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Chapter 1 Recaps and Broken Kneecaps

Some people just dont know when to quit. Take Count Galius Firmon for example. Remember him? If you need a refresher, Galius was the ex-beggar turned count of the city of Byweather. He was the one who hired me through my Contract to retrieve a gem that had been stolen from hima gem that turned out to be a dragon egg. Yeah, a Chralex-blooded dragon egg. With Max, my magic talking wizard cator more presently, squirrelI set out to find the gem. Along the way, I met a maladroit wizard named Sal, whom I promptly and

uncharacteristically fell in love with. I also befriended a talkative Kolarin named Til, who was the reason that my obligation to Galius turned from an easy job to . . . well, if you cant remember, you should probably read the earlier parts of my journal. In short, it involved evil wizards, dragons, minions of the god of death called eldrhims, and my past slowly becoming clearer to me. After outsmarting Galius, I was able to return the dragon egg to its mother, Bhaliel, the late ex-queen of dragons, in exchange for not becoming a dragon snack. With my Activated Contract fulfilled, I was then ready to travel to the eastern kingdom of Gualain, where Raijom a supposedly evil wizard whod been trying to kill me since my birth because of some prophecy that I knew next to nothing aboutwas purportedly stirring up a war for reasons I didnt yet understand.

Til, on the other hand, had been tasked by Bhaliel to take her newly hatched dragon child, Xalis, to the Snowy Waste. The dragons there would have the ability release Xalis from the hibernation that Bhaliel had been put him into. Oh yeah, and we were all a little worried about the dragons escaping their thousand-year, wizard-enforced banishment to the Snowy Waste through the hole that Bhaliel had ripped in the wizards barrier while searching for her stolen egg. Confusing, huh? As if all of that wasnt enough to worry about, Max and Sal were abducted by wizards sent by Sals father, Nehril Fellway, the Grand Wizard of Amirand. He was probably a bit upset about Sals little excursion to hunt down a dragon in an attempt to earn her Rank as a wizard. Max had tried to stop the wizards but was captured, likely to be used as a research subject at the Wizard Academy in the kingdom of Tahron. Meanwhile, Til and I had been put into a magicinduced slumber by those same wizards for an entire day, preventing us from doing a thing to stop them. Those bastard wizards not only took my best friend and the woman I loved, but also our horses, my Contract, the Vesteir-sigiled shortsword my adoptive uncle had given me, the hibernating dragon child, and all of our money and supplies. Fun for Korin. Thats me. Actually, Id just recently discovered my birth name to be Ingran Zachary Lemweir. I still stuck with Korinalisor KorinKarell, though. That was the name given to me by Mathual and Harriet Karell, the adoptive parents whod raised me. Speaking of my newly gleaned birth name, Id also learned that Max had once been a human wizard named Jonasir Spensolin. Hed apparently known the birth parents Id spent over

three years of my life searching for. Of course, as with everything else having to do with his or my past, hed kept that knowledge secret for as long as Id known him. Id been a mere nights sleep away from having Max finally reveal his secrets, professing my love to Sal, and setting off to find Raijom. Of course, that was the night that the wizards had shown up. My plans quickly changed from putting a stop to Raijom and finding my parents to getting my friends back. I needed to reach them before Max was turned into an unwilling research specimen in the Wizard Academys laboratory. There was only one little problem. Actually, that depends on your definition of little and your capacity for sarcasm. At that moment, I was being harshly shoved into the rough stone that lined the perimeter of Galiuss basement. My forehead collided with the wall, painfully snapping back with the sensation of broken skin. My body crumpled to the floor, the side of my head rebounding off the stone tile. Thered been no chance of breaking my fall with my hands tied behind my back to the point of cutting off blood circulation, my fingers long since numb. The front and side of my head were not numb, however, and flared with pain. The dank air of the basement gave me a chill as I lay there helpless, securely bound and gagged on the floor. I couldnt smell a thing over the odor of horse and saddle leather on my baggy white shirt and tan pants. My malodorous clothing reminded me that I hadnt properly bathed in days. Aside from the bare stone walls, the only features of the room were a simple wooden chair in the rooms center, a tall iron safe in the back corner, and stand lamps in the corners, which gave me plenty of light to realize how much trouble Til and I were in.

Speaking of Til, hed been shoved down onto the nondescript wooden chair in the center of the room. To his side, a burly brute in a worn brown tabard pressed down on the diminutive Kolarins shoulder to keep him from rising. Til was also gagged. He wore a white shirt under a brown jerkin with black pants, his clothing dirtied from our involuntary trip back to the coastal city of Byweather in the kingdom of Urdale. Til, not one to be forced into anything, struggled against the bonds of his tied hands, kicking at the brute beside him. The brute simply backhanded the poor little guy with his free hand. Tils head snapped forward, his long raven hair whipping in front of him. Til twisted his hanging head to the curly-haired brute, his large silver eyes burning with anger. With a sharp twist of his head, he forced the filthy gag from his mouth. Youll regret that, you two-bit, halfwit, Duncil-blooded, goat farming Tils insult was cut off by another backhand, this one to his face and splitting his bottom lip. Duncil is the god of bastard children. Silly idea for a god, in my opinion. Silly or not, though, Til deserved credit for the use of such a god in his curse. Taking a cue from the fearless Kolarin, I tongued the similarly dirtied gag from my own mouth. Leave him alone, I rasped, my throat raw from having nothing to drink since being magically knocked out by wizards a day and a half prior. My hunger was a whole other issue. You better listen to him, I continued hoarsely. Ive seen him take on worse than you, Lily Pants. My taunt was answered by a violent kick to my stomach from the grime-faced brute whod shoved me into the wall. Yeah, I still had a problem with keeping my big mouth shut. Blood trickled down my face from the split skin of my forehead as I tilted my head towards the brute. The double vision caused by my fall made me see two of his greasy, crooked-

nosed face. His oily hair was only slightly less dirty than his tatty leathers. Dirty or not, his arms were as big around as my legs. If anything, the other brutewho Ill continue to refer to as Lily Pantswas even more muscular. His exposed arms were proof of that. I hadnt been lying to him, though; Id seen Til fight eldrhims and live to tell the tale. What was a simple thug compared to that? Still, the brutes had the upper hand. If I couldnt figure out a way to turn the cards in our favor, there was a good chance we wouldnt leave Galiuss basement alive. I decided to keep my mouth shut and pour all my effort into getting Til and me out of the mess we were in. Before the cogs of thought could even start tumbling in my hazed mind, two sets of harsh footsteps came slapping down basements stone steps, followed by the slamming of the hidden hatch leading to the room above. I lulled my head back to see Galius and the third brute whod helped abduct us, a cloudy halo surrounding their bodies as my double vision slowly drew into focus. Galius, as always, exuded about as much arrogance as Rembren, the god of arrogance seriously, theres a god of arrogance. Galiuss blue velvet coat rested over a highly brocaded shirt, its fabric stretched taut over his paunch of a stomach. His receding black hair and pointed goatee were as meticulously manicured as ever, glistening with styling grease. His eyes were sunken, and his face was even paler than Id seen before. Galius probably hadnt been able to sleep well with the looming threat of losing his money and power. That threat, Im proud to say, was one of my own doing, instigated by keeping the dragon eggs luck from the bastard. Galius had been a lowly beggar before obtaining the egg, and without its magic, he was faced with the possibility of going back to that life.

The brute behind him was tall, a head and a half over my moderate height. He was dressed in clean but broken-in leather armor over a shirt of mail. His boots came up to his knees on his leather-clad legs, and a sheathed longsword hung from his hip. His hawkish eyes and stern features gave him a look of silent danger, a look perpetuated by his shaved head. Swirling tribal patterns were tattooed in black on his face, starting at his temples before swooping under his dark eyes and down his cheeks. His posture was slightly relaxed, though from my training in swordplay and hand-to-hand combat, I sensed that his sword could be drawn and in adept use within the span of a single breath. In other words, if Id guessed at his name, Id have said it was Mess With Me And Die A Slow, Horrible Death. It turned out to be Bill. Sorry, Im getting ahead of myself. Galius stopped right in front of my face, looking down at me with a pompous, victorious smile. He probably thought my capture was going to lead to the return of the gem that had brought him his fortune and political position as Count of Byweather. I briefly wondered what hed do if I told him that his gem had hatched into a baby dragon and was on its way to the Wizard Academy in Tahron. I decided that with Lily Pants, Crooked Nose, and Mess With Me And Die on his side, I should probably keep that tidbit of information to myself. Get him to his feet. We wouldnt want our guests to be uncomfortable, Galius

commanded with feigned concern in his whiny voice. Worse than the broken skin of my forehead was the headache caused by hearing that voice again. Crooked Nose jerked me to my feet by the back of my soiled, horse-scented white shirt. He had to keep the fabric bunched in his fist to keep me from collapsing weakly back to the

ground. Between the blow to my head and muscular pains from my hours slumped over the rump of a horse, I was in no condition to hold myself on my own feet. How magnanimous of you, Count Firmon, I quipped wryly with a huge grin. Given the scowl that replaced the smug grin on Galiuss face, either he didnt know the definition of magnanimous, or he didnt appreciate my sarcasm. With a small gesture of his right hand, the brute let go of my shirt, and I dropped hard to the floor, landing painfully on my shoulder. Galius was still using his little trick of letting his fists-for-hire use their free will to hurt me. Because of my previous Activated Contract with Galius, he couldnt directly hurt me or instruct others to do so. Sadly, that meant I was unable to hurt Galius as well. Stupid Contract. Galius put his hands to his hips, striking what Im sure he felt to be an imposing stance. From my vantage on the stone floor, it just looked like he was trying to accentuate his gut. This doesnt have to get ugly, Mr. Karell, he said nasally with a half-hearted smirk on his exhausted, pale face. I couldnt stop myself from giving Galius a lopsided grin. Your face has ruined any chance of that, I goaded, blinking away the blood that had run into my eyes. I received a painful kick to the ribs, one powerful enough to flip me onto my back. With a snort, Galius crouched beside me. Just tell me where the gem is. My associates tell me it wasnt on you, and that your little wizard friend was nowhere to be found. I can only assume that she has the gem. Simply tell me where she is, and this can all come to an end. Dont listen to him, Korin! Til called out as he strained against the binding ropes. I heard a sickening smack followed by a shrill grunt from Til. My face began to heat in anger.

Whats the point in telling you? I asked, my voice acid and gravel. Youre not going to let us go. You dont plan on letting us live. Just days ago, you planned on killing me just for knowing your secret about circumventing a Contracts magic. What was that? a rough, deep voice asked from behind Galius. I looked up to see Mess With Me And Die glaring sternly at Galius. His tone had been devoid of emotion, but his tattoounderlined eyes flickered with a hint of concern. Galius shut his eyes and took a deep breath. Nothing, Bill. Do not listen to this Loranis-forsaken thief. Galius nodded to Crooked Nose, earning me another rib-cracking kick to my side. Through my pain, I found myself chuckling. Bill, huh? Well, Bill, I guess Galius has roped himself another Contract Holder. Sorry, he likes to call them Soul Contracts, right? Did he tell you that I was his last Contract Holder? Just I was silenced by a booted foot to the face. I spit out some blood and ran my tongue across my teeth to make sure they were all still there. After assuring myself that they were, I closed my eyes to stop the room from spinning and decided that I was going to keep my big mouth shut. As I said, Bill, do not listen to this wretch, Galius continued, standing. Your only concern is retrieving the gem from the thieves that took it from me. Thats all this man is: a thief. A damned, dirty, lying thief at that. Hearing Galiuss voice was like having a sanding stone rubbed across the inside of my skull. I ventured a peek at Bill, my vision clear enough to see the wheels turning behind his eyes. Bill would know that Galius shouldnt have been able to have the other men hurt me if Id truthfully been his Contract Holder before. He had to be wondering if Galius could do the same

to him. I know I wouldve thought twice about using a Contract to fund my travels for so long if someone had told me that its magic could be worked around. Choosing to simply ignore the subject, Galius approached Til. My heart started racing. Galius had to rely on his brutes to use their own judgment to hurt me. Til, having no Contract magic binding him to Galius, was free game. I didnt like where this was going. So, if Mr. Karell does not wish to speak, well leave it to the Kolarin here, Galius sneered. Til spat at Galius, glaring at him with pure hatred. Ill never tell you anything. You took advantage of the Kolari, you Til was cut off as Lily Pants gave him a full-blown punch to the side of his face. Tils head snapped sharply to the side, sending a spray of blood from his mouth This was more than I could take. I started fighting my bonds, wildly thrashing on the floor. I never did take well to people hurting my friends. Crooked Nose dropped a foot on my chest, waving an admonitory finger. I stopped fighting and stared death into his eyes. He flashed me a wicked grin and pressed his foot down with even more force. Til looked up at Lily Pants, narrowing his silver eyes as blood dribbled down his chin. Is that all youve got? he snarled. There was something in his eyes and voice that Id never seen or heard before. Something unnatural. Something primal. Something vicious. Something I wouldnt want to be on the receiving end of. Ah, we have a fighter, Galius remarked with a smirk. Hullic, do whatever you must to get him to talk, he commanded to Lily Pants, ruining my mental nickname for the brute.

Hullic roughly lifted Tils arms and dropped them over the back of the chair. He then crouched and tied Tils feet together. Til fought the best he could, but in his weakened and battered condition, his best wasnt enough. Next, Hullic crouched to retrieve a wooden block from beside the chair and wedged it between Tils knees. Taking a step back, he pulled free a large iron hammer from a leather loop at his hip. My heartbeat stuttered as I realized what was about to happen. Hullicno, Im sticking to Lily Pantstightened his grip on the hammers leatherwrapped haft, rotating his shoulder in preparation for knee-breaking blows intended for Til. Til, just gave Lily Pants a silent, murderous glare. Galius took in the scene with a self-satisfied grin firmly planted on his pallid face. I had to stop Lily Pants from hurting Til. I only had seconds to devise a plan. Thankfully, Id always been great at winging plans like that.