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"I got angry with Iskari for never looking around her. To the ones who loved her. To the ones who could saved her."

"But no one can save her."

"How do you know ? She never lets anyone try."

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Then may Death send his worst. Cold to freeze the love in my heart. Fire to burn my memories to ash. Wind to force me through the gates. Time to wear my loyalty away. I'll wait for you at Death's gate.

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"Greta used to say," he said as he played, "that every one of us is born with a song buried deep in our hearts. A song all our own. And our mission in life is to find that song."

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Il faut endurer d'immenses souffrances afin de s'endurcir contre le mal

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Chapter One

Asha lured the dragon with a story.

It was an ancient story, older than the mountains at her back, and Asha had to dredge it up from where it lay deep and dormant inside her.

She hated to do it. Telling such stories was forbidden, dangerous, even deadly. But after stalking this dragon through the rocky lowlands for ten days now, her hunting slaves were out of food. She had a choice: return to the city dragonless or break her father’s ban on the ancient tales.

Asha never returned without a kill and she wasn’t about to now. She was the Iskari, after all, and there were quotas to fill.

So she told the story.

In secret.

While her hunters thought she was sharpening her axe.

The dragon came, slithering out of the red-gold silt like the treacherous thing it was. Sand cascaded down its body, shimmering like water and revealing dull gray scales the color of mountain rock.

Three times the size of a horse, it loomed over Asha, thrashing a forked tail while its slitted gaze fixed on the girl who’d summoned it. The girl who’d tricked it here with a story.

Asha whistled for her hunting slaves to get behind their shields, then waved off her archers. This dragon had spent the night burrowed beneath the cold desert sand. With the sun only just rising, its body temperature wasn’t warm enough for it to fly.

It was stranded. And a stranded dragon fought fierce.

Asha’s left hand tightened on an oblong shield while her right hand reached for the throwing axe at her hip. The rough esparto grass rattled around her knees as the dragon circled, waiting for her to let down her guard.

That was its first mistake. Asha never let down her guard.

Its second was to blast her with flame.

Asha hadn’t been afraid of fire since the First Dragon himself left her with a vicious scar running down the right side of her body. A sheath of fireproof armor covered her now from head to toe, made from the hides of all the dragons she’d killed. The tanned leather buckled tight against her skin and her favorite helmet—one with black horns mimicking a dragon’s head—protected her from dragonfire.

She kept her shield raised until the blaze ceased.

The dragon’s breath was now spent. Asha threw down her shield. She had a hundred heartbeats before the acid in its lungs replenished, allowing it to breathe fire again. She needed to kill it before that happened.

Asha drew her axe. Its curved iron edge caught the early morning sunlight. Beneath her scarred fingers, the wooden handle was worn smooth. A comfortable fit against her palm.

The dragon hissed.

Asha narrowed her eyes. Time to end you.

Before it could advance, she aimed and threw—straight at its beating heart. Her axe sank into flesh and the dragon screamed. It struggled and thrashed as its lifeblood spilled onto the sand. Gnashing its teeth, it fixed its raging eyes on her.

Someone stepped up beside Asha, breaking her focus. She looked to find her cousin, Safire, thrusting the butt of a pointed halberd into the sand. Safire stared at the thrashing, screaming dragon. Her dark hair was sheared to her chin, showing off the bold slant of her cheekbones and the shadow of a bruise on her jaw.

“I told you to stay behind the shields,” Asha growled. “Where’s your helmet?”

“I couldn’t see a thing in that helmet. I left it with the hunting slaves.” Safire wore tanned leather hunting gear, made hastily by Asha, and her hands were protected by Asha’s fireproof gloves. There hadn’t been time to make a second pair.

The bloody dragon dragged itself across the sand, intent on Asha. Its scales scraped. Its breath wheezed.

Asha reached for the halberd. How much time had passed since its last breath of fire? She’d lost track.

“Get back, Saf. Behind the shields.”

Safire didn’t move. Only stared at the dying dragon, mesmerized, as its beating heart slowed.

Thud-thud.

Thud . . . thud.

The scraping sound stopped.

Rearing back its head, the dragon screamed in hate at the Iskari. Just before its heart stopped beating, flames rushed out of its throat.

Asha stepped in front of her cousin.

“Get down!”

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He held out his hand.

She didn't reach for it. Didn't dare look up at him. She stared at her toes. Toes she was starting to lose feeling in.

" Asha". He said her name like it was something exquisite and exasperating in the same time. Crooking his finger beneath her chin, he tilted her face up, bringing her eyes back to his.

" This won't be the first time I've undressed you."

Asha's pulse quickened.

"I've spent my whole life dressing and undressing drakors," he said. "It's just a task. Nothing more".

But this trembling fingers betrayed him. Nervous wobble in his voice matched Asha's own fumbling pulse.

And still, she went with him.

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