The Dragon Lords: False Idols


By Jon Hollins

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Guardians of the Galaxy meets TheHobbit in this rollicking fantasy adventure series.

The Dragons who once ruled over the land are dead.
The motley crew that stumbled through that revolution are rich and praised as saviors.

Everyone gets to live happily ever after, right?

Well, it might have worked out that way if the dragons in Kondorra had been the only ones. If they hadn’t been just the tip of the spear about to fall upon the whole world. . .





Big Thaumatobiologist on Campus

Quirkelle Bal Tehrin dreamt of fire. It kindled in her sleep, licked at the feet of her desires and fears, then rose—wings spreading—to the sky, tearing through her subconscious. It was a roiling ocean of flame, obliterating everything in its wake. She would come awake in the cot she kept in her garret above the Tamathian University, sheets soaked with sweat, her palm prints scorched into the sheets.

She had yet to work out if the racing of her heart was a symptom of terror or pleasure.

And yet, despite this confusion, there were some things Quirk was certain of in life. That she knew more about dragons than anyone else alive. That such knowledge made her position at the Tamathian University more secure than a princess’s chastity belt. And that the Tamarian Emperor’s palace was not quite as impressive as he thought it was.

She sat now at his dinner table, two seats away from the man himself, flanked by his daughter and the Empress.

The Emperor was a small man, in his late fifties, balding, and with his remaining hair cropped to short gray stubble. He was wreathed entirely in gold. Great swirls of fabric encircled his arms, his torso. A great gold neckpiece—that probably weighed almost as much as the birdlike Empress—wreathed his neck. His deeply lined face, emerging from its depths, appeared somewhat inadequate in comparison. Religious iconography dangled from him. A medallion inscribed with the scepter of Lawl, king of the gods, bobbled over the neckpiece. The open palm of Klink, god of commerce, was etched into his broad earrings. The wheat sheaves of Toil, god of fertility and the field, was upon his rings.

He had invited her here, as was now his weekly custom, to dine with his family, several highly esteemed courtiers, and a smattering of visiting dignitaries. At first she had served more as a conversation piece than as a source of conversation. Still, over time she had managed to become something much more integral to the gatherings.

At that precise moment, his eminence was attacking a small roast partridge and coming off the worst of the two combatants. More than once he had needed to signal for a bodyguard to throw an elbow into his sternum so he could hawk up whatever bone had lodged in his throat. On the plus side, he had not yet called for the beheading of the chef. He knew now that Quirk did not like that.

“So,” the Emperor said around a mouthful of gristle, pointing a partridge thigh at her like a miniature rapier. “What is it that you make of this business with the elven king?”

Quirk felt thirty pairs of eyeballs come to rest on her. Nobles, lords, ladies, the Emperor’s cousin, two of his bastard children, three ambassadors, and a visiting dignitary from Verra. They all watched her and they waited.

The truth was, of course, that her limited knowledge of the world made her woefully inadequate to answer the question. She had, for most of her life, lived in seclusion, first as the personal weapon of a murderous demigod, and then as a hermitlike academic lost in the warrenlike tunnels of the Tamathian University. The one time she had ventured out into the world she had witnessed the death of seven dragons and just over ten thousand of the inhabitants of Kondorra. It was not a period in her life she would necessarily describe as successful.

And yet, they all waited. They all wanted to know what the world’s leading thaumatobiologist and expert on dragons would say.

She wondered if any of them had actually read her papers. Had attended her lectures. She could not imagine the Chancellor of the Exchequer really getting to grips with the inner workings of Varanus draconis’s digestive tract. He was having enough trouble getting anything other than alcohol into his own.

On such things, she thought, the fate of nations fall.

The specific matter the king was referencing was the death of a white hart at the hands of several of his huntsmen. The hart had wandered from the forests of the Vale—which the Elven Court claimed as their own—and into the path of the several huntsmen looking for boar in the Emperor’s abutting forest. Not being the sort of men to question providence when it stood in the way of a full purse, the huntsmen promptly shot the hart, skinned it, and sold the hide for a profit that would make even a city merchant blush. Which was all well and good until the elven king delivered a message stating that the hart was his sovereign property, that the huntsmen were thieves, and that unless they were handed over to him for execution, the consequences would be dire.

Well … that was if she paraphrased the specifics of the elven dialect. More directly the message had read: “So-called Emperor of the so-called empire of Tamar: give me the round-ears who stole my hart, or I shall come and fuck you. His highest eminence, master of the bowstring, slayer of the round-ears, commander of the Vale forces, fine-aspected Todger IV.”

“Well,” Quirk said, as delicately as it was possible to, “given the tone, and content of the letter, I do not honestly believe that King”—she hesitated—“Todger,” she managed as gracefully as she could, “should be entertained in this manner. And furthermore, I do not believe that he can necessarily follow up on his threat to, erm”—she hesitated over this one—“to violate you.”

“So screw him,” said one of the nobles, and brayed with laughter. Several other followed suit. There was much stamping of feet, and pounding of golden goblets on the red velvet tablecloth.

Quirk winced, and not just because she was being reminded of the red velvet tablecloth. Sometime she really did need to speak to the Emperor about that particular detail. She raised a delicate finger to indicate that she was not quite done.

“However,” she said, but no one was listening anymore.

The Emperor coughed loudly. All noise stopped. All attention returned to the richest, most powerful man in the room. He glared around at them, then looked back to Quirk. “You were saying?” he said.

Small he might be, but it was rumored that the Emperor had personally throttled two assassins after they had killed the rest of his personal guard.

“However,” Quirk said again, “there doesn’t seem to be much point in purposelessly angering King … Todger. And while he cannot … violate anyone here, his forces can certainly make things difficult for your border patrols, and nobody wants to actually go to war with the elves.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” said one lord, who then seemed to realize people could hear him.

“Truly, Lord El Sharred?” said the Emperor. He had a harsh, nasal voice. “You would like to take your cavalry into thick forest, and have arrows rained down upon you, while you chased men who disappeared like ghosts among the branches?”

Lord El Sharred appeared to vacillate momentarily between whether he should capitulate to his lord’s greater wisdom, or if he should attempt to preserve face in front of his peers. He chose wrong.

“We should burn the place down around their ears,” he said defiantly.

There was more pounding of goblets. The Emperor rolled his eyes. Quirk smiled at him. A question about fire, she could answer.

“Have you ever tried to burn living wood, Lord El Sharred?” she asked. “To be honest, I doubt you’ve even tried to burn dry wood. You have people to do that for you, after all.” She smiled sweetly and watched as the insult passed over the man’s head. “Living wood does not burn like the fire in your hearth at home. It is slow, and smoky, and reluctant. If you were able to get one tree to burn before the elves turned you and your men into novelty pincushions, I would count you very good at your job.”

Now finally the Emperor laughed. And when he laughed, everyone laughed. Even Quirk. Lord El Sharred turned very red, and nodded, and managed a quick “I daresay I am” before retreating to his goblet.

“As ever,” said the Emperor once the general mirth had died down, “you have proven yourself of greater wisdom and experience than many of the men who sit here, Professor Bal Tehrin. I ask again, and pray that you can answer without interruption, what would you advise?”

“Merely to send him ten of our own harts, slain, and ready for roasting so that he may feast at our expense. Lives will be spared, and honor will be satisfied.”

The table held its collective breath as the Emperor considered this. Finally he clicked his fingers. Instantly a servant was at his side, eyes angled obsequiously low.

“Tell the huntsmen to kill ten harts and prepare them for delivery to King Todger along with a message expressing my deepest regrets at the unfortunate situation.”

The servant nodded and backed away. The Emperor picked up the last of his partridges, looked at it distastefully, and cast it over his shoulder. “Let’s just get to the gods-hexed dessert, shall we?”

This time no one disagreed.

After the meal there was of course music, and dancing, and the overwhelming desire to get away.

Quirk knew well that it was an honor to be invited to the Emperor’s palace so frequently. She was aware that many looked upon her with envy, if not outright jealousy. She knew that she ate here better than she could ever hope to eat at the university, and that her opinions could have significant sway in the way the country was run. But she also knew that what she truly desired was a quiet night with her scrolls, and her notes, and a full pot of ink.

Unfortunately, though, the visiting Verran dignitary had managed to trap her in a corner. What was worse, he seemed willing to keep her there—by force if necessary—until she managed to vomit up an opinion on his proposed trade agreement.

“But, don’t you see,” he pressed, “that a two-point-six percent reduction in the import surcharge on Verran cotton could significantly change the landscape of the entire textile export industry here?”

“No,” said Quirk, who was by now well past the point of pretending polite confusion.

“Oh,” said the dignitary with a genial grin, “then I better explain again.”

Quirk wondered if the Emperor’s favor would be enough to acquit her of murder. Then she reminded herself she was a pacifist.

A pacifist partly responsible for the death of seven dragons and approximately ten thousand inhabitants of Kondorra …

Fortunately, just as the Verran was sucking in a lungful of air that would put a foundry bellows to shame, a disturbance at the stairs distracted him. He turned around, and virtually squealed with pleasure. “It’s here!” he told her, a grin spreading across his face like a wine stain across a tablecloth, and he skittered away.

“Your eminence!” the dignitary called to the Emperor, in breach of all kinds of decorum. “Your eminence! It’s arrived!”

The Emperor squinted at the Verran. Quirk didn’t think much for the chances of his trade accord.

Four servants were shuffling down the stairs, staggering under the weight of some vast burden shrouded by a purple sheet. They just about made it down to the ballroom floor, stumbled right three paces, then set their burden down with a crash.

“Careful, you dolts!” hissed the Verran.

The Emperor rolled his eyes.

The Verran struck a pose of significant pomposity beside the shrouded bundle. It was almost as tall as he was. Asymmetrical protrusions thrust out, lumpen beneath the folds of fabric.

“May I present to you,” he said in grandiose tones, “a token of Verra’s esteem.” He bowed deeply.

He meant a bribe, of course. I give you this, and in return can you make it cheaper for me to import my cotton? And let’s neither of us talk about the large number of cotton plantations that I have back in Verra, and instead pretend this is for the good of all.

The one good thing about the Emperor’s gaudy display of wealth, Quirk thought, was that it reassured her that he would be very difficult to bribe.

The Verran tugged on the curtain shrouding the object. It got stuck on one of the protrusions. He yanked again. There was a ripping sound, the snap of fabric pulling taut, and then the sound of the Verran stamping his foot. He heaved again, realized it wasn’t going to work, and went to fix the snag. His smile had become something of rictus. Finally he worked everything free, tugged again, and revealed the …

What word best summed it up?


“May I present to you,” said the Verran dignitary, with another deep bow, “The Conception of Cois.”

The statue—cast in gold—depicted Lawl, king of the gods, lord of law and order, bending his son Toil over, and plowing him like a field. So, the popular legend went, Toil—god of fertility and the field—became pregnant with his father’s seed, and later gave birth to the hermaphroditic god(dess) of love, Cois. A burst of pearls where the two deities conjoined graphically indicated that this was indeed the exact moment of conception.

Love, lust, violence, betrayal, and rape, all wrapped up in a tasteless, ostentatious display of wealth and power. Quirk supposed it was as relevant a way to attempt to seal a trade agreement as any other that had occurred to her.

She, along with the others, had just turned to see the Emperor’s reaction to this masterwork of depravity when their collective silence was shattered by the sound of slow hand claps coming from above.

Every eye turned.

A man stood at the top of the stairs that slowly swept new arrivals down into the ballroom. He wore a simple but voluminous brown robe, the hood pulled back to reveal a bald head and a face lined like a cartographic map. His skin bore a dark tan, but he still seemed pale among the sea of Tamarians. He wore gold earrings, and a sinuous curving tattoo unfurled over his forehead, coming to a point between his eyes. The Emperor’s guards flanked him, but instead of appearing confined, the man stood as if he were the one in command.

Quirk’s childhood at the hands of the barbarous demigod Hethren had bred into her an immediate and violent suspicion of all strangers. As part of her long rehabilitation, she had learned to push that suspicion away just as instinctively. And yet, looking at this man, she found she did not like him.

“What is the meaning of this interruption?” snapped the Emperor, though Quirk suspected he was as glad as any of them for a chance to ignore the Verran dignitary.

The court marshal bustled forward, looking harassed and put out. “My most sincere and humble apologies, your eminence. May I present—”

But the man interrupted him. “I am Ferra, emissary of Diffinax, and I come to beseech your fine court.”


While Quirk would be the first to admit that there was still much about dragons that she had yet to learn, she knew enough to recognize one of their names when she heard one.

What sort of man would give himself a dragon’s name?

The sort of man, she supposed, who would have an emissary who thinks it’s all right to burst into an emperor’s ballroom and interrupt a private dinner.

But Ferra was still talking, even as he started down the stairs, the court marshal flapping ineffectually in his wake.

“And I see,” the emissary continued, “that I arrive only just in time. I arrive as the filth, the depravity, the chaos of the so-called pantheon attempts to worm its sordid fingers around your heart more tightly. I arrive as your senses are assaulted and insulted by this …” He paused mid-stride to regard the Verran dignitary’s sculpture with a look of disgust that bordered on hatred.

Obscenity, Quirk filled in silently.

“Vileness,” said Ferra.

Impertinent ass, he might be, Quirk thought, but I can’t question his taste in art.

The Verran dignitary had different ideas, however. “Who are you?” he spat. “How dare you enter here—”

“How dare you?” Ferra spat back. “How dare you hold up this wantonness, and worship it? How dare you call this desecration sacred? How dare you insult this man, this emperor, by telling him this is what he should emulate? Is this what you think of him? That he is a rapist? That he is a sodomizer? That he is the father of hermaphrodites?”

“Nothing wrong with a little bit of sodomy,” commented the Emperor’s cousin, with a shrug.

Ferra visibly twitched.

The Emperor, who had been watching with increasing interest, leaned forward, head cocked to one side. “And you,” he said, “you are one who would dare to speak for me? You are one to presume my opinions of sodomy and hermaphrodites?”

Quirk was almost completely sure that the word obsequious had never once entered Ferra’s mind. She was not disappointed.

“I am one,” he said, “who sees a man beset by a world of filth, a man born into a world of excrement. I see a man with the power to lift his people out of the slurry. I see a man who can elevate a whole world. I see a man Diffinax wishes to save.”

The Emperor leaned back. “So,” he said, with a slight curl of contempt to his lips, “you are a man who presumes to speak for a man who presumes I wish to be saved.”

“He presumes nothing,” said Ferra. “Whether or not you desire it or not, you need to be saved.”

“He dares presume my situation now?” The Emperor’s smile was spreading. Quirk, though, had the distinct impression that it was the smile a cat gave a mouse.

“He dares presume the situation of the whole world,” said Ferra without hesitation. “There is nothing he does not dare.”

The Emperor chewed on that like a mouthful of partridge bones.

Ferra was on the ballroom floor now, leaving the still-spluttering court marshal and Verran dignitary behind him.

“Your master is a daring man, it seems,” said the Emperor at last.

“My master,” said Ferra, with a smile to rival the Emperor’s, “is no man.”

And that brought a pause to the conversation. The Emperor was caught flat-footed, suddenly uncertain.

As she spoke, Quirk thought her voice sounded small and timid in the large room. “Diffinax,” she said, “is a dragon’s name.”

Ferra turned to her, and graced her with a smile as thin as a stiletto blade. “Quirkelle Bal Tehrin,” he said to her. “Your reputation precedes you.”

Inhaling seemed to take forever.

The Emperor looked at them both, back and forth, hesitated, then chose to address Ferra. “Your master, is he a dragon?” He did not sound tentative. Recent years of bloody civil war had ensured that no emperor of Tamar would dare show temerity for generations to come. But neither did he sound anxious to know the answer.

“My master,” said Ferra, yanking his attention away from Quirk like a man twitching a blade out of a wound, “is the solution to the madness of this world. My master is a balm to this world’s wounds. My master is the answer to all the prayers that the gods have ignored for too long. My master—”

“Your master is fire and domination.” Again, Quirk’s voice seemed too small in the large room. But she could see it in front of her. That ocean of fire that haunted her dreams, spreading across the world.

“My master,” said Ferra with savage intensity, eyes not leaving the Emperor for a second, “is peace. Long sought after. Long fought for.”

“He is a dragon,” the Emperor repeated, less of a question this time.

“He is many things. One of them is a dragon.”

There was a quiet gasp from the assembled nobles, all but forgotten in the heat of the exchange.

“Dragons kill,” Quirk said, quietly, almost to herself. “They dominate. Dragons are … no, cruel is not the word. That’s a human emotion, and they do not have those.”

She had interviewed hundreds of women and men who had lived under the rule of dragons in Kondorra. She had witnessed firsthand the squalor in which they had been forced to live.

Ferra shook his head. A look of something like sadness crossed his face. It seemed out of place on his harsh features. “Oh, Ms. Bal Tehrin, how misled you have been. How much you have led others astray. For what? Personal fortune? For the favor of powerful men?”

For a moment, Quirk truly did not understand what the man was saying. The implications were utterly foreign to her thoughts.

“You … I … What?” was all she managed.

“But how can I blame you,” said Ferra, voice dripping with false pity, “when all the gods in the heavens themselves do is mislead us? When no one sets a better example? When you have not yet accepted the wisdom of Diffinax into your life and your soul?”

“These,” said the Emperor as Quirk still reeled, “are serious accusations.”

Ferra waved a hand dismissively. “I do not deal in accusations. Diffinax has taught me to be above such things. I deal in truths. I deal with the world as it is, not how I wish it to be. I see it, accept it, and I question, what will change truly require? How can I leave a legacy of change? How can I make the people look up and remember me with love?”

It was shameless pandering. It was a low, craven pantomime of political seduction. And from the look upon the Emperor’s face, Quirk could see it was working.

“You think I am here for fame?” she said. It was not the right way for her to start her argument, but she could not help herself. Ferra’s accusation was too brazen, too false to ignore.

Ferra finally turned to look at her. His look was one of utter contempt. “I truly do not care why you are here, Quirkelle Bal Tehrin. Maybe it is for the self-aggrandizement. Maybe it is so you can feel superior to your colleagues. Maybe it is so you can impress some dark-eyed student with tales of the Emperor’s table. Maybe it is simply that you enjoy the food. All I know, all I care for, are the lies you use to poison the Emperor’s ear, to keep him turned from the truth and the light of Diffinax.”

Quirk almost laughed in the man’s face. “I do not beg him to worship a dragon, and therefore I am the one clouding his vision?”

Ferra’s mouth twisted in a smile. “And you ask nothing of him? You do not try to steer him toward one course of action over another? You do not stand there and try to use your influence to turn him away from my master?”

“I try to turn him away from enslaving himself to the teachings of an inhuman beast with a psychotic desire for power and wealth.”

She could, she felt, go toe-to-toe with this man. He had caught her off guard at first, but he was as petty, and stupid, and poorly informed as all the other ambassadors and dignitaries, too caught up in his own agenda. He had caught the Emperor’s attention with his boldness, but she had long ago won the Emperor’s respect.

Ferra took a step toward her. It was a move designed to intimidate. Instead she stepped toward him, closed the distance.

He leaned toward her, lowered his voice. “Did you tell him?” he asked. Almost conversationally. Almost intimately. She suppressed a shudder at the thought. “Did you tell him about how you came about your knowledge?”

“Everybody knows how—” she started, not seeing the angle of the attack, because everybody knew of how she had gone to Kondorra. It was why she was famous.

But Ferra continued. “Did you tell him of the people you burned? The women you left as widows? The children you left as orphans? Did you tell him of your dreams of fire?”

Quirk’s breath caught in her lungs. Suddenly the vast ballroom felt too small, too tight, everything pressing in on her.

An ocean of fire, spreading from horizon to horizon.

And no dragon stood at that ocean’s heart. She did. Flame poured from her hands. Her flames wiped men, and women, and children from the world. Her flames stripped the flesh from their bones.

She remembered a night in Kondorra, in a cave, standing before a dragon, flame streaming from her palms, and killing, and killing, and killing.

No. No, she had not told the Emperor about that. She had told no one about that. No one outside of her companions in Kondorra had known about that.

How in the Hallows had this man known that? This ugly, twisted, shit of a man.

“You want to burn me now, don’t you?” Ferra continued, his voice still lowered in that ugly parody of intimacy. “I know you do. I have spent my life with dragons. I know creatures of fire, Quirkelle Bal Tehrin. Part of you wants to watch us all burn.”

“No!” she shouted. She couldn’t help it. Because she had to. She had to deny it. She could never let herself acknowledge the fact that he was right.

The Emperor was staring at her. His Empress. His daughter. His court. All of them. Even poor, golden Toil—captured bent over and humiliated forever—was staring at her. All of them sharing that same look of horror. Because they knew. As soon as she had shouted they had known. She was a liar.

She turned and she ran.

She checked her flight at the palace gates. Servants were staring at her. Guards were looking around for some sign of disturbance. Her hands were smoking.

She breathed, long and shaky, pulling the chill night air into her, trying to get the coldness to sink into her core.

Arsehole. She couldn’t believe what she’d just let happen. But how had he known? How could he have known?

She should go back there. She should show him just how afraid she was of him.

She should make him burn.


She was too worked up, too close to the edge to plead her case tonight. She would only make things worse. She should go back to her garret, to her cot, to her papers, and her ink. She should find her calm again, her peace.

Be the surface of the lake. Tranquil. Unmoving. She ran through the old meditation techniques the priestesses of Knole—goddess of wisdom—had taught her.

She couldn’t even picture the gods-hexed lake right now.

With a grimace, she pushed out into the night.

The Tamathian University was a reassuring bricolage of stone, mortar, and wood all rammed together in a myriad of disparate architectural styles. Flying buttresses crashed into sterile cliffs of brick. The gentle curves of domes were punctured by angular spires of jutting stone. The gas-filled observatorium bobbed above the dining hall, caught in its mess of tethering ropes.


  • "Madcap, dark, and bloody... Fans of humorous fantasy will enjoy the outrageous yet cunning plot twists of this comedy with an edge sharp enough to cut dragon scales."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "Humorous and profane, False Idols tackles the dynamics of power and corruption from uniquely unglamorous angles as the core group of characters struggles to remove humanity from the grip of all masters, whether monstrous or divine."—Booklist
  • "Ideal for fans of humorous capers and heist stories - such as Ocean's 11, Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard Sequence series, and Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga."Booklist on The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold
  • "Hollins ladles on the humor while hardly skimping on the action, the unexpected plot swerves, or the glorious feels."—B&N on The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold
  • "Hollins's seat-of-the-pants fantasy comedy snowballs wildly into a glorious disaster of fire, magic, multiple threats to people's intestines, and fun -- for the reader, if not the characters."
    Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold
  • "Jon Hollins is a one of kind storyteller, a master of epic fun and nonstop action. Alas, since we both write humor-infused epic fantasy, this makes us natural enemies. Watch your back, Jon."—Nicholas Eames, author of Kings of the Wyld
  • "A chain mail-clad, sword-swinging heist caper brimming with blood, thunder, humor and heart."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Dale Lucas on The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold

On Sale
Aug 29, 2017
Page Count
640 pages

Jon Hollins

About the Author

Jon Hollins is a pseudonym.

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