Excerpt: For Promise Yet Unbroken
It always began the same way. He’s high on a bluff overlooking the plains, staring out past the ambling fleep herd at the horizon. He couldn’t remember now what he’d been thinking—probably something stupid. What he did remember was the sudden silence just before the screams began. It hadn’t lasted very long, he thought, but in his dreams it always seems to last forever. An eternity in which he can do nothing, his cry frozen in his throat.
All at once he’s no longer on the bluff, but down in the thick of the carnage with terrified fleep everywhere. For a moment all he can see is fleep, then abruptly they part and he’s staring up at the biggest, meanest rachya he’s ever seen. He can’t move, can’t breathe. Fear holds him in an unbreakable grip.
He hears his mother’s scream.
So does the rachya. It turns, and the spell is broken. Before he realizes it, he’s on his knees in the thick of the fleep herd, staring from between their legs in horror as the rachya slashes viciously at his mother. Her shock-lasso only seems to anger it. Where is his father and their blaster? he wonders in desperation, though he already knows the answer.
His father is dead, and he is forced to watch as the monster tears his mother into pieces.
Then it turns for him.
Every time he dreams, he’s certain that this is the time it will get him. This time, rescue won’t come soon enough. But come it does, in the form of a great indigo dragon and its furious flame-haired rider. He’s seen this man angry more than his fair share of times, but this is different. He’s never seen Charlie Colcord like this before.
Sometimes he wonders if rachya can feel fear. If they can, then that one definitely did, looking into Charlie’s eyes.
Then it’s dead, and Charlie is turning toward him, the anger gone and deep pain and regret in its place. He kneels, holding out his arms. His mouth moves.
The sound of his name breaks something loose inside him, and he’s never sure if he’s screaming or crying. Perhaps both. Certainly in those early days he’d wake from the dream with tears on his cheeks and a scream in his throat, bringing everyone running to see what the fuss was.
These days he doesn’t make a sound, though his cheeks are still wet when he manages to open his eyes.
Staring up at the featureless ceiling above, Jeremey concentrated on nothing but breathing, in and out, until the pattern steadied. Only then did he sit up, rubbing his hands over his face and wiping away the wetness there. He exhaled slowly before forcing himself to his feet, yanking the covers back into place with a flick of the wrist. Not exactly neat, but if Aunt Sue didn’t like it, she could damn well fix it herself. Even when Jeremey had still bothered to make the attempt, it hadn’t been good enough for her, so he’d long since quit trying.
Besides, if he was lucky, after today he’d never again have to sleep under her roof. Today was the day he’d been working toward for the last six years. Today everything was going to change. It had to. He couldn’t stand to be the orphan no one wanted for even one more day.
He’d make it change, no matter what anyone else thought.
Squaring his shoulders, Jeremey took a deep breath before shrugging out of the long johns he wore to bed—Aunt Sue had made it absolutely clear that he was not allowed to sleep naked under any circumstances—and rounding up his clothes. Underwear first, then shirt and pants, vest, leggings, belt… His boots took a minute to locate, one having wiggled its way beneath his bed and the other hiding under an extra blanket.
Last was his hat. That he never needed to hunt down because it was always in exactly the same place, hanging over one of the bed posts. Not long after he’d first arrived in Aunt Sue’s house, his cousin Billy had gotten it into his head to ‘relocate’ Jeremey’s hat. That incident had almost lost Jeremey his place in the house after he’d shown Billy the error of his thinking. It had resulted in most of the rules that Jeremey now chafed under. It had also meant that not a single one of his cousins would touch his hat under any circumstances.
He picked it up, running his fingers lightly along the brim before turning it and fitting it snugly over his head. It was still a bit too big, but it probably always would be. No matter what Jeremey did with the rest of his life, he doubted he’d ever come anywhere close to matching Charlie Colcord’s size. Few people could. Charlie looked like he could wrestle a rachya with his bare hands.
Shaking off his thoughts, Jeremey ran a quick mental check to make sure he had everything before squaring his shoulders and heading downstairs.
As usual, the conversation at the breakfast table stilled when he stepped into the kitchen. He ignored it, long used to the way Aunt Sue and her family felt about him, and set about serving himself. His youngest cousin, Sarah, subtly scooted her chair away from his when he sat down, and Jeremey pretended he hadn’t noticed. Pretended it didn’t hurt, that he didn’t care. Life as usual.
He ate without really tasting anything, just wanting to get the meal over with so he could escape from the house. He’d never really cared for the indoors all that much as a child, and he cared for them even less now. Inside there were fewer places to run, and far more corners to get trapped in.
“So, today’s the day, huh?” Aunt Sue’s husband Robert asked, his cheer a little too obviously forced. Eager to be rid of Jeremey, but lacking any real interest in Jeremey’s potential future.
“Yeah,” Jeremey muttered without looking up from his eggs.
There was an awkward moment of silence, filled with the sound of breathing and the shifting of chairs, before Robert tried again. “Bet you’re excited.”
Excited? At the thought of escaping from this house and these people? He wanted to snort. That was something of an understatement. He’d give anything to be somewhere he could really belong, where he could make a difference instead of always being the odd man out. But his only response was another neutral “Yeah” once he’d swallowed his mouthful.
Robert shifted again and cleared his throat. Jeremey didn’t even have to look to picture the lost, uncertain glance he shot Aunt Sue. Neither of them knew what to do with him. They hadn’t known what to do with him since he’d been dumped on them six years ago, but had been unable to refuse to care for him, being his only living relatives.
Jeremey wished he could have stayed with Charlie. Charlie had saved his life that day, but more importantly it had been Charlie who took him in while they’d sent word out to locate his relatives. Charlie, who had more reason than anyone to dislike him given all the trouble Jeremey had caused, who had been the only one willing to tend to him until his proper family claimed him.
Jeremey reached up and pulled Charlie’s hat down lower over his eyes, obscuring everything but his plate and the table beneath it. He hated this house, this settlement. Fair Valley was the largest settlement on Noman. Supposedly the safest as well. Jeremey hadn’t felt safe since Charlie and Zorevan had ridden off after delivering him to Aunt Sue, taking with them the last remnants he had of Deadwood Gulch.
That was going to change. He’d worked himself to the bone to make certain he got the opportunity to be someone more than just “that odd orphan boy”, and now the day was finally here. Nothing and no one was going to stop him.
No longer hungry, Jeremey stood and took what was left of his meal to the disposal, dumping it and rinsing off his plate before striding toward the door. He snagged his jacket from a hook and shrugged it on, settling the material into place. No one said goodbye or wished him luck as he pushed open the front door and stepped out onto the porch and then down into the dusty street.
His feet knew his destination. He didn’t have to think about it; he just started walking. No one paid him any mind as he passed, nor did he expect them to. People in Fair Valley had no reason to notice Jeremey Jasper, orphaned ward of Sue and Robert Driscoll. They’d never known the energetic child who’d been called Hellion and Troublemaker and everything in-between. That part of him had been left behind in Deadwood Gulch, along with everything else that mattered.
Today, all that would change.
He increased his pace as he rounded the last corner and the barracks and stables came into view. They didn’t really look like much. Plain and utilitarian, the only obvious difference between them and the rest of the buildings in Fair Valley was their size. Not the barracks—those weren’t anything special—but the stables were mammoth. They had to be, to fit all of the dragons that guarded Fair Valley from harm.
Plenty of children were dragon-obsessed growing up, though few of them ever made it to the status of rider. Jeremey hadn’t been one of them. Indeed, he’d gone out of his way to piss off the riders of his hometown, finding it all immensely funny.
It had ceased to be funny the day that Charlie Colcord and his dragon Zorevan saved Jeremy’s life.