Home > The Dragon's Promise(9)

The Dragon's Promise(9)
Author: Elizabeth Lim

  I was glad we were alone. My ire at him had vanished completely, leaving a hollow feeling. How was I supposed to respond? Yes, he was waiting for me to say. Such a simple word, a word I’d uttered so many times in my life. Yet it sat leaden on my tongue, and all I could think of was Takkan on the beach, promising he’d wait for me. Asking me not to forget him.

  It hurt to speak: “If I stay with you, I’ll never see my family again.”

  Seryu’s whiskers wilted, and his demeanor went cold. “You’ll have one final chance. My mother has an enchanted mirror—its glass will give you a last look at your family. Before you forget them.”

  In an instant, I was on my guard again. “What do you mean, forget them?”

  “It’s a part of the binding ceremony.” He forged on, as if knowing and not caring that I would react badly. “In exchange for immortality, you’ll consume an elixir when you take your oath to Ai’long. You won’t remember anything about your past, not even your name.”

  I jerked back, stunned by what he’d said. “Is that the only way you dragons can find mates? By making us forget who we are?”

  “Immortality comes at a price. You’ll be reborn stronger. Better.”

  “Better?” I repeated. “I’d rather have the demons rip me apart than forget who I am.”

  Was this what the Dragon King had meant when he warned me that death was inevitable? I couldn’t believe I’d almost felt bad for Seryu. “That’s why Nazayun’s so confident I’ll give him the pearl,” I realized angrily. “Because I won’t even remember what it is.”

  Seryu started to speak, probably to spout some nonsense about his grandfather needing to destroy the pearl for the safety of both our worlds. I wouldn’t hear it.

  “You dragons are no better than demons.” I tore away before he could touch me. “If you won’t get me out of here, I’ll find my own way. I made a promise to Raikama. The pearl needs to be returned to the Wraith.”

  Seryu huffed at me in disbelief. “You would risk your family, your country—your own life for that? What does a promise to your stepmother matter? She’s dead.”

  I couldn’t control myself. My anger had reached its peak, and my hand lashed out. Before I knew it, I had struck Seryu on the cheek. Hard.

  If he’d been human, his head would have jerked back, maybe even hit the wall.

  But Seryu simply recoiled, looking stung. I was too furious to care. I thought he would say something—a rebuke, an apology—anything. Instead, his emerald scales turned cloudy, and his head dipped.

  He wasn’t bowing at me, but at someone behind me. “Don’t say anything,” he hissed as he pushed me into a bow as well. “Be angry with me all you want, but hold it in until my mother goes away.”

  At the word mother, my curiosity overwhelmed my anger, and I looked up.

  A shell-beaded curtain parted, and two women entered our company. Neither looked entirely human, but my attention turned immediately to the lady with the golden eyes. They were eyes I’d seen before, liquid and viscous—like amber meant to ensnare its prey.

  Lady Solzaya: the dragon who’d tried to cut out my soul. She was Seryu’s mother?

  “Am I interrupting?” she purred.

  Seryu plastered on his most charming smile, erasing any trace of our quarrel.

  “Aunt Nahma,” he exclaimed, greeting the lady at his mother’s side. Genuine surprise lifted his thick green eyebrows. “I didn’t expect to see you before the rites.”

  “I asked her to come,” Solzaya replied before the lady could speak for herself. “But really, Seryu, where are your manners? Shouldn’t you greet your mother first? Or are you so relieved to see Nahma that you’ve forgotten the one who bore you?”

  “I would never.” Seryu straightened. “Mother. As always, even in your human form, you dazzle the stars.”

  Solzaya harrumphed. “It’s far from my favorite form.” She inclined her head in my direction. “But humans find us less intimidating this way.”

  She was wrong. Solzaya was the color of fire, blushing cinnabar and orange, like the brightest autumn trees. She was almost too brilliant to look at, and my eyes stung as they searched for the necklace gleaming against her collarbones.

  Just like Gen had said, it was made of mirror shards. Seven, I counted. They looked like ordinary pieces of glass at first, but their shapes kept changing, from smooth teardrops to jagged knives so sharp they should have pierced Solzaya’s delicate skin. A crisp reminder that she wasn’t human at all.

  “Welcome at last, Shiori’anma,” Solzaya said. “I regret that our previous encounter was under such…unfortunate circumstances. Misunderstandings happen, even in a realm as enlightened as Ai’long. It gladdens me to have this second chance to receive you, and to ensure you have a proper introduction to Seryu’s home.”

  “Oh, dungeons make for wondrous introductions,” I said, not bothering to bury my sarcasm. “The boy turned to stone was a particularly welcoming touch.”

  Seryu shot me a glare to stay silent. “Shiori only recently learned about our binding rites,” he said. “She is still…acclimating to the news. But she is honored to be chosen.”

  “Undoubtedly you are, mortal child.” Solzaya petted the top of my head. “You have been bequeathed the gift of immortality. I hope it will suit you as it suits Lady Nahma.”

  I’d forgotten about the woman at Solzaya’s side. She was small and pale, with a thin, oval mouth and waist-long black hair that fell flat against her cheeks and back, gathering the shadows about her. Her arms hung woodenly at her sides, and her eyes had no spark of life to them.

  If that was how immortality suited Lady Nahma, I wanted no part of it.

  Solzaya was already circling me, the shards around her neck glinting as she assessed the bits of moss stuck in my hair, the scars on my hands, the circles under my eyes, and my plain, unadorned white robes.

  Only when her gaze fell upon the Wraith’s pearl, floating at my side, did a muscle in her cheek twitch. Desire for it made her skin flicker gold—for just the briefest of moments.

  “Rather unremarkable, isn’t she?” Solzaya said to Lady Nahma. “I would have thought the bloodsake of Kiata would have more presence, more beauty. Then again, what human is pleasing to the eye? There is much work to be done.”

  “What I lack in beauty, I make up for in strength of soul,” I said, making a direct jab at Solzaya’s earlier failure to cut my strands. I scooped the pearl into my satchel, not caring how petty the gesture was.

  “Such pride,” mused Solzaya. “I forget you are a princess in your world. Human titles mean nothing to us—Lady Nahma was a peasant when she first came. But yes, I’ll grant you that your soul is unusually strong.” She paused. “It shall make a fine addition to Ai’long.”

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