led to the supply wagons, disguised prison wagons in truth—Serivak was rather proud of that idea—he approached Captain Leisrik Nieran, the officer in command of Serivak’s galvanizer unit. The captain, still covered in camouflage clothing for the ambush, was failing to hide a smile as he saluted, pushing away from his eyes what appeared to be long blades of grass attached to his helmet.

“You’re allowed to be happy, captain,” Serivak said. It was gratifying to see him so pleased at the conclusion—hopefully—of what had become a long, frustrating mission.

Leisrik smiled broadly as he took a moment to catch his breath. “Noted and appreciated, my lord.”

Serivak nodded deeply. “Once you’re ready, I’ll have the report.” Serivak, realizing that he was still tense from the battle, took a deep breath and made himself relax. It was over, and he was simply speaking with a friend.

“We have him, my Lord Serivak,” Leisrik said, still breathing a bit heavily, “Parzen, that is. If there are any rebels left, without him they won’t be able to mount a serious threat. Also, my lord, we have found a number of hiding places the rebels frequented around the town here. I have men searching them now.” Serivak noticed that the captain was having difficulty looking directly at him; the sunlight reflecting off of Serivak’s golden scales from the setting sun could be blinding. The captain was just too respectful to mention it. Of all the possible colors… Serivak said to himself. He moved to the side slightly so that the sunlight did not shine directly into the hapless captain’s eyes. While he was irritated at himself again, Serivak knew he would truly miss his time with the army. Here he was respected for what he was, not feared or hated, and his help was appreciated.

“Excellent work, Captain. I will be sure to commend you in my report to the king. I expect to depart at sunrise, to give the news personally. Get the prisoners loaded into the wagons and return to the capital along the back roads. The rebels may still have supporters in the town, and I will not have Parzen escaping. Understood?”

“Of course, my lord,” the captain replied. He was just turning to leave when one of the other soldiers ran over.

“Captain, my Lord Hand,” he said, nodding at Serivak, “We found these stashed in one of the rebel hiding spots. You’d best take a look.”

Captain Leisrik frowned and looked at the stringless bow, a standard weapon derrival. “A Talgoyfan weapon,” he said, holding it up. Serivak quickly noted the distinct design, more ornate than the standard Darylanin model, with a handgrip all the way around —something only found in the versions that held powerstones, since galvanizers had to maintain skin contact with their derrivals—and a powerstone slot in the shape of a galiph’s mandibles.

“And a powerstone,” he added, displaying the not-quite-transparent, crystalline object on his open palm.

“Depleted,” Leisrik said, taking the stone from the soldier. “A good thing too. We might’ve lost men if they’d used this.” He paused, then put his hand to his head. “Oh, right. I nearly forgot with all this excitement. Casualty report, my Lord Hand,” he continued, standing up straighter. “Five of our men in the city suffered light wounds, and eight galvanizers are a little banged up from those concussive derrivals. They should be fine, once their balance returns.”

“What is in the bag, Captain?” Serivak asked.

The captain reached inside the bag and pulled out a small coin. Serivak focused his eyes on the tiny gold coin, and recognized the image of the distinctive four-legged, mandibled beast on its side. It was a galiph, a creature native to the Talgoyfan wilderness, known to grow even as large as dragons, and which featured prominently on the Talgoyfan flag.

“What are local rebels doing with Talgoyfan coins? And Talgofyan weapons?” he asked.

“Could the Talgoyfan have funded them?” the captain asked, his eyes narrowing.

“It is possible, and it would explain much; this evidence seems to point to it,” Serivak replied. If the Talgoyfan government was indeed funding and arming enemies of Darylan, it could be construed as an act of war. As definitive as the coins seemed, however, he could not determine anything without further proof. The evidence, however damning, might not lead to war, but if this became common knowledge, it would. “You are not to speak of this to anyone,” he ordered both of the men. “I will take all of this with me to the capital as part of my report.”

The captain nodded and offered the objects, which Serivak accepted, and deposited them into his pouch. He would have to relay this new development to the capital as soon as possible. So much for a chance to relax. “The king and the advisory council must be informed,” he said. “In light of this discovery, I will depart immediately. See to it that the prisoners make it safely to Lindhelm.”

“Of course, my lord. It’s been a pleasure.”

Serivak nodded. “Until next time, Captain.”

He spread his wings and leaped into the air. In moments, he was at a suitable cruising height, flying toward the setting sun, for the moment at least.

Amid the calming solitude of the wind and clouds, Serivak’s mind returned to his recurring dream: derrivals which failed for no discernable reason, faces obscured in shadow, and then his assassination by the king’s Advisory Council. While he had been prepared for the rebels’ ambush, it jarred with the fact that the council had assured him that there would be no incident. Of course, this did not mean that they had tried to lead him into a trap, but Serivak could not get past that possibility, given how much they hated him, both for being the clear outsider to their political world, relatively young, and the spawn of Karretaas, the late dragon king who had launched a destructive war about twenty years earlier. While he could understand their unease at someone who was technically still a prisoner of war holding such a powerful position, it didn’t make working with them any easier.

Serivak sighed as he found a pleasantly warm airstream heading in the direction of home. For a little while, at least, he wouldn’t have to worry about politics, and if he kept a good pace, he would make it to Lindhelm by morning.

 

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