A prophecy exists: an Empress will rise from the ashes of the ruined empire.
On the run from a vicious sorcerer, Tazu seeks refuge in a ruined temple where she collapses into the arms of a stranger. When she wakes, she finds she has unearthed a relic from a fallen empire.
For years, Ryu has punished himself for the death of the Empress he once protected, but in Tazu’s presence, the ronin discovers the strength to heal both her physical and emotional wounds. Her closeness shakes his dormant heart and stirs the inner beast he has fought so hard to control.
Kyo, a warrior turned mercenary, hunts Tazu at the request of the sorcerer, Ning-Tse. Once Kyo discovers Tazu, he also finds himself entranced by her quiet strength.
The sorcerer wants to exploit the power Tazu struggles to conceal, but the two warriors who have fallen for her will stop at nothing to keep her safe. The sorcerer’s insatiable greed sets the prophecy in motion, placing Tazu and her dragons on a path toward war, redemption, and the reclamation of long-lost power.
Just a little more. That’s all I have, and I’ll be safe.
She jumped when she heard the snap of branches behind her. Turning quickly, she prepared herself for the sound to have come from either the sorcerer or any of his hired hands. Her gaze scrutinized the dense foliage, but it was near impossible to see more than five feet ahead of her. A wave of dizziness came over her, causing her to grab the trunk of the nearest tree. Her palm landed on a sticky ball of sap. Tazu tried to wipe it away, but the vigorous movements nearly brought her to her knees. Her stomach churned, but there was nothing to quiet the queasiness. She squeezed her eyes shut and took a breath to steady herself. Another twig cracked behind her, and a loud screech echoed in the forest.
It’s only a bird. It’s not after me. I can do this.
Tazu pushed off the trunk and moved through the trees. Her head spun and she clutched at the vegetation for support, but she no longer felt the pain of her wounds, the new scratches as thin sapling branches whacked her across her face, or the thorns that dug into her calves and ripped fresh furrows in her flesh. The air grew colder, signaling the coming night. The dense canopy overhead cast long, eerie shadows which flashed by her and forced her to stop. When she waited for them to strike at her, she realized it was all in her mind.
Hunger. Exhaustion. Fear.
That was when she thought she heard the wispy trills of a flute floating on the breeze.
It can’t be. There’s no one out here. It’s my mind playing tricks on me. I need food, and now I’m imagining things. Nothing is going to keep me from the ruins. Maybe there I can find the temple and pray to all the gods to take me away from all of this.
As she thought about it, her second nature flared to life and gave her a bit of a push, infusing her soul. The long shadows faded the jungle into dim outlines. The cold night wrapped around her, gripping her bones in its tight embrace. It tried to crush her, but she pressed onward, ignoring the darkness. Tales her mother told her floated through her mind; stories of evil spirits who dwelled in the woods, trying to lure unsuspecting travelers to their death. Now encased in darkness, Tazu searched for any shred of light to reassure her that the monsters would not catch her. Yet in darkness she remained, panic filling her consciousness and urging her to run.
With each step she grew wearier, but the music grew louder. It drew her deeper into the forest, through brambles and briars, where others had dared not venture for what seemed an eternity. The music held her entranced. She wanted to lie down and give up, but the harmony kept her going until she found herself stumbling over not just roots and downed vegetation, but stones and broken masonry. The first caught her toes through her tattered shoe and toppled her to the ground.
Tazu struggled to her feet, wincing at the pain of a skinned knee. The moon peeked out from behind a cloud, allowing her to see the rubble in the clearing around her. Some dug deep into the earth, and some protruded upward at sharp, angry angles. Large veins of grass and weeds grew between the blocks, yet either side remained even as far ahead as she could see. The worn remnants of a once-grand road were under her feet. In the distance, she saw the green-black shadow of a large stone structure rising from the forest before her. It was then the music lost its grip and the pain of her injuries took over. Silence echoed around her, even the normal sounds of night were absent from this place. Many of her scratches burned and others throbbed, though the wounds were closed and the scars only barely visible beneath the gritty, caked lines of blood crisscrossing her skin. As the pain from the nicks and cuts faded, another fiercer agony took control. Her ankle, she realized, was badly injured. Her knee was swollen and tender where she had fallen. With each step, her limp grew stronger as the throbbing flared.
Her stomach rumbled again. The curling needles of hunger brought reality back into focus, but it was hard to get beyond the crippling ache that plagued her body. She swept her gaze over the broken boulevard before her. On either side of her were large pillars. Tazu counted each column. There were nine on either side of the road, interspersed with statues which could have been dragons, wolves, or other beasts, but in the darkness it was hard to tell. As she neared, the shadow faded from the structure ahead. At the end of the crumbling path stood an equally dilapidated tower. The music began again, much louder now, and she could discern that the melody was one of sadness and melancholy. It pushed back her discomfort and touched her heart.
Visions of a wilted and weary man crept into her mind, tugging at the tattered remnants of her consciousness and urging her on. The owner of that forlorn melody, his misery evident in the timbre of his song, needed comfort. Needed healing.