New York Times bestselling author, K.N. Lee presents Half-Blood Dragon, the first epic fantasy adventure in the Dragon Born Trilogy.
Pirates, dragons, fairies. Embark on a coming of age journey that will leave you breathless.
Legend says that the half-blood dragon will destroy the world – some might be looking forward to it.
A servant girl’s fate is to keep her head down, do her chores, and survive the best she can until the day she dies.
For Rowen, that day is set to come much too soon when she is sentenced to death for accidentally killing the prince.
For a human, there’s nowhere to run and no one to turn to in a kingdom where power is tightly held by full-blooded dragon shifters.
It will take a stranger from the shadows to save Rowen from execution and reveal a truth full of terrifying potential. It is time for Rowen to find the courage to accept her fate, awaken her gift, and set the world on fire.
Change is coming. So is the dark force that has awaited her presence.
Preorder your copy of this action-packed sword and sorcery adventure for only 99 cents.
An Exclusive Excerpt
YOU’RE LUCKY TO be alive.
Those words resonated in Rowen’s mind as the noose was lowered over her head and secured around her throat, scratching her delicate flesh with its coarse banding.
Not so lucky now, she thought, noting that this was the third time she’d had this nightmare in a week.
Still, she couldn’t awaken. Not until she had more information. If she was going to suffer in her sleep, she was going to at least figure out the cause of the prophecy, and the result. It was all she had.
Her only gift.
Rowen coughed as her airway began to close against the ropes. Was it supposed to be so tight? It didn’t matter, the wooden floor would soon disappear from beneath her and she would either break her neck from the sudden fall or suffocate.
Neither option was appealing.
Rowen looked out to the crowd of blank faces. She ignited her second sight and dug deeper into the prophecy, summoning energy from the deepest depths of her soul. She could tell the difference between a dream and a prophetic scene. It was harder to awaken from prophecy, and for good reason. There was something she needed to see. To survive, if only for a few years longer.
The people that filled the square around the gallows were nondescript. No features to their faces, and no sounds from their mouths. No movement, either. They just stood like stoic silhouettes and stared at her as she awaited her death.
A black shadow stretched across the sky, blocking the sun and dimming the courtyard. While everyone looked to the sky, Rowen’s gaze peered past them, to the gates.
Someone stood at the far end of the yard, behind the crowd, cloaked in dark gray.
The mysterious figure lifted their hand and pointed a finger right at her.
Out of the silence that filled the crisp morning air, a whisper burned her ear.
“I’m coming for you.”
Then, the trap door in the floor opened and the snap of her neck woke Rowen up.
A screech erupted from her lips as she woke up, clutching at her neck. Rowen shot up from her bed. A sheen of sweat glistened on her face as she struggled to catch her breath.
The nightmares. They were relentless. But, this time, she was going to do something about it.
This time, she was going to choose her own path. Something or someone was coming for her, and she had to leave before that happened.
“They know,” Rowen whispered into the darkness, as she struggled to catch her breath. Escape was the only way. Her plan to restore her mother’s honor would have to be abandoned.
Rowen crossed the small room and gave the sleeping girl in the bed across from hers a gentle shove.
“Brea. Wake up. I need that favor you owe me.”
A quick glance out the tiny window that looked out to the back of the palace showed that the path from the castle to the gates was clear.
“Really?” Brea yawned and sat up, her white bangs falling into dark almond-shaped eyes.
“Yes.” Rowen lowered herself to her knees before Brea’s bed. “Please tell me you will uphold your promise.”
Brea tilted her head. “I promised to help you escape if necessary. I will do what I can, Rowen.”
“But, what if we are caught?”
“No one will catch us. And, if they do, we are ladies-in-waiting for the princess. We can make something up. You’re a clever girl. I’m sure you can talk us out of any situation. I’ve seen you do it.”
“You are truly the best friend I’ve ever had,” Rowen said, giving Brea’s hand a squeeze.
“You as well, dear. I will miss you. We all will.”
“I’m ready,” Rowen said as she shoved on her traveling frock and boots. Once her cloak was secure around her shoulders and fastened at the neck, she strapped her money purse to her thigh. It would be unwise to leave with a bag. There could be no suspicion from the palace guards.
At first, becoming a lady-in-waiting for the princess seemed like a welcome escape from her stepfather’s constant scrutiny. With her new life came hope and an opportunity to restore honor to her mother’s family name.
Little did she know that Withraen Castle would be significantly worse. Since childhood her prophecies had been harmless. She’d always been one step ahead of whatever fate threw at her.
Now, a mysterious being haunted her. Remaining in the palace only led Rowen one step closer to the fate of her prophecy. She had to find a way to prevent that horrible death.
Ready, Rowen watched Brea dress herself. With a nod, they left the safety of their apartment adjacent to the princess’ room and entered the dark hallway of Withrae Castle’s east wing.
Macana, their chaperone would be fast asleep in her room right beside theirs. If they were quiet, they could escape unnoticed. But, they had to be quick and confident.
Brea put a finger to her lips and nodded for Rowen to follow.
Rowen chose her accomplice wisely. Brea had a gift that could save them both if caught. They crept down the stone hallway, careful not to let the soles of their boots make any noise. Clutching her opal necklace, Rowen tried to keep her face free of fear as they walked past the princess’ royal guards.
Brea gave one a nod, knowing that he was sweet on her.
The stairway at the end of the hall led to the back corridors and a series of secret tunnels that they’d practiced using with the princess in case enemies stormed the castle.
“This way,” Brea whispered. She led Rowen down the stairs and to large sitting room. She hurried across the carpeted floor to the paneled wall. Rowen chewed her bottom lip as she watched Brea feel around for the hidden door. With a push, it was opened, and freedom awaited on the other end of the tunnel.
Rowen couldn’t run fast enough. They slipped through the secret door and into the dark tunnel.
“Smells of old rainwater in here,” Brea said, running her hand along the slick stone.
“I don’t care, as long as we make it outside.”
“Do not worry, dear. You forget what I can do.”
Rowen hadn’t forgotten. She was just hopeful that they wouldn’t need Brea’s unique ability.
The large stone door at the end of the tunnel was a beacon of hope. It was so close, yet so far. They couldn’t help but quicken their speed to reach it. Reaching it was a small victory. Getting out of the castle’s fortified structure would be a more difficult feat.
The dark cloak of night wrapped around Rowen and Brea as they carefully wedged the door open and slipped outside. The air was humid, and the sky a dull purple shade. Soon, the sun would rise, and dragons from all over would take to the skies.
To fly. Rowen closed her eyes and wished she could do what everyone in the kingdom did without effort. To transform and outstretch her wings would be bliss. But, Rowen could not fly. No matter how hard she tried.
Rowen rubbed her arm where a dull ache lingered from a failed attempt only years ago. It was her last attempt—one where she’d nearly killed herself trying.
Together, Rowen and Brea ran across the yard for what felt like miles. Breathless, they stopped just at the bars of the gate that reached high above them and ended at the stone structure that encircled the entire castle grounds. Four gates, and this was the one with the least amount of guards as it faced the cliffs that led right into the Perilean Sea.
“The guards are about to change shifts,” Brea whispered. “I can carry you over the gate and land just beyond the main road. Then, we can walk to the Gatekeeper’s station. She can port you home or wherever you want to go!”
Rowen narrowed her eyes as she watched four guards leave their posts as four more walked toward the front post in their armor.
“Did you save enough coins for your trip with the Gatekeeper?”
Rowen nodded. “I saved everything.”
“Good,” Brea said. “You should be able to catch a port from Withrae to Harrow with four gold zullies.”
Harrow, the biggest sea port in all of Draconia.
The wind blew at Rowen, whipping strawberry blonde hair around her face as she wrapped her pale hands around the dark bars of the gates of the palace. The cold brass was soothing, despite the nerves that burned in her belly.
She yearned for it above all things in the world. For as long as she could remember, she lived her life for others, with no regard for her own wishes or desires. Back at the palace, there was a silent battle she had no clue how to fight. But, beyond those gates was an even bigger battle she was too afraid to face.
The world was vast. How long before she was swallowed up by it? How long before she ended up dead?
“Are you sure about this?”
“We can do it. The guards won’t even see us if you hold my hand. See?” She peeled Rowen’s left hand from around the bar and held it within her own.
A warm sensation filled Rowen’s body as Brea held onto her. Rowen looked from Brea’s dark brown eyes and down at her hand.
“Look, I can make you vanish as well. As long as we touch,” Brea said with a smile as she used her vanishing gift.
Rowen’s hand and arm disappeared before her eyes, and Brea was nowhere to be seen when she looked up again.
Clever gift. She wished she had a power as great as Brea’s. Still, the ability to vanish could only get them so far.
There was another world out there beyond the dragon kingdom she’d grown up in. She’d read of vast oceans and mountains, human villages and fairies. Beyond the tall brass gates was a worn path that led to the center of the kingdom of Withrae.
Once they reached the city, what then?
The free clothes, room, board, and prestige were highly coveted. Rowen’s mother would call her a fool is she showed up at home before her duties had been carried out.
Rowen chewed her bottom lip, her thick brows furrowing. This wasn’t the time for doubts, but her options were limited. She needed more than a few coins to make it in their world.
Rowen sighed and pressed her forehead to the gate. “I can’t go back home. The Duke would just send me back by first light.”
The Duke of Harrow had always hated Rowen. She was a thorn in his side since the day he married her mother. For as long as she could remember, he sent her away for every training imaginable. Languages in Summae, dancing in Dubrick, embroidery at the School for Fine Arts in Luthwig. And at eighteen, he sent her away to be a lady-in-waiting for Princess Noemie of Withraen Castle. She was merely one out seven ladies-in-waiting, yet she was singled out at every opportunity.
Brea put a hand on Rowen’s. The red shimmer of her skin reflected the moonlight. In seconds, they vanished.
“Shhh, someone is coming,” Brea whispered.
Rowen tensed and peered through the bars of the gate. A rolling cart pulled by a horse with a weary-looking old man approached the gate.
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know,” Rowen said. “I think he’s making a delivery.”
“Come,” Brea said. “Let’s just go back. If you’re worried about Prince Rickard, don’t. The prince will grow weary of pursuing you before you know it. Beautiful girls come to the castle by the boatload. His eye will wander.”
“It’s not just that,” Rowen murmured. “I’m afraid.”
Rowen wrung her hands. “That something terrible is going to happen to me if I stay here.”
Together, they left the gate and headed back to the castle. Brea took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Then, we try another night. We make a plan. I’ll transform and you can ride on my back.”
“But, I’m just thinking of how lost I am. I have nowhere to go.”
“Listen to me, Rowen. My parents aren’t as bad as most Dragons. If you are a friend of mine, they would take you in with open arms. Go to my home in Kabrick. I’ll send you with a letter. My father and mother can find you a new station.”
“I don’t want that, Brea. I don’t want to be a burden. I want to be free.”
“You want to go to the human kingdoms, don’t you?” Brea asked.
With long white hair and a hint of red scales on certain areas of her olive-colored skin, Brea was considered plain by Dragon standards. Women of beauty had a brighter shimmer to their skin, and a glow to their hair.
Like Rowen’s mother.
Rowen could never be as beautiful as her mother either. Short, thin, with dull gray eyes that never shown any light, and pale skin absent of any shimmering scales, Rowen was simply different.
Maybe that’s why Prince Rickard chose to pursue her.
Brea smiled at her. “I don’t blame you, Rowen. But, Draconia is your home.”
“It’s not as if I haven’t thought of finding the human kingdoms. They are my people. It would be nice to be wanted and accepted for a change.”
“You are half Dragon as much as half human.”
Rowen stopped on the lush landscaped evergreen grass and looked to the pale moon above. “But, your race hasn’t descended from humans in thousands of years. You hate them for betraying you. For hunting you down and trying to exterminate you.”
Shrugging, Brea looked into Rowen’s eyes. “I don’t hate anyone. That’s ancient history. Nothing to do with you and me.”
“I know,” Rowen said with a sigh, her eyes resting on the massive castle before them. She’d only been there a few weeks, but was already twisted in a web of lies and deceit, and a plan that would elevate her family.
But, only if she succeeded.
“Maybe one day I will go find the humans.”
“You can’t. You can’t fly or fight, or do anything that would keep you safe.”
Silent, Rowen chewed her bottom lip.
I can do more than you know. Sometimes she wished she could tell Brea her secret. Even though she was the best friend she ever had, she still could not trust her with the truth of her power.
“It’s too dangerous to leave the safety of the kingdom. There are beasts and monsters out there. On land and in the sea.”
“There are beasts and monsters inside as well.”
They paused on the cobblestone path as a large black dragon flew overhead from the city and toward the palace. It lowered itself to the ground just before the main entrance, and shifted back into a tall young man dressed in fine clothes.
Rowen took a step back, hoping that he wouldn’t look back and see them. Her face paled as he seemed to sense her presence and did exactly what she hoped he wouldn’t.
Prince Lawson Thorne turned and looked right at them. In the torchlight, Rowen could only make out the hints of gold in his eyes. Her heart skipped a beat as their eyes met.
Rowen took Brea’s hand into her own. “He saw us.” The thought of being caught and turned in by the prince struck fear into her heart. An excuse for being out after dark is what they needed, but her mind drew a blank.
To their surprise, he simply turned away, and walked up the stairs that led into his palace.
“Well,” Brea said. “Aren’t we lucky?”
Rowen swallowed with a nod, curious as to why the heir to the Withraen throne didn’t seem to care that they were out after curfew. “Indeed, it’s all I’ve ever been.”
A DEATHLY QUIET settled on the tavern, almost as dead and quiet as the bloody remains of the man on the floor.
Elian Westin bent over and wiped his bloody fingers on the trousers of the dead man, curling his lip with distaste. He didn’t mind death; he just didn’t like the mess. The heavy stares and held breaths of the sailors, fishermen, and dock workers didn’t bother him.
Treachery bothered him.
But, Cook had paid the price he had to have known was coming. After all, Elian was nothing if not clear in the exact degree of loyalty he expected from his crew.
Uncaring of the witnesses, Elian paused and centered himself, stilling his senses so that the tangible world wobbled, bending and revealing currents and waves of energy, emotions, and one soul about to escape a very dead body. He would not normally have taken in a soul like Cook’s, after all, a man had to have some standards. But, the bastard knew too much, and to release a soul full of knowledge into the oceans of the Other Side would be foolhardy.
Pursing his lips, Elian forced the breath from his lungs. With a burst of unnatural power, he breathed in, frowning with the strain as he inhaled fiercely. Energy swirled, emotions snagged and tugged on each other, and the black shadow of a man’s soul wavered, bending like a sapling in a storm toward the mighty pull of Elian’s breath.
He called up more magic, his vision pulsing with the pounding of his heart. Cook’s soul shook and fluttered in his direction, finally snapping away from the body like a topsail rope come loose in the wind. His lungs swelled painfully as he inhaled the soul through his lips. The soul burned as it went down, as if the man’s last scream was silently clawing at tender tissue of his throat.
Then, it was done. The world shivered back into solidity, with no one the wiser except for Siddhe, who gave him a look that was both shrewd and bored.
“The next one needs to be smart enough to keep his trap shut,” he said to the woman.
She rolled her eyes, being perhaps the only one who could do that to Captain Westin of the Wandering Star and live to do it again.
“This time, I want a Wordsmith, not just a scribbler.”
Siddhe quirked her eyebrow. “Full abilities to transcribe memory?”
He nodded. She pursed her lips. He wasn’t fooled.
She’d find him what he needed. She always did. That’s why he kept her.
He began to smell the stink of the dead man soiling himself and decided he was done here. He glanced down one last time at the corpse on the floor then grinned at the barkeep. “Clean that up, will you?” he barked. “Bad for business, that.”
The portly barkeep’s frightened jump set his belly jiggling like a pudding, and it was with an amused smile on his face and whistle on his lips that Elian walked out.
The sun was beginning to set as he left the tavern. It never failed to strike a bittersweet chord with him that something as achingly beautiful as the sun turning the sky to flames and the ocean to glass could be inevitably and implacably accompanied by the putrid stench of the docks.
The wet rope and mildewed wood of a hundred ships clashed with barrels of fish heads and bait. Not to mention the simply lovely aroma of too many men and too little soap. This port of Lidenhold on the Agion Sea was just like all the others. Dirty. Smelly. Dangerous.
Elian shifted and settled himself underneath his tunic and jerkin. He’d be glad enough to get back to the ship tonight and soak in the deep copper tub in his quarters. It would be a good, quiet time to think, as well, and he needed to think. The loss of Cook was nothing, but his treachery could spell disaster for the hunt. He shrugged as if to shake the burden from his shoulders. It wasn’t as if this hadn’t happened before. He could deal with it. There was always a way.
He was so calm and certain, he almost convinced himself.
Siddhe came up and fell into step with him. He appreciated her silence. Once upon a time, he had appreciated her full breasts and the sway of her hips as well, in a vivid and detailed manner. But, every day closer to the Red Dragon was a day that his interest in such trivial things washed away like water grinding down a stone, though a man with his appetite could never bear to completely starve.
“Did Cook actually get a message out?” he asked.
“Yes, but I haven’t found out to whom. Yet.”
The ‘yet’ was telling. Siddhe was angry, though her expression was serene to the point of blankness. She didn’t like not knowing, feeling like she had failed. She would chase this down until she got her answers, uncaring of the blood and chaos in her wake.
He liked that about her.
He also liked that her ‘yet’ had never failed him.
The day it did? Well, with luck, that day would be a long time in coming. She was useful. He caught her twitching her braid over the swell of her breasts and felt a familiar stirring. Hopefully, a very long day in coming.
“It wasn’t to any of the others,” Siddhe said suddenly.
This stopped him in his tracks. He gave her his full attention.
“I can track anything that goes to the Spindlewald, the Black Fairy, or any of the other ships.” She frowned. “Cook’s message wasn’t headed for any of them.”
“I don’t think it was sent to a ship at all,” she said finally and resumed walking.
Elian pondered her words, but not for long. They soon reached his destination in the miserable warren of dock houses and narrow streets. A wretched, battered little door to a sad, squat tenement of mud and sticks, liable to wash away as to blow over.
He knocked three times, and the door opened to reveal a plain girl, barely over the threshold into maidenhood. Stoop-shouldered and skeletal, she’d never be beautiful, and her life would be short. Her freckles reminded him of the spattering of stars he used for navigation in the night sky.
“Captain,” the girl chirped, a wide grin revealing buck teeth.
“Cota,” he answered gently as she ushered them both in. He didn’t miss the way she wrinkled her nose at Siddhe or the way Siddhe curled her lip at the girl. He sighed inwardly. Women.
There were too many stale smells in the hovel, and Elian had no desire to try and pick apart their origins, each, no doubt, less savory than the last. A rough bench sat before a rusted brazier where a few forlorn coals wheezed out a pitiful amount of warmth. He and Siddhe took the bench while Cota bustled about the room, pulling chipped jars and pots from corners and piles of rags, assembling them before the brazier.
“Where’ve ya’ been?” she asked cheerfully.
“I ain’t daft.”
“Nor am I, young lady. And, is that any way to speak to your elders?”
She cackled, and Siddhe shifted beside him, resolutely looking anywhere but at the girl.
“How many before Harrow?” Cota asked slyly.
“Twenty-three.” Twenty-three souls to feed his own.
“How many after Harrow?”
“Twelve.” Thirteen, if he counted Cook’s soul.
Cota snorted. “Not exactly making my job easy, now, are ya? Even fifteen would’ve been better for me. The more Dark Soul you’ve got on board, the easier I can swim through the visions.”
Elian suppressed a smile at the girl’s grousing. It didn’t fool him at all. She was angling for more money. Just as she always did.
“It’ll be like paddlin’ through treacle today, it will,” she grumbled.
“Double for today, Cota.”
Like magic – he chuckled to himself – she was back to her usual spry movement and keen glances. Siddhe glowered, and he slipped his hand behind her to give her bottom a little caress and pinch. Her jaw twitched. All was well, then.
Cota began throwing pinches of powder and herbs on the brazier, poking the lethargic coals to life. Blue smoke began dancing up from them, pulsing, swaying, bucking. In Elian’s mind, the forms became intimate, almost obscene in their motions. The hard walls of purpose and practicality melted, slithering away from his consciousness.
Ambition and desire bubbled up, drowning his thoughts. Then came indolence, indulgence, libertinage, gluttony, carrying him along on a tide that was rolling toward a shore of bright, blazing glory.
In a haze, he saw Cota kneeling motionless before the brazier. Her eyes were wide and unseeing, and her mouth hung open, a line of spittle hanging from her lips.
“Dragons in the water. Skies full of flames.” Her voice was disturbingly sonorous. “Inside out. Upside down. The map will lead you to your heart’s desire. Your heart’s desire will be the death of you. Unless you learn to desire differently. Dragons in the sky. Oceans full of flames. Treachery for truth begets treacherous truth. That which you seek is not what you want. That which you want is not what you need. Lines are drawn by men. Both men and lines do lie. Water may tame a dragon, but a dragon can burn a ship. Pursue, but with caution.”
Cota’s head fell forward. Siddhe’s snort rang in his ear. He blinked, the haze becoming nothing more than perfumed smoke, and Cota nothing more than a girl in rags.
“Well?” Siddhe demanded callously.
The girl shook her head and rubbed her eyes, but there was no cheeky smile that usually accompanied her predictions. She looked from Siddhe to him with dull, frightened eyes.
“Do we proceed?” Siddhe pressed.
“It’s always a choice, ain’t it?” Cota answered with a weak shrug.
Elian studied Cota, refusing Siddhe’s quick pull on his sleeve to stand.
“Tell me,” he said gently.
Cota slumped back on her heels and picked at the calluses on her hands. “It’s conflicted, ya see? Used to be just one thing out there you were chasin’, one thing you were wantin’. Now, there’s two of ‘em. But, I canna see if you’re chasin’ both or if one of ‘em is chasin’ you.”
“Two?” Elian’s head spun, and not from the residual effect of the drugs. There was only one Red Dragon. Nothing had ever mentioned a second one.
“Two,” the girl affirmed, nodding wearily. “Near just the same.”
For a horrifying moment, the room closed in on him. Two dragons. The Red Dragon and then…another? How could this be? It felt like a betrayal, yet he had no idea of who or what the traitor was.
Siddhe had clearly lost patience with the whole thing. She pulled him to his feet and gave the girl a scant nod before storming out the door. Numbly, Elian dug through his pocket and paid Cota double her price. He turned to leave, but was held back by a grimy little hand on his arm.
“I didna’ like to say it in front of your trout-in-trousers,” Cota whispered, a ghost of her old grin peeking through as she deftly insulted Siddhe’s mermaid heritage. “But, there was one clear thing that came through.”
He waited, hardly breathing.
“Withrae,” she said. “Go to Withrae.”