The Silver Kings – Homecoming

Zafir stood on the eyrie rim, as close to the edge as she could be. The eyrie flew steadily across the sea, towed by dragons, its handful of growing hatchlings soul-cut and enslaved by the Black Moon’s knife. Mighty Diamond Eye laboured beside the other dragons, red and gold scales alight in the fire of the setting sun. Towering clouds lined the sky, a bruise across the horizon, endless into the far distance. The storm-dark. The dragons carried the eyrie straight at its heart, and the dragon-queen Zafir had eyes for nothing else.

A gale blew from the waiting maelstrom, as it ever did. The dragons fought it. Half a dozen ships followed below. They had towed the eyrie across the ocean, but now they each made their own way, battling alone against the waves. The wind caught Zafir’s hair. Lifted it. Tugged. The slavers of the Taiytakei had cut her plaits into short ragged tufts, but now it was long again at last. Copper in the dying sun. She ached. Two cracked ribs, mostly healed now, but they had left a stiffness inside her, a reminder never to fight with her feet on the ground. She was a dragon-rider, not some lowly knight.

Her heart sang bright. With every moment the storm-dark inched closer, she soared. The Black Moon would carry them across the void as he’d carried them through the storm-dark of the Godspike in Takei’Tarr. He was taking her home at last, taking them to what he desired most among all things across all the worlds: the Earthspear, the weapon of the Silver King which had tasted her blood and had bound itself to her, all so long ago.

And as she soared with the anticipation of home, she was afraid too. The closer they got, the less she knew what it was, this home, this notion of a place to belong. She yearned for it, and yet she was afraid of what she would see. Burned in dragon-fire, said the merchant-adventurers of Merizikat.

I was there. Diamond Eye spoke straight into her thoughts. She’d long grown used to his constant presence, and he to hers; and though he was bound to obey her by the Black Moon’s knife, she had long ago released him of that burden and carefully demanded nothing. She asked, that was all, and she wished she could ride him now, straddle him and fly him into the heart of the maelstrom, but it would devour them both. In the end he would come down before the gaping void at the storm’s heart, to prowl restlessly about the dragon yard, grounded until they were through to the other side.

You were there? Where? He hadn’t been in the dragon-realms when they burned. The Taiytakei had taken Diamond Eye on the day their moon sorcerers had plucked her out of the sky.

At the end of the world a thousand years ago. When the Isul Aieha faced the Black Moon, we dragons were there. Then as now we flew at the Black Moon’s side.

Always, when he said such things, came a flicker of doubt. The Black Moon’s first dragon, but Diamond Eye was hers, not his, and now and then a little scorn crept around the edges of the dragon’s thoughts. The loyalty he showed the half-god who had once been his master had frayed of late.

You knew the Isul Aieha? she asked. The Isul Aieha had built the palace of her home. She’d been born under the soft light of his enchanted stone, and his echoes had wrapped her life. She’d grown up with his creations all around her. Marvellous, bizarre, bewildering.

Show me, she said; and as the dragon opened his memories she saw seas of armoured men gleaming in silver, sorcerers flinging fire and lightning, and dragons in such numbers that they darkened the sky, more even than her last great battle as a queen of dragons when Jehal and Hyrkallan had driven her from the skies . . .

The Pinnacles. Home. Another pang shot through her. Regret. Pain. Longing. I am no longer the person I was that day. For the better, perhaps; yet she would fight again, she knew it.

The storm-dark came ever closer. The Isul Aieha created monsters. Diamond Eye showed her green birds, flocks of them swarming, falling like arrows into armies of men, striking and turning them into jade glass, shattering them and pecking at the shards.

The jade ravens of the Taiytakei.

And more. A creature so vast that it made even dragons into specks. It crawled along the ground like some colossal maggot on a thousand thousand tiny legs, crushing everything in its path. Armoured scales as thick as houses, too deep for even a dragon to pierce. So they’d burned it. A hundred of them together. Wheeling in and wheeling away. Torrents of constant fire driven into a blind face as vast as a mountain.

The Black Moon. Her thoughts flitted always back to him. To her home and what awaited her, to Diamond Eye and his memories, and back again to the half-god. He divided them. To the Adamantine Man Tuuran, perhaps her only real ally, the Black Moon was a demon, a possessing monster devouring the only real friend he’d ever had. Tuuran would kill the Black Moon without a moment of thought if he could find a way to split him from Berren Crowntaker, the man whose body the half-god had taken, but until then Tuuran was the Black Moon’s murderous guardian. To Chay-Liang the Black Moon had been a demented monster, an arch-sorcerer of darkness. She would have fought him if she could, but she couldn’t, and now she wasn’t with them any more. Bellepheros didn’t like him any better, not really, but he knew more than any of them the terror and horror of dragons unleashed. The Black Moon would tame them, and for that Bellepheros would serve him. For a time, at least.

But what is this half-god to me?

They were edging into the fringes of the storm now. Strands of black cloud swirled about her. Deep inside she saw flickers of purple lightning. The Black Moon had made the storm-dark, and the Black Moon had set her free. He would be her Silver King, and she would be his Vishmir, the mistress of his dragons, or so he’d promised. But men had promised her many things, and in the end none had ever become more than a translucent shadow, a feeble ghost of the hope she’d held inside her. She’d learned better than to embrace hope or to believe in promises.

He was taking her home. For now that was all that mattered.

Let that be enough. I don’t want to think about him any more. Nor the things he’d done.

I took the spear from him once, said Diamond Eye. I held it in my talons.

From the Black Moon?

From your Silver King. From the Isul Aieha.

She climbed again into his memories and rode them, a thousand years into the past. Dragon after dragon falling upon the Isul Aieha. Each dissolving to black ash as they came close, yet slowly overwhelming his defences. Bathing him in fire, blinding him with flame, until at last a dragon flew close enough to strike. A lash of a tail; the dragon died in an explosion of dark dust, but Zafir was riding in Diamond Eye’s memories, and in them she saw the flicker of glitter as the spear flew out of the Silver King’s hand. Exultant, she swooped and snatched and flew away . . .

With a wave of his hand the had Silver King stopped time. Everything froze. Everything except her and him.

The spear, little one. The spear in my claw kept his sorceries from me, but the spear was not mine. It was his, bound with his blood as it is bound with yours. He called it to his hand, willed it to return, and so it did. But for a moment he could not touch me.

The dragon’s memories flickered on to the end. The Silver King, the Isul Aieha, racing, spear raised to strike, hurdling fallen corpses, everything that touched him billowing black into ash, dragons and monsters, swords and lightning. The Black Moon waiting, stood at an altar, a stone pillar summoned to rise from the heart of the earth by the force of his will. He wore a faceless helm, blank and made of ice, as he drew form into the ancient Nothing that had existed long before any creations of the gods.

I don’t understand. Zafir watched the memories with unease, thoughts too restless for old stories, flickering to the storm-dark as it enveloped them, to what lay beyond, to the here and now and the incipient violence of the future.

None of us did. Perhaps not even the Black Moon himself.

She saw herself as Diamond Eye again, screaming through the air, diving towards the Isul Aieha. Other dragons swept ahead, talons reaching to snatch the half-god from the field, each vanishing into dust as they touched the Silver King’s moonlight armour. Yet on they came. Why?

We could think of nothing else.

The Black Moon never flinched as the Isul Aieha charged, and the Isul Aieha didn’t slow; but at the very last the Black Moon lifted his helm of ice and tossed it aside, and Zafir glimpsed his face, pale as milk, hair like thick snow and two empty holes where his eyes should have been. A darkness shimmered, a flicker for an instant as though the Black Moon drew a veil over the world, and then the Silver King’s spear struck and pierced him through. A dark-light cataclysm burst across the sky as creation shattered. Dragons and stone, sea and cloud, all became dust and vapour as Diamond Eye dissolved into ash. . .

The darkness was thick around the eyrie now. The black cloud of the storm-dark. She couldn’t see Diamond Eye any more, tugging at his chains above, but she felt the change in the eyrie as he let go and swirled down. The wind shifted, sucking them on now. The clouds thickened. The glimpses of the sea she saw were a tumult of monstrous waves. The sky flashed and blazed with violet lightning.

We are close now, little one.

Safer to be down in the tunnels, no doubt. But she didn’t move; and as she sat on the edge of the abyss, she felt another presence closing behind her. Tuuran. She knew him by the tremors of his feet, by the pattern of his stride.

Holiness! You should—’

Don’t even think it, Night Watchman. I will stay and see this darkness for myself, however little you like the notion.’

Tuuran sat down beside her. ‘When I was a slave I crossed the storm-dark many times. Our galley masters would send us to the hold and seal the hatches so we wouldn’t see. They trapped us in darkness. We could feel our ships toss and heave with the violence of the storm. It broke some. An oar-slave penned like that for the first time, you were certain your ship would break its keel and founder and sink, that everyone would drown, though they never did. When the fear was at its height, then came the silence. Somehow that was even worse.’ He idly picked his nose and flicked a snot at the storm. Zafir tried not to laugh.

You saw it when we left the Silver Sea. I didn’t.’

Tuuran sniffed. ‘I saw it when they brought old Bellepheros back from Furymouth. I told them he was so frail that the fright might kill him, and so they bolted shut his cabin window and let me sit with him to make sure his heart didn’t stop. Not that there was any chance. Tough as old leather that one.’ He hesitated, and Zafir knew it was because Tuuran had once thought of the alchemist as a friend when friendship had been thin on the ground. The coming of the Black Moon had changed the first, but not the latter.

I kicked the window open for him,’ Tuuran went on. ‘Let him see what it was. I thought that him being a grand master alchemist with all his lore he might know a thing or two. When we reached land the night-skins set to kill me for showing him that. He stood up for me though, and it was Chay-Liang who spared me. Fat lot of use in the end. Turned out he was as ignorant as the rest of us.’

The eyrie shivered and shuddered in the storm. Lightning struck one of the low watchtowers on the wall and sparked across the white stone of the dragon yard.

Holiness, maybe we should—’

Stay exactly where we are, Night Watchman?’

Tuuran growled and mumbled something, but he knew better than to press her. Lightning flashed below, thundering from the underside of the eyrie into the clouds. She’d seen that before, riding Diamond Eye around the Godspike of the Taiytakei, how the eyrie and the storm-dark were somehow alike. Now that same violet lightning rattled back and forth beneath them.

The clouds ahead became a wall of black that rushed towards them. The lightning stilled, and then the wall hit them, and with it came a silence and a nothingness. They were adrift in a void between worlds.

Count, Holiness,’ murmured Tuuran. ‘Five hundred heartbeats and then a score. It helps. Maybe it’s six hundred now. It’s been getting longer these last few years.’

I have shown you how it ended, whispered Diamond Eye in her thoughts. But there is more.

A flicker again. A different memory. The memory given to them both by the hatchling dragon Silence in the moment before Diamond Eye bit off its head. Among the wandering dead, the rip is opened again. Diamond Eye will understand. A mercurial sliver of memory, of moving among the ruins of the place the dragons called Xibaiya, the dead realm through which they slunk from one life to the next. To the edge of a hole and oozing out from that hole a spread of void and chaos. It crept hither and yon, devouring whatever it touched. The Black Moon was once a cage to keep the Nothing at bay, but now he is free and the Nothing grows.

Neither she nor her dragon had understood, not then. But Diamond Eye had woken now.

I have seen that cage. A hundred times, between every life. When the Isul Aieha and the Black Moon ripped creation to tatters and cast us into Xibaiya, I roamed the shade-lands. I saw the rip in the world with the Black Moon and the dead goddess entwined about it. A prison, the goddess the lock and bars and walls, the Black Moon its gate and key. Now the Black Moon returns among us, and the shade of the dead goddess is vanished, and where once they stood sentinel, the Nothing unravels creation, slow and remorseless, piece by piece.

And we are inside that nothingness now?


Sound and light crashed into life. The wind struck Zafir so hard it almost knocked her down. Tuuran snatched at her, grabbing her with the terror of watching her pitch over the edge, then let go at once as he realised the wind wouldn’t take her over. Zafir caught his hand. She held it and brushed his skin with her fingers. There were rough patches on his knuckles and on the joints, split red and raw beneath in places. Maybe to other eyes they were simply the hands of a soldier, but a dragon-rider knew the signs. The dragon-disease had him. The Statue Plague. Sooner or later, one way or another, dragons would be the death of them all.

Holiness, I beg your forgiveness.’ Because he was her Night Watchman, and she was a queen of queens, and men had died for less; but out here they were neither of those things and there was no one to see, and they could both do with a little comfort. Flame knew they needed it, each fighting their own silent demons and with no end in sight. She held Tuuran’s hand a moment more, and then squeezed and let him go. She touched a finger to her own arm, an unconscious gesture, stroking her own roughness of skin the size of a thumbnail, always kept carefully hidden away; then settled and set her head to the wind until the dark clouds broke into a brilliant sky and they emerged from the storm. She left Tuuran to his thoughts, and crossed the rough mangled stone of the eyrie rim, between the piles and mounds of random debris, the crates and accumulated pieces of this and that piled outside the dragon yard walls. The rim had been a place for dumping anything that might one day be useful even back in Baros Tsen’s day. Chay-Liang had been the worst. There were piles of broken gold-glass from when the Vespinese had come and one of their glasships had crashed.

Zafir moved among them. She climbed the slope of the dragon yard wall, smooth white half-god stone, and walked down the steep steps set into the other side. Everyone else had had the sense to stay in the tunnels, but the Black Moon sat in the middle of the yard, guiding them through the storm. Zafir carefully didn’t catch his eye. Diamond Eye and the hatchlings perched alert around him; Diamond Eye looked at her and cocked his head as she approached. She could read his gestures now. It was a cock of the head that said Yes, please. She climbed onto his back, and he jumped onto the wall and pulled away into the air and stretched out his wings.

No more dragging at chains, she said. Let the wind carry them. Let the Black Moon’s hatchlings do his work.

He soared for her, high and fast, wheeling and diving and spiralling for the sheer joy of it, perhaps because he knew this was her homeland where she longed to be, or perhaps because this was his home too, where he had hatched and grown. Zafir looked back once at the eyrie. She watched it draw away from the curtain cloud of the storm-dark stretched like an iron wall across the sea. She watched the five ships that slowly emerged, one after another behind it, watched for long enough to see that the sixth never came. Lost in the silence in the storm-dark’s heart, she supposed. Removed from existence, its slate wiped clean, its memories gone. After that she turned away and didn’t look back.

You hatched a few miles from where my mother birthed me, she said to Diamond Eye as they skimmed the sea. The dragon slapped his tail into the wavetops, explosions of spray left in his wake. The eyries of the Silver City. Do you remember?

I see them through the fog of your alchemists and their poisons. He paused. I have had many hatchings. None were more special than the rest. There were mountains in this world. They were cold, and I like the cold better than desert heat. But I soar for the other dragons I will find here. My brothers and sisters, awake again. I soar with the memories of them as we were long ago.

The hard truth jolted her again, that everything she remembered was likely gone. Dragons and furious fire. Cities razed, palaces smashed. Do you feel them already? she asked, careful to keep her thoughts in check.

Distant and muted. It is harder to reach them in this realm. I had forgotten how different the air is here. In that I prefer the other lands, where everything was easier. We have devoured so much of this one. Its weave is weak and dry. His thoughts seemed to wander, kept within himself. I had forgotten, he said again.

The eyrie was far away now. Zafir rode Diamond Eye far and wide, roaming across the waves for days, searching. There were books and charts in the Taiytakei libraries that might have told her which ways to go, but they were left behind, and the first land they found was an unfamiliar coast hundreds of miles from any place she knew.

Once she saw a speck in the distance. Too large to be a bird.

The others know we are here, she thought. Dragons so far out to sea would have told her that something was terribly wrong, if she hadn’t already known it. No one from the other worlds sailed here any more. Have they told you what happened while we were gone?


Then show me.

He showed her how the dragon Snow had woken, and the dragon Silence, chained in the eyrie of Outwatch and then set free; Silence who had given Zafir the slow death of Hatchling Disease, and who had tried twice more to kill her until Diamond Eye had bitten off the little dragon’s head, but dragons always came back. He would be here again somewhere; then further into the memories Diamond Eye had seen. The razing of the eyrie at Outwatch, the burning of Sand and Bloodsalt, the siege and destruction of the Adamantine Palace, the murder by poison of a thousand dragons in the eyries outside the Silver City, and the great hatching that followed of a thousand new eggs across the realms. The death and fire and end of everything she knew; and as he roamed the past they flew, following the snaking line of unknown shores until slowly they became places she recognised, until she saw the outline of Tyan’s Peninsula with its dyke a line across its neck, and the miles-wide mouth of the Fury river beyond, and on the far bank, the ruin of what had once been a city.


Memories collided inside her. Of the first day she’d come here, and of the last. The city bright with lights, the air thick with its stink of smoke and rot and the sea. The Sea Kings kept their dragons away from their city and their ships, so Zafir had always come by land until her defeat over the Pinnacles. Fleeing here. Flying over the city, looking down at it and burning the traitor Jehal’s Veid Palace in petty vicious vengeance.

Do you remember? Diamond Eye had been there with her on that day.

Yes. Fire blossomed in the dragon’s memories. She saw the palace burn, through her own eyes and through his. Such a strange rush of emotion, unexpected and strong. The anger and the pain and the loss and the betrayal, and carrying with them an overwhelming sadness. Nostalgia. The Zafir who’d burned the Veid Palace hadn’t known who she was or what she’d wanted, only that whatever she had was never enough. She wasn’t sure that she knew any better now, but looking back at who she was was like looking at a stranger. The Veid Palace at least was much as she remembered it, save that it wasn’t ablaze this time.

She brought Diamond Eye lower. Most of the palace was built of stone; dousing it in fire hadn’t hurt it much, but time had had its turn too. Weeds grew in the cracks. The black scars she’d left across its gardens were gone, turning into a fairy dust chaos of spring flower colours. Creepers had found purchase in the tower walls. Seagulls cried, squawking danger to each other as they circled. She shivered, spooked. From the air the city looked the same now as it ever had, only quiet and overgrown and empty. The air smelled of the sea. It didn’t smell of people any more, not of shit and rot and smoke.

I never belonged here. The unbearable stillness shook her. The aloneness. Take me to the palace. I want to see it.

Diamond Eye swooped. The Veid Palace was a mosaic of narrow towers linked by bridges and walkways, a design that had never made any sense until she’d seen the gold-glass tower-palaces of the Taiytakei. That was where the palace of the Sea Kings had its heart, in the edgy ebb and flow of love and hate between the kings of Furymouth and the night-skinned sea lords. She landed beside the great Veid Dome, the palace’s centrepiece. One of its great brass doors, twenty feet tall, hung open, askew. The other was missing. She slid from Diamond Eye’s back and walked closer, and then stopped and listened. The seagulls had fallen quiet, and the breeze rustling from the sea was the only sound. The sun beat down, warm and caressing. A comfort, unlike the relentless heat she remembered from the Taiytakei deserts.

The dome’s other brass door lay fifty feet across the yard, half buried in weeds, bent out of shape, a glitter in the sun. The quiet crept inside her. It crawled under her and settled in her heart and belly. She remembered the palace alive and bright with bustle and colour. Servants, soldiers, dragon-riders. Movement everywhere. Commotion. There used to be horses. Sometimes elephants decked with gaudy harnesses, brought in ships from across the sea.

A lump grew in her throat. She could almost see the ghosts moving about, the lives long lost. She walked into the shadowed dust-veils of the Veid Dome, the palatial hall of King Tyan with its three golden thrones arrayed to face her. A sweep of marble stairs arced behind them, curving to the upper balconies. The walls were black with soot, the floor a litter of ash and charred splinters and rubble; the thrones, when she came close enough to see, were half melted. She clambered past them. There had been a door hidden behind them into the rear arches of the dome once, but both door and wall had been smashed down. She stooped and picked up a fragment of cloth, the charred corner of a tapestry. Her jaw tightened. She remembered it. King Tyan the Fourth burning Taiytakei ships at night as they tried to raid his silk farms. Jehal had brought her here late one night. They’d sneaked away, consumed by the rapture of their nascent passion, and he’d shown it to her. Huddled between thrones he’d murmured the story, his hands on her skin and between her legs, his tongue on her lips.

His hands. She remembered the touch of him as though it had been that very morning, as though she could still feel him now, some lingering tingle. She shuddered. Bit her lip and moved on, out through the arches into the little courtyard with its apple tree behind the dome, the secret garden where no one ever came except the royal family; and here was Jehal’s ghost again. Sprawled naked, making love, him inside her, their hands clenched and fingers clawed to the very edge. A savagery to them both, clutching at each other as though trying to climb into one another. The world blurred as a thought hit her: He could be alive. Was it possible?

The loss of him. The betrayal. They were such colossal things. She staggered and held on to the tree and took a long ragged breath. There was no home for her here. There never had been. Perhaps the dragons had done her a favour, burning it all down and putting the truth inescapably before her, a world that was once so familiar now ruin and ash.

What did you expect, little one?

Is it all like this? Is there anyone left? The silence taunted her, a thickening of the air around her, stifling motion and thought.

Yes. But they hide deep, little one.

Zafir looked at the tree. Jehal had given her an apple from it once, and here and now she could almost taste it. She shook herself, put the courtyard behind her and walked on through colonnades and arches into the feasting hall beyond, into the kitchens and down into the cellars and pantries. Everything had been ransacked, everything that could move taken away, everything too large broken into pieces and carried off. The hangings, the wood panels, even patches of tiles from the floors. Just bare stone walls that became bleak shapes of light and dark under the harsh spotlight beam of her enchanted glass torch, colourless and without life.

The darkness, the stark shadows, the suffocating closeness of stone wrapped about her, they tied her insides into knots. The old fear of being trapped in the dark banged at the cage where she kept it, threatening to break loose. She made herself think of Tuuran, his size and bulk a reassurance wrapped around her, waiting for her. Thinking of him like that helped. She walked on.

Close now, little one.

In the deepest cellars she found the ragged handful of men and women left alive, half naked, three-quarters starved, pale-faced, trapped in fright by her light. They looked on her in terror and wonder, and cringed away.

Who are you?’ she asked them. ‘Are there any more of you?’

She was a stranger, fierce and terrible in her armour of Taiytakei glass and gold. None of them spoke. She took a step closer. They stared and trembled.

Are you all that’s left?’ she asked. She could have wept. A dozen of them. Half dead, thin and hollow. Furymouth: the smelliest, loudest, sprawling hub of life, and this was all that was left, this wretched huddle?

Another step. They shrank away. She took off her helm so they could see her face. So they might see she meant them no harm.

My name is Zafir,’ she said, her voice broken. ‘I was speaker of the nine realms once.’ How stupid it was, telling them that. The speaker was the guardian of the kingdoms, the keeper of the peace, and she’d done the exact opposite. Great Flame, she’d burned this palace herself! Her arm tensed, half raised. She had two Taiytakei lightning throwers strapped to each forearm on the outside of her gold-glass vambraces. On her hip she carried a pair of bladeless knives, the short glass swords of the Elemental Men of the Taiytakei, blades so thin they were almost invisible, which would slice through stone and iron as easily as they would cut butter.

No one moved. No flicker of recognition. Perhaps they didn’t remember her.

I’ve come back to . . .’ To what? To sit on a throne that no longer carried any meaning? To put her old realms back together again? How? To undo the damage she’d done? Prostrate herself? Beg forgiveness from the dead?

Yes to all of that, and all such impossible things.

To find my home,’ she said at last. ‘To find a place to be.’

A man stepped closer, watching her with uncertain awe. ‘I remember you, Holiness,’ he said, and bowed and dropped to one knee. ‘I am Vishmir. I am Adamantine.’

She crouched in front of him and took off her gauntlet and touched a hand to his face. The sight of this soldier, of finding him alive amid the ashes, filled her.

Then get up, Vishmir,’ she said, ‘for we have work to do.’