Plot Summary Edit
Some time after diplomatic situations deteriorate between the Hypatian Empire and the various Pirate Lords of the Inland Sea; based out of former Hypatian colonies, RuGaard - the "Exalted Protector" of the Grand Alliance of Hypatia and the Dragon Empire - responds to a summons for war, and leads an attack on the city of Swayport during the night. Amidst the chaos, RuGaard ends up being overpowered by Shadowcatch; hired to serve the Pirate Lords, but he manages to escape his captor, who is forced to flee when the Griffaran Guard go after him. Soon afterwards, Swayport is soon captured, and a celebratory feast is held in the aftermath, where RuGaard learns that a particularly courageous human member of the Aerial Host - Gundar, who reminds RuGaard of the Dragonblade - was raised on large amounts of dragonblood.
Later, in Hypatia, Yekfoa delivers a message to Wistala - now one of the many dragon "Protector"s of the Upper World - summoning her to meet with Queen Nilrasha at her eyrie; where she has lived ever since the loss of her wings. After getting her affairs as Protector in order, Wistala travels to Nilrasha's cave, and learns that Nilrasha desires for her to take her place as Queen of the Lavadome, since she is no longer able to perform her proper duties; Wistala protests, but Nilrasha affirms her belief that she is best suited for the title. After revealing that RuGaard is planning to find a successor and hand over power so that he can retire peacefully, Nilrasha tells Wistala she fears someone is plotting against RuGaard. Nilrasha then tells Wistala what happened the last time she failed to act at the right time; when RuGaard's first mate Halaflora was fatally choking on her meal, Nilrasha briefly hesitated to help her out of jealousy, which led to her death. In response, Wistala reveals that her own actions to save her father resulted in his death when men followed her back to him, and then decides to accept Nilrasha's request to become Queen of the Lavadome. The next day, after Nilrasha shows Wistala her "trophies" - the remains of the various assassins sent after her for various reasons - she gives her her first problem to deal with; in Dairuss, Naf has expelled the local Protector, and is refusing any replacement.
In time, AuRon, Natasatch and their daughter Istach travel to Hypatia - reluctantly, in AuRon's case - to attend the ceremony where Wistala will be made Queen-Consort. Upon arrival in Hypat, they are taken to meet with Wistala before the feast, where she formally takes over from Nilrasha, and AuSurath and Gundar are sworn into the Aerial Host to replace the dragon killed at Swayport. Later, Wistala takes AuRon aside and tells him about the situation in Dairuss - close to declaring independence from the Grand Alliance, which would spark a war - and request that he take over as Protector there due to his friendship with King Naf.
Ultimately, AuRon decides to go, and Natasatch and Istach accompany him to Dairuss, where he meets with Naf. After some talk about their families, AuRon brings up the topic of the Grand Alliance, and he and Naf decide to discuss things while flying over Dairuss. Shortly after preventing an Ironrider attack on a barge on the Falanges River, AuRon and Naf encounter Imfamnia; now the mate of NiVom, who is the Protector of Ghioz. Having learnt that he was to be made Protector, she invites him and Natasatch to dine with her in Ghihar. During their return trip, Naf tells AuRon he fears the Hypatians will eventually try to reclaim Dairuss. Despite his reservations about becoming mixed up in the politics of the Lavadome, AuRon accepts the position of Protector. Istach delivers this news to the Lavadome, and meets with RuGaard; who briefly mistakes her for a grown Jizara while musing about Dairuss. Despite soon realising her true identity, RuGaard asks her to sing for him, before announcing a celebratory feast to be held at Dairuss at a later date.
Istach returns to Dairuss to report this, and AuRon and Natasatch begin discussing where they will obtain food for the feast. Eventually, Natasatch flys with AuRon to Ghioz to request Imfamnia's aid, and Imfamnia arranges a transport of supplies from Ghioz as a welcoming gift to them. Imfamnia notes to AuRon that RuGaard has banned her from his court due to her connection with SiMevolant and the hag-riders, but AuRon invites her anyway as his guest. On the day of the feast, RuGaard arrives with various dragons, but respectfully leaves the main area after learning that Imfamnia is present. While Wistala follows after RuGaard - and reassures him that AuRon isn't plotting against him - AuRon learns from Imfamnia that their dessert meal has been made from blighters; killed by NiVom to supply the feast.
Upon return to the Lavadome, RuGaard travels to Imperial Rock and goes to bathe; meeting with NoSohoth along the way, who reports on recent events - including a shortage of oliban; a special type of wood sap that is used to calms groups of angry male dragons. While bathing, RuGaard summons his messenger bats - Ging and Gang - who inform him about dissent in his court, and also that NiVom and Imfamnia have been breeding blighters so they can start a war against Old Uldam. The next day, RuGaard meets with his court to discuss the oliban shortage, only to be informed by HeBellereth that Shadowcatch has been captured by the Aerial Host. RuGaard has him summoned to the Audience Chamber, and learns that he wishes to join the Lavadome - having only served the Pirate Lords to keep his word to aid them in their war. Impressed, RuGaard makes him his bodyguard.
Some time later, AuRon and Natasatch fly to Ghihar to dine with NiVom and Imfamnia; who presses them about their origins during the meal. While discussing AuRon's family, the conversation turns to RuGaard, and NiVom and Imfamnia tell AuRon and Natasatch about the mysterious death of Halaflora, and how Nilrasha ended up mated to RuGaard fairly shortly afterwards. The meal ends and Natasatch goes to rest, while AuRon goes outside; encountering a strange creature in the process. Smelling blighters, AuRon goes to investigate, only for Imfamnia to follow and tell him what he smells are their blighter forces - as well as inform him that the strange creature he witnessed was a gargoyle; bred by NiVom from bats. After a brief conversation about the future of dragonkind, Imfamnia attempts to get AuRon to mate with her - remarking that her being mated to NiVom was little more than strategy - but he refuses and leaves her; returning to Natasatch.
The next day, AuRon and Natasatch prepare for the return trip to Dairuss. As they bid their farewells, NiVom remarks that the "Grand Alliance" is little more than a new Dragon Empire, and reveals his fears that RuGaard is risking dragonkind with the choices he has made regarding their relations with the hominids. NiVom then informs AuRon that he is planning a conquest of Old Uldam, since the sun-shard of Anklamere - which he thinks may be somehow alive - was once housed there. Following this, AuRon and Natasatch return to Dairuss, where they find DharSii waiting to meet with them; bringing the news of a war that they may be on either sides of.
Meanwhile, Wistala travels to Fount Brass, a largely independent city of Hypatia, where she attempts to persuade their king to join the Grand Alliance; which he ultimately does provisionally, without a dragon Protector being assigned to his lands. Wistala then returns to the Lavadome to report this news, and during the resulting celebratory feast, witnesses Rayg and identifies him as Lada's long-lost son. After she plans to report this to Lada, RuGaard requests that she meet with him in his baths, where he reveals his belief that the Protectors are cheating him out of funds meant for the Lavadome. Before Wistala can respond, both she and her brother are attacked by batlike creatures, who attempt to throttle them to death with chains, but Wistala and RuGaard ultimately overpower them and force them to flee. In the aftermath, RuGaard notes the batlike creatures must have been aided by someone at Imperial Rock, as they had brought enough chains to kill the two of them.
Some time later, NiVom invites RuGaard to Ghioz to witness a show of the Grand Alliance's strength, although RuGaard suspects he is up to something. In Ghioz, NiVom tells RuGaard that aim of the war is to capture rich mines in Old Uldam, and shows him his "Grand Guard"; a force made up of blighters which he specially bred and raised on dragonblood. Although he secretly wonders if NiVom is intentionally setting himself up as a rival, he travels with NiVom and his forces to Old Uldam, only to encounter AuRon and DharSii - and Istach - with a number of blighter-elders. AuRon reveals that the blighters requested to join the Grand Alliance, and that he is to become their Protector. RuGaard accepts this request, but notes that AuRon would be responsible for too much territory, and instead suggests that Istach become Protector. Despite NiVom's reservations, Istach is made Protector, and a feast is held - using supplies from NiVom's army.
Afterwards, DharSii accompanies RuGaard back to the Lavadome, where he meets with Wistala, who asks him why he isn't considered welcome in the Lavadome. DharSii begins his long story by recounting the fall of Silverhigh, and stating that his ancestors fled to the Sadda-Vale, while some other dragons joined forces with Anklamere, who bred them into the three dragon clans that make up the Lavadome. When the Sadda-Vale and the Lavadome learnt of each other's existence, a tradition was started to exchange two young drakes or drakkas between the two locations, and DharSii - who had a different name back then - was sent to grow up in the Lavadome, where he befriended AgGriffopse and eventually became the leader of the Aerial Host; and also a potential candidate as successor to Tyr FeHazathant. However, Tighlia engineered his fall by working with Enesea - a sister of AgGriffopse who DharSii was courting - to frame him for assault, prompting AgGriffopse to challenge him to a duel to the death. In the resulting duel, DharSii managed to overpower AgGriffopse with a wound to the throat, but spared him and instead left the Lavadome; renouncing his own identity and taking the name "DharSii", before returning to the Sadda-Vale, where he began hiring himself out to various armies to obtain metal for the few inhabitants.
Later, DharSii goes to meet with the Anklenes to discuss the sun-shard, and Wistala goes after him, only to encounter Ibidio, who has been avoiding DharSii, who she refers to as "her husband's murderer". Ibidio reveals that she has been investigating the death of Halaflora, who she suspects was murdered; as a result of this and RuGaard's betrayal of his parents, she believes him unfit to rule. Ibidio then takes Wistala to meet with her two "witnesses"; an old bat and a dwarf thrall, who tell their stories to Wistala. The bat states that he overheard RuGaard's former thrall Rhea confess on her deathbed that she watched Nilrasha murder Halaflora, before RuGaard helped her cover this up, and the dwarf states that he witnessed Nilrasha following after RuGaard and Halaflora when they travelled to Anaea, and she asked him whether RuGaard and Halaflora's relationship was a happy one. Before Wistala leaves, Ibidio tells her she plans to bring down Nilrasha, who she sees as RuGaard's weakness.
Some time later in the Upper World, AuRon, Istach and Imfamnia - acting for NiVom, who is busy in Bant - meet to discuss relations between their Protectorates. After this and a meal, Istach falls asleep, and Imfamnia tells AuRon that she thinks the Grand Alliance isn't working; RuGaard isn't properly supervising the Protectors, who are keeping wealth for themselves instead of sending it to the Lavadome. She then reveals that she and NiVom are behind a conspiracy to remove RuGaard from his position as Tyr and replace him with a better dragon. Upon return to Dairuss, AuRon discusses this news with Natasatch, and they decide to ensure that their family will survive a potential battle between factions by backing both sides; AuRon will support RuGaard while Natasatch supports NiVom and Imfamnia. As such, AuRon promptly travels to the Lavadome as Natasatch makes plans to meet with Imfamnia, and he informs RuGaard about NiVom and Imfamnia's conspiracy.
Before they can properly discuss this, Ibidio arrives and interrupts them, demanding that Nilrasha answer for the "murder" of Halaflora, as well as the hatchlings she may have been pregnant with. Ibidio asks that Nilrasha be fully stripped of her title as Queen and officially sent into exile, but RuGaard defends her, and requests to hear from Ibidio's witnesses. Wistala convinces him to let another dragon supervise the case, and NoSohoth is ultimately chosen to oversee it in two days time. Following this, RuGaard meets with NoSohoth, and learns he wishes to retire to Hypatia as a Protector; after learning that he doubts Ibidio's claims of murder, RuGaard agrees to let him do so once things are resolved.
Later, while musing about whether to summon Nilrasha or not, RuGaard is met by Wistala, who tells him that DharSii has returned to the Lavadome and wishes to conduct a number of tests on the sun-shard with Rayg. RuGaard grants them both permission, and accompanies them to the depths of the Lavadome, where DharSii reveals that his research into various crystals - prompted by his curiosity about the intention the Red Queen had for them - suggests that the Lavadome is like a body, with the sun-shard like a heart, and a third piece known as the Silverhigh Star like a mind. DharSii reveals that the Silverhigh Star was linked to a league of dragons, and Wistala and RuGaard's grandfather AuNor was the last known dragon to possess the Silverhigh Star; so they can try to re-unite the pieces, DharSii requests they lead him to her family's old home cave, but RuGaard isn't interested and leaves with Rayg.
Not long afterwards, DharSii reveals he would like Wistala as his mate, but she refuses him - despite secretly desiring him back - partly out of anger at his simple statement, but also because she cannot mate without breaking the oath she swore when she became a Firemaid. Although they agree to still fly to her home cave at a later time, Wistala leaves him, and goes to ask RuGaard's permission that she be allowed to do so. At Imperial Rock, Wistala encounters a drunken Shadowcatch, who reveals he was hired by the Wheel of Fire to kill her and return to them with her head, but he doesn't wish to anymore. To prevent him from breaking his oath to them, Wistala tells him that he may take her corpse to them if situations in the Lavadome worsen and she ends up dead.
Eventually, the trial against Nilrasha begins, and NoSohoth talks with Ibidio's witnesses in the Voicehall - constructed from the old duelling pit. NoSohoth points out the dwarf witness may have misidentified Nilrasha; another dragonelle may have been impersonating her, and rejects the bat witness when he crumbles under questioning. NoSohoth then turns to the dragons at the trial to ask their opinions as to whether Nilrasha is guilty or not; resulting in many vocally denouncing her as a murderer. However, Wistala and many more protest her innocence - Wistala even revealing to RuGaard that Nilrasha told her she tried to save her, but was too late to do so - resulting in an end to the case.
In the aftermath, RuGaard gives Wistala leave to go with DharSii, and she leads him to the cave, where they begin searching for a place where it could be hidden. As they search, Wistala asks DharSii about what will happen when the crystals are combinged; DharSii states that Anklamere's records described it as a "key to the cage" that limited his power. Not long afterwards, Wistala realises it may be hidden in the small tunnel that Wistala and AuRon escaped through when the dwarves attacked. They investigate and find a hidden compartment, empty but for some elf hair, which Wistala recognises as a possible signal left behind by Hazeleye. After some talk about this - and the impact that dragonkind has on other species - Wistala and DharSii travel to the location where Wistala's father was killed by the Dragonblade, in case he had the Silverhigh Star with him at the time. They fail to find the Silverhigh Star there, but Wistala suddenly remembers the crystal ball used by Intanta when she travelled with Ragwrist's Circus, and realises that was the Silverhigh Star. DharSii promptly leaves to investigate; telling Wistala to send word to Scabia at the Sadda-Vale if she discovers anything new.
Upon return to the Lavadome, Wistala attempts to rest, but is forced to rise when she learns that dwarves from the Wheel of Fire are attempting to attack the Lavadome via the Nor'Flow. Since RuGaard is absent - having gone to visit Nilrasha - Wistala has to give orders to the forces of the Lavadome, and she decides to have the population of the Lavadome brought to safety at Imperial Rock - save for the Anklenes, who she sends the demen legion to defend - while the Aerial Host is summoned to defend it. As the orders are carried out, HeBellereth leaves to reinforce the dragons fighting the dwarves at the entrances to the Lavadome, and Ayafeeia takes Wistala to be clothed in special armour; made for the deceased Tyr FeHazathant.
When the dwarves eventually reach Imperial Rock, they demand that Wistala be turned over to them so they can enact their revenge for her betrayal of King Fangbreaker. Ignoring this - and the few dragons who suggest they comply - Wistala goes to summon the demen legion, and gives orders for the Drakwatch to accompany them as they attack the dwarves, who are defeated in the resulting battle - during which the dwarves manage to down Wistala, but she escapes major injury due to her armour. In the aftermath, Wistala discovers that HeBellereth was horribly injured defending the Lavadome, but he manages to recover after several days. When news of this reaches the Upper World, NiVom and Imfamnia fly to Dairuss and request AuRon and Natasatch help them and others act against RuGaard, who has failed to protect them. Donning their roles, Natasatch offers her support to them while AuRon decides simply to accompany them to the Lavadome.
Meanwhile, Wistala goes to find RuGaard, and travels to Hypatia, where he is meeting with Protector NoFhyriticus in luxury. While talking with them, Wistala learns of RuGaard's secret plans for the Grand Alliance; by helping Hypatia to thrive thanks to constant dragon aid, they slowly ensure that it becomes the dominant nation in their world, but at the same time dependent on dragons, who will be the true rulers of the world. Wistala refuses to be a part of this, but before they can talk any further, Yekfoa arrives with the news that NiVom and AuRon have been meeting with the leaders of the hills of the Lavadome. RuGaard and Wistala promptly return to the Lavadome, where they find NiVom and AuRon with RuGaard's court at Imperial Rock. The assembled dragons announce that they've recognised a replacement for RuGaard; SiHazathant and Regalia - distant twin relatives of FeHazathant - who will rule the Lavadome while NiVom takes control of the Protectors. As RuGaard protests, NiVom offers him survival in exile, as happened to him many years before, and notes that if he refuses this, both his and Nilrasha's lives will be forfeited. As SiHazathant and Regalia arrive, RuGaard accepts the terms, but requests that he be allowed to return to Nilrasha. For various reasons, Wistala, AuRon and Shadowcatch all decide to accompany him into exile on the Isle of Ice, although AuRon is told Natasatch will be able to meet with him from time to time, and Wistala notes that they'll not be able to banish her from Hypatia since she has citizenship, but it means an end to her Firemaid Oaths.
Following this, the four dragons make their way to Nilrasha's cave on their way to the Isle of Ice, only to find Ibidio there with Nilrasha. After they inform her of their state of exile, Ibidio reveals she came to make a final offer to Nilrasha; if she confesses to murdering Halaflora, RuGaard will be allowed to return to the Lavadome. In anger, Nilrasha accuses Ibidio of sowing discontent purely out of distaste for RuGaard and herself not being of the Imperial Line, and attacks her; the two falling from the heights of Nilrasha's cave in the process. Ibidio dies in the fall, but Nilrasha survives; her fall cushioned by Ibidio's corpse. Not long afterwards, NiVom and his gargoyles arrive, and after thanking them for ridding him of Ibidio, he strips RuGaard of his name and forbids him from remaining with Nilrasha - lest she attempt to return him to power - and threatens to kill her if he ever returns.
As the four dragons continue their journey to the Isle of Ice, AuRon and Wistala attempt to help RuGaard recover from the shock of everything that has happened to him. As they talk, AuRon reveals his suspicions that NiVom might not be behind everything; he suspects there is more to Imfamnia than they know. Upon arrival at the Isle of Ice, the four dragons are met by Ouistrela, Imfamnia and a force of men and griffaran. Imfamnia reveals that Ouistrela has become the Protector of the Isle of Ice - replicating AuRon's own movement against NiVom in Old Uldam - and as such, RuGaard and the others have betrayed the terms of their exile. A battle ensues between them, but the exiled dragons manage to temporarily repel their attackers - with one elderly griffaran even defecting to their side out of loyalty to RuGaard. Realising they won't be safe on the Isle of Ice for long, Wistala suggests they retreat to the Sadda-Vale. Since Shadowcatch is unable to join them due to an injury to his wing, he decides to remain behind to help cover their escape, and later swim to the Juutford Dragonheight to get his wing fixed, and then join them if he can.
After much journeying across the north, AuRon, Wistala and RuGaard - and the griffaran Miki - reach the Sadda-Vale, where they seek refuge. Scabia grants it, but repeats to Wistala her condition that she mate with NaStirath to provide a clutch of eggs to help repopulate the Sadda-Vale. Wistala attempts to request DharSii as her mate, but Scabia refuses this for a number of reasons, forcing Wistala to accept the informal mating with NaStirath. As they prepare to mate, RuGaard manages to convince Scabia and the others to leave them to themselves - remembering his own public mating with Halaflora - and after they leave, NaStirath and Wistala take flight. As NaStirath attempts to reassure her that the mating "is all a joke", Wistala flies high into the sky, only for DharSii to follow her, not NaStirath. In the air, DharSii reveals that NaStirath agreed to let him take his place without Scabia's knowledge; thus allowing them to be secretly mated to one another.