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“If I lose mine honor,

I lose myself.”

William Shakespeare
Antony and Cleopatra

Copyright © 2015 by Morgan Rice

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Morgan Rice

Morgan Rice is the #1 bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the epic fantasy series THE SORCERER’S RING, comprising seventeen books; of the #1 bestselling series THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS, comprising eleven books (and counting); of the #1 bestselling series THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, a post-apocalyptic thriller comprising two books (and counting); and of the new epic fantasy series KINGS AND SORCERERS, comprising three books (and counting). Morgan’s books are available in audio and print editions, and translations are available in over 25 languages.

Morgan loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.morganricebooks.com to join the email list, receive a free book, receive free giveaways, download the free app, get the latest exclusive news, connect on Facebook and Twitter, and stay in touch!

Select Acclaim for Morgan Rice

“If you thought that there was no reason left for living after the end of THE SORCERER’S RING series, you were wrong. In RISE OF THE DRAGONS Morgan Rice has come up with what promises to be another brilliant series, immersing us in a fantasy of trolls and dragons, of valor, honor, courage, magic and faith in your destiny. Morgan has managed again to produce a strong set of characters that make us cheer for them on every page.…Recommended for the permanent library of all readers that love a well-written fantasy.”

Books and Movie Reviews
Roberto Mattos

“RISE OF THE DRAGONS succeeds – right from the start…. A superior fantasy…It begins, as it should, with one protagonist's struggles and moves neatly into a wider circle of knights, dragons, magic and monsters, and destiny.…All the trappings of high fantasy are here, from soldiers and battles to confrontations with self….A recommended winner for any who enjoy epic fantasy writing fueled by powerful, believable young adult protagonists.”

Midwest Book Review
D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer

“An action packed fantasy sure to please fans of Morgan Rice’s previous novels, along with fans of works such as THE INHERITANCE CYCLE by Christopher Paolini…. Fans of Young Adult Fiction will devour this latest work by Rice and beg for more.”

The Wanderer, A Literary Journal (regarding Rise of the Dragons)

“A spirited fantasy that weaves elements of mystery and intrigue into its story line. A Quest of Heroes is all about the making of courage and about realizing a life purpose that leads to growth, maturity, and excellence….For those seeking meaty fantasy adventures, the protagonists, devices, and action provide a vigorous set of encounters that focus well on Thor's evolution from a dreamy child to a young adult facing impossible odds for survival….Only the beginning of what promises to be an epic young adult series.”

– Midwest Book Review (D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer)

“THE SORCERER’S RING has all the ingredients for an instant success: plots, counterplots, mystery, valiant knights, and blossoming relationships replete with broken hearts, deception and betrayal. It will keep you entertained for hours, and will satisfy all ages. Recommended for the permanent library of all fantasy readers.”

Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos

“In this action-packed first book in the epic fantasy Sorcerer's Ring series (which is currently 14 books strong), Rice introduces readers to 14-year-old Thorgrin "Thor" McLeod, whose dream is to join the Silver Legion, the elite knights who serve the king…. Rice's writing is solid and the premise intriguing.”

– Publishers Weekly
Books by Morgan Rice

KINGS AND SORCERERS

RISE OF THE DRAGONS (Book #1)

RISE OF THE VALIANT (Book #2)

THE WEIGHT OF HONOR (Book #3)

THE SORCERER’S RING

A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1)

A MARCH OF KINGS (Book #2)

A FATE OF DRAGONS (Book #3)

A CRY OF HONOR (Book #4)

A VOW OF GLORY (Book #5)

A CHARGE OF VALOR (Book #6)

A RITE OF SWORDS (Book #7)

A GRANT OF ARMS (Book #8)

A SKY OF SPELLS (Book #9)

A SEA OF SHIELDS (Book #10)

A REIGN OF STEEL (Book #11)

A LAND OF FIRE (Book #12)

A RULE OF QUEENS (Book #13)

AN OATH OF BROTHERS (Book #14)

A DREAM OF MORTALS (Book #15)

A JOUST OF KNIGHTS (Book #16)

THE GIFT OF BATTLE (Book #17)

THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY

ARENA ONE: SLAVERSUNNERS (Book #1)

ARENA TWO (Book #2)

THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS

TURNED (Book #1)

LOVED (Book #2)

BETRAYED (Book #3)

DESTINED (Book #4)

DESIRED (Book #5)

BETROTHED (Book #6)

VOWED (Book #7)

FOUND (Book #8)

RESURRECTED (Book #9)

CRAVED (Book #10)

FATED (Book #11)


Listen to KINGS AND SORCERERS in its Audiobook edition!


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Chapter one

Theos dove for the countryside, filled with a fury he could no longer contain. He no longer cared what his target was – he would make the entire human race, the entire land of Escalon, pay for the loss of his egg. He would destroy the entire world until he found what he was looking for.

Theos was torn by the irony of it all. He had fled his homeland to shelter his egg, to spare his child the wrath of all the other dragons, all threatened by his offspring, by the prophecy that his son would become Master of All Dragons. They had all wished to destroy him, and that, Theos could never allow. He had fought off his fellow dragons, had received a grievous wound in the battle, and flown, wounded, thousands of miles across many great seas, until he had come here, to this island of humans, this place where the other dragons would never look for him, all for safe harbor for his egg.

Yet when Theos had landed, had placed his egg on the remote forest floor, it had left him vulnerable. He had paid for it dearly, receiving fresh wounds from the Pandesian soldiers, and losing sight of his egg as he’d fled in haste, his life spared only by that human, Kyra. On that confusing night, amidst the snowstorm and raging winds, he had never been able to find his egg again, buried in the snow, despite circling, returning again and again. It was a mistake for which he hated himself, a mistake for which he blamed the human race, and for which he would never, ever forgive.

Theos dove ever faster, opened his jaws wide, roared in rage, a roar that shook the very trees, and breathed a stream of flame so hot that even he recoiled from it. It was a massive stream, powerful enough to wipe out an entire city, and it rained down on his haphazard target: a small country village unlucky enough to lie in his path. Down below, several hundred humans, spread across farms and vineyards, had no idea of the death about to greet them.

They looked up, faces frozen in horror as the flames descended – but it was too late. They shrieked and ran for their lives, but the cloud of flame caught them. The flames spared no one – men, women, children, farmers, warriors, all those who ran, and all those who stood frozen. Theos flapped his great wings and set them all aflame, set their houses aflame, their weapons, their livestock, their possessions. They would all, every single last one of them, pay.

When Theos finally swooped back up, nothing remained. Where the village once stood was now a great conflagration, fires which would soon reduce it to ash. Fitting, Theos thought: from ashes humans came, and to ashes they would return.

 

Theos did not slow. He continued to fly, staying low to the ground, roaring as he hacked away at trees, clawed off branches in a single swipe, tore leaves to shreds. He flew along the treetops, carving out a path, still breathing flame. He left a great trail of flame as he went, a scar upon the land, a roadway of fire for Escalon to always remember him. He set aflame great swaths of the Wood of Thorns, knowing it wouldn’t grow back for thousands of years, knowing he would leave this scab upon the land and gaining some satisfaction at the thought. He realized, even as he breathed, that his flames might find and burn his own egg. Yet, overwhelmed with rage and frustration, he could not stop himself.

As he flew, gradually, the landscape changed beneath him. Woods and fields were replaced by stone buildings, and Theos peered down and saw he flew over a sprawling garrison, packed with thousands of soldiers in blue and yellow armor. Pandesians. The soldiers scanned the skies in panic and wonder, armor glistening. Some, the smart ones, fled; the brave ones stood their ground and as he neared, they threw spears and javelins his way.

Theos breathed and burned all the weapons in midair, sending them raining back to the earth as piles of ash. His flames continued down until they reached the now-fleeing soldiers, burning them alive, trapped in their shiny suits of metal. Soon, Theos knew, all those suits of metal would be rusting husks on the ground, a memento of his visit here. He did not stop until he burned every last soldier, leaving the garrison one giant cauldron of flame.

Theos flew on, flying north, unable to stop himself. The landscape changed, and changed again, and he did not slow even when he spotted a curious sight: there, far below, appeared a massive creature, a giant, emerging from a tunnel in the ground. It was a creature unlike any Theos had ever seen, a powerful creature. Yet Theos felt no fear; on the contrary, he felt anger. Anger for its being in his path.

The beast looked up and its grotesque face collapsed in fear as Theos dove down low. It, too, turned and fled, back for its hole – but Theos would not let it go so easily. If he could not find his child, then he would destroy them all, man and beast alike. And he would not stop until everyone and everything in Escalon was no more.

CHAPTER TWO

Vesuvius stood in the tunnel and looked up at the shafts of sunlight pouring down on him, sunlight from Escalon, and he basked in the sweetest feeling of his life. That hole high above, those rays shining down upon him, represented a victory greater than any he could dream, the completion of the tunnel that he had imagined his entire life. Others had said it could not be built, and Vesuvius knew he had achieved what his father and his father before him could not, had created a pathway for the entire nation of Marda to invade Escalon.

Dust still swirled in the light, debris still filling the air from where the giant had punched a hole through the ceiling, and as Vesuvius stared through it, he knew that hole high above represented his destiny. His entire nation would follow on his heels; soon all of Escalon would be his. He grinned wide, already imagining the rape and torture and destruction awaiting him. It would be a blood fest. He would create a nation of slaves, and the nation of Marta would double in size – and territory.

“NATION OF MARDA, ADVANCE!” he shouted.

There arose a great shout behind him as the hundreds of trolls crammed in the tunnel raised their halberds and charged with him. He led the way, charging up the tunnel, slipping and sliding on the dirt and rock, as he made his way toward the opening, toward conquest. With Escalon in sight, he trembled with excitement as the ground shook beneath him, tremors from the giant’s screeching up above, the beast, too, clearly thrilled to be free. Vesuvius imagined the damage the giant would do up there, let loose on a rampage, terrorizing the countryside – and he smiled wider. It would have its fun, and when Vesuvius tired of it, he would kill it. In the meantime, it was a valuable asset in his rampage of terror.

Vesuvius looked up and blinked in confusion as he saw the sky suddenly darken up above, and he felt a great wave of heat come his way. He was baffled to see a wall of flame descending, suddenly covering the countryside. He could not understand what was happening as a horrific wave of heat came at him, scalding his face, followed by the roar of the giant – and then, a tremendous shriek of agony. The giant stomped, clearly hurt by something, and Vesuvius looked up in terror as it inexplicably turned back around. Its face half-burned, it charged back into the tunnel, underground – and right for him.

Vesuvius stared, but could not comprehend the nightmare unfolding before him. Why would the giant turn back around? What was the source of heat? What had burned his face?

Vesuvius then heard a flapping of wings, a shriek even more horrific than that of the giant – and he knew. He felt a shudder as he realized that up there, flying by, was something even more terrifying than a giant. It was something Vesuvius had never thought he’d encounter in his lifetime: a dragon.

Vesuvius stood there, frozen in fear for the first time in his life, his entire army of trolls frozen behind him – all of them trapped. The unthinkable had happened: the giant was running scared from something even greater than itself. Burned, in agony, panicked, the giant swung its huge fists as it descended, swiped with its vicious claws, and Vesuvius watched in terror as all around him his trolls were swatted. Whatever lay in its wrathful path was crushed by its feet, cut in half by its claws, smashed by its fists.

And then, before he could get out of its way, Vesuvius felt his own ribs cracking as the giant scooped him up and threw him in the air.

He felt himself airborne, tumbling end over end, the world spinning – and the next thing he knew his head was smashing into rock, the awful pain ripping through his body, as he impacted a stone wall. As he began to plummet to the ground, to lose consciousness, the final thing he saw was the giant, destroying everything, undoing all his plans, all he had worked for, and he realized he would die here, far beneath the earth, but feet away from the dream he almost had.

CHAPTER THREE

Duncan felt the air rush past him as he slid down the rope at sunset, scaling down the majestic peaks of Kos, holding on for dear life as he slid faster than he’d imagined possible. All around him the men slid, too – Anvin and Arthfael, Seavig, Kavos, Bramthos, and thousands of others, Duncan’s, Seavig’s, and Kavos’s men joining together as one army, all sliding down the ice in rows, a well-disciplined army leapfrogging over each other, all of them desperate to reach the bottom before they were detected. As Duncan’s feet touched the ice, he immediately pushed off again, repelling downward, his hands spared from being torn to shreds only by the thick gloves Kavos had given him.

Duncan marveled at how fast his army moved, all in a near free fall down the cliff. When he had been atop Kos, he’d had no idea how Kavos had planned on getting an army this size down so quickly without losing men; he hadn’t realized they’d had such an intricate array of ropes and picks that could get them down so smoothly. These were men made for the ice, and for them, this lightning-fast descent was like a casual hike. He finally understood what they’d meant when they’d said the men of Kos were not trapped up here – but rather, the Pandesians, down below, were the ones who were trapped.

Kavos suddenly came to an abrupt stop, landing with both feet on a wide and broad plateau protruding from the mountain, and Duncan stopped beside him, as did all the men, momentarily pausing halfway down the mountain face. Kavos walked over to the edge and Duncan joined him, leaning over, seeing the ropes dangling far beneath; through them, far below, through the mist and final rays of the sun, Duncan could see at the mountain’s base a sprawling, stone Pandesian garrison, teeming with thousands of soldiers.

Duncan looked over at Kavos, and Kavos looked back, delight in his eyes. It was a delight Duncan recognized, one he had seen many times in his life: the ecstasy of a true warrior about to go to war. It was what men like Kavos lived for. Duncan felt it himself, he had to admit, that tingling in his veins, that tightness in his gut. The sight of those Pandesians made him as excited for the thrill of battle as the next man.

“You could have descended anywhere,” Duncan said, examining the landscape below. “Most of it is empty. We could have avoided confrontation, and moved on to the capital. Yet you chose the spot where the Pandesians are strongest.”

Kavos smiled broadly.

“I did,” he replied. “The men of Kavos do not look to avoid confrontation – we seek it out.” He grinned wider. “Besides,” he added, “an early battle will warm us for our march on the capital. And I want to make these Pandesians think twice the next time they decide to surround the base of our mountain.”

Kavos turned and nodded to his commander, Bramthos, and Bramthos rallied their men and joined Kavos as they all rushed for a massive ice boulder perched at the edge of the cliff. They all, as one, leaned their shoulders into it.

Duncan, realizing what they were doing, nodded to Anvin and Arthfael, who rallied their men, too. Seavig and his men joined them, and as one, they all pushed.

Duncan dug his feet into the ice and pushed, straining under the weight of it, slipping, pushing with all he had. They all groaned, and slowly, the massive boulder began to roll.

“A welcoming present?” Duncan asked, smiling, grunting beside Kavos.

Kavos grinned back.

“Just a little something to announce our arrival.”

A moment later Duncan felt a great release, heard a cracking of ice, and he leaned over and watched in awe as the boulder rolled over the edge of the plateau. He stepped back quickly with the others and watched as the boulder hurled down at full speed, rolling, bouncing off the ice wall, gaining speed. The massive boulder, with a diameter of at least thirty feet, fell straight down, rushing like an angel of death for the Pandesian fortress below. Duncan braced himself for the explosion to follow, all of those soldiers below unwitting, waiting targets.

The boulder struck the center of the stone garrison, and the crash was greater than anything Duncan had heard in his life. It was as if a comet had struck Escalon, a boom echoing so loudly he had to cover his ears, the ground shaking beneath him, making him stumble. An enormous cloud of stone and ice rose up, dozens of feet high, and the air, even from up here, became audible with the terrified shouts and cries of men. Half the stone garrison was destroyed on impact, and the boulder continued to roll, crushing men, flattening buildings, leaving a wake of destruction and chaos.

“MEN OF KOS!” shouted Kavos. “Who has dared approach our mountain?”

There came a great shout as his thousands of warriors suddenly charged forward and leapt off the edge of the cliff, following Kavos, all grabbing ropes and rappelling so fast, they were practically free-falling down the mountain. Duncan followed, his men behind him, all jumping, too, grabbing onto the ropes and descending so fast he could barely breathe; he felt certain he would break his neck upon impact.

Seconds later he found himself landing hard at the base, hundreds of feet below, descending into a huge cloud of ice and dust, the rumble still echoing from the rolling boulder. All the men turned and faced the garrison and they all let out a great battle cry as they drew their swords and charged, rushing headlong into the chaos of the Pandesian camp.

The Pandesian soldiers, still reeling from the explosion, turned with shocked faces to see the army charging; clearly, they had not expected this. Dazed, caught off guard, several of their commanders lying there dead, crushed by the boulder, they seemed too disoriented to even think straight. As Duncan and Kavos and their men bore down on them, some began to turn and run. Others reached for swords – but Duncan and his men descended upon them like locusts and stabbed them before they even had a chance to draw.

Duncan and the men rushed through the camp, never hesitating, knowing time was of the essence, and they felled the recovering soldiers on every side, following the trail of destruction left by the boulder. Duncan slashed every which way, stabbing one soldier in the chest, smashing another in the face with the hilt of his sword, kicking one who charged him, and ducking and laying his shoulder into another as the man swung an axe at his head. Duncan did not pause, felling everyone in his path, breathing hard, knowing they were still outnumbered and that he had to kill as many as he could as quickly as he could.

 

Beside him, Anvin, Arthfael, and his men joined him, all watching each other’s backs, all rushing forward and slashing and defending in every direction as the clangs of warfare filled the garrison. Embroiled in a full-scale battle, Duncan knew it would have been wiser to have conserved his men’s energy, to have avoided this confrontation and marched to Andros. But he also knew that honor compelled the men of Kos to fight this battle, and he understood how they felt; the wisest course of action was not always what moved men’s hearts.

They moved through the camp with speed and discipline, the Pandesians in such disarray that they were barely able to put up an organized defense. Every time a commander surfaced, or a company formed, Duncan and his men hacked them down.

Duncan and his men rushed through the garrison like a storm, and hardly an hour had passed when Duncan finally stood there, at the end of the fort, turning every which way, and realized, blood-spattered, that there was no one left to kill. He stood there, breathing hard as twilight fell, a mist settling over the mountains, all uncannily silent.

The fort was theirs.

The men, realizing, let out a spontaneous cheer, and Duncan stood there, Anvin, Arthfael, Seavig, Kavos, and Bramthos coming up beside him, wiping blood from his sword, his armor, and taking it all in. He noticed a wound on Kavos’s arm, seeping blood.

“You’re wounded,” he pointed out to Kavos, who didn’t seem to notice.

Kavos looked down at it and shrugged. He then smiled.

“A beauty scratch,” he replied.

Duncan surveyed the battlefield, so many man dead, mostly Pandesians and few his own men. He then looked up and saw the ice peaks of Kos towering over them, disappearing in the clouds, and he was in awe at how high they had climbed, and how fast they had descended. It had been a lightning attack – like death raining down from the sky – and it had worked. The Pandesian garrison, seeming so indomitable but hours ago, was now theirs, nothing but a flattened ruin, all its men lying in pools of blood, dead beneath the twilight sky. It was surreal. The warriors of Kos spared no one, took no mercy, and had been an unstoppable force. Duncan had a fresh respect for them. They would be crucial partners in liberating Escalon.

Kavos surveyed the corpses, breathing hard, too.

“That is what I call an exit plan,” he said.

Duncan saw him grinning as he surveyed the enemy bodies, watching their men stripping the dead of their weapons.

Duncan nodded.

“And a fine exit it was,” he replied.

Duncan turned and looked west, past the fort, into the setting sun, and motion caught his eye. He squinted and saw a sight which filled his heart with warmth, a sight which somehow he had expected to see. There, on the horizon, stood his warhorse, standing proudly before the herd, hundreds of warhorses behind him. He had, as always, sensed where Duncan would be, and was there, loyally awaiting him. Duncan’s heart lifted, knowing his old friend would bring his army the rest of the way to the capital.

Duncan whistled, and as he did, his horse turned and ran for him. The other horses followed, and there came a great rumble in the twilight, as the herd galloped through the snowy plain, heading right for them.

Kavos nodded in admiration beside him.

“Horses,” Kavos remarked, watching them approach. “I myself would have walked to Andros.”

Duncan grinned.

“I am sure you would have, my friend.”

Duncan stepped forward as his horse approached, and caressed his old friend’s mane. He mounted him, and as he did, all his men mounted with him, thousands of them, an army on horseback. They sat there, fully armed, staring into the twilight, nothing before them now but the snowy plains leading to the capital.

Duncan felt a rush of excitement as he felt, finally, that they were on the brink. He could feel it, could smell victory in the air. Kavos had gotten them down the mountain; now it was his show.

Duncan raised his sword, feeling the eyes of all the men, all the armies, upon him.

“MEN!” he called out. “To Andros!”

They all let out a great battle cry and charged with him, into the night, across the snowy plains, all prepared to stop at nothing until they had reached the capital and waged the greatest war of their lives.

Книга из серии:
Rise of the Valiant
Rise of the Dragons
The Weight of Honor
A Realm of Shadows
Night of the Bold
A Forge of Valor
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