Copyright © 2016, MIsha Paige
I lunged to protect Alaric as he stood helpless in human form, unable to shift because of the eggs he carried. His mates, Josiah and Krystos, battled fiercely as the three of us tried to shield him from our attackers. Bane had erected a ward to protect himself and Galen while his mate, Jaden, the high priest of Drakos, fought at our side. His missing left hind leg did not lessen the skill with which he battled.
Krystos faltered for a brief moment when a tail caught him in his face, leaving him vulnerable to the two enemies he faced. I shoved my way in front of him, intending to strike at the threat only to feel a blinding agony in my belly as a claw sliced deeply across me.
A killing wound.
I lashed out one last time and managed to inflict a blow to my killer right before I lost my dragon and returned to my human form. There was only one thought in my mind, in my heart.
I had to see him one last time.
Darkness was encroaching my vision, but I still swung my head, only to see Bane standing alone.
Oh gods, where was he? Had he fallen as I protected another, believing him to be safe behind the ward?
I saw the dragon before me rear up, intending to finish me off, but I did not care. If Galen was gone then I had no desire to continue on. My sense of duty was not enough to hold me to this life if I had failed to protect the one person I should have put first.
As the dragon came down, the earth in front of me exploded as Galen himself rose up, slicing a fatal blow up the dragon’s torso. Without pausing Galen fell onto me, his arms clutching me tightly as everything went dark and he took me beneath the ground.
The motion of moving through the earth faded as I felt his body along mine. It was the first time he had been this close to me since I had found out the truth about the lynx that had been my constant companion for years. In the next moment I found myself lying on the grass as Galen bent over me, weeping as he tried to stop the bleeding. With the last bit of energy I possessed, I reached up to touch his wet cheek. “Shh. It is alright.” I wanted to say more. I needed to tell him I was sorry, for failing him, for denying him, that it had been because he could do so much better than a dragon who had no honor. My hand fell away as I tried to tell him, but I was only able to say his name as I felt myself fading. “Galen.”
He closed his oddly shaped eyes, one of the reminders he would always carry of his years trapped as a lynx, then they opened and power glowed from him. Determination and an aching love I had never deserved filled his gaze as he spoke. “This is my choice, Devros.” Then his palm covered my chest.
Fiery pain ignited in me and blinded my sight as I arched up under his hand. Gods, make it stop!
Then it did, as if my prayer had been answered.
Renewed life filled me once again and my arms automatically came up to catch Galen when his eyes closed and he collapsed.
“Galen?” What had he done? Had he somehow managed to heal me? Why was he so still? I sat up as carefully as I could and gently laid him out on the ground next to me. “Galen?”
At first I thought the red staining his homespun shirt was from my blood. Until I realized it was spreading.
Frantically I pulled his shirt up only to see a gaping wound across his belly, gushing blood and other things. In disbelief I touched my own stomach with a shaking hand, only to find it whole and unmarked. “Galen, what have you done?” Terror raced through me, and I pressed my hands to the wound, desperately trying to staunch the flow. “Galen, what do I do?”
I started to lift my gaze to implore him to undo this, to give me back the wound as I realized something.
The bleeding had stopped. But my joy turned to dread as I realized something else.
His chest was not rising.
His heart was not beating.
With a sense of horror, I looked up to his face to see his eyes, the slightly tilted green eyes staring into the sky with their elliptical irises fixed.
* * * *
My own scream woke me from the all too familiar nightmare as I lunged up from my bedroll. I struggled to breath, taking great gasps of shuddering breath as I repeated in my mind.
Only a dream, it was only a dream. He lives. I got him the healing potion in time.
But I could not escape the feel of his blood on my hands. Even though I could see they were unsoiled in the light of the full moon, I still smelled it in the air. I could still feel the stickiness on my hands.
My hands are clean. There is nothing there.
But, still, I stumbled over to the stream by my campsite and scrubbed at my hands until they were nearly raw. With a shuddering breath I rubbed my face then I checked the night sky to find only a few hours had passed since I had lain down. Mayhap four hours at the most, which was more than I had been able to slumber last night before the nightmare had woken me. With a weary sigh I started to pack my meager belongings. I knew from bitter experience that I would not be able to sleep again this night.
It had been weeks since Galen had disappeared, determined to protect those he cared about from the evil that hunted him. Perhaps I should have asked Pyrrhos more about Galen’s father before leaving, but all I had known was that he was leaving me behind.
It had never occurred to me that it would be difficult to find him. He was witch, not dragon, so even if he traveled through the earth with his magic, I should have been able to track him by scent when he surfaced and overtake him in flight.
I had been sorely mistaken and could only berate myself over my arrogance.
Once again I had lost his trail and had depended on the nebulous connection between us to lead me in his direction. It had worked well enough over the last month that I had been able to find faint traces of his scent each time I lost it, but before it had only taken a day or two before I had found a trace of his scent.
This time, however, it had been nearly a week.
It would be far easier to track him in my dragon form but I resisted the urge to pull the magic to me and shift. It had been almost three weeks since I had left Pyrrhos’ lands. I stayed in human form because it was easier to stay undetected; if I was found it would be a violation of my king’s treaty with the human ruler.
I should not have followed Galen onto the human lands for I risked execution. Pyrrhos could offer recompense for my trespassing in exchange for leniency, and I knew he would try. But that was only if he was notified before I was killed.
That would not be likely even if I had always had been in good standing with the human king, Galorian.
It was an ill-advised, foolhardy gamble to track Galen across human lands and he had known this when he had chosen his path. It had nearly killed me to realize he had done it because he never once thought I would take such a risk.
Not for him, because… had I not told him as much?
Devros, are you going to claim me?
My jaw clenched as I remembered the pain in his eyes when he had seen the answer I could not speak aloud in my eyes. The memory was so vivid that I had to wipe a tear from my eye once again as I faltered in shame. Pushing it aside, I took a deep breath to focus on my task when I caught it.
Rich earth, a bite of iron mixed with wildflowers.
Thank the gods!
I breathed deeply, pinpointing the direction, and this time, when my mind played back the memory, I answered as I should have done then.
Yes, Galen, I will.
* * * *
I looked back over my shoulder in the direction of the mountain dragon lands once again even as the forest I was trudging through hid them from my sight. It was painful to push the need to return to Devros aside as I did a myriad of times every day. While witches did not suffer from mating heat like the dragons did, we felt the pain of separation just as keenly. It just did not drive us mad.
Not by the force of the bond anyway.
However, my own aching heart might make me just as crazed.
For decades I had been at Devros’ side nearly every day. Ensnared by a spell of my own making, I had been trapped as a lynx in body, but never in thought or heart. I had recognized him as my mate from the first moment I had seen him while he had only been bemused by the cat that became his constant companion.
For all that time I had helplessly watched the danger and pain Devros had put himself through out of a sense of honor to his king.
And to seek forgiveness for a wrong he held himself responsible for.
My chest ached with the need to turn back, but I had to face my past before I tried to win my mate from his. If I lived, that is.
The power to travel in the earth was beyond a rarity. In fact, I was the only living witch to have ever been born powerful enough to do could so without help from another’s magic. When I had shown off my ability to my father at four years old, I had only hoped to win approval from the man who was a distant parent at best. I had been young, but as I saw the triumph and calculating hunger in his eyes I had felt a chill race through me.
My mother’s gasp of horror had confused me even more.
A month later, she had bundled my infant sister and I up in the dead of the night. What had followed next was a blur of running and hiding as she took us to the mountain dragons. It had been a desperate gamble that had not succeeded. Kurgan had been king and he had granted us sanctuary so he could use my mother’s power as a strong water witch to increase the control he wielded over his land.
Each clutch occupied mountains that had natural springs, used for drinking and other daily needs.
How could a clutch stand against a king who could order their water supply taken away? With her magic, my mother could block the source of a spring or well. When they ran out the clutch would have to submit to whatever price Kurgan deemed necessary to have their water returned.
My mother had leveraged her own conscience to hide me from my father. And this time I had known to hide just how powerful I became even if I had not been able to hide it in its entirety. But it had not stopped Kurgan from taking a knife to my sister’s throat and forcing me to cast a curse on my closest friend, his own son, Pyrrhos.
In desperation I had tied myself to the curse, to make sure I would be there if there was ever a chance to break it. I had known that all magic, especially black magic, has a price, usually pain for one who casts it. However, the gods must have been laughing that day, for later that night I had been transformed into a lynx.
I had only been able to watch from the shadows as events played out over the decades.
Kurgan had known that Pyrrhos would have challenged for leadership as soon as he was of age so he had hoped to prevent it. The curse was simple. If Pyrrhos won a challenge against Kurgan, then Pyrrhos would have to choose between his life or that of his mate.
The moment a dragon finds his mate a process is started. Over many months, sometimes years, the mating heat will build, the hunger and need slowly eroding control and sanity if a claiming is not performed. While the curse had prevented Martel from knowing his mate, Pyrrhos had recognized him immediately. He had chosen to stay away from Martel to protect him from Kurgan.
Then Martel had forced Pyrrhos’ hand by refusing the order to punish another dragon by slaying his child. Kurgan had brought Martel before the court, intending to kill him as an example, only for his son to kill him in a challenge.
Pyrrhos had suffered as my curse slowly drained him of life over years, only the fact that he was dragonborn enabling him to last long enough until Martel had finally broken it.
Then—due to the magic tie I had bound myself with—I had returned to human form in time to try to save Pyrrhos from the backlash of all the power the curse had taken from him.
A wave of exhaustion nearly took me to my knees. I needed to sleep, but the dreams made me afraid to. Nightmares where I was too late to save Devros from the injury I had taken to myself. Other ones that were more memories. Arman, the bastard son of Kurgan, had truly taken after his father in the way he enjoyed giving pain. He was obsessed with stealing the throne from Pyrrhos so Devros had acted as spy. I had helplessly watched Devros suffer under Arman’s hands as his bedmate and lackey, unable to do anything more than hiss and claw until I was kicked and tossed from the room.
At times I had hated Pyrrhos for what had been done to my mate, but I knew that he had tried to convince Devros not to do it no matter that the information was needed. In fact, when Pyrrhos had understood just what Devros had been suffering he had ordered him not to.
Devros had ignored his king, the one time he had ever defied Pyrrhos.
Gods! Why was this all crowding in my mind right now? I needed to focus. If I did not find a way to clear my mind and rest, I would be no match for my father. Looking up to the sky I realized it was nearly dusk. It was probably best if I found a safe place to bed down for the night.
And please, Hecate, my goddess, let me find peace this night.
But I heard a whistle in the air right before a dart pierced my shoulder and knew it was not meant to be.
* * * *
A finger traced down my spine, leaving a trail of pleasure as it wandered lower, teasing the crease between my buttocks. My eyes flew open as I rolled over to see Galen grinning at me.
“I was beginning to think you would never wake.”
I raised my hand to brush at his hair, the blond and grey striped strands soft to the touch. I threaded my fingers through the flowing locks. “You should have tried harder.”
With a snort of laughter, Galen shoved me onto my back, his lean, naked body luminous in the moonlight as he straddled my thighs. “Speaking of hard—” His hand cupped my ballocks, pulling strongly enough to make my stiff cock jerk upwards.
A low moan escaped me.
He grinned wickedly, his cat eyes gleaming as he moved up my body until he could slide his erection against mine. His hands braced against my chest as he moved in a slow, sinuous rhythm that had me drowning in pleasure.
Unable to keep myself still, I grasped the back of his neck, pulling him down, so I could take his mouth in a tender kiss. Licking delicately at his warm, soft lips, until he opened and I could slip inside his mouth. Our tongues tangled together as our cocks rubbed against each other harder until I was near to begging.
He pulled away, just far enough to stare down into my eyes. The passion in his gaze faded as the smile disappeared. His voice turned serious as the back of his fingers grazed my cheek. “If you want me you are going to have to take me.”
I looked up at him, my eyes wide as I stammered. The somberness in his gaze had a hard knot forming in my belly. “W—hat?”
As the world darkened, Galen’s features disappeared, and the only thing I could see in the growing blackness was his shining eyes. “Will you fight for me, Devros?”
I tried to catch him to me as his voice grew fainter. “Galen!”
“Will you fight for me?”
“Galen!” My own shout woke me from the dream as I grabbed for a man who was not there.
I did not even consider sleeping again. There was an urgency screaming through my mind, and I had to find him. It made no sense, but I knew he needed me. Hurriedly, I packed my things and prayed to my god and Galen’s goddess. “Please, Drakos, Hecate. Help me find him!”
As soon as I stood a breeze brought me his scent, stronger than I had ever smelled before. “Thank you.” I took off in a dead run.
And tried to not think of metallic edge to his scent that made me remember his blood coating my hands.