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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Torched

A Dark Kings Novel

Dark Kings (Volume 13)

Donna Grant

St. Martin's Paperbacks

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

CHAPTER ONE


February

Dreagan

Revenge could make you do things you swore you’d never do. At least that’s what Ulrik told himself as he stood in the massive cavern that held his sleeping Silvers and faced off against Con.

“I’d say this is a surprise, but I’d be lying,” the King of Dragon Kings said.

Ulrik looked over the man he’d once considered his brother. Con’s blond waves were tousled. His black eyes were as impassive as his face. He wore an impeccable black suit. The white dress shirt beneath was free of wrinkles. Ulrik noticed the gold that flashed at Con’s wrists. The gold dragon head cufflinks that he was never without.

“Is this where you challenge me?” Con asked.

Ulrik had fully expected to do just that. Taking over as King of Kings had been his goal from the moment Con banished him from Dreagan all those thousands of years before.

“No’ this time.”

Con raised a brow. “If you’re no’ here to challenge me, then why are you here?”

“To warn you.” Though Ulrik had begun to wonder if he was losing his sanity again. Why the hell was he there?

There was a long pause before Con asked, “About?”

“Mikkel.”

“Ah, Mikkel,” Con said and put his hands into his pants’ pockets. “Your uncle. How is it I doona remember him?”

Ulrik shrugged, not wanting to talk about family history. “He kept to himself mostly. He was a loner.”

“How is Mikkel here?”

Ulrik turned and walked to the four caged Silver dragons. They slept peacefully, but it would only take one word from him to wake them. How he missed seeing the sun reflect off their silver scales.

“The simple answer is that he didna go over the dragon bridge with the others,” Ulrik replied. “The complicated answer is that because he remained, there were a few seconds after you bound my magic that he became a Dragon King.”

Concern lined Con’s face, and his eyes briefly closed. Finally, Ulrik found something that could shake Con’s cool exterior. But his joy was short-lived because Ulrik knew the ramifications of his uncle remaining behind.

“That doesna make sense,” Con said with a shake of his head.

Ulrik put his hand through the bars and laid it upon the silver scales of the dragon closest to him. He softly stroked down the beast’s long neck. “You know as well as I that no clan can be without a King. When one dies, or is unable to continue his duties, another is found.”

“There were four Silvers within the mountain, but they were sleeping, so the duty couldna fall to them,” Con said as he faced Ulrik.

“So it fell to the only one left—Mikkel.” Ulrik scratched his brow and began to slowly walk around the huge cage. “He spied on me for … well, I doona know how long. He watched me, and he watched Dreagan.”

Con’s gaze narrowed. “He must have been verra good at hiding when he shifted.”

Ulrik smiled and chuckled softly. “That’s the only amusing part of this story. You didna just bind my magic, you bound the power of any Silver who might become King. As my abilities left me, Mikkel became a King and shifted into his human shape. Then he was left unable to return to his true form.”

“Bloody hell,” Con murmured.

Ulrik stopped and squatted beside the cage next to one of the dragon’s heads. “While your attention has been on me, Mikkel has carved out a spot for himself.”

“How long have you known he was here?”

“A few years. He showed up at my store. At the time, his plans aligned with mine, so we joined forces.”

Con walked to stand beside Ulrik and leaned against the metal bars. “And now?”

“I realized immediately that Mikkel was using me. If he’d been strong enough to become a Dragon King, he’d have taken over when my father was killed in battle. Instead, the honor came to me.” Ulrik straightened and looked Con in the eye. “Mikkel tried to control me these last years. I allowed him to believe he was.”

“But you used Darcy’s Druid magic to unbind what we’d done.”

“Aye.”

“How many Druids died trying to touch dragon magic before you found Darcy?” Con demanded.

Ulrik shrugged. “That’s of no consequence right now.”

“I beg to differ. Just as Darcy did when you tried to kill her.”

“If I hadna, Mikkel would have. I timed it perfectly so the Druids could find her.”

Con’s face contorted with disbelief. “I’m supposed to believe you?”

“Do or doona. I’ve no reason to lie.”

“You only have one reason. One agenda. To kill me.”

Ulrik didn’t bother to confirm or deny Con’s claim. Why state what each knew was truth? It was a waste of time.

“Watch out for Mikkel. He’s a devious bastard who intends to take your place,” Ulrik said as he pivoted on his heel and began to walk away.

But Con’s voice stopped him. “That’s why he has Eilish.”

Ulrik turned back to Con. “Eilish has power we’ve never seen in a Druid before. She could verra well kill a Dragon King for all we know. Right now, Mikkel has her focused on you, but I’m also on her radar.”

“She helped Esther and Nikolai. Perhaps I can dissuade her from working with Mikkel.”

“He has information she wants. Until you learn what that is, she’ll remain under Mikkel’s thumb.” Ulrik glanced at his Silvers. “I’m leaving them here for the time being, but make no mistake. I will wake them.”

Con’s face was unreadable as he regained his composure. It had always been a handy trick. Something Con had learned when he was a youngling. It kept people guessing about what he was thinking.

“Will Eilish unbind Mikkel’s magic so he can shift?” Con asked.

Ulrik gave a single shake of his head. “I doubt it, but I hope she does. She’s a smart one. She knows all about the Dragon Kings, so I’m sure she has figured out what has obviously escaped Mikkel. If she unbinds his magic, he’ll return to his true form—that of a dragon.”

“Because he isna a King, he can no’ shift back and forth.”

“Precisely. He may listen to her, but if he doesna, he’ll be easy to track and … detain.”

Con gave him a flat look. “You mean kill.”

“Your point?”

“He’s in your path. You want me to be up in arms over the chaos he’s caused, when in fact, you’ve caused some of it yourself. You wouldna be here now if Mikkel were no’ in the picture. He messed up your plans.”

Ulrik took a deep breath and glanced at the ceiling as he nodded. “That he did. I’ve been forced to reevaluate things.”

“So you came here out of the goodness of your heart? To warn me?”

“Something like that.” Ulrik then clasped his hands behind his back and touched the silver bracelet that allowed him to teleport out of the cavern.

But he didn’t leave Dreagan. Instead, he went to Con’s mountain, far below the surface where Con kept a weapon that the Dark coveted. It was the only instrument on the realm that could wipe out the impervious Dragon Kings.

Which meant Ulrik could use it against Mikkel.

He walked a few feet in front of the weapon and stared. It was bathed in a soft light that hovered above the wall. Hidden for eons, the King of Kings obviously knew of the weapon, as did Kellan, the Keeper of History, but Ulrik had discovered it about eight hundred years earlier when he was hiding in the mountains.

He knew next to nothing about it. Not how to use it or even if he could. Yet it was a risk he was willing to take if it came down to it. There was no way he was going to allow Mikkel to take everything he’d come back from madness to obtain. He’d wallowed in his insanity for centuries, but it was his need for revenge that slowly brought him back.

And Mikkel was now standing in the way of that.

Ulrik wasn’t exactly keen on removing a member of his family, but Mikkel had given him no choice. Now that the two of them were at war, Ulrik would have to move up some of his plans and once more alter a few of them.

While staring at the weapon, he thought of Eilish. The Druid’s power made her a formidable enemy. It was too bad he couldn’t convince her to join him. She would be an amazing asset. And he wouldn’t ask her to kill Mikkel.

Because he wanted to do it himself.

Ulrik walked closer and raised his hand. Right before he touched the weapon, he felt dragon magic. He smiled and dropped his arm. Of course, Con had surrounded the area with magic to alert him if anyone ever tried to take his prize.

“You win, old friend,” Ulrik murmured to himself. “For now. But don’t expect that to last much longer.”

He turned on his heel and began walking back through the tunnels of the mountain. Ulrik wasn’t sure why he didn’t teleport out. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t anxious to leave.

No matter what, Dreagan would always be the home he’d chosen, the place he’d helped to discover and mark as the Dragon Kings’.

He walked for several minutes in the darkened tunnels before he stopped. Being a Dragon King gave him the ability to see as well in the dark as the light, and his gaze had snagged on something along the wall next to him.

It was an outline of two dragons that had been chiseled into the rock. Ulrik put his hand on the one nearest him and looked at the second.

A long forgotten memory surged of he and Con laughing and teasing each other about Ulrik’s upcoming vows with Nala. Con had had reservations because she was mortal, but he completely backed Ulrik’s decision.

“When are you going to find your own woman?” Ulrik asked.

Con shook his head. “Doona concern yourself with me.”

“You’re my friend, my brother. Of course, I’m going to worry about you.”

“It’s a waste of time.”

Ulrik laughed. “Come. I’ve a surprise for you.”

They walked deeper into the mountain and stopped before the long wall. Ulrik watched as Con ran his hands over the lines of the dragons.

“You and me,” Ulrik said. “No friendship has ever been stronger, and there’s nothing that will ever tear apart our bond.”

Con looked at him, a wide smile in place. “Brothers.”

“Brothers.”


Copyright © 2018 by Donna Grant