Title: Dragon Marked
Author: Amy B. R. Mead
Genre: Dark Epic Fantasy

Prologue: The Dragons

She was strong, in a world that required cunning and cruelty. Alone, in a place where every ally was an enemy.

Rakaia lived as a lion among wolves, a predator of predators and ally of none.

She was strange, unnerving and not beautiful; the angles of her face and body too sharp, her movement too alien. Her eyes shone like a beast's, barely betraying glimpses of humanity in the moments when her guard dropped. When Rakaia hunted, no one could have said what creature stalked the high moors. She was close to no one. No one trusted her, and she had yet to meet anyone worthy of hers.

The mark she had been born with – the dragon coiled above her heart – pulsed with life; his slow, powerful heartbeat pounding dissonantly with her own. He was her only constant companion; even if she had detested him, he was a part of her. He knew her mind as no one else could. She had never trusted another, but he, whose life had bound itself to hers, would never betray her.

Trust would change her forever.

They were Arolan royalty, in a family targeted by betrayal and lies. Twin princes, alone but for one elder sister and the father whose life-mate had perished with her last son's birth. The child, Kander, barely reached the age of thirteen before an assassin's arrow found his heart.

Riyin was first-born of the twins, and slight, even waifish in his slender body and limbs. He possessed little strength, but in words he had power. His pale eyes were striking, and he chose to sing with birds rather than squabble with the nobles in his father's court.

His brother Liren was sharp-eyed as a forest cat, strong and quick. Lean muscle moved smoothly beneath golden skin when he hunted, silent as could be on the forest floor. In every way he was his brother's opposite but for the love each held for the other's voice, his presence, his companionship. While apart, Liren was quiet, Riyin gentle. Only with each other could Liren speak his mind and Riyin reveal the fierce, angry thoughts that roiled beneath his soft voice.

Riyin was a warrior in a frail vessel.

Liren was a philosopher who would never find the words.

The only thing they had in common lay on Riyin's left shoulder and coiled around Liren's neck.

Sleeping twin dragons danced across their skin.

They were sisters, wandering homeless in a place where protecting each other's backs was the only way to survive.

Luria was a fierce, savage warrior, merciless and powerful. She welcomed the rush of battle, laughing as she fought; a ferocious, efficient executioner who left no foe alive.

Rillian fought as quietly as she lived. Her face never once changed expression no matter how wild the fighting became. Her simple daggers were deadly in her capable hands, skills tempered for years in the forge of experience. Younger than her sister's score of years by seven, she nonetheless proved herself just as lethal as her mirror image. Underestimating her had led several to death.

Neither could trust another. Their world did not allow it. They lived alone, fought alone, and neither could predict any change in the endlessly repeating routine.

The dragons on their skin – stretched along Luria's jaw and twisting around Rillian's wrist – called for blood, thirsting for it.

The sisters believed, mistakenly, that their scattered battles sated the beasts' bloodlust.

He was a healer in Arra, a small town where even good magic was feared.

His powers had manifested at the age of seven, and had only grown stronger, even as fear of him grew.

Kirical embodied mystery in a world where mystery defined fear. Disowned by scattered family, he wandered wherever he could, though he never left the little town for long. He had nowhere else to go, and he wanted to do what good he could manage; no matter how his magic frightened those it saved.

The mage could defend himself, but he was no fighter, and his gentle nature left nearly all of his opponents to escape with their lives.

Only one part of him displayed malice, and only rarely did it take over his actions.

The black dragon circled his right eye, whispering fury in his ear.

They were the Dragon Marked – almost human, but not quite. They were called by the serpents bound within them – called to each other, and to the Gate.