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Relia followed her master onto the cantina’s covered patio. By now, the sun was a red sliver of light over the jungle, and the buildings cast long dark shadows over the town square.

“Wait up!” someone called out from behind them. Relia held open the door, and the boy from the bar followed them through. His black hair was shaved on the sides and several inches longer on top. A pair of tinted goggles rested on his forehead, and a red scarf hung loosely around his neck.

“Thanks.” He threw a ball of fire mana between his palms. “Got room for one more?”

Azul’s ashes. Cadrian Fire Artists were definitely her type. The accent alone was enough to—

Focus, Relia. She glanced at his chest, and the light that shone from within his soul. He was an Apprentice, same as her. That made him one of the strongest fighters in town.

“Couldn’t hurt.” She smiled at him as they approached the balcony. “I’m Relia.”

“Hector,” he replied.

“Great,” Elend said. “Now that we’re all best friends, it’s time to work for our dinner.” He paused, taking in the scene below. The Grevandi had rounded up over two dozen people, tossing them in a heap near the crumbling stone fountain. Some still sat on their motorcycles while others blocked the surrounding streets.

No one looked injured yet, but her master had probably known that. He wouldn’t have taken his sweet time otherwise.

Currents of dream mana drifted out from Elend as he watched the scene. These circled around the courtyard, invisible to the naked eye. Unlike the lower ranks, Masters didn’t need to move their bodies with their techniques. They did it through pure strength of will.

“I’ll take the big one down first,” her master finally said. “You two keep the Apprentices busy.” He turned and met Relia’s eyes. “You ready for this?”

“I’m good,” she replied. That ice chamber had left her shaken in more ways than one, but she’d recovered on the boat.

“Bad habits form against weaker opponents,” he reminded her. “Remember to stay focused.”

He was right. Those months on the island had taught her valuable lessons about survival, but the Martials had all crumbled like paper dolls. Only the higher-ranked agents knew advanced shaping, and even they couldn’t rival her in terms of raw power.

But these half-dragons were the same rank as her. They’d all be physically stronger, and they’d fight dirtier than anyone in the university battlegrounds. One mistake here could mean death.

“And don’t hold back,” her master continued. “If you get a killing blow, you take it.”

She gave a serious nod to show him she understood. And with that, Elend leapt off the patio, falling two stories into the courtyard below.

Relia leapt off the railing behind him, flooding mana into her legs and spine as she fell. The ground rose up to meet her, and she slammed into the cobbles a second later.

Hector followed them both. But rather than reinforcing his body, he sent out bursts of fire mana from his palms. This slowed his fall and let him land gracefully on the street beside her.

The Grevandi recognized the threat at once. Artisan souls had a presence to them—a weight you could feel on your skin. They knew Elend was different before they’d even laid eyes on him.

Half the Apprentices fell into fighting stances, gathering orange mana in their palms. Chills ran down Relia’s arms as she took in their faces, caught in the flare of the firelight. From a distance, they almost looked human, but not now. Thick green scales covered their faces, and golden eyes stared back at her with narrow black pupils. When they smiled, their mouths opened far too wide, more like a raptor.

And of course, they all had the same white sigils tattooed on their foreheads and hands.

The other Grevandi moved to grab the townsfolk, pressing palms to throats in a silent threat. One held a young man and child beneath each arm. The other picked up a woman by her long black hair.

“Really?” Elend said. “Hostages? Please. Why don’t you just twirl your mustaches while you’re at it?”

The dragons all stared at him in confusion. Apparently, they’d never heard this expression before. Then again, dragons didn’t have any hair.

The Artisan finally dismounted his motorcycle and stepped forward. When he spoke, his voice was like gravel and thunder. “What do you want, spiro?”

Until now, her master’s dream Missiles had been circling like vultures around the courtyard, waiting for his next command. But when Relia glanced up, she saw the transparent mana drifting down toward the crowd, straight toward the hostage-takers.

Elend snapped his fingers, and ropes coiled around the Apprentice’s hands. He raised his palm like a musical conductor, and their bound wrists moved skyward, stretching out their bodies.

The hostages all fled along with the other prisoners.

“The locals want me to kill you,” Elend said over the noise of the fleeing crowd. “Personally, I’d settle for your surrender. Or your prompt retreat. Whichever’s easiest.”

One of the Grevandi broke free from his bonds, and the rope evaporated to mist.

“Dream mana!” he told the others. “It’s not real.”

Darn it. That was the problem with dream mana. Once you knew the trick, you could choose to ignore it. True, Elend could have overpowered their minds, but that took more mana—mana he probably couldn’t spare right now.

The others broke free a second later. Several more motorcycles and trucks rolled in from the outskirts of town, carrying more Apprentices and Golds.

The Artisan smiled like a shark as he stepped forward, gathering fire in his green palms. The others surrounded them in a loose circle.

Then chaos erupted all around the courtyard.

 


 

Akari and Kalden watched the fight from the safety of the cantina. Talek. She still had a lot to learn. She’d seen Relia and Elend fight before, but that was against the Martials. Now, their techniques flashed in blurs of color, and their bodies moved too fast to see.

Oh well, at least she and Kalden were safe up here.

Several of the Gold dragons took cover from the main battle, fanning out through the town. One headed straight up the stairs toward the cantina.

“Shit,” Akari muttered.

“Come on.” Kalden pushed off from the windowsill and took cover behind the tall wooden bar. By now, all the locals had retreated out the back, and even the bartender had moved out of sight.

“It’s just a Gold,” Kalden said once they’d hidden themselves. “We can take him.”

Akari almost laughed at their strange new life. Two weeks ago, they’d been high school students attending classes, and half-dragons had belonged in the history books. Not to mention this entire continent.

Now, here they were, using phrases like “just a Gold” to describe deadly half-dragons. But Kalden was right. No one got stronger without taking risks.

A bell rang above the door as someone pushed it open.

“I’ll distract him,” Kalden said in a harsh whisper.

Akari nodded as she slid her blade from its holster. She also had her gun, but she wasn’t about to rely on that. Any armor worth its salt could block a bullet, and his looked at least as sturdy as the Martials. Plus, her accuracy still sucked. She never would have hit Frostblade if he’d been more than an arm’s length away.

Kalden emerged from behind the bar, launching two Missiles toward the door. Orange light flashed against the ceiling as the enemy struck back. Several bottles shattered, spilling their contents on the tile floor.

Still deflecting the fire mana, Kalden backed through a pair of double wooden doors toward the kitchen. Their enemy reached the doors next, and Akari sprang from her hiding place, blade angled for the kill.

The Grevandi whirled around, piercing her with its yellow, reptilian eyes.

Akari aimed for its windpipe as she flew forward.

Too slow.

The creature thrust out a scaled arm and seized her by her wrist. Her blade froze mere inches from its cale-covered face. Even as she tried to break free, the dragon wrapped clawed fingers around her wrist and squeezed, hard enough to draw blood.

Akari gritted her teeth and let her blade clatter to the tile floor. A cry of pain escaped her lips, and Kalden emerged from the kitchen, hurling a pure Missile at the Grevandi’s back.

The creature drove a knee into Akari’s stomach—so hard, it felt like someone had thrown a boulder at her. The cantina blurred as she fell heels over head, landing in a pool of spilled beer and broken bottles. Thankfully, her pack broke her fall, otherwise she might have gotten a back full of glass.

Mana flashed above her as Kalden and the Grevandi exchanged more Missiles.

Akari didn’t wait to gain her footing again. She cycled her own mana and launched a Missile straight at her enemy’s back.

Her mana smashed harmlessly against the creature’s armor.

Damnit. This wasn’t even fair.

The dragon forged a Construct of fire mana between itself and Kalden, then hurled another Missile at Akari.

No time to dodge. She covered her face with both hands and gathered her own mana into a Missile. She might be Silver now, but she still hadn’t made her first Construct. Hopefully, this was the next best thing.

Mana struck mana in a blur of orange and blue. The fire mana felt like touching a hot pan—a pan she couldn’t pull away from.

Despite this, Akari shot a second Missile straight from her chest, keeping her enemy on the defensive.

Kalden seized the distraction and broke through the fire Construct. He threw his next Missile low, striking the creature’s right knee. Its legs buckled and it fell forward, barely catching itself on the bar’s wooden surface.

Then Kalden brought his palm to the dragon’s windpipe. A spray of blood followed, red as any human’s.

 


 

Relia ran for the cover of a nearby alley, and Hector followed. She’d started fighting back-to-back with her master, but she knew better than to get involved between high-level Artists.

One stray Missile from an Artisan, and it was lights out for her.

The alley was narrower than the ones back home, barely big enough for three people to stand side-by-side. And these guys were larger than average, which meant they’d need to fight her in pairs.

Smoke rose off the dragons’ skin as they chased her down. Fire Cloak techniques. She’d definitely missed her vacation on Arkala. The Martials had been rude, but at least they couldn’t punch holes through brick walls, or leap ten feet in the air.

Two more Grevandi circled around, appearing at the alley’s opposite end. Hector moved to engage them, and Relia kept her eyes on the two in front of her. They raised their taloned palms, and fire mana blossomed in the half-light of the setting sun.

The first kicked off from the sandy cobblestones, launching himself forward like a rock from a trebuchet.

Too reckless. He’d probably been the toughest guy in school, solving all his problems with brute force. Too bad that wouldn’t work today.

Relia cycled her pure mana as he closed in, forming a slow, sturdy Construct below her waist.

Her opponent shot his Missile but Relia swatted it aside with the back of her palm, letting it crash into the brick wall.

Another heartbeat passed, and the Grevandi closed the distance between them. Relia’s Construct snapped to life, slamming into his knees. The man stumbled forward, and Relia flooded her legs with mana, activating her Pure Cloak technique. This didn’t have the same explosive power as his Fire Cloak, but it would get the job done.

She kicked off, driving her right fist toward her opponent’s eyes. Even flying in midair, he managed to block with both forearms. But the first attack had been a lie. With her other hand, Relia shot a pure Missile into his stomach, quick as a bullet. It punctured his armor, and he splattered in a heap on the cobblestones.

Unfortunately, the others hadn’t been twiddling their claws. No sooner had she landed than a second barrage of Missiles closed in, bathing the alley walls in orange light.

Relia regained her footing quickly, falling back into her combat stance. She cycled mana toward her hands, and several Constructs flashed between her and her attackers.

They fell into a steady rhythm as more mana flew back and forth. Once again, these guys were too aggressive. They thought they’d overpowered her, and this made them abandon their own defenses.

Relia shot a pair of pure Missiles from her palms, thin and sharp as needles. She wove these through the storm of fire, piercing two Grevandi right in their yellow eyes.

They let out cries of pain and staggered back, but two more took their place in the alley’s mouth. Instead of Missiles, these tried to force her back with Constructs of fire mana that stretched from wall to wall. The light was almost blinding in the dark alley. Even from five feet away, she felt the heat of it on her cheeks.

A third Grevandi vaulted eight feet in the air, soaring over the fire Construct.

Relia sidestepped to avoid him, but he grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her hard against the alley wall. His Cloak leant him supernatural speed, and he punched her several times in the solar plexus, driving the wind from her lungs.

Fine. If that’s how you want to play.

Relia flared her Life Cloak, and her stomach shone with a burst of green and gold. All Cloak techniques made you stronger, but this one was purely defensive. Not only could it heal most injuries or poisons, but it actively reinforced every cell in her body. And, if she poured all the power into one specific muscle, that muscle grew as resilient as an Artisan’s.

The Grevandi punched her stomach again. This time, he shattered the bones in his own fingers.

Relia pulled free from her enemy’s grip, putting him between her and the approaching Construct.

His jaw dropped as the fire singed his back. Despite his human-shaped face, his jaw opened wide like a crocodile’s, stretching halfway to his ears. His scream sounded like a dying bird.

His friends must have realized what happened because they immediately dropped their Construct.

Relia struck a pure Missile into the burning man’s windpipe, ending his misery. More Missiles closed in, and she used his body as a shield to absorb their impact.

To her surprise, her remaining opponents retreated back the way they’d come. Maybe she shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Fire Artists had no real defensive techniques against pure mana. They couldn’t take her in a fair fight.

Relia kept up a barrage of Missiles for good measure, then she glanced back at Hector. He seemed to be holding his own —far better than she’d expected from a random boy in a small town.

Her smile faded when she glanced back to her side of the alley. The Fire Artists had all retreated, but someone else stood in their place. She was a half-dragon like the others, but clouds of sand swirled in her palms. More sand lifted off the cobblestones, forming a brown cloud around Relia.

Oh no.

She tried to block it with a Construct, but it was like stopping a river with a shield. Sand stung her eyes before she could close them. Other pieces found their way into her mouth, ears, and nostrils. She tried to cough, but that just opened the door for more.

Relia tried her Life Cloak next, but that was as useless as her Constructs. The sand left her blind, but there were no real injuries to heal.

More fire Missiles caught her in the back as she retreated. One struck her right ear in a wave of searing pain. Even as she healed the wound, the scent of burning hair stung her nostrils. She stumbled and fell on the cobblestones, still blind from the sand cloud. Then a pair of human hands pulled her to her feet.

“Hang on to me,” Hector’s voice said. Relia put her arms around his shoulders. She’d known her share of Fire Artists, and she knew what came next.

Hector threw several explosive Missiles into the ground. Relia didn’t feel the heat of the blast beneath her. She just felt the wind on her face as they flew.

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A note from David Musk

Hey everyone, I just added a new section to my website for worldbuilding articles, and the first one is the calendar for the WoS world, including the names of the months and days. Be sure to check it out, and let me know if this sort of thing interests you!

https://davidmusk.com/worlds/web-of-secrets/calendar 

Also, you might have noticed that most of this chapter was from Relia's POV instead of Akari's or Kalden's. I am (slightly) expanding the list of POV characters for Book 2. But don't worry, I won't go crazy with this. I've gotten bored with a lot of webnovels when they piled on interludes, so I know how annoying it can be. I'm following some strict rules for Book 2 just like I did for Book 1, and the vast majority of the scenes will still be from Akari's POV.

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About the author

David Musk

Bio: Hey everyone. I'm a web developer and fantasy writer from Grand Rapids, MI.

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