A stranger arrives on Incendium in secret, but is intercepted by Princess Thalina when he tries to break into the palace. Thalina knows the mysterious mercenary is more than he pretends to be, so lets him abduct her to uncover his secrets. Acion is seldom surprised, but this dragon princess challenges all of his assumptions—while Thalina’s realization that Acion is her destined mate changes her own plans. Can she win the heart this warrior doesn’t appear to have—or will Acion be executed for breaking Incendium’s law first?
An excerpt from Wyvern’s Warrior:
There were no dragons on Incendium.
Acion wasn’t disappointed because he didn’t have the programming for such an emotional reaction. He wasn’t surprised, since he didn’t have that capacity, either. All the same, he had a sense of something lacking.
That was new, so he analyzed it.
It was a strange awareness, unlike anything he’s experienced before. It was so unusual that he couldn’t even compare it to anything. (He tried.)
He walked through Incendium’s capital city, seeking explanations in his vast datastores.
There was a fifty per cent probability that this reaction was due to the fact that he couldn’t add to his log by investigating a life form he hadn’t previously encountered. But still, it was illogical that he’d never experienced this sense of lack before. He’d been confronted with such situations many times in the past and had simply awaited new opportunities to add to his log.
There was a ninety-five per cent chance that this new experience was due to the enhanced programming that the Hive had insisted upon installing before Acion’s departure on this mission. That would explain its novelty.
The notion satisfied Acion. He calculated a ninety-seven per cent probability that the Hive was testing this new software. That was logical. He existed to serve. Acion gave full rein to his newfound sense of incompletion, knowing that the data from his sensors could only help the Hive to continue to refine androids such as himself.
But where were the dragons? Incendium was ruled by a king who was a dragon shifter, who was married to a dragon shifter, and who had twelve dragon shifter daughters. Incendium had a population that was predominantly humanoid, but which also included about seven per cent dragon shifters. This information was in his brief. Given the number of people in Incendium’s capital city, Acion found it reasonable that he should have seen at least one dragon. In fact, by his calculations, based on the number of humanoids he’d counted since leaving the starport, he should have seen forty-three.
But he hadn’t.
Oh, there were dragons on pennants, dragon-shaped jewelry, dragons embroidered on clothing and dragons in shop windows. He paused before one window, that of a clockmaker, his attention caught by a glittering display. The dragon flapped its wings and took flight, circling around a castle tower and breathing fire. The castle was about half Acion’s height and the dragon could have sat on his hand.
The children on either side of him were clearly delighted, but Acion didn’t understand. The dragon was made of metal. The “fire” was a twisting piece of orange glass, fixed in the dragon’s mouth, which spun as the dragon “flew.” The dragon was secured to a metal stick, which terminated in a track that circled the castle. It was mechanical and not a real dragon at all.
He considered that as an illusion, it was somewhat lacking. What was the appeal?
The children chattered to each other in their excitement, using the universal galactic tongue. Acion heard an inflection on the vowels, which must be the local variant, but knew he could mimic that well enough.
“Where are the real dragons?” he asked one child.
“You’re not from here,” the little boy declared, startling Acion with his conviction.
A most unexpected assertion, and one worthy of investigation. “How can you tell?” The boy’s reply would help Acion to improve his ability to blend into local society.
Not that he would be on Incendium for long.
“Everyone knows they’re in the palace,” the boy said with scorn and pointed to the castle that loomed over the town. It was built of local stone cut into large blocks and constructed upon a natural hill. Acion knew this from his brief, but found that the actual castle appeared much larger than in the records he’d reviewed. The biggest dragon pennant he’d seen so far snapped in the wind above its high tower. It was deep blue with a golden dragon on it.
He recognized the colors and insignia of the reigning monarch, King Ouros.
High above the tower, Acion could detect the starport of Incendium in low orbit, with shuttles rising to it and descending from it. They appeared as lights in a line, moving slowly up or down. Just hours before, he’d been there himself. He’d rented a Starpod of his own, as instructed, in order to ensure that his own quick departure from Incendium city wasn’t hampered and left it at the star station in Incendium city. He estimated that he would be at the port again within 9.4 local hours.
Acion realized the child was still watching him, waiting for a reply.
“Then I’ll look there,” he said and bowed to the little boy. The brief had said that bowing was important in Incendium society, but Acion’s move seemed to amuse the boy. “Thank you for your assistance.” Acion turned to stride to the castle.
“Where are you from?” the boy called after him, but Acion ignored him.
That data was not available to that individual at that time.
It occurred to him he might have just spoken to a dragon shifter, who had chosen his humanoid form for the moment.
Acion reviewed the information provided to him. The dragon shifters of Incendium came of legal age at eighty-one Incendium years, but there was no clear information as to their age when they gained the ability to shift shape in the first place. He made a notation on the Incendium file in his memory, drawing attention to the missing detail, then continued onward.
What was this strange sense he felt? He might call it desire, but it wasn’t sexual. He might call it a need, but it wasn’t like his body’s imperative for food or water or sleep. Acion searched the thesaurus in his databank and found a curiously apt word.
He tried it out. He yearned to see a dragon. That sounded true. It sounded right. It felt right, which was even more interesting. Acion nodded, satisfied by the Hive’s modifications to his programming. What nuance. What subtlety. His reaction was almost organic.
What was the cost of the change? Would his other reactions, the ones that ensured his survival, be compromised?
Acion ran a check of his systems and found all operating at full capacity.
The Hive had called the modifications “enhancements.” There was, after all, a ninety-seven per cent probability that Acion and his mission was a test of the effectiveness of these enhancements, whatever they were.
This was as it should be.
Acion existed to serve.
Excerpt from Wyvern’s Warrior Copyright ©2016 Deborah A. Cooke