Chapter One
    D arkness was a perpetual irritation, particularly for a creature like Kol. He was not only trapped in it, he was a part of it. For centuries he’d lived without light. The darkness of the temple he lived in was incidental compared to the inky black of the mood he’d wallowed in since the day the exit doors had slid closed, trapping him and his multitude of brethren inside to sleep for half a millennium.
    He’d lost count of the days since the light had gone out, but guessed it had to be close to the five centuries the dragons’ cycle of sleep should last. He could have done the math but didn’t care to. What purpose would it serve to mark time in such a place? Particularly when you were the only one awake.
    That wasn’t precisely true. They could all be conscious if they chose to be, but aside from himself and the Guardians, the others had a choice in their static jade forms to sleep through the centuries. For the first week he’d heard the others in his mind, speaking in subdued voices. Gradually the voices had grown fewer and fewer as they’d succumbed to sleep, until only his twin siblings had been awake, trying to bolster his mood as always. We love you, Kol. We know it’s an honor to be chosen for your job. We’d do it in a heartbeat.
    Finishing each other’s sentences, Aurin and Aurik were as oblivious to Kol’s demons as they were to their own strange and shifting symmetry. The two of them reminded him of a gyroscope. As long as their balance of power exchange remained, he believed the Earth probably still maintained its axis. If Aurin and Aurik ever faltered, then Kol would worry about the fate of dragonkind.
    In spite of their sentiments, they never would have been chosen for his job. The job of Shadow was only for a black dragon like him. Brilliant gold as the twins were, they were better suited for uplifting humanity than skulking around in the dark.
    Skulking was something he was good at, and had been even before doing it for five hundred years. Technically, he was asleep. At least his body was. But his magic, unique to black dragons, allowed him to manifest through his breath. While his physical body slept on, frozen in black jade, the shadow of his breath coalesced into a smaller, human form and lurked about the temple like a ghost, ensuring the security of all who slept within.
    Tedious, monotonous, dreary, boring—he could think of so many other terms to describe his job. Dragon law dictated that a Shadow watch over the brood each cycle, and he’d been chosen for this one. Though he was not precisely chosen so much as compelled. True, he was probably the best candidate for the position, but traditionally potential Shadows were given a choice because of the psychological strain it took. He was the first one who’d been compelled to do it as a penalty for poor behavior.
    He chuckled to himself at that. Speak out against the council’s outdated ideals and get shoved in a dark prison. Granted, he’d have been here anyway, but at least he could have slept through the whole ordeal and let one of the others like him do the job.
    He’d undeniably broken the rules, as archaic as they were. Willfully broken the rules, the council had said when he stood before them on the eve of his sentence. As if the heart knew anything beyond what made it beat.
    Generations had passed since. The lover he’d accepted the sentence for was long dead, but the certainty didn’t help quell the excitement that welled in him knowing how close they were to the end of their confinement. What would he find on the outside? Dragon lore only spoke of vast changes in each cycle, but they were an infinitely adaptable race. Would he look for her? Her descendants? He suddenly wished fervently that he’d had the foresight to mate with her before they’d been parted. He’d already broken one rule by falling in love with her, why not one more by getting her with child? Oh, would that have left the council in a bind

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