Today's Reading

While the young scion lost himself in painting dreams, Pyrlanum descended into violence. House Dragon accused House Sphinx of murdering their beloved consort. The grief-stricken Dragon regent demanded retribution, forcing all the great Houses to choose sides, and reviving the House Wars after more than twenty years of peace.

Bloodshed consumed the land, and the young scion found he could not save the eyeless girl.

"It's too late," he whispered to the disaster of art surrounding him, the night his father—leagues away—massacred the entire family line of House Sphinx.

The new House War raged on for years, and instead of the eyeless girl, the scion painted darkness. Thick black streaks, chunky peaks of gray and angry blue, the underlying red-red-red, heartbeat red, of sunlit memories behind tight-shut eyes. A bruise of purple over green-black, ocean-black, midnight, moonless black.

When his baby brother asked what he painted, the scion only hissed at him, chasing him from the room.

House Dragon took more and more of the country, forcing the other Houses into submission. Finally House Dragon captured Phoenix Crest, the ancient home of the Phoenix, those keepers of peace who had vanished during the first House Wars more than a hundred years ago. The Dragon regent declared himself High Prince Regent over all Pyrlanum.

His family left their northern mountains to occupy the fortress, and there the Dragon scion's aunt was left in charge of the boy and his small brother while their father continued his war. Though House Cockatrice fled Pyrlanum entirely, she managed to hire artists to tutor the scion—Cockatrice had been the house of her birth, after all, and that of her sister. She bought the scion paint and paper, canvas and ink and charcoal. He grew as his skills did, becoming taller and stronger but still very pretty, with a constant flush of fever in his sharp white cheeks, a ghostly gleam in his pale green eyes. He was prone to fits of laughter or staring at nothing, sure signs of madness, the court gossiped. At his aunt's prodding, the Dragon scion learned to be charming, too, and concealed the wildness he felt. He studied language and policy and economics. He flirted and argued and led council meetings during his father's frequent absences. Soon everyone believed his disposition to be merely long- running grief. After all, his mother, the late Dragon consort, had been glorious and special, hadn't she? So her glorious and special son would survive; he would lead them well. Chaos willed it, no matter that his painting boon would be useless in a leader.

But his aunt—she knew the truth of his boon. She whispered to him that she had always had gently prophetic dreams. They ran in their family. Her grandmother had been a brilliant prophet, too. His aunt offered to take the secrets he painted and use them for House Dragon on his behalf. The young scion agreed.

She studied every painting for clues, and when she discovered them, told the High Prince Regent unknowable things: where the last remnants of House Sphinx hid, the location of an ambush, the look of a spy. The High Prince Regent gave her the title of Dragon Seer, and the young scion was glad to have his secret kept so well, as his mother had wished.

Time passed. The scion painted. He dreamed of the eyeless girl but kept her to himself. He had not saved her from the darkness, just like he had not saved his mother. They haunted him, left him wracked with grief some days.

On the morning news reached the fortress that the High Prince Regent had been murdered by House Kraken, the scion woke up laughing. He laughed and laughed, caught in visions of silver swirls of light, hot light, bright light—sunlight!—on the eyeless girl's face. She had survived.

But the scion had not even dreamed of his own father's death.

That very day, ten years after the first time he'd clumsily painted her, the scion sketched the true shape of the girl's cheeks and chin and nose, the wide, eager smile, and bright tilted eyes perfectly shaped, perfectly beautiful, except inside they were churning spirals of darkness. He mixed new colors, thrilled and focused, painting her in long strokes against the entire southeast wall of his bedchamber, directly onto the stone, from crown to chin as tall as the prince was. Her hair curled out into the shadows of the room like a god of storms, and in her pupils dotted tiny explosions of fire.

When his serious little brother ventured into the scion's bedchamber, he frowned at the overwhelming sun on her face, finding the art too intense, too real, and he looked at the scion like he'd never seen him before. "What's wrong with you?" the younger boy asked, knowing nothing of prophecy and its curses.

The scion laughed, determined to keep his brother innocent of his secrets. "I'm only tired, dragonlet," he said. "Leave me to my dreams."

In the wake of their father's death, the scion was made not only the regent of House Dragon, but High Prince Regent, ruler of all Pyrlanum.


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