Taking Flight


The banging on his door almost didn’t wake him. The shouting almost failed to pierce his rest. But he Dreamed troubled scenes, as he so often did, and the restless wandering of his mind settled on the sounds as a counterpoint to the chaos of his sleep.

Jaylen Laisia rolled to one side, tiny body tangled in his silk sheets as he mumbled incoherent words even he didn’t understand. The banging came again. Sharp and desperate.

“Jayls!” Raeky. Why was Raeky—

Soldiers flooded down the stone corridor after Raeky, chasing him down a side hall toward Mama’s room. But Mama was gone, and his father wouldn’t admit he’d done it.

Jaylen shook his head, pushing his Dreams away. Raeky needed him now. He fought to untangle himself from the covers, every kick sending a fresh wave of silk to tie his foot in a new knot. The darkness of his room stifled his breath, leaving him floundering in a sea of invisible, soft cloth. He fought harder, wailing at his own helplessness, kicking and shoving against his silky prison.

“Jayls! Are you all right?”

Jaylen collapsed in tears, eyes scrunched in frustration. And Dreamed.

A candle by his bedside threw a faint glow around the room, revealing the cold fireplace where he used to hide from Father’s anger. Where Raeky never found him in a game of hunt-and-hide, no matter how many times he used it. Raeky wasn’t pounding on the door in this Dream. Where was Raeky?

The enormous desk and chair, sized for Father and not Jaylen, sat empty against one wall, under the wide, open window. Raeky never let him open the window for fear he’d fall out.

Jaylen looked at himself, tangled helplessly in a bed five times too large for a boy his age. There. Father’s servants had tucked him in, and his body had pinned the corners of the sheet to the bed.

Twisting in the false light of his Dream candle, Jaylen pulled his sheet free and worked his way loose from the bed. The bare stone floor was achingly cold on his feet. He hurried across the room to throw the bolt on his door, pushing the door open to reveal the dim hall beyond..

Raeky lay sprawled across the corridor, blood pooling under his body as Father’s soldier wiped his blade clean.

Jaylen shrieked. His heart pounded in his chest, tears pouring fresh from his eyes as he gasped for air. Raeky…

Raeky grabbed him, sweeping him up in strong arms and crushing him against the golden locks of Raeky’s hair. With a burst of speed, Raeky rushed inside, slammed the door, and threw the bolt home.

“Thank the gods you’re all right.”

The darkness clung tighter for the burst of light from the hallway. Jaylen couldn’t have found his own hand, clinging to Raeky’s rumpled tunic. But it was so dark. Why was Raeky dressed? Raeky carried him across the room, setting Jaylen down on the bed. He couldn’t pry his fingers loose from Raeky’s tunic, the Dream still fresh in his mind. Too clear to be false, like the girl from the orchard he’d seen fall, whose body he’d found in the gutter days later. But Raeky sat beside him.

“I thought they’d found you,” Raeky whispered. “Gods, Jayls. I thought…”

He pulled Jaylen into a tight embrace, the force of his arms squeezing air from Jaylen’s chest. Jaylen buried his face in Raeky’s shoulder, shaking, his breath tight and heart pounding. The scene from his Dream played over and over. The seeping blood, the glint of steel.

“Raeky,” he whimpered. His fingers clenched in Raeky’s shirt. “You’re—”

But Raeky didn’t believe his Dreams. Just nightmares, or fantasies, he always said. He’d never followed one of Jaylen’s Dreams to see the aftermath, sprawled in a ditch stinking like the refuse pile beside Cook’s garden.

“It’s all right, Jayls.” Raeky smoothed his hair with a free hand. “We’ll get you out of here and I’ll talk to Father, get this fixed.”

But if this was about Father…

“Dammit, woman.” Father stormed across the room, drawing a hand back as he reached Mama’s side. Father’d already taken Mama away, but she cowered in fear at the threat still. “Your child is an abomination. A demon spawn. I must destroy him.”

Someone pounded on the door again, the shouted words gruff and incomprehensible. Raeky pulled away, standing to scan the room. And stared at the open window, moonlight shining between the shutters.

“Jayls, did you open your window?”

Jaylen shook his head, pulling his knees up to his chest. But it was dark. Raeky couldn’t see him.

“I—”

“Dammit.” Raeky spun around to face him. “Did you open your window?”

“I didn’t!” The denial came out a wail.

Raeky muttered a bad word—one of the words he yelled at Jaylen for using—and checked the sword at his side. Small even for Raeky and not meant for combat. Barely more than pot metal, Raeky said. So why was he wearing it now?

“I don’t have time to argue, Jayls,” he said. “You shouldn’t leave your window open. There are dangers beyond your wandering.”

“I already told you,” Jaylen insisted. “I didn’t. You read me a story, then Father’s servants came and tucked me in, and they opened the window.”

He didn’t remember it, but it must have happened. He knew he hadn’t done it. The claim stopped Raeky again, and Jaylen whimpered into his knees.

A loud, grating sound echoed through the chamber. Jaylen turned just as Raeky pulled his sword, staring at the new hole in his bedroom wall. Right where his fireplace had been. Torchlight flickered in the hall beyond, casting a dark shadow into the opening. Someone moved toward the hole. Raeky’s gaze darted from the opening to the window and back.

“Get over here,” he whispered, motioning at Jaylen.

Jaylen hurried across the space, grasping at Raeky’s breeches with tiny, shaking hands. A tall figure stepped into the space and froze.

“Young Prince Raekeen,” the figure said, his speech rousing just enough of his beard to cast wispy shadows on the stone wall. “You should be abed, child.”

“And you shouldn’t be sneaking into the bedroom of an innocent boy with murder in your eyes, General.” Raeky held his sword in front of him like a shield. “You’re not laying a hand on my little brother.”

“My lord emperor has ordered his death.” The general pulled a dagger free. “And that Eiliin-cursed imp is hardly brother to my prince. Don’t make this harder than it has to be, lad.”

Jaylen cowered behind Raeky’s slim form. Father had ordered. Just like Mama, when she went away.

Raeky shifted, his sword wiggling through the air like a snake looking for a target. “Jaylen was born from my mother’s womb, sired by my father. If that doesn’t make him my brother—”

The general leapt forward, his blade knocking Raeky’s aside and cutting deep into Raeky’s chest.

“—Then perhaps I need a lesson in heritage.”

“Raeky…” Jaylen’s eye locked on the general’s sword. The Dreams never lied. Not when they came during his waking hours. The scene from the door lingered in his mind again.

“Stand back, Jayls,” Raeky said. He waved at the new hole where the general had come from. “I want you to run out that passage when you can. Go hide and I’ll find you once I’ve spoken to Father.”

But he wouldn’t speak to Father. Not if the Dreams spoke true.

The general lunged, turning as Raeky batted the sword aside. Raeky swung back. A clash of steel. Jaylen moved with the fight, keeping Raeky between the general and himself. And prayed. He didn’t know how, but Mama used to say he should pray when he wanted something. He wanted the Dreams to be wrong.

Raeky thrust the general back, breaking a hold. Another swing and he pinned the general against the wall. Not all skill—the people loved Prince Raekeen, and would riot if he died at the hands of loyal soldiers.

“Go, Jayls!” Raeky waved a hand at the hole where his fireplace had been. “Get out of here.”

Jaylen ran, tiny feet pattering on the stone of the passageway, down the stairs, around the bend. Two guards stood watch at the far side, grinning as he ran into the room where they waited.

Raeky kicked a foot at the general, breaking the hold. The Dream was wrong. Only a little, but sometimes little things mattered. Raeky forced the general back against the door.

“Go!” He waved a hand at the hole where the fireplace had been.

Jaylen hurried to the edge and froze. The guards. But the Dream was wrong this time. Maybe there weren’t guards.

Jaylen climbed out the window, tears streaming down his face, and ran the length of the broad ledge beneath his window. Meant for flowers, Mama used to say. Now he was a flower, clinging to the stone as a lifeline in a world that would see him die. The end of the ledge. Nowhere to go but jump the wide gap between his window and Mama’s. Or climb down, where the guards may wait.

“Jump, Jayls!” But the general had taken Raeky away.

“Get off me!” The general’s voice snapped through the air. Angry, and angry soldiers made dangerous decisions.

Raeky shoved against the general’s chest, holding him in place a moment longer. “Jayls, run.”

But the passage would get him killed. The Dreams told him so. Jaylen ran to the window, climbing out to the ledge beyond. Raeky screamed behind him, steel clashed, a muffled grunt. He didn’t need a Dream to tell him. No more Raeky. Jaylen crouched on the ledge, throat tight and eyes burning. But there wasn’t time. Choking on his own breath, Jaylen climbed to his feet and ran down the length of the broad ledge beneath his window. At the end, a wide gap between his window and the ledge below Mama’s room.

Jaylen threw himself forward, fingers scrambling for the far edge, just brushing the stone as he fell.

He scanned the wall, the gentle breeze tearing at him with the force of a thunderstorm’s gale. Like the one he and Raeky got lost in last summer. The last time he’d played with Raeky before duty kept them apart. Before Father kept them apart.

“Jump!”

But Raeky still lay in the room behind, and the Dreams said he’d fall. He shivered in the breeze, staring at the gap as tears leaked from his eyes. Raeky. Gone like Mama, and the cook’s girl, and Jaylen’s favorite nursemaid. No one left for him to run to when the dark scared him with its Dreams.

An arrow flew past his head, shot from below with poor aim in the dark. Jaylen turned to follow the path and saw the sheet hanging to dry. Too flimsy for a grown man, or even Raeky. But Jaylen was just a boy. It would hold his weight. He jumped, grabbing the silken cloth and sliding down in a terrifying, icy-cold fall until he could drop to the guard’s stairs.

Jaylen turned, hunting for the sheet. Safer if he moved now, before Father’s archers found him. There. He trembled, wrapping his arms around himself. Too far to jump.

“There you are.” The general’s sneer carried into his voice, rough and gravelly with disdain. “Get back here, you little bastard.”

The Dreams tugged at his thoughts, urging him to jump. Trust the Dreams that had guided him to this moment. Jaylen whimpered, staring back toward his window. The general’s blade glinted in the moonlight, stained red. He closed his eyes, shaking with terror, and leapt.

Soft cloth tore at his skin, red hot from the speed of his fall. The wind tearing at his clothes slowed, still a gale on a quiet night, but enough that he knew he’d land safely. The stairs below rushed at him. He fell, breath knocked from him by the hard stone. Jaylen curled against the wall, coughing his throat sore, his eyes pouring water from grief and pain.

Dreams pulled him from the shadows and guided him through the dark. Past Cook’s door to hide behind the filthy pile he used for the garden. A soldier passed, wrinkling his nose at the stench. And the Dreams led him on. Through the garden, past the guardhouse, to a grate leading under the wall. Too small for anyone but animals. Or a small boy, too narrow to suit his father and too strange for anyone’s comfort. Except Raeky.

Jaylen crawled through the tunnel, into the King’s Wood beyond. Safety, if he could get far enough. And find food, and shelter, and someone to protect him. No time for those concerns now.

He darted through the darkened forest, feet finding stable ground where he might normally trip. The Dreams gave him footing, and a path, and a chance at speed. Freedom. Until the hounds began baying behind him.

The long yip-yip-yowl of the dogs as they hunted their prey. Hunted their prince. Jaylen froze, trembling again. The dogs outran deer. Father couldn’t turn the dogs on him. But Father had sent his dog already.

“And what have we here?”

A stranger’s voice. Feminine and inquisitive. Jaylen ducked behind a tree, peeking out through the locks of his jet black hair. She languished by an evergreen, her skin aglow with blue and green light. But skin didn’t glow. Her hair cascaded down her back in waves of blue, twisting in the gentle breeze like the flow of Father’s fishing pond.

“A human.” Her disgust hung in the air. With a glance toward the distant sound of dogs, she smirked. “And one hunted by his own. No use to the people.”

She turned away, disappearing into the night. Still there, his Dreams said. Still listening. His only chance.

“Mother.” The desperate whisper was his, but the words came from Dreams. “They sent me, mother. The Dreams.”

The woman stepped back into his sight. “What dreams?”

Jaylen struggled to explain. Raeky hadn’t believed, or Mama. Cook hadn’t thought Father would do that to his little girl, no matter what Jaylen said. The woman scowled as the dogs bayed again. Closer.

“Don’t know,” he said. “They just…the Dreams tell me things. Things like Mama’s gone, though they said she just left. She’s gone. Like Raeky’s gone. They brought me here.”

“Did these dreams tell you what I am to do with you, boy?”

He shook his head. But it was dark, and the tree hid him from view.

“I see,” the woman mused. She had seen. Somehow, despite the dark and the tree and his hiding, she’d seen him move. Like he’d seen the guards on the stairs.

“Do you Dream?”

She chuckled. “Not as you do, little one.” She stepped around the tree, examining him. “Far too young for the power you hold. Tell me, why do they chase you?”

Jaylen shook his head. But he knew. And if he wanted her help, he’d have to tell her.

“Raeky—” he choked on a sob. Pushed himself to explain. “Raeky argued with a squire while I’s at lessons. Got a black eye. I told father not to kill him—the squire—but Raeky hadn’t told Father yet, so Father didn’t know about the squire. Then when Raeky told him—”

“Your sire discovered that you dream of things yet to come.” The woman nodded. “And this frightened him, I imagine. Humans have such small minds.”

Yip-yip-yowl. Jaylen cowered against the tree, the dogs singing from behind him so close he knew they could see him. Too close. He huddled in the shadows, hugging his knees to his chest as tears crept down his face. The woman knelt beside him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Fear not, child. The Ancient Spirits have sent you to me, and I am not one to reject Their gift. No matter the strange package in which They send it.”

She rose with that, striding into the forest toward the approaching dogs. A strange, high-pitched shriek echoed through the woods, followed by a flash of blue-green light. The dogs yelped and whimpered, then were silent. Screams came next, and shouts of fear and alarm. The ring of steel, more screams, and those fell silent. Only then did she return, wiping one hand with a worn rag.

“Come, child. You’re of the clans now.”

“The clans?” Jaylen stayed crouched by the tree.

“Indeed.” She paused beside him again. “The boy I met this night is dead. You are now of my people, given to the clans by the Ancient Spirits. Leave your humanity in these woods. What remains of you is Drae’gon.”


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Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

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Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

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