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Following some minor incidents with a vampire, an ancient talisman, and an enormous gold dragon, Derora Saxen has finally begun her training with the Silver Dawn Dragoons in this third novel of the series. Her lifelong dream of joining the world's elite warriors is to come true, if she can survive the hardest military training on earth.
While their friend chases her destiny, Kelin, Thistle, and Thalon are fighting to protect Chloe, a young girl with the rarest of abilities. Having already defeated an evil wizard who coveted her power to cancel magic, they are now on the trail of a necromancer and his undead minions. But more terrifying than the undead is the apparition they witness deep in the Wild Lands. They know the wail of a Banshee means only one thing: one of them, or someone close to them, is going to die.
White knuckles choked the wooden casing of the spyglass. The captain fired his gaze up to the crow's nest. "Anything?"
"Not a thing, cap'n!" The shout spiraled around the ropes of the rigging. The waves nudged the ship closer to the foggy shore.
"Two months, two months," the captain growled beneath his breath. He twirled the spyglass in his hand and his boots clicked against the polished wood under his feet as he paced.
"You!" He pointed to a sailor mopping the deck. "Get up there!" He jerked his thumb up at the nest.
The unlucky sailor slipped on a puddle and kicked over his bucket. "Sir?"
"Four eyes are better than two, now git!"
"Aye, sir!" The sailor saluted at the same time his feet propelled him toward the rigging.
The captain's gaze leveled the deck like a sword's swipe. Sailors, understanding their captain, dropped what they were doing and thrust their heads over the railings. Their noses sniffed the salty wind and their eyes scanned the horizons. The captain joined them, looking port out to sea.
And still there was no sign!
The captain wrenched the spyglass free again and made another thorough stare at the sea and shore.
A gust of wind exploded from his nostrils. He pressed the spyglass to his chest. If he returned to Alscane without the treasure ships, it would be his head on the prince's platter. As an honest man, he would swear by the sea god Kreighton's amulet that there was nothing to be found.
Three quarters of the Alscane navy was out searching for the missing treasure fleet. The other quarter had been guarding it.
Could it be pirates? No one else had a navy who could threaten theirs, save the Blue Farers, of course. But everyone knew how honorable they were. The weather was more likely a culprit.
The continent of Dosmar still offered many, many riches even though the Empire of Pallens was longdead. Most of it came in the form of raw materials: gold, silver, iron ore, copper and gems. Few dared its rich heart, and the Empire's much removed descendants lived in sod huts, so Alscane faced no competition.
The captain heaved another sigh. Harvesting the riches of the Empire's land felt too much like plundering an abandoned temple. Yes, only a handful of people remained in the ruins of the city of Pallens; and he prided himself on being one of the very few who had actually visited there. And yes, those people didn't do anything with the great natural wealth about them. Yes, Alscane was prospering tremendously and he owed his city his allegiance. But, it just didn't feel right.
That wasn't his worry, he told himself as he lowered the spyglass. His duty was to find and guard those treasure ships. He let his gaze fall back to the deck of his ship, the Pride of Mendelin. He hadn't looked much at her in weeks. He'd been too busy staring at empty horizons.
The sleek caravel was heavy enough for warfare, but she could cut quickly through the water like a schooner. Her many, tall sails snapped proudly in the light breeze. The seawater licked her sides lightly as she tiptoed around the coast toward a small cove off the starboard side.
The sunlight glinted off of the ocean and through the captain's spyglass once more. He twisted the cylinder for better focus. He pressed the device into his eye and ignored the pain. Something along the shoreline wasn't quite the same pattern as the rest. The shape was too rectangular.
He inhaled sharply and re-focused the glass.
The splintered hull rose up against the rocks. By the good condition of the wood, it had been recent. Shouts rang out over the ship as crewmen noticed it too.
The captain lowered the glass. His mustache twitched in thought.
"Shall we go closer, sir?" His first mate materialized by his side.
His frown folded even lower. "It'd be a nasty chore to get out of that cove, we can't maneuver at all. I don't like it."
"We'll have to tender to investigate anyway since she's run aground." He paused "The sun's getting long too, sir, and we won't be able to patrol the shoreline much longer."
"I know. But that ship's built like one of ours." He sighed again. "Let's see a closer look. No longboats and we can't get that close, but let's actually see what we're so busily staring at."
As the ship rounded into the cove, the tattered blue of Alscane's banner flapped toward the Pride from the stricken vessel. The crew rushed the prow as they caught sight of the blue. All eyes nailed themselves into the broken hull.
Suddenly, the cold fingers of sea mist stroked the back of the captain's neck. He had learned to walk with the ocean waves knocking him down and learned early to listen to the water's song. She called out in mourning now.
Mechanically, he swiveled his head behind him. Four devilishly fast ships swam at them from a hidden inlet on the other side of the cove. They moved as gracefully as hunting sharks. The captain suddenly recognized the wreckage for what it was: bait.
He stared hard at those ships. They screamed toward him and made whitewater in their wakes. He'd never seen ships built like these. They glided sharply over the water twice as fast as he could with good wind. They were only two thirds his size, but he couldn't stave off the four of them, not with that speed. He saw ballistae peeking over their railings. Their massive bolts reflected the setting sun. The wind began to pick up the scent of burning pitch and he suddenly knew they had the compact catapults for ship to ship combat, bolted carefully in the center so not to unbalance the boat.
Behind the four selachian boats emerged the largest vessel the captain could have ever imagined. Its hull was wide and flat, and the entire ship was painted midnight black. A sable flag he had never encountered before marched triumphantly in the breeze from its perch on the massive ship.
He read the name painted in careful lettering on the side: Hound of Hell.
"What manner of a name is that?" the captain murmured softly.
On the Pride's deck, men hollered aloud and scrambled for their own weaponry. The captain looked around at the trap again. There was no escape. He removed his hat and glowered at the attacking ships. "Clever bastard."
Doors pulled out through the sides of the Hound of Hell's hull, and the captain saw that the entire deck was just a hatch for the belly of the boat. A hatch for what?
The spyglass slipped from his fingers. Its lens shattered against the deck, breaking the silence. The sailors shouted now too, but the captain was too busy staring.
A long silver neck, followed by wings unfolded from the belly of the boat. Then the entire dragon blossomed free from its confinement. It lowered its head and glared at the Pride with pulsating, ruby red eyes. It opened its mouth. Lightning crackled inside its jaws and looped through its sword-like teeth.
The captain wondered if they would have time to see it coming, or if the dragon would let the ships slaughter them and laugh at the exhibition.
Despite it all, a question bubbled up in the back of his mind: why would a dragon bother with a ship?