If you've read Wyldwood Fate, you know that Nikki is present in the early chapters. But the story follows Omen and his group as they try to figure out the secrets of the ancient faerie castle.
What happens to Nikki?
Originally we were going to have these chapters be part of the book. But we realized that they were breaking up the flow of the main narrative. We dropped this storyline and continued with the main book. But the adventures of Nikki Deldano continued to poke at our minds. Eventually, we decided we'd sit down and start trying to figure out what exactly happened to Nikki.
We knew the beginning, and we knew the ending. What we didn't know was the part in the middle. That's what we're working on. We're going to continue writing this and share it with you as we finish each chapter. We plan on sharing one chapter a week -- Carol's health permitting.
Hope you enjoy the first chapter as Nikki Deldano starts a journey that is going to change the course of his life in Melia.
Circle Round The Carousel
Nikki Deldano finished his morning run as the sky began to change from velvet grey to soft pink. The young warrior paused — heart pounding in his chest — to watch as a great Sundragon launched from the Melian cliffs. The first rays of light caught the gold and sapphire blue of the mighty dragon's scales.
Soaring in from the city, another Sundragon guardian joined Frey's awe-inspiring sky dance. The second golden dragon was larger in size and wingspan. Rich garnet-red flashed from beneath his scales as he banked and spun.
Nikki had struggled to memorize the Hold dragons' identifying secondary colors during his first weeks in Melia, keenly aware that the knowledge was a given for every Melian child old enough to point to the sky.
I have a lot of catching up to do.
He'd been so overwhelmed by his new life and his new family that he'd counted himself lucky to remember his own name after being introduced to the dozens of family members and loyal servants who resided at the Deldano Hold.
He'd barely adjusted when his new younger siblings — the twins Tessleara and Chantor — had started introducing him to a parade of Melian friends, neighbors, acquaintances, favorite craftsmen, shop owners, scholars, tutors, librarians, and the entire roster of pets. Tess and Chant had relished their role as ambassadors, making him feel welcome into both the Deldano family and the tight-knit Melian community.
Kharakhian by birth, Nikki had gone from sole child of an unmarried mother to brother of a brood in a snap, but he couldn't yet think of himself as anyone's older sibling. Though I might be younger than Dari. She seems to be in her early twenties. He wasn't sure. But he felt it would be rude to ask, as it would be rude to question if there were more siblings. Does Beren have other children he doesn't know about? He didn't know about me. Until Grandma Kadana tracked me down.
After Kadana Deldano had liberated Nikki from his life of drudgery in Khreté, he'd followed Omen — another brother — across the Kharakhian continent on the adventure of a lifetime, and then to the fabled city of Ven'taria to battle stranger magic than he'd ever known existed.
Upon their return to Melia, Nikki felt mildly uncomfortable staying at the lavish Deldano Hold, though both his father and the gracious Lady Nekarra had made it clear that he was more than welcome to stay as long as he liked and that the Hold would be his home forever.
The splendor and wealth of the Deldano estate were difficult to comprehend. Nikki had served rich patrons, even helped cater events at the set-Manasan castle in Khreté, but the riches of the Kharakhian royal house seemed meager in comparison to what casually lay on display in Melia.
His own chamber was nearly the size of his mother's entire tavern, the room finely decorated in tasteful Melian furnishings and — what had to be priceless — art.
He'd been given to understand that he could do whatever pleased him, study with anyone he wanted, take up whatever hobby struck his fancy. There were no expectations, but the options constantly rolling toward him were overwhelming.
He'd sought refuge in the familiar surroundings of a local tavern, much brighter and happier than the one in which he had grown up. The Harps was a family-friendly place with delicious food and a never-ending lineup of musicians and singers who performed day and night throughout the year. He was working toward performing there himself, practicing the least ribald of the Kharakhian tavern songs he knew with some of his new friends.
He found the city of Melia breathtaking at every turn. And he constantly found new things to see — at the park, at the port, at the market, and in the many welcoming lyceums of learning and discussion. Of course, there was an abundance of festivals dedicated to song and music.
Nikki had finally memorized the names and colors of the Holds' Sundragons during the Winter Thaw festival, where all twelve had gathered in the park to sing the Song to Welcome the Dew.
Tess and Chant — still helping him adapt — had been kind enough to coach him through the ceremony and pointed out the Hold Lords, their dragons, and the names and stations of everyone in attendance.
Through this whirlwind of activity and information, one question continued to eat at him.
What am I going to do?
He'd never thought much about his path in life. His mother needed him to help run the Green-Eyed Monster. The tavern had been all the life he'd known, the several block area around the tavern his entire world. When visiting adventurers had spoken of their quests and feats beyond the walls of Khreté, he'd dreamed of life on the road. But one mention of his dreams had brought a rain of slaps and a litany of castigations from his mother.
"You will not become like your peacock of a father," she would rage. "You are nothing but a tavern boy. That is all you will ever be."
Nikki had put his head down and had never allowed himself to speak of his dreams again.
He'd let himself be made small. He'd let himself be only what his mother allowed.
But with one order and one bag of gold, his grandmother had changed all of that one day not so long ago.
"You're of age, of course; free to go where you will, but I hope you'll agree to come with us. Your mother has already given you leave to join us. If you're worried about her, you needn't be. I've given her enough gold to replace you with three more servants and a cook." Kadana's words were burned in his memory.
Nikki had felt elated then; now he felt both grateful and foolish.
I could have left at any time. I could have made my own way. What must Shalonie have thought of me? Why didn't I see it?
A whole new life had opened for him, and he'd tried to orient himself by the courage and ferocity of Kadana, Omen, Beren — all of whom he admired. He barely understood what motivated them. But he fully understood the moral center and devotion to art and beauty that drove the citizens of Melia.
I could do worse than being a Melian.
He felt that becoming a Melian was an honor he needed to earn. As he felt he had to earn the attention of the beautiful Melian scholar Lady Shalonie.
Nikki smiled as he turned back toward the city.
Maybe I'll run into her today.
He'd heard that the girl would be in attendance at a lecture on early Melian poetry at the garden academy.
I may have to stop by—
"Nikki! Nikki!" a high voice came from the top of a sand dune. In the distance, a tiny black cat slid from the mound of white sand and sparse grass.
Is that Oblique? He decided it had to be because Lady Kylee's little companion was the only coal-black talking cat he knew.
She ran toward him at impressive speed, kicking up the sand as she raced. Nikki realized that given her diminutive size, smaller than a tunnel rat, he had better meet the little feline halfway.
"Nikki! Nikki! Shalonie is needing you to finds the silverbells!" Oblique shouted in mid-sprint, her rolling accent as comical as that of Tormy and Tyrin but sweeter in tone.
"Shalonie needs something?" Nikki had to hear little more.
He'd stopped to face the kitten, but she continued her run at full speed, climbing up his pant leg and scaling his tunic to sit down on his shoulder with a soft plunk. "Shalonie is needing you to go to the Blue Wilds!" she screamed in his ear as if she were still on the other side of the beach.
Instinctively Nikki plucked the cat from his shoulder and held her in both hands, raising her to eye level.
"Where is Shalonie now?" He knew how easily the cats were carried away by even the hint of excitement and thought it best to go to the source.
"Shalonie is being at her Hold, but you is having to hurry." Oblique pawed at his thumb distractedly. "There is being a list, and you is not on it."
"Shalonie made a list of—"
"No, no." Her ears twitched. "Her mommy is making a list of the helpers. She is not knownings that you is needings to be on the top of the list."
"I suppose I could stop by—"
"You is not stoppings!" the little cat demanded. "You is runnings!"
And though his run was already done, Nikki had little choice but to set off for a second run that morning, carefully balancing Oblique on his shoulder.
"Woohoo! We is fasterest!" Oblique's voice rang loudly as they raced through the streets.
The little cat had given him scant information, but he sprinted as hard and as fast as his legs could carry him.
He couldn't be sure what Shalonie was up to, but he was absolutely certain that he would be at her side, no matter what lay ahead.
To be continued...