Thankfully Aeron wasn’t working alone. One of his companions picked up a jar and walked towards the body, smiling, because she didn’t have doubts about what they were doing. The body was that of a male dragon, based on a picture the Queen had picked up during one of her journeys to Earth. If he had a choice he would destroy all the bodies they’d spent the last year making, set the souls free, and walk away from everything he was beginning to hate. He didn’t want to know what the other fae would think if they knew about the dragons, but he could imagine what their reaction would be.
“Are we ready?” Enna asked.
Everyone else answered in the affirmative, so Aeron did the same. He couldn’t help hoping that it was going to go wrong, but he had a horrible feeling that it was going to go right, and when it did something unexpected was going to happen. After taking the final three steps towards the body Enna opened the jar. Most of the older souls could somehow feel if there was a body that needed it and would move by themselves, but the new soul needed help. Gently Enna coaxed the soul out of the jar with her hand and guided it towards the head of the body.
It took the soul a few minutes to enter the body, as though it didn’t understand what it was supposed to do, and Aeron felt a bubble of hope well up within him. Normally his intuition was always right, but he wanted this to be the one time it was wrong. Once it was where it was meant to be the only thing they could do was wait. Most of the time a body would move within an hour after the soul had entered it. The last time a new soul had been used, Aeron had read, it had taken just over six hours for the body to move, but in the end the experiment had failed. Sighing, he lent against the wall, watching the dragon the same way everyone else in the room was, wanting to know one way or another what was going to happen.
Moments later, before Aeron had a chance to get comfortable, the dragon sighed. Biting hard on his lip, to stop himself from saying anything he might regret, he watched the creature closely. His colleagues did the same, all of them waiting for something more to happen. From the conversations they’d had before the insertion of the soul he knew none of them had any idea what to expect either, but they all wanted the experiment to work, and the longer he stared at the dragon the more he felt the opposite. There was something about it that made him feel really uncomfortable, even though he couldn’t explain why he felt that way. It was just… he had no words for it. Creating such a dangerous creature using a new soul seemed to be the stupidest thing they had ever tried to do, and that was after studying the books about what had been done before when they had the freedom to explore their abilities.
The dragon shifted, looking as though it was waking from sleep. A shimmering mist surrounded the creature, and, still with his teeth buried into his bottom lip, Aeron shivered. He looked over at Enna, who was staring with her forehead furrowed in confusion. Every other one of his colleagues had the same expression on their face. Breathing deeply he did his best to stay calm, working through all the possibilities as logically as possible, but he’d never before heard of a shimmering mist. From the other side of the room came the sound of someone scribbling frantically in a notebook.
“Where am I?” a male voice asked from the centre of the room, which was surprising as Aeron would have sworn they hadn’t given the creature vocal cords capable of speech.
Silence filled the room. “You’re on Kalinia,” Enna eventually replied, sounding much calmer than Aeron felt.
“What is Kalinia?”
“It’s the world of the fae.”
“Why am I here?”
After a longer silence Enna, with a tremor in her voice, said, “We created you.”
Unexpected laughter filled the room. “That was stupid,” the dragon replied, once it had finished laughing, amusement still filling its voice. “Do you have plans to create any others?”
Aeron looked once more at the crystal jars. Originally the plan had been to create six dragons, if the first worked out, but he didn’t think their experiment could be called a success. The shimmering mist still surrounded the creature, although it did appear to be slowly dissipating, and he was certain he could just see the body of a man instead of the body of a dragon, which should have been impossible.
“Yes, we did.” Enna seemed to have calmed herself again before answering the question. “There were to be six of you.”
“Did?” The dragon sounded unhappy with the word. “I would prefer it if you went along with your plan. Six is a good number.”
“I…” Enna breathed in deeply. “That may not be a good idea.”
The dragon laughed again. “You’ve already made the mistake of creating me.” It sat up, proving that Aeron had been right. “If you chose not to make more of my race when you have already created their king…” Shrugging, the man that had once been a dragon smiled. “That would make me very unhappy.”
Aeron didn’t think that making the dragon unhappy was something they wanted to do, and when he glanced around the room at his colleagues he was certain they thought the same, but then Enna said, “I’ll need to talk to our Queen first. We weren’t expecting you to shift into a different form, and she may not want us to continue with this experiment.”
“Your Queen no longer has a say in what happens to my people,” the dragon replied, thankfully still without anger in his voice. “Please begin putting the souls into bodies. I wish to be away from this…” He looked around the room with distaste. “…facility as soon as possible.”
“I can’t do that.”
The dragon turned to look at Enna, and Aeron was certain he didn’t want to be the one to be speaking on behalf of the Queen, considering the way the dragon was looking at her. “Can’t, or won’t?”
“The oath I made to my Queen when she was elected prevents me from doing as you wish. If it were up to me I’d carry on as you wish.”
“Is that the same for all the people within this room?”
Enna nodded. “It is.”
“So if your Queen commanded you to end the experiment?”
“We’d have to follow her orders.”
Nodding, the dragon ran a hand through his hair. “Do you know of any way around the oath?”
“I don’t know of one.” When Enna’s eyes met Aeron’s he shook his head. “There may be one, but we’ve never needed to work around the oath before, and my only way of finding out would be to leave the facility. If I do that the Queen is sure to ask for a progress report, and I can’t lie to her about what’s happened, because that would also break the oath I made.”
“There is one way,” a quiet voice said, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. “It’s one that hasn’t been used for centuries, since a group of our family walked away from the Queen, but it should still work.”
“What is it?” the dragon asked.
Malina bit her lip. It was unusual for her to speak up. Normally she spent the majority of her time focused on the notebook in front of her, determined to get every little detail written down, because she knew how important what they were doing could be in the future. She was probably where the sound of scribbling was coming from when the dragon was shifting into human form, and when Aeron thought about it he wasn’t surprised that she knew a part of the history that no one else did.
“Oaths are a special type of magic. Breaking one is almost impossible, but making an oath to someone of greater power is one of the few things that can.” Malina looked at the dragon with fear in her eyes. “You have greater power than our Queen, so making an oath to you…” She shrugged. “It would break the previous oath we made to our Queen.”
Aeron bit his lip, wishing that Malina hadn’t spoken at the same time as being grateful that she had. He couldn’t help think that if she hadn’t the dragon would have killed them all and found someone who would do what he wanted. In their lab there were a few people who would happily follow the dragon’s orders without feeling any guilt about breaking their oath, because they hadn’t truly meant it when the said it, while everyone who had worked on the dragon project had been chosen due to their true allegiance to the Queen. Of course that was all going to change, thanks to her need to experiment with the powers they had.
“Thank you,” the dragon said, smiling. “You may be the first to swear your oath to me.”
Malina nodded, but Aeron could see the fear in her eyes, and he wished he could tell her she’d made the best choice she could. “If I am to swear an oath I’ll need your name.”
Breathing deeply, Malina knelt in the way they always did when they were swearing an oath. “No, we’re not doing this,” Enna said, her voice harsh, making Malina jump. “We follow the orders of our Queen and no one else, especially not a creature we’ve just made.”
A shiver of fear went down Aeron’s spine. “You have a choice,” Jaromir replied, his voice even. “Swear your oath to me or die.”
“We made you.”
“True, and I am grateful to you for that. Under any other circumstances I would let you survive, but I know that, because of your oath, you’ll go straight to your Queen to tell her what’s happening. That is something that I really think I’d rather not let happen.” Jaromir glanced at the jars that held the spirits of the other dragons. “I want you to finish creating my race.”
“I know.” Enna ran a hand through her hair. “The Queen, when she finds out about you, is probably going to put an end to this experiment, but I might be able to convince her that we should continue.”
Jaromir thought for a moment. “What do you think?” he asked the still kneeling Malina, making her jump a second time.
“When the Queen finds out about you it seems unlikely that anyone will be able to convince her that we should continue the experiment, because you’re unexpected, and she really doesn’t like the unexpected. If you swear an oath to her and serve her faithfully she might change her mind in the future, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.”
“Your honesty is appreciated.” Jaromir looked at the jars again before turning back to Enna. “I will never swear an oath to your Queen. I’m a King in my own right and my people are sitting there.” He shook his head. “I need to do what’s best for them, not what’s best for you, no matter how much I appreciate the hard work you did to create my spirit and body.” Aeron could imagine the look Jaromir was giving Enna from the fear on her face. “Swear an oath to me, or die.”
Although Aeron didn’t know Enna that well he couldn’t help thinking that she would be willing to die, because of the oath she had sworn to their Queen, and if that happened he didn’t know if Jaromir would accept anyone else’s. Fear had filled the room as the entire group stared between the dragon they had created and the fae chosen to be in charge of creating him. In an attempt to stay as calm as possible Aeron nibbled his bottom lip, trying to work out what Enna was actually going to do. Malina seemed willing to swear an oath to Jaromir if it was going to save her life, but Malina was a very different person to Enna, and if Aeron had to choose one of them he would follow Malina. Dying for his Queen when it had been her stupid idea to create the dragons in the first place wasn’t an option he was willing to pick.
Jaromir looked around the room. The longer he existed the more connected he became to the body that they had made him. When his eyes met with Aeron’s, even though it was only for a moment, it seemed as though there was regret in them. For some reason the dragon regretted the choice they were being forced to make, which turned Aeron’s thoughts to the souls they had created and how they might come to evolve if they were within in the jars. He brushed a hand through his hair, trying to remember what he had read about the process they had used, doing his best not to stare at the jars, just in case. If, for any reason, the jars hadn’t been sealed properly, there was a chance that the souls could have evolved within them, and they wouldn’t have needed that long. At least he thought he’d read that, somewhere.
‘Would you rather die than swear an oath to me?’ a voice asked, startling Aeron as he realised it was coming from Jaromir and going straight into his mind. The dragons were, apparently, telepathic, but that wasn’t an ability they’d been given by the fae. ‘I don’t know what kind of King I am going to be, but I would do my best to be good to all of my subjects, whether they are Dragon or fae.’
“Enna,” Aeron said, almost surprising himself, “this is not a decision only you can make. We all worked to create Jaromir, so we all have a right to have some say in what happens next. You may be willing to die for an oath we swore to a Queen who has put us in this difficult position, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are.”
Enna stared at him, looking as though she was just as surprised as he was that he’d said something. “The Queen asked me to be in charge.”
“Yes, she did, but that doesn’t mean you’re in charge of my life.” He shook his head. “As you were in charge you should have checked that all of the jars were correctly sealed, because I don’t believe they were.”
“Does that matter?”
For a moment all Aeron could do was stare at her. Had she truly walked into what they were doing without bothering to read anything that had been written during previous experiments? Raking a hand through his hair he shook his head. “Enna, how much do you know of what happened to other groups who made this decision?”
“I didn’t see any point in looking back. We’re doing something new, something different, and I wanted to come into this with no preconceived ideas of what was going to happen. That’s why the Queen chose me to be the one in charge of this.”
Silence followed her words. Aeron had no idea how to respond. “Then you’re an idiot.” Malina’s voice was full of scorn, and that was something he never thought he would hear coming from her. “Not having those ‘preconceived ideas’ is the reason we’re in this mess in the first place.” As he turned to look at her she was shaking her head. “I will not let your decisions kill me, Enna.”
“There is nothing you can say that will stop me.” Malina turned to Jaromir. “I swear an oath to you, Jaromir, King of the dragons, that I will be true to your word, and your word only.” It was possible to see the magic that was swirling around her, and Aeron, his heart beating a hundred times faster than normal, could only hope she was right about the dragon King being stronger than the fae Queen. “Any oath I have made before is now void.”
As more magic swirled around her Aeron couldn’t help thinking the oath wouldn’t work, but then it settled. When it settled he knew the King was stronger, and he found himself kneeling before he’d even thought about what he was doing, the words Malina had just said leaving his own lips. The others spoke with him. He heard voices he recognised merge with his, the magic touching all of them. He felt the old mark he had burned away by the magic, a new one replacing it, that meant he was now connected to the dragon King. Slowly, feeling a little more wobbly than he expected, he stood, a hand touching his arm as he did so.
“Be gentle with yourself to begin with. The King has a lot of power, and the oath was far stronger than the one we sword before.”
Nodding, Aeron looked at Malina. “Why did you say anything.”
“I wanted to live.” She shrugged. “That, to me, was far more important than any oath I swore, and having heard what Enna said I’m glad I made that choice. She should never have been chosen to lead us.”
Slowly, he turned to look at Enna. From what he could see she seemed to be the only one who wasn’t dealing with the after effects of swearing an oath to another King, and Jaromir, although he seemed a little unsteady on his new legs, was stepping towards her. “Your colleagues seem to have made their choice. I don’t want to kill anyone. This is not the choice I would have made. All I want is for my people to have their bodies.” He reached out a hand to gently touch her shoulder, and Aeron could only hope that he would be a good King. “Please don’t make the wrong decision.”
“You can’t say that I made the wrong decision, Your Majesty.” Enna bit her lip. “I would have liked for there to be some sort of compromise made, but I can see that it impossible, and as that’s the case…” Her voice trembled with fear. “I cannot swear an oath to someone who isn’t my Queen.”