It's time for your Hump Day Hump…

How about a blast from the past? Here is The Sleeping Dragon… one of the first books I released with Changeling Press…
CH-SleepingDragon Sleeping Dragon

Chapter One
Let Sleeping Dragons Lie
Feet braced apart, arms extended to their maximum length, he stood and waited.
There was nothing in his mind; his world was a blank slate, waiting to be filled, waiting for the agonizing pleasure…and the horrific pain.
Slowly, it began, drawing its energy from the very earth on which he stood. Pulsing writhing ropes of energy, of magic, of power, twined around themselves as they sought a rod, a bearer for their might.
Around his ankles they looped, slowly, like some starving creature seeking sustenance. And what they found seemed to please them, for they began to roll up the length of his body. Faster and faster they twined, their colors the brilliant blue that exists in the heart of every fire, the icy white of the coldest glacier, a sharp glaze of power blinding all who dared watch this spectacle.
Up around his knees they crept, gaining confidence and speed with every second. On and on, around his waist, over his chest, across his shoulders until his head jerked back as if snapped by some unknown entity.
Blood-red lips parted, a scream locked within a frozen throat, and a fall of silver white hair blew madly around his form in a wind created by power and magic. Bright lavender eyes snapped open to reveal luminescent sparks of pure white that illuminated those strange orbs, the eyes of an alien-one, and the eyes of the demented.
Then the power seemed to lash out at its conduit, raising him to his toes as wave after wave of pure energy penetrated his body, gained a purpose, grew in its strength.
His body arched, his arms flying above his head as the sheer strength of the thing that possessed him brought him to his toes, building and building until his whole person was one shining, glowing being that seemed almost too beautiful to view, yet too sinister and compelling to look away from.
Suddenly, a cry erupted from his throat, loud, agonized. The cry echoed over the land as the very earth began to quake beneath his feet.
His piercing scream startled the onlookers, the curious who had gathered to view this unusual feat, to watch what both heaven and hell had wrought and then left to travel this land that they called their own.
But they were too stunned to look away, transfixed.
As he continued to scream, cry after cry of ecstatic pain, the energy that converged on his body began to coagulate, to meld into one large beam of power.
Still screaming, he forced his arms towards the pulsing dome that surrounded the land, the thing that honor and history demanded he tend to, no matter the cost.
His sudden silence was almost as unnerving as his screams had been, as the world seemed to hold its breath in anticipation, as the tension built around the young man, as the very gods seemed to tremble in fear.
Then as the tension built to a plateau , then nothing. Soon the people began to breathe easy, thinking the show was over, then one final high-pitched scream exploded from his mouth.
And with that cry, a monstrous beam of light and power leapt from his body. Blue, silver, white, it all mended and swirled as warring colors shot from his body, his eyes, his mouth, following its given path, striking the shields with an audible crash that almost sounded like the shrieking cry of pure crystal shattering.
His body gave way in the face of such a massive energy burst, but the power would not let his body fall. It supported him, swirled around him almost lovingly, then began to drain the very life force from his body.
Head tossed back to its farthest, hair whipping around that face, obscuring its near beauty from the frightened yet silent watchers, his body bowed and his knees bent as he fought to retain some of himself from the hungry energies that sought to leach his very essence from his body.
Trembling and panting, he whimpered once as the beam began to lose its brilliant illumination, then faded altogether, growing weaker and weaker as the conduit struggled to reclaim part of himself from the massive outpouring of power.
Then, suddenly, almost as if it had never been, the beam of light dispersed, exploded into a million glittering sparkles, before disappearing cleanly from sight.
With a groan, the conduit dropped to his knees, his body falling backwards as all the energy seemed to leave with the passing of the beam.
He knelt there, supple body bent backwards, breath struggling in his chest, as his strange, lavender eyes drifted shut.
Then, as he took his first full breath, the watchers were amazed to see a shadowy mist exhaled into the brilliant heat of the day, a breath that seemed as cold as the arctic islands they once harnessed to create that shield that protected them from the evils of the outside world.
Then his whole body began to spasm.
Seeing this, his two attendants rushed towards him, carrying blankets and concerned as they hurried to attend his body. One draped him in thick blankets as the other struggled to straighten his body into a more comfortable position.
“Youltan?” Dele whispered, swaddling the long, lanky body, trying to restore some of its precious heat. But as he laid hands upon his face, even he was shocked at his master’s low temperature.
This did not bode well.
Youltan was the last of the Ice Mages, young for the position, true, but the only one of his kind left, and the only one to reinforce the ice shield that they all depended on.
“Youltan?” he whispered urgently again as he began to rub the pale white cheeks that felt as cold as ice, desperate to bring some heat to his slim form.
“This is bad,” Rese, the second attendant whispered. He moved to lift his master into his arms, his massive frame easily hefting the weight of the young wizard.
As they turned, the watchers parted to let them through, curious and repulsed by the one who had harnessed the power of the living earth, yet was feared almost as much as the things they strove to keep out.
“Collect the payment, Dele.” Rese narrowed his eyes at the leering masses, who made no attempt to hide their disgust now that their shields were repaired.
“Payment?” one Elder whispered loudly enough for all to hear. “He should be grateful we allow his kind to live among us.”
There was a general accepting murmur as his words were spread about, gossip flying faster than the Eltal beetles that had ravished the land, before the protective shields. And like the menacing pestilence, the murmurs grew in numbers until their eventual negative meanings were multiplied and destruction was the inevitable conclusion.
“He almost died for you,” Dele growled in response, his bass voice deep enough that it seemed to vibrate the earth. “He put in no thought of his own safety in order to protect you, good people,” he sneered, “from losing the one defense you do have. He has more than earned his meager pay and demands nothing more than what is fair and just.”
“Let him die! We would be better off without his kind!” one voice, lost in the crowd, shouted, and was roundly applauded by most of those watching.
But before a response came, another elder spoke up, his voice strong despite his advanced age.
“And we call ourselves civilized?” he thundered, and suddenly there was a general hush as the chatter and hissing stopped.
“He did not have to risk this to come to our aid. He could have remained home, safe in his sanctuary, yet he braved loss of life to assist us! And this is how we repay such generosity?”
A few heads lowered in shame, while still more looked away, embarrassed by their own hateful natures.
Then, turning to Dele, the elder sighed and began an eloquent apology.
“We fear what we do not understand.” He spoke slowly and sagely. “It is in our nature to hate anything we fear, but we should have more control of our natures, if we wish to remain civilized.”
Dele nodded, some of the anger leaving his face, but still his disgust was apparent.
“Please do not judge us harshly,” the elder continued. “We do not have much to offer in the way of payment.”
“And yet you promised recompense for this,” Dele snarled, pointing to the shivering, barely conscious form cradled protectively in Rese’s arms. “What is a human life worth, elder?” he asked. “What cost would you place on a piece of your soul?”
“He requested no gold, no jewels, no crops or fatted animals,” the elder agreed. “Just provisions for your stay here and the promised Dragon’s Claw Seeds to aid in his recovery.”
“Then settle what you owe, Elder, and we shall take our most unwelcome presence away from your civilized town.”
“The provisions we can gladly supply…” the Elder began, but trailed off.
“And the Dragon’s Claw?” Dele asked, horror beginning to grow in the pit of his stomach, making him nauseous as he stared at the old man.
“That, I am afraid, will be a bit more difficult.”
“What?” Rese demanded as his master’s spasms turned into near convulsions.
“We…do not have the seeds,” the man replied, looking down in shame for his people’s deceit.
“Old man!” Dele began, but the elder cut him off.
“Our leaders felt that his help was important enough to lie to receive it. They were scared, and scared people do stupid things.”
“He risked his life!” Dele roared, turning to stare at the people who began to disperse as soon as their prevarication was exposed.
“And I…we wish to make amends.”
“Can you restore what he gave of himself to the energies to save your people?” Dele demanded. Fear began to fill his voice. “Gods, what have you all done?”
“He will recover…” But the old man trailed off as the Mage’s tremors grew and ice began to coat the long strands of his hair still visible from underneath his heavy layers of blankets.
“He courts death!” Rese shouted, trying to wrap himself around his master, to give of his body heat to slow the ice’s voracious attempt to take over his body.
“I….We shall make amends!” the elder all but shouted, growing more afraid by what he saw.
“How? What will restore the heat to his body that he willingly sacrificed to protect you gang of thieves and liars?”
The old man seemed at a loss, his eyes wildly searching the area around him as if some answer would present itself in the flowering trees and plants of the glade they were standing in.
Then he began to smile.
“We have treasure that may help.”
”Treasures are useless to us!” Dele all but screamed at the old man, wondering what they could do to protect his master.
“But not this treasure.”
As Dele turned to face the old man, his face twisted in righteous anger, the old man produced a strange metal object, a key that gleamed red/orange in his wrinkled hand.
“In the mountains,” the man confided, staring lovingly at the key. “In the mountains to the south, there is a castle.”
“In the frozen badlands!” Rese growled.
“I have enough strength to get you there.” The old man turned the strange tasseled key he held in his hand. “You will find what you seek for your master.”
“Another trick!” Rese growled, struggling to hold onto his quivering bundle.
“But your only chance to save your master,” the old man sighed as he tore his eyes from the key and connected with Dele’s serious gaze. “Trust me, please. This is the key to save your master. I give it to you with good will and in an attempt to make this –” He waved his hands around the mostly deserted field, ending with his hands pointed in the Mage’s direction. “To make this right.”
“Dele!” Rese began, but the other attendant shook his head.
“If there is a chance, Rese, we have to trust him. We have no other recourse.”
“I don’t like this!” Rese growled, but nodded his acceptance.
“If you play us false, old man…” Dele began, but the elder sadly shook his head.
“I make no false claims when a life is at stake. Do you stand here and argue him to death, or do you trust a little, for his sake?”
Sighing, Dele reached for the key, jumping as the energy within it pulsed against his palm.
“You will not be allowed to enter with him,” the old man warned. “You will be granted comfortable quarters and given everything you need, but he must enter alone.”
“Already the stipulations!” Rese protested, but Dele raised his hand to silence him. He felt the energy in the key, recognized it as a source of power.
“Place it in his hand,” the old man continued. He raised his arms and began to chant.
Nodding, Dele walked over to his partner and their master. Delving within the folds of the blanket, he produced one pale, trembling hand, still icy to the touch.
“I hope we are doing the right thing,” Rese whispered as Dele pried open the stiff fingers and placed the key within.
There was a sharp clap of thunder, and a red-orange spark leapt from the key to the master’s hand…
The chanting grew louder and a magical tension began to fill the air.
Flash! Pop! Sizzle!
Then the field was emptied of the strange one and the two who so zealously guarded him.
“It is done,” the man sighed, and then turned towards his home, the honor of his people tarnished and cracked, but still able to be repaired.
* * *
Rese jumped in shock as a loud sound filled his ears, then gasped as the most beautifully unusual people he had ever seen instantly swarmed him.
“The Sleeping Dragon!” someone gasped, and before he could react, his master was all but torn from his hands as the beautiful swarm crowded around, touching him and muttering in a strange language.
“Hurry!” a newer, authoritative voice demanded. An attendant, they reasoned, as he grasped Rese’s arm and pulled him down a hall. “There is not much time left!”
Rese resisted, until he saw Dele rushing along beside him, then let himself be carried along in the urgency.
“There is not much time!” the attendant repeated, and then the world blurred as he raced along stone halls. “Hurry!”
The place was a maze of halls and doors, a castle Rese decided as he raced along with the man, ignoring the severe guardsmen who stood seemingly around every corner.
Finally they came to a huge iron braced wooden door. The imposing arch of wood and metal had several runes inscribed upon its rough surface, but they were words that Rese did not know. He watched as the attendant placed his palm upon the door and it silently parted, the wards holding it closed easing.
Taking his master from his arms, the man nodded at Rese.
“We will see to his comfort,” he spoke softly. “Follow the guards. They will take you to a place of rest and refreshment.”
Then the man entered, cradling the limp body of his master.
Rese had no choice but to follow as the severe looking guards led him away.
Silently, he prayed that he had done the right thing.

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