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Cloaked in Shadow (The Dragori #1)
Author:Ben Alderson

Cloaked in Shadow (The Dragori #1)

Ben Alderson



In the beginning, the Goddess blessed the world with her breath. She blew life across a once barren land until beasts, creatures, and elves blossomed. With the life she bestowed came death, which crept into existence against her will.





He came for her children until they became his.





I REACHED MY hand outside of the wagon, allowing the wind to stream through my fingers.

My magick stirred, aching for a release. The winds tussled playfully at my hair. It wanted me to answer, it begged me to.

If it wasn’t for Mam’s worried mutterings that echoed through my mind, I might have risked using it. It might even help pass the time. But as my mind toyed with the idea, I could almost feel her like a ghost leaning into my ear, Keep it hidden, Zacriah; don’t let it out.

It was second nature to leave my power locked in its onyx cage. I could understand their concerns that someone would catch me and use my magick against me. But in quiet moments, I revelled in the thought.

So, I resisted, keeping my hands in my lap as the wagon bumped across the dirt path, leading away from home. Away from comfort. To take my mind off the ache within my chest, I lost myself in the clouds of dust the wagons wheels tussled up. I watched it dance and spin in torrents of wind, elegantly shifting into shapes and patterns.

I marvelled at the sights ahead of me. Thessolina was beautiful during the springtime, evident from the rolling emerald hills and fields of red blossom. Spring was my favourite of the four seasons; it had been since I was a youngling. I loved when the air was full of the fresh scents of bloomed flowers, sweet daffodils and tulips. And the unpredictable down pours of rain only a weather witch would sense. It was also the season I spent most of my time alone, hunting. Not sitting amongst elves whom I didn’t enjoy the company of, like today. But that was out of my hands.

I shifted in my seat, trying to regain feeling that had long ago left my behind. I would’ve stretched, but the close proximity prevented me from doing so. Between the sack jammed beneath my legs and the two elves pressed on either side of me, there wasn’t much room to breathe, let alone move around. Somehow, the guards had managed to squeeze fifteen of us into the wagon, like a school of fish clustered into a moving, wooden coffin. The stench of the stocky, red headed boy sitting next to me only added to the discomfort of the journey.

The smell I could fix, it wouldn’t take much. But it was not worth the risk; so, again, I resisted the urge to use my magick and turned my attention back to the dancing dust.

***

THE SUN HAD begun to set behind the distant mountains of Karlf, giving room for the waned moon to take its place. Shivers ran down my spine as I yawned, exhaustion flickering behind my eyes. We had left in the morning and night was now upon us. It seemed that I was the only one bored by the journey, for most of those around me were too preoccupied conversing about what to expect when we arrived in Olderim. I wanted nothing more than to leave this god-awful space, return home and help Fa with the day’s hunt. The thought of Fa hunting alone twisted within my stomach, tightening the knot of worry. He would need me; hunting was my skill, not his.

I looked over the sea of muted colours, clothing of muddy greys and faded greens— another reminder of home. Horith was not a town built on riches, but one driven by the need to work to survive. I couldn’t help but think of how we would stand out in the capital. If the guard’s uniforms were anything to go by, the fashion in Olderim was much different.

Leading the wagon on armoured Elks sat the two royal guards who’d not uttered a word since we departed, only staring ahead, refusing to enter conversation with the many attempting to ask questions.

I didn’t blame their silence.

They were both clothed in the grand uniform of the King’s royal legion, a vast difference to what we wore. A deep violet leather undershirt lay beneath scaled, rose gold chainmail. Their long sandy hair hung loose and tumbled behind them, woven with plaits and braids. Horned helms covered their heads, two slits on either side to allow their ears to roam free without the constraints of metal. It was common practice by all elves to have our ears on display; wearing them like badges of honour. But it was not the only reason they stood free. I’d seen them twitch every so often, shifting as they followed far off noises, searching for possible threats beyond the skyline.

I wondered if the reason they seemed so tense had anything to do with the recent rumours of ransacked villages and towns. Although that was all they were, rumours. Nothing had been confirmed. I was certain it was only gossip, nothing more than mutated whispers passed from neighbouring villages. I’d seen no proof of these remarks, nor believed them possible.

I ran a hand over the shaved sides of my head, feeling the coarse hair brush underneath my fingers, a style much different than the guards. My bun had been thrown together moments before I left. Mam had created a single braid that ran along the top of my head and collected in the bun. Her own attempts at making me look presentable for the evening’s festivities. She’d believed the braid would bring me luck; so, to appease her, I sat without complaint as she yanked and pulled to finish it. If it made her feel better about me leaving, I was happy to oblige.

During the long days of labour all year round, it made sense to have a shorter style of hair. But as I watched the guards ride ahead, I knew their style was for show. There was no reason for the elegant style. Then again, it’s not like we were in war. The guards were nothing more than puppets for the king.

The evening breeze blew across the wagon, bringing the night’s slight chill with it. I pulled my hands into my long sleeves, concealing them from the crisp bite. If I’d known the journey would have lasted into the night, I would’ve brought a jacket. I added the chill to the ever growing list of complaints I had sorted in my mind.