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Emma L Adams

Inferno: Heritage of Fire Book 3 (Paperback)

Inferno: Heritage of Fire Book 3 (Paperback)

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Book 3 of 3: Heritage of Fire

The supernatural world isn't prepared for the return of the dragon shifters.

My friends and I defeated Lorne, but at a terrible price. We're stranded in the dragon shifters' city, surrounded by enemies on all sides. Worse, the dragon shifters' ancient goddess has taken my sister hostage, and the only way to set her free is to remake the Moonbeam -- the deadly magical weapon that returned me from death to life.

Together with my fellow dragon shifter Zeph, I search for a way to thwart the goddess of fire. Our last hope lies with an ancient spell from a time when the gods walked among humans, but if the goddess escapes before my sister does, she'll unleash her fury on everyone I care about.

The supernatural world isn't prepared for the return of the dragon shifters, and saving my sister might cost us everything…

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An angry dragon shifter was a dangerous thing indeed. A vengeful, grieving one, even more so. I tossed a handful of shattered fragments of Moonbeam stone across the hillside, which reflected a cloudy sky that looked like the one I knew well, and yet was as far from home as it was possible to be. My reflection shone back at me in fragments—bright red hair, ashy grey eyes, pale features that looked achingly similar to my sister’s.

My sister, now trapped in dragon form. Because she’d given her life for mine. If my rage was a current, my grief was a tidal wave I struggled to keep in check. 

A shadow fell on me from behind, and the tall, muscular form of Zeph, my fellow dragon shifter, walked up beside me. His auburn hair was longer and messier than usual, his clothes torn and stained with blood. “No luck?”

“No.” I ran the heel of my shoe over the shards of broken stone. “No magic can fix this. We’re officially stuck here.”

Zeph picked up a piece of the glass-like material. “The Moonbeam is a magical artefact. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to use shards of it as portals without it being whole, right?”

“Theoretically, no,” I allowed. “But it’s burnt out. And even if it wasn’t, how can we take Ember back with us when she’s stuck in her dragon form?” 

Let’s just say some humans’ attitudes towards dragons hadn’t changed much in the last thousand years. Given certain dragon shifters’ predilection for plotting world domination, I supposed I couldn’t really blame them after recent events. But the thought of never going home… of never seeing my sister’s human face again…

No. I wouldn’t accept it.

“We have to make a plan, said Zeph. “We have enough supplies for what, a week? Less, if you count the dragonling, but he can at least hunt for himself. We don’t even know if this realm is survivable for humans.”

“It must be. Dragon shifters lived in that city in both human and dragon forms.” Or they had, once. Now, everything was in ruins.

Inside the cathedral-like stone structure on the hillside, Becks curled up in cat form, her amber eyes alert despite her relaxed pose. Behind her, Will and Kit sat with the dragonling, a handful of rucksacks containing our supplies heaped on the grass at their side. Tall and graceful like most half-faeries, Kit sat close to his boyfriend, who looked thin and tired, worn down by his near-miss with the virus that had almost killed all the supernaturals in London.

The dragonling, Thorn, curled up next to one of the crooked pillars inside the stone construction. He was taller than my shoulder by this point, his body more than five feet long when extended. His scales had lightened to opalescence, and his horns had grown several inches in the last few weeks. It would be a month or two at most before he reached full size.

Will stirred when I walked closer. “Any luck? Because I don’t fancy my chances out there in the wilderness. A half-gargoyle is no match for a pack of dragons.”

“They won’t attack us.” At least I hoped they didn’t. “I’ve been to the city before. Maybe I can help them settle in.”

On the other hand, I’d broken the Moonbeam and trapped us all here to begin with. The others hadn’t believed the power in the stone belonged to a fire goddess who’d happily have seen us all burn… mostly because said fire goddess had used the Moonbeam’s own magic to hypnotise them into obedience. I could only hope her influence had shattered along with the stone.

Zeph cast a glance at the crate of dragonling eggs lying a few feet away from Becks. Now that was an issue we had yet to confront: what to do when they all hatched. “Not to be a downer, but the other dragons were seconds from ripping our throats out earlier.”

“Lorne had them under his thrall. Under the Moonbeam’s.” I waved a hand in the general direction of its shattered remains. “The hypnosis effect should have broken along with it.”

“If you say so.” Will ran a hand through his tangled blond hair. “I don’t see them lining up to thank us.”

“They just lost everything.” We had, too. Even Agnes, our witch-mage ally, was on the other side of the portal, unreachable. All we had left was a city, abandoned after the dragon clan war sixteen years ago, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out it’d be nothing like London.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Astor, sitting on a rock apart from the others. His brown hair was tangled, his face unshaven, and his green eyes were fixed on a point far in the distance. I followed his gaze and my chest tightened at the sight of Ember’s dragon form in the sky. It wasn’t unusual for the former assassin to be taciturn and antisocial, but he’d been ignoring us since Ember’s spirit had become trapped in Death. 

Ember stopped mid-flight, swiping at something in the fog. Several jagged shapes appeared in the gloom, descending through the clouds.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Get away from my sister.”

I bounded into the air, my wings extending, scales clothing my reptilian form. Letting out a roar, I flew towards the oncoming horde of winged monsters.

Not those bastards again.

Each beast was smaller than a dragon shifter, but had similar tough scales, hard to penetrate even with claws. Red and black in colour, they had jagged wings, pit-like eyes, and clawed talons that could rip through human skin straight to the muscle. Luckily, dragon scales were a tad more resilient. One beast flew at me, our claws clashing. Its blow didn’t even make a dent in my ruby red scales, and I ripped upwards, tearing its head clean off. The headless winged body fell out of the sky, but another took its place. Where in hell had the swarm come from?  

Zeph rose into the air behind me, his blue-white dragon scales reflecting the weak sunlight. With three sets of claws, we tore down our assailants, creating a shower of red droplets mingling with the fog. 

Despite the low visibility level, it was nice to stretch my wings over the countryside with no fear of terrifying the humans below. Maybe I understood why the dragons had chosen this realm as their home, with its rolling hills and wide-open spaces. Few such wild areas remained in the mortal realm, and even fewer where dragons could freely roam.

Ember turned to me, her ashy grey eyes shining in recognition. She knew me as her sister, even trapped in her shifter form and reduced to instinct alone. She gave a faint growl, an invitation to join her.

I shook the last droplets of the monster’s blood from my claws and flew up to meet her, my wing brushing hers. Fly with me?

She dipped her head in understanding and adjusted her path to fly at my side. The rolling hills gave way to larger mountains in one direction, their peaks disappearing into the clouds. Below, the dragon’s city spread out in an expanse of grey stone buildings and gleaming gold points which I assumed must be statues or other decorations. I skirted the city’s edge to avoid being spotted, wanting to enjoy my time with Ember a little longer before I flew down to speak with the other dragons.

Behind the city were more mountains, blocking any view of what lay behind. The rolling hills continued to the east and south, marked with patches of trees. This realm didn’t appear to have reached as high a technology level as earth, so it made sense there’d be more countryside and fewer cities. Yet no matter how far we flew, home wasn’t reachable from the sky. Despite the feel of the wind buffeting my leathery wings, I missed the city of London like a physical ache deep within me.

Ember’s wing brushed mine again as we turned back to complete our circuit of the area. As the cathedral-like stone structure came into view, I spotted Astor walking alone through the fog in the direction of the dragons’ city.

As Ember continued to fly, I landed on the hill, shifting to human form again.

“Hey!” I stepped in front of Astor. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Away,” he said curtly. “You might be content to fly around like you haven’t a care in the world, but some of us want to get out of this shithole.”

“Look, you’re a former League hunter. There’s a whole city full of angry dragons down there. How do you think this is going to work out?”

His mouth flattened. “They won’t see me.”

Right. Assassins rarely used the door, and they certainly didn’t knock when they did. “At least warn the others you’re leaving, or they’ll worry about you.”

“I sincerely doubt that.”

“If not, then it’s because you act like an enraged hedgehog whenever anyone except Ember tries to be nice to you.”

“An enraged what?”

“You know, prickly.” Attempting to employ my usual humour fell flat with Astor. “Ember wouldn’t want you to go wandering off alone and get eaten by a monster. You can’t even see where you’re going in the fog.”

“Neither can you.”

“There are mountains that way and that way.” I pointed. “And elsewhere, a whole lot of nothing. You won’t find what you’re looking for out there, Astor.”

“And what exactly do you think I’m looking for?”

“A way to set Ember free. And get home. In that order. You know I can see her ghost, don’t you?”

He stopped mid-step. “What? She’s not dead.”

“No, but her spirit’s imprisoned on the other side of the veil,” I said. “And I have the spirit sight.”

He whipped round to face me. His eyes were duller than usual, but for the first time, a spark of interest stirred. “Take me to her.”

With Astor, manners were a secondary concern if at all. “I can’t make you able to see and hear her. I might have the spirit sight, but I’m not a powerful enough necromancer to do more than speak to her.”

His expression said, that’s not good enough. Tough shit, Astor. I’d never viewed my ability to see and speak to ghosts as an asset—generally, they were downright annoying—but right now, my spirit sight was the one line of communication left between me and my sister.

“Don’t pick on Cori,” Ember said, her ghost appearing at my side. Like me, she had long curly auburn hair and ashy grey eyes, though faded and transparent in her spirit form. 

“She just ordered you not to pick on me,” I told Astor. “She’s right… there.”

I pointed through her transparent body. If I squinted, I could pretend she stood alongside me just like old times.

Astor wasn’t so lucky. “She would say that. She’s the one who threw herself in harm’s way to save your neck.”

“She’s my big sister.” I folded my arms. “Wouldn’t you have done the same?”

He didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then: “I’ve never had anyone I’d throw my life away for. Not until her.”

I opened and closed my mouth. I mean, what was I supposed to say to that? It was the closest I’d come to hearing anything genuinely heartfelt from him, and it made me want to promise to help him get her back. But there was no repairing the Moonbeam even if I’d wanted to.

If the Moonbeam came back, so did its owner. And there was the slight issue of it being a weapon designed to turn shifters into mindless killing machines.

Ember’s ghostly eyes filled with tears. “Tell him I’m here, even if he can’t see me. I’m trying to find a way back.”

I repeated her words. Astor’s harsh expression didn’t change, but he began to walk back towards the others. I spotted Zeph, who’d landed some feet away, and went to join him.

Zeph’s eyes followed the ex-assassin. “He wasn’t bothering you, was he?”

“Of course not. He’s devastated over losing Ember.”

I never thought I’d find myself defending Astor, of all people, but out of our group, the two of us had been closest to her.

“Is he leaving?” asked Zeph.

“No,” I said. “Not now he knows I can see and talk to Ember in the spirit realm, even if I can’t in person.”

Zeph’s arm came around me. “We’ll get her out of that trap, Cori.”

I dipped my head. Astor’s eyes were averted, like he couldn’t bear to look at us happily embracing. We walked back to the others in silence.

Becks, back in human form, sat on her trench coat on the grass. “Enjoy your flight?”

“I figured we might as well make the most of all this open space.”

“It’s like taking a holiday,” said Will. “Except instead of sun and sea, we get monsters and probable starvation.”

The dragonling let out a faint whining noise. Will had a point. We had little more than the clothes on our backs. I didn’t even have a change of underwear, and my flight had told me there was a marked lack of department stores here in the dragons’ realm.

What did the other dragons do when they lived here, then?

“We’re going to the city,” I told the others. “The other dragon shifters are all there, and it’s better for us to mend things with them if we’re staying here for the long haul. I bet they have more supplies than we do.”

“Assuming they don’t chase us off for destroying the Moonbeam,” added Will.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “But it’s them or those monsters spawning out of the sky, and I like our chances better the more dragons we have with us. Besides, if there’s a way to free Ember, we’re more likely to find it in the city than anywhere else.”

“And we might find a way to remake the Moonbeam, too,” said Zeph.

“Without setting that madwoman free,” added Will. “Which sounds like a long shot.”

Unfortunately, he’s right. As Ignessa herself had told me, there was no freeing my sister without freeing the fire goddess along with her. 

“Will, don’t be a downer,” Kit reprimanded him.

“Let me adjust to being stuck in a hostile world inhabited by monsters first.” Will climbed to his feet. “All right, let’s go. You lead the way, Cori.”

I’d have rather flown, but Astor refused point-blank to ride on any dragons other than Ember, and the others might be less likely to react with hostility if we met them on the ground. We walked for a long while, Zeph and I leading the way. My fellow dragon shifter was the only member of our group who didn’t look utterly exhausted.

“What are you thinking?” I asked him.

“I’m thinking that if I don’t get a decent meal soon, I might have to shift and find a sheep to snack on.”

“I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any sheep since we got here,” I said. “Or any other living creatures, come to that. Maybe the other dragon shifters will be nice and share.”

They must have seen us coming, because several dragon shifters stood waiting for us on the platform that marked the entryway into the city. On either side, a number of golden dragon statues flanked the walkway leading into the city proper. In the centre of the group stood a female dragon shifter with long auburn hair streaked with grey.

Azalea’s hostile eyes met mine. “You left us here.”

“I didn't mean to,” I said. “We had to stop Lorne.”

I didn’t expect to be showered in praise, but the dozen pairs of ashy eyes facing us flared with sparks of orange—the first sign of a dragon shifter about to shift and unleash the flames.

“You destroyed the Moonbeam,” she said. “Many would want me to have you executed for dooming us all.”

My throat went dry. “I’m sorry. I don’t know if you saw her, but Ignessa, the fire goddess—she tried to kill all of you, and the only way to stop her was to destroy the Moonbeam. I didn’t mean for us to get stranded here. I did it to save all your lives, and I don’t want to be your enemy.”

She looked down at me, but it wasn’t her eyes that watched me. Ignessa’s light shone in the back of her gaze.

It can’t be true. She’s gone. Like Ember, Ignessa was nothing more than a ghost. Less, even, because she didn’t have a real body to return to. That was why she’d tried to take Lorne’s—and burned him from the inside out in the process.

So why did Azalea’s stare remind me so much of hers?

“We have decided to grant you a trial,” added the dragon shifters’ leader. “All of you, follow me to the square.”

Crap. That wasn’t a good sign.

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