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Chapter 1 Sneak Peek!

Remember Dragons Lie Vol. I: The Stag

Written by J. L. Gryphon

       

Epigraph

  Stars graced her feet,
cheers heralded her name,
but a wolf howled in death.   The assassin made his mark,
the snake offered his fruit,
and her eyes drowned in tar.   A tree sprouted from blood,
the unicorn turned black,
and the Dragon saw the Stag.
     
—From "Memoirs of a Goddess"   by the Prince Seeré Anastil
 

Chapter 1

The Stag

 
* * *
Two Years Ago
  The goddess screamed. Her wild keening ricocheted off the marble walls of the palace, echoing long and loud down the corridor leading to her bedchamber, but the human slave didn’t move. She cowered at the mouth of the hall, its length yawning before her like the maw of a beast. The floor's chill bit into the soles of her feet, but still she didn’t move.   The ghost would see her if she moved.   It existed as a pale, formless shimmer in front of the double doors, flitting back and forth, but the more it moved, the brighter it became. Its center glowed white, solidifying in a steady beam, until out of the light came the translucent reflection of a stag. Its hooves skipped onto the marble, a flighty prance she would have thought beautiful had she not been so terrified. Then it saw her. The spectre shifted its elegant head, its ears swiveling forward with a dainty sort of interest before it turned its gaze back to the double doors, back to the chambers of the goddess. She screamed again. “Cell! Cell!  The human jumped as the edge of a cape whipped the top of her head. She peeked over her arms, gasping at the tall, well-dressed figure rushing past her. The royal vizier, Cell the Veldriss’s Voice. He raced to the double doors as if the thing lurking before them wasn’t there. Did he not see it? How could he not see it? Wide-eyed, she sat waiting for him to slam into the creature, but he passed straight through it and yanked open the doors, disappearing into the goddess’s inner chambers. The stag stood as if nothing happened. It watched her again.   “H-He—” She gulped, trying again. “Hello?”   The spectre flared its nostrils, stomping its hoof on the marble. It didn’t make a sound, but a voice echoed inside her head, a warm, deep voice soothing her terror like a light in the darkest of woods. She didn’t understand.  
I have not come for you.
  The slave shivered. “Are you . . . talking to me?”   The stag took a delicate step forward, lowering its crown of antlers in what she could only describe as a nod of recognition.  
The choice has been made. I will kill this false goddess.
Run, dear one. Run while you can.
  “What? Run? Run where?”   The double doors banged behind the stag, and it jerked its head to look. It stood, one leg poised in the air, then sprang in a graceful bound down the hall. The human shrieked, ducking as the creature leaped over her head. She had a second to look, a last glimpse of the ghost sprinting behind her, before it disappeared through a wall. It was gone.   The goddess’s hysterical shouts still echoed down the hall. “Get the assassins! All of them; I do not care! We need to find her! I should never have—” Sobbing now. Terrified tears coming from behind the doors. She shouldn’t be hearing this. The word “run” echoed in her mind again and again, but she couldn’t make herself move, her limbs frozen to the chilled marble floor.   “W-We need to keep this quiet. No one can know. Go check if . . .”   The doors banged again, and the royal vizier returned. His lightning blue eyes fixed on her. “Did you hear all that?”   She swallowed. He would read her mind if she lied. Her head bobbed in a feeble nod, but she peered back where the stag had vanished. There was still time. She just had to get up and—   “Don’t run,” he said. He let the door fall, and the human slave glimpsed a purple gown flash by the crack. She gasped, shrinking back, but the royal vizier stepped toward her, his voice low and calm as he lifted his hand. “Don’t be afraid.” He approached slowly and knelt on one knee, his silver-trimmed cape rippling across the ground. No! It would soil! But he didn’t seem concerned with his finery. Gently, he extended his hand covered in a black leather glove. She hesitated, but he smiled at her, tempting wisps of dark hair falling past his eye, and her heart eased. He had always been kind to the slaves. His cool voice whispered to her across the marble. “I don’t want you to run.”   She didn’t run.   “What are you doing, Cell?”   Cell glanced toward the goddess’s call, his lips pulling in the faintest of smiles. “There is a Tressian slave out here. I am checking what she saw.”   “Get rid of her!”   “Yes, my pharota.”   The slave recoiled, but Cell just shook his head. “Please, don’t be afraid. Come with me this way, all right?”   He still offered his gloved hand to her, and she gazed into his electric blue eyes, a touch of heat finding her cheeks. Her fingers slid into his grasp, and he helped her to her feet, guiding her away from the goddess’s chambers.   “What happened?” he said.   She shivered, and he pulled her a little tighter against him. “I . . . saw a stag. A white stag. It looked like a ghost. You walked right through it when you first went into her rooms.”   “Did I?”   She gave a miserable nod.   “Well that’s alarming, isn’t it?”   She cast him a shocked look, about to apologize, but the hint of play in his gaze revealed he was joking. She stopped, caught by his style, her cheeks flushing even brighter. A strand of hair fell over her nose. “Um . . . find who?”   “What are you asking?”   “The goddess, she . . .” The human faltered. Should she ask such a bold question? “The goddess said she would have to find someone?”   The royal vizier stopped walking. “Yes. Anäriel Anastil.”   “What? But she’s a myth!”   Cell didn’t respond. “Did you see anything else?”   “Holy one, it . . ." She gulped, releasing his hand and dropping to the floor. "It called her a false goddess. It said it would kill her!”   He sighed. “I see.”   “Is Anäriel Anastil meant to defend the goddess? Is that why she needs to find her?”   "Hmph." Cell gave a distant smirk. “No. Quite the opposite, I think.” He stood quietly, staring at nothing, then smiled down at her.   She trembled before him. “W-What are you going to do to me?”   “Sssh,” he said. “It’s all right. I’m going to make you forget.” He helped her up again, escorting her farther down the hall, then paused and removed his black gloves. Elegant hands. Long fingers. He cupped her chin in his palm, and she blushed as he smoothed the strand of hair from her face. Leaning down, his lips brushed against her ear, and his whisper came as soft as his touch.   “I’m sorry.”   He kissed her, and at first she felt cold. Ice cold. Then she felt nothing at all.

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