Dragongift: Chapter 21

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There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

The last word.


Twenty One
Promises

 Aquila

AFTER RACING UP to the top of the tower to see if his erstwhile prisoners had left anything incriminating behind, Yullik reached the tunnels a moment too late. An unknown Rider already lay in a pool of blood, eyes dull with death. Behind him stood the Dean of Aquila, bloodied, battered but still defiant. The sword in his hand was black with gore, the skin of both arms and his face blistered.

Seeing Yullik approach, a golden glow in the darkness, Marshall smiled grimly with the knowledge of how things would always be between them. “I would rather die free, than live in captivity,” he whispered, and struck before Yullik realised what he was about.

“No!” he roared, flinging his hands apart and forcing his kaz-naghkt aside in a burst of furious power. They cowered and screeched as he leapt past them to seize the dean.

Too late. The sword Marshall had pushed up beneath his own ribcage protruded from his back, the blade now glistening red.

Dean Marshall shuddered as he toppled into Yullik’s arms, the poisonous gore on the sword as potent as the blade itself. Blood bubbled on his lips as he gave a breathless laugh. “No surrender,” he whispered, and was gone from the world.

Torn between frustration, rage and envy, Yullik closed Marshall’s eyes and lowered him gently to the ground. “So you die as you lived,” he murmured. “A stupid noble bloody fool.”

“At least he’ll finally be of use.” Willym arrived, a little breathless, eyes alight at the death of his former superior – and one he’d tried and failed to kill before. “Your kaz-naghkt will feed well tonight.”

Snarling, Yullik indulged his temper with a lashing blow across the idiot’s face, the gold of his power sinking deep under Willym’s skin. “You know nothing of use. Be silent.”

Clutching his jaw, Willym panted against the pain and spat out a tooth. The gash on his cheek would mar his beauty forever. Yet when he looked up, his eyes shone with a feral light. “You will regret that.”

Yullik turned his back on the worthless pup, releasing a surge of light into the dean, slowly clenching his fists as he burnt the body to ash. “In a life as long as mine I have gathered many regrets,” he said softly. “You will never be among them.” His task complete, he turned and let Willym see the full measure of his contempt. “I do not waste my regrets on mewling weaklings. Go weep to your little pirate friends, false child, for I am done with you.”

And he left Willym bleeding in the dark, with a pile of ash and a cooling body, surrounded by a host of hungry kaz-naghkt.

The mountain shuddered as he stepped back inside the citadel, feeling the threat stirring in the dark. He sucked his power back beneath his skin and headed for his tower, already planning the defences he would need.

“Aquila is mine.”


The End.
For now anyway….

In the meantime – THANK YOU for reading! And sticking with it all the way to the end.
Usually I’d be back in a month, raring to begin the next book, but it’s NaNoWriMo next month and I’d really like to save all my energy for writing Wingborn book 5.

So, instead, I’ll be leaving this up for an extra month to let people read it before the ebook version comes out and this one vanishes. This will happen on the same day that Book 4, STORM WINGS, will begin: Friday 1st December.

I hope to see you then!

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Dragongift: Chapter 20, Part 3

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There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Penultimate update! The end is nigh!



Aquila

A SCREAM OF triumph sounded behind, answered by an agonised cry, and Mouse felt sick.

“We must not linger, sir,” Silveo said, reaching down to drag Mouse back to his feet, both gagging at the rotten scent filling the air. “We must move on.”

“May the dead forgive us and the gods grant us victories to avenge them,” the lieutenant whispered, fumbling a hand up Mouse’s arm before looping it over his own shoulder. “Let’s go.”

They ran on, painfully aware that the kaz-naghkt had fallen quiet. It wouldn’t be long before the hunt resumed.

Gritting his teeth and dragging up what small reserves of strength he had left, Mouse braced himself, so that whenever one or other of his carriers fell, he didn’t drag them all down to the corpses below. He had to stay awake, had to be strong, not for himself but his friends. They’d chosen to stay with him; it would be a fine reward if he brought about their deaths.

Morri.

“My name is Mouse,” he growled, and felt Imaino twitch.

“No one is denying that,” Silveo puffed. “We know who you are.”

“Not you,” Mouse muttered. “I’m talking to the voice. Can’t you hear it?”

“There is no voice,” Silveo said gently, bouncing off the wall as the ground crumbled.

“Yes, there is,” Mouse insisted, hissing as Silveo dropped him on his bad leg, but he managed to hobble along for a few paces until his friend took up the strain again. “I hear it all the time.”

Yes, you hear me.

“There. Can’t you hear it?”

No, the voice whispered, even as his friends muttered worried denials, no doubt wondering if more than his body had been damaged during his imprisonment. You are the only one who hears my sleep. The time to wake has passed, Morri. Now it is time to rise.

“My name is Mouse,” he gritted out between clenched teeth.

A cackle rose from the blackness behind, the tunnel shook and they stumbled into the wall.

Do they hear me now?

The ground trembled, dust trickling from the roof. The kaz-naghkt screeched.

“Gods,” Mouse whispered, as another tremor shuddered through the tunnel, cracking rock and shaking their bones.

Now do they hear my voice?

“We hear you!” Mouse screamed into the groaning mountain. “We hear you! Stop!

Come to me, Morri! the voice ordered in an imperious boom. Come, and I will cease.

“I don’t know where you are!”

Yes, the voice rumbled, the growl thrumming through Mouse’s bones even as it shivered through the mountain. You know precisely where I am.

Another tremor, more screams from the kaz-naghkt, getting closer. Then a crack overhead like breaking thunder.

“Run!” Imaino shouted, shoving Mouse forward down the tunnel.

They tripped, stumbled, fell and rolled amongst the bodies and the bones, but for once Mouse didn’t mind. Not when boulders were crashing through the tunnel ceiling. Unable to move, he could only cover his head with his arms, hoping that when the shaking stopped he wouldn’t be buried alive.

The thunder went on forever, booming and cracking, filling the air with dust. Then it stopped, bringing a silence broken only by a last few falling pebbles.

One pebble bounced down from the pile, glowing a ghostly pale blue.

A dragongift globe. Probably the last in all the tunnels of Aquila. It was weak and damaged, but it still had enough light to reveal a wall of tumbled rocks wedged across the tunnel so tightly that not even a kaz-naghkt claw could pick through it.

“Maegla.” Imaino emerged from the gloom, coated head to toe in thick dust, like the ghost of so many of the fallen laid out around them. “That should hold them for a while.” Lifting the globe, Imaino traced the rough surface with his free hand, shaking his head. “We were so nearly under this. Maegla must be watching us closely.”

Coughing as he freed himself from his nest of bodies, Mouse wiped the dust from his eyes and shook his head. He didn’t know anything about what Maegla was up to, but something else certainly was.

I am waiting.

As Silveo came to help him, Mouse blinked at a fresh crack in the tunnel wall. The drop beyond was steep but not unmanageable. At the bottom water glistened, reflecting the glow of their lone little light.

The lake. Memories of a dream drifted through Mouse’s mind as he stared into the dark.

Come.

“Is that the lake?” Imaino appeared at his shoulder. “I wouldn’t mind washing my face.” He scrubbed a hand across his lips and spat out a mouthful of dust.

“Not just my face,” Silveo agreed, dropping through the hole and skidding on the rough slope. “It’s steep, but I think we can manage it. What say you?”

Yes.

“Yes,” Mouse answered, without thinking. “The water is waiting.” Ignoring the odd looks of the others, he scrambled over the drop and skidded down the slope.

The still black surface loomed ahead of him, but he didn’t even try to stop himself. Ignoring the others’ cries, Mouse took a deep breath and plunged into the liquid dark.

* * *

Cleansed Lands

FACE EXPRESSIONLESS, REGLIAN bowed deeply three times, turning to include the full curve of both terraces and Starshines. “Elders, we thank you for your time, and your decision.” Without another look or a word, he stalked away, leaving Mhysra and her friends scurrying to follow.

At the cliff wall, he passed the impressively large dragon-form of Estenarix to where Rhiddyl was anxiously watching over Lyrai and Hurricane. The silvery woman sat between them, her eyes closed, meditating.

As the business of the Moot continued behind them, Reglian’s shoulders sagged and his lips flattened in an apologetic grimace. “It is so much less than you might have wished, much less than I anticipated.”

“And much more than we expected,” Mhysra assured him, rubbing her chest against the crushing weight of disappointment. “Our trip here was more accident than design. We’d never considered asking the dragons for help. Even if no dragons choose to cross the barriers, we’ve lost nothing.”

“You are gracious, Lady Mhysra. More so than many of our so called elders deserve.”

“And you will not be alone,” Rhiddyl fluted eagerly. “There will be at least one dragon by your side when you retake Aquila.”

“Two,” Reglian rumbled.

“Three,” Estenarix added. “I would welcome the entertainment.”

“Four, at least.” Elder Goryal walked into their huddle, much to everyone’s surprise. Mhysra had hoped Reglian and Rhiddyl would go with them, but an elder? Never.

“Likely more,” the elder continued in the stunned silence. “I know Clan Sunlord in particular feel their responsibilities most keenly in letting Yullik ses-Khennik get away.”

“Clan Skystorm too, I shouldn’t wonder,” the silvery stranger said, opening her bright eyes. “Justice is their duty. He was always one of their greatest failings.”

“Indeed,” Goryal murmured, shaking their lowered head. “They should not have made such a law if they were unwilling to carry it out. A bad business, I always thought, and see the end it has brought upon us.”

“It is not finished,” Dhori countered, apparently keeping up with this confusing maze of a conversation. Beyond recognising the name Yullik as belonging to the man who had killed her brother and invaded her dreams in the months that followed, Mhysra was hopelessly lost. “Let us hope that we can find a better end before too long.”

“Gods witness that,” chorused the dragons.

Mhysra caught Corin’s eye, but her friend looked equally mystified.

“What happens now?” Jaymes asked, cradling the sleeping Emberbright in his arms.

“We leave.” It was Hurricane who spoke, sitting on the cold pebbles, watching his unconscious Rider anxiously. “As soon as possible. Whether any dragons choose to support us or not, we have been away too long. Whatever gains we have or have not made here, the Overworld needs us. The Rift Riders need us.”

Filled with a sudden desire to see clouds again, Mhysra nodded and stood, wondering how her friends and family were faring in her absence. Were they safe? Threatened? Wondering where she had gone? As fascinating as this diversion had been, they couldn’t stay here forever. She stood beside Cumulo and felt his trembling eagerness to be gone.

“The Archives can provide you with provisions,” Reglian said, looking at his fellow dragons, who gave firm nods. “We will lose little time by returning there first.”

“And I will stay with you until then,” said the silvery woman, still an unnamed stranger. “I would like to keep an eye on my patients a little longer.”

When no one objected, Dhori gave a firm nod, falling easily into the role of leader while Lyrai was indisposed. “It’s time to go home.”


~ Last Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 44

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

What is love without a little risk?


44
Risk

21st Storm Month

MASTEKH WOKE UP cold and alone. Which wasn’t unusual across the course of his life, but it was unexpected after enjoying two mornings in a row of waking with his own personal Boulderforce furnace. Dazed and still a little drowsy after another late night of waiting on Elder Goryal, Mastekh yawned as he looked around Estenarven’s cramped room.

It didn’t take very long, and since there was no possible place for a Boulderforce to hide, he soon realised his lover was gone.

Disappointed, he dropped back onto the bed with a grunt and snuggled back amongst the covers. He knew he should get up, he just didn’t want to. A few more moments wouldn’t hurt.

Something scratched against his cheek and he tried to ignore it, but the irritation broke through his sleepiness and woke him fully.

Sighing in defeat, he swiped the offending thing away and sat up, frowning as a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. He bent over to retrieve it, squinting and twisting the page this way and that until he could make sense of Estenarven’s terrible scrawl. 

Puddle,
Ive gone to fetch your final gift. EB doesnt need us.
See you later.
Love,
Pebble 

Mastekh stared at the word love, tracing it with his fingertip. It was all very well for Estenarven to say such things in the dark and the quiet where no one would hear him, possibly not even Mastekh himself, but to put it into words… He smiled and read the note again.

Then gasped and fought his way free of the blankets. If Estenarven was out fetching his final gift, then Mastekh had to get a move on. Even though he already knew what he wanted for Estenarven’s last present, he still had to actually get it.

Racing across the suite to his own room, he washed his face in the basin and straightened his robe before digging through his meagre belongings for the old foraging bag he used to use in his home forest. Tattered and frayed, held together by knots, it nevertheless would do. He slicked his hand over his hair, smoothing it away from his eyes and hurried back into the main room of the suite.

Elder Blazeborn sat in a chair beside the fireplace, sipping at a cup of tea. “Seventh gift?” he enquired, in the face of Mastekh’s disarray.

“Yes.”

“Know what you’re getting?”

“Y-yes.”

“Try not to get killed. Good aides are hard to find.”

Mastekh gave a distracted nod and ran for the door. He was halfway down the hallway before he registered what Elder Blazeborn had said.

He stopped dead. Good aides are hard to find. Aides, plural. Meaning him as well as Estenarven.

Heat rushed to his face even though no one else was around and he patted a hand against his fluttering heart. It hadn’t been an easy adjustment for either him or his elder, but to know that Elder Blazeborn valued him…

“Oh.”

A smile crept over his face and warmth filled him. Then he started running again. He had a seventh gift to find and, according to Goryal’s advice, he had to battle through the foul weather to the top of this mountain to reach it.

Arriving at the nearest platform, he stepped out into the rain and looked up. Lightning split the sky, followed almost immediately by a heavy growl of thunder.

Perfect.

Shedding his human form, Mastekh uncurled his long body and picked up his raggedy foraging bag once more. Wings open, he slithered off the platform and merged with the storm.

It took no time at all for him to swim his way between the bolts, up and up, right to the mountaintop above Highstrike, where the storm was at its thickest. Vast clouds squatted over the ridgeline, spitting out light and sound and fury and force, but Mastekh was too focused to flinch. Not even when a bolt narrowly missed his wing and showered him with rock shards.

Instead he waited for the worst of the smoke to clear, turned mid-air and pounced on the spot. Blackened rock and charred earth. Useless.

Grumbling, he landed and tucked in his wings, using his claws to pick around the dirt. Nothing of interest caught his attention and he sighed. Overhead the sky snarled, drawing his attention to the highest part of the ridge. The clouds were thickest there, but not so impenetrable that he couldn’t make out the flashes coming at short, sharp intervals.

Just as Goryal had promised.

Flexing his wings, Mastekh folded them in tight against his back and scurried over the broken ground. Sharp stones dug into his paws, but at least the rain streamed straight off his scales. When he reached the bottom of the ridge, he looked up at the broken slope and sighed.

A narrow gully led all the way to the top, jagged and rough but protected from the worst of the lightning flashing about. It was also too narrow for even a slender Rainstorm to fit inside.

Well, it wasn’t supposed to be easy, he reminded himself, forcing his comfortable dragon form to slide away, leaving him shivering and exposed as a human wrapped in silk. Nor would staring at it make it any easier. Sighing, he pulled the strap of his foraging bag over his head, clambered into the gully and began to climb. Digging his claws into the silt and dirt, he hoped that Goryal’s advice would prove worth all this effort.

Lightning spat against the edges of the gully, but Mastekh ignored it and continued to climb. Nothing would stop him from fetching this final gift and completing his courtship. Nothing.

Although, when he crawled, dirty, sodden and panting out of the gully at the top of the ridge, the swirling clouds, pounding rain, howling wind and flashing lightning made him pause. The seventh gift was supposed to be difficult to obtain, but no one had bothered to mentioned it might also be dangerous. Resting on his knees, he studied the storm ahead and gulped, wondering if Goryal’s word could really be trusted. After all, anyone could predict that the storm would be fiercest at the top of the mountain. That didn’t mean the rest of Goryal’s promises were true.

Then he caught sight of flames and rainbow sparks flourishing the highest point.

Just as Goryal had promised.

So maybe there was some truth in the old Starshine yet. All the hopes of his seventh gift and courtship were now resting on it. Clenching his hands in the knotted rope of his bag strap, Mastekh straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath and walked into the heart of the storm.


Courtship 7More next week.Courtship 7

If, like Mastekh, you’re ready to reach the end, you can download the ebook now – it’s free!

Whatever you choose to do, take care, my lovelies.

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Dragongift: Chapter 20, Part 2

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There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Time to catch up with Mouse and co.



Aquila

MORRI.

Shaking his head, Mouse stumbled into Silveo. They were barely out of sight of the citadel, but the tunnel was already pitch dark and dropping steeply downwards. Where were the glow globes when he really needed one?

Morri, are you coming?

He twitched his head and tripped over something in the dark. More than one thing. The once smooth floor of the tunnel was riddled with debris, some wedge firmly, others lurking loose and ready to turn an unsuspecting ankle. His boot hit something and sent it careening into the wall with a clang. All around him the others were making a similar racket, trying to jog as swiftly as they dared over the perilous ground with no light to see by.

No matter the cacophony, it still wasn’t enough to cover the skittering in the shadows behind them. The kaz-naghkt were coming.

Morri, come to me.

“We need to split up,” Imaino said to the dean at the back of their pitiful group. “The more trails they have to follow the better.”

“Agreed,” Dean Marshall replied. “I need a sword.”

“Silveo,” Imaino called. “Can I have your sword?”

Mouse swayed as his friend stopped and clumsily drew his blade. “Aye, sir. Take it, I’ve little skill for it.”

Imaino patted his shoulder and Silveo helped Mouse hurry on. Haelle, Greig and Ieryth were already far ahead, leaving Imaino, the dean and Rider Mallow at the back, pacing steadily behind Mouse’s slow progress.

“You should leave me,” he grunted, stumbling over yet another pocket of loose ground.

“No.” Silveo didn’t bother arguing, just tightened his grip and repeated, “No.”

“I’ll stay with Mouse and Silveo,” Imaino told the dean. “You go on and lead the rest.”

Mouse cringed, hating that he was so obviously a liability. Even if he had a sword, he was too weak to use it. Just struggling along at this pitiful pace was nearly beyond him. His body was beaten, his mind tired, and even the threat of the kaz-naghkt was nothing compared to the sheer weariness that weighed him down.

Weak. Useless. He’d be back in the tower before nightfall. If the kaz-naghkt didn’t eat him first.

“Go,” the dean urged. “Take the boys. Mallow and I will hold them off.”

Morri

“Leave me,” Mouse said again, raising his voice with an effort. “You should leave me. Tripping over me will slow them down a little.”

“No!” It was a unanimous growl.

“I won’t leave you behind.” Imaino.

“You stay, I stay. We’re as useless as each other in a fight, and I haven’t been beaten half dead.” Silveo.

“I won’t let them take you.” The dean. “Just because he healed you once, doesn’t mean he will again.”

“There’s not enough meat on you to interest them for long,” Mallow added, once the others had had their say. “Might as well keep you with us.”

Come to me, Morri.

“My name is Mouse!” he shouted, unable to bear the whisper in his thoughts any longer.

His cry echoed around the tunnel, all the more noticeable in the uneasy silence that followed.

A cackle answered, followed by skittering claws clacking over the detritus on the tunnel floor.

“Run!” Arguments over, Imaino crashed into Mouse’s right shoulder. “Damn it, Silveo, run!”

Feet lifted clear of the floor, Mouse hung between the two men as they half-ran, half-tumbled down the increasingly steep slope.

A scream behind was greeted with a defiant shout. “Never!” Dean Marshall cried. “I will not be retaken.”

Battle was joined and Imaino cursed, his stumble sending Mouse’s feet back to the floor.

The jolt buckled his knees and their unruly trio broke apart, Silveo still running, while Mouse and Imaino hit the ground.

It was soft. His cheek landed on something wet that burst with the stench of rotting meat.

“Bodies,” Imaino whispered in horror. “Great Gods, we’re walking on the dead.”

* * *

Cleansed Lands

IT TOOK A while to tell their story. Dhori took the bulk of the narrative, with ample help from Corin and additions from Mhysra, Jaymes and even the miryhls, but since she was more than a little familiar with it all, Mhysra’s attention wandered. She wasn’t the only one. Pebbles shifted and crunched beneath Corin’s feet as she turned, staring at the dragons on the terraces and their brethren in the waves. Jaymes darted wide-eyed glances at the elders, while Dhori talked in calm, slightly bored tones. Behind them, the miryhls looked for all the world as if they were sleeping. Strange creatures.

For herself, Mhysra didn’t know where to look or what to do. As fascinating as the dragons on the terraces were, in all their varying shapes and sizes, with glittering scales and amazing wings, the shape-shifted elders around her were of equal fascination.

Why had they chosen such shapes? How old were they? How long had they been able to change? Did it hurt? Did they prefer them to their dragon forms?

And then there were the dragons in the water. Could they fly? Did they want to? Were they all seawater dwellers, or did some prefer the freshness of mountain rivers, lakes and streams?

“A difficult journey you have had, Storm Wing Riders,” the giant desert cat purred from Yulunan’s side, also using a voice that spoke directly inside Mhysra’s mind. “A half-year as hard as it has been long.”

“We sympathise with your trials,” the willowy Starshine, Bavadh, said from one end of the half-circle. It wasn’t just their height and slenderness that brought to mind a young tree, but the slightly silvery sheen on their skin, coupled with leaf green eyes and hair like a ripple of thin leaves. “It is the worst pain imaginable to lose one’s home. Yet what is this to us?”

“Our cleansed world is no longer yours, nor your cursed one ours,” agreed the dark Starshine with the whisper-voice. “This fight is not for us.”

“Once it was.” This new Starshine speaker seemed utterly ordinary and unobtrusive. Of middling height and build, there was nothing much of note about their dark brown skin and bald head. Until they looked up and met Mhysra’s curious gaze with eyes like molten copper. “Once all the doings of the Overworld were part of ours.”

“And all of ours, part of them,” agreed the desert cat, head lowered sadly, ears pressed down.

“Our actions have led to this.” The copper-eyed dragon raised their head, broadening their stance like a commander at war. “Our carelessness and cowardice stayed our hands once – and now it has come to this.”

“Humans can take care of themselves,” Elder Stoneheart said dismissively, waving a thick hand. Mhysra blinked, having forgotten his presence – and that of the other Stoneheart kin – until that moment, so focused had she been on the Starshines.

The wolf coughed a hoarse laugh, “One would think you have said quite enough this day, Wharrol Stoneheart.”

“Your unruly tongue is troublesome,” agreed the desert cat, eyes narrowed, chest purring. “Perhaps you should hold it.”

The Stoneheart Elders shifted uncomfortably, the enormous Wharrol shifting his jaw as if trying to move his tongue. And finding that he couldn’t.

The wolf winked at the Rift Riders. “Some never learn,” Yulunan murmured, and Mhysra thought they spoke to the humans alone.

“Aid is owed,” the copper-eyed Starshine said, several of the Clan and others on the terraces nodding in agreement. “This debt is ours to repay.”

“When we withdrew from the world, we swore never to return. Never to meddle,” whispered the starlight-flecked dragon, drawing supporting nods of their own.

“This is our mess,” the copper-eyed one insisted, a touch of rumble in their voice like echoes of distant thunder. “We are duty bound to assist.”

Muttering broke out amidst the dragons, some nodding together while others argued. Even down on the beach in the semi-circle of Starshines, different viewpoints seemed destined to never quite meet.

“The Moot is split.” announced Goryal, to the surprise of no one.

The wolf beside him nodded. “We have heard your voice, and we understand your need.”

“And yet we simply cannot decide what to do.” Goryal smiled apologetically at the Riders. “We elders have held many discussions since your arrival, but there are still several points to consider. As you may guess, your presence has stirred up many things within the Clans. We have not had such debates since the creation of the Veils. It was past time we turned our attention to more pressing matters than the tracing of kin lines and futile border disputes. For this I thank you.” The diminutive dragon bowed, their smile warm.

“However, while there have been many views,” continued Yulunan, “arguments and debates, in truth we can see no reason for sending aid to the humans of the Overworld. While we acknowledge the loss of Aquila, and sympathise greatly with the dispossessed Rift Riders, your world is no longer our concern. It is not our place to interfere at this time and so we will send no dragons back with you. No armies will fly through the Veil.”

“But,” the copper-eyed Starshine held up a sturdy dark finger before the disappointment could crush all the air from Mhysra’s chest, “in the matter of Yullik ses-Khennik, we do acknowledge a debt. There are those amongst the Clans who wish to repay it, for when he was our matter to deal with there were those who turned aside.” They ran their bright, knowing eyes over the terraces. “Whether from mercy or cowardice, it matters not now. We let him roam free, and from him your troubles stem. So, while we, elders of all Clans, send no dragons with you, nor will we restrain those who wish to help. For one lunar turn the Barrier Veils, also known as the Stormwash and Stormsurge, will be relaxed, permitting all those who wish to cross into the Overworld to do so, on the understanding that they will aid the Rift Riders in the fight ahead.”

“These are the words of the Clan elders,” the Moot spoke as one, from the beach and the terraces both. “This is the decision of the dragons.”

“Go in peace, Storm Wing friends,” Goryal said, smiling gently. “Do us no harm within our borders and no harm will come to you. The Clans have spoken.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

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Dragongift: Chapter 20, Part 1

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

This could be the beginning of the end!

Then again, this chapter is really long so I might split it into two, but my head is not in a good place this week and I couldn’t focus long enough to work it out.

Either way, now that the excitement’s over, maybe the Dragon Moot can finally get some work done…


Twenty
Decisions

Cleansed Lands

“A FINE WELCOME, elders of the Clans.” The silvery woman strode away from Mhysra and her friends across the beach to stand before the Starshines and all the dragons gathered on the terraces above. “Is this how the dragons Meet their guests in the Cleansed Lands, these days?”

The watching dragons fidgeted uncomfortably, while the Starshine elders sat in silence.

“A wound was done to my Clan,” Elder Stoneheart muttered, shifting their not inconsiderable weight. “It was our right to challenge.”

“A challenge,” the woman murmured, turning slowly to scan all the terraces, meeting each and every elder’s eye.

“To call a challenge is every dragon’s right,” Goryal said, in their voice of distant chimes. “At each Moot, they may demand an answer to insults made. All dragons of all Clans are allowed to challenge any other dragon from another Clan.”

“But these guests are not dragons,” continued another Starshine elder, one who spoke so softly it sounded as though he was whispering directly into Mhysra’s ear, even though he was around a hundred feet away. Where Goryal was pale and ethereal, this Starshine was darkness flecked with pearly white – nails, eyebrows, hair – like a night sky strewn with stars. “Our rules are not theirs.”

“The challenge was excepted, fought and finished,” growled Elder Jewelwing. “It’s a little late now for rules.”

“Foolishness,” Reglian muttered to those around him. “As Jarvenerald’s acknowledged grandmother she was directly responsible for his raising, over and above any duties to him as his kin Elder. His bad behaviour is her failing, his defeat her fault. Accepted or not, that challenge should never have been issued.”

“Indeed,” the silver stranger agreed inside the circle, though she could just as easily have been answering Reglian. “It is all a little late for rules and niceties. No intervention was made, and it is only through the courage and strength of one human that tragedy was averted. Think on these things, elders of all Clans.” She looked pointedly at the Starshine dragons. “And remember whatever insult kin Jewelwing felt, they attacked first.” With a curt nod, the woman left the circle and stalked back to check on her patients.

“Indeed,” Goryal chimed, drawing everyone’s attention back to the circle. “There is much to be answered for. Let us begin by calling Elder Stoneheart, Elder Jewelwing, Elder Earthdrake and Elder Stoneskin forth to answer for the behaviour of their juveniles.”

The four elders stepped forward, leaving one very self-conscious Stoneheart kin elder behind. It was difficult for a huge boulder of a dragon to make themself invisible, but they still tried, hunching their shoulders with embarrassment. Mhysra felt sorry for them.

“Perhaps it is time that Clan Stoneheart took a new kin?”

Stones hissed as Mhysra and the others swivelled to face the newcomer. Another human-shaped dragon. Although this one looked a lot like a bear – built broad and tall and dark, with a scruff of thick black hair more akin to a pelt – the dragon was clearly another Stoneheart. And female, with generous curves enhanced by her practical clothes of leather breeches and animal skins. There was nothing silk-clad or dainty about this dragon, and Mhysra liked her immediately.

“You always say that, Estenarix,” Rhiddyl mumbled, her head lowered to keep her voice down and not draw attention. “If you had your way, Clan Stoneheart would have three new kin.”

Estenarix smiled, an expression that could frighten small children. “We all know that to be a sound idea. There is too much erosion.”

“But never in kin Boulderforce,” Reglian and Rhiddyl said together, and she laughed like a distant landslide.

“Never let it be said that Clan Skystorm have bad memories.”

While Reglian rolled his eyes, Rhiddyl raised her head. “The charges have been laid.”

The group looked over towards the gathered elders again and fell silent.

Goryal stepped forward. “Clan Starshine have considered this breach of the welcoming laws and have decided thus. The juveniles Hestharre kin Earthdrake, Tarvenn kin Stoneskin and Jarvenerald kin Jewelwing of Clan Stoneheart, are hence force to be placed under the jurisdiction of Clan Starshine, to be fostered into other Clans at our discretion. This rule shall also apply to all Jewelwing juveniles and young.”

When the kin elder in question hissed a protest, the seven Starshines silenced them with a collective glare.

“This is not the first complaint raised against your youngsters, Elder,” the tallest of the Starshine elders spoke, willowy in form but adamantine in tone, “but it will be the last.”

Ignoring the venomous expression on the dragon’s face, Goryal looked up into the terraces. “It is time for kin Jewelwing to choose a new elder. Their selection of candidates will be presented at the Summer Moot, six moons from now.”

“Ha!” Estenarix slapped a triumphant hand against her thigh. “That’s knotted her coils, the poisonous old snake. You can always trust Goryal and Bavadh to do what needs doing.”

Similar conversations broke out around the cove, until Goryal raised their hands for silence. “Elder Stoneheart, look to your young. This erosion must stop.” The seven Clan Starshine elders nodded as one.

“Now let us move onto our second matter of importance.” The voice was soft and sneaky, and it took Mhysra a moment to realise who was speaking. It was the wolf. Inside her head. She wasn’t the only one to tug her ear in confusion.

Which was when the wolf looked over at their little group, tongue panting in amusement. I, Yulunan Clan Starshine, call the Rift Riders and miryhls, visitors from beyond the Veil, to speak before this Moot.

There was a pulse of silence as every dragon in the cove stared at them. Then Reglian cleared his throat. “Estenarix, I trust you will remain with Rhiddyl. Everyone else who can, follow me. This is what you’re here for, after all. Pardon the affront to your dignity, miryhls, but I believe it best that you walk.” And he strode off, shrinking in a shower of sparks back into his human form. Reluctant to leave the still unconscious Lyrai and Hurricane, Mhysra hesitated, until the pale woman frowned at her.

“You have little to fear from me, child. I worked too hard on reviving them to damage them now. Young Rhidystel will ensured I do them no harm.” She shooed her away with her hands. “Go. You have come too far to stop now.”

Sharing an anguished look with her friends, Mhysra hurried after Reglian, the miryhls strutting behind. Stones and pebbles twisted and crunched beneath her boots as Clan Starshine turned slowly to watch their approach. Finally Reglian brought them to a halt before the semi-circle of ancient elders and the packed terraces behind them.

“Greetings, unexpected travellers from afar,” the Starshine elders spoke as one, voices sounding in Mhysra’s head and ears. “The Cleansed Lands welcome you. Come in peace, and in peace you shall stay.”

“You have been Met,” Yulunan continued inside Mhysra’s head. “Albeit a little unorthodoxly. Now you may speak. What is your request of the Dragon Moot?”


~ Next Chapter ~

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 43

Courtship Banner 1

A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

Sorry. Not a great week.

Still, at least Esten’s happy.


43
Tease

20th Storm Month

ESTENARVEN SPENT THE next day in a happy haze, uncaring that he was back in meetings and once more serving Elder Blazeborn at dinner. Not only had he spent the last two nights sleeping with Mastekh beside him, but his Puddle had finally relaxed enough to let them explore each other. Just a little, just enough to give them both a taste of what they might one day have. Compared to his previous lovers, some would deem it fairly tame stuff, but Estenarven was giddy with it all. Mastekh was becoming more and more his with each passing day, allowing him closer, trusting him more deeply. Their courtship was progressing beautifully.

With that thought in mind, he smiled as he brushed a hand against his hip pocket, where his sixth gift now resided. The thought and effort that Mastekh had gone to in order to replace Estenarven’s battered old wooden figure with a new one handmade by his Puddle… Estenarven hadn’t known his heart could hurt with happiness. Even now it still felt a little too big for his chest, inflated with all the feelings Mastekh stirred within him.

“Ugh, Sister Storm, do you have to ooze?”

Estenarven jerked away from the wall he’d been leaning against and looked down to find Jesral scowling at him. He glanced at his hands and the floor, but he was a Boulderforce, he didn’t ooze.

He frowned in confusion. “What?”

“You. You’re so happy, it’s practically dripping off you.” She waved her hand in front of her face as though dispersing a bad smell. “Stop it.”

Reglian snorted from his desk behind the pair of them, where he was once again getting out of having to serve at dinner by pretending to take notes on the conversation. “Don’t be jealous, Jesral. It’s unbecoming.”

The Lightstorm sneered at the Thunderwing, who smirked back. Just because the two dragons shared a Clan, didn’t mean they liked each other.

Not in the mood to get between the pair of them and one of their bickering spats, Estenarven shook his head. “I thought you were my friend, Jessie.”

Jesral paused her glaring at Reglian to sniff in his direction. “I am.”

“Then you should be happy that I’m happy.”

“I would, but you’re just so nauseating about it. Smiling all the time.”

“I’m a smiley person,” he protested.

“Not like this,” Jesral argued. “You look like you’ve taken one too many hits on the head with a boulder.”

“He’s a Boulderforce,” Reglian interjected, chuckling. “They’re all like that.”

Both Estenarven and Jesral shot him a withering look. He didn’t seem to care, twirling a quill between his fingers and smiling benignly.

“All I’m saying is, can you be a little less distracted, please?” Jesral said, turning her attention back to Estenarven. “If I have to hit you one more time to prompt you to serve the next course, I’m going to break my hand.”

“Maybe you could try not hitting me?” Estenarven suggested.

She glared at him instead, so he opted for Reglian’s solution and smiled.

“Lovebirds,” she growled in disgust. “I thought you of all dragons would never fall for any of that romantic nonsense. Now look at you. A good flirt, ruined.”

“Aw, I’ll still flirt with you, Jessie,” he promised, batting his eyelashes.

She looked at him like he was something disgusting she’d accidentally stepped in. “Save it for Mastekh,” she retorted, flicking her hair over her shoulder and stalking away to stand with someone else.

Estenarven watched her go, shaking his head and sighing, wondering if he would ever understand what was wrong with her.

“Don’t worry, Esten, she’ll get over it,” Reglian said, putting down his quill and linking his fingers together. “Unfortunately for you.”

“What’s the problem between you two anyway?” Estenarven demanded, resting a hip against Reglian’s desk and reading his notes upside down. They looked more like a handful of games of noughts and crosses to him.

Reglian hurriedly covered up his games and shrugged. “Thunderwings and Lightstorms have never got along. Blame that age old question, which came first the thunder or the lightning? We’re simply not meant to be friends.”

“Sounds foolish to me,” Estenarven said, shrugging himself.

“Which is a bit rich coming from a kin Boulderforce, who all the Overworld knows can’t stand the rest of your Clan.”

“I can’t help it if the other Stoneheart kin are full of rubble brains and eroded integrity.”

“Mm,” Reglian agreed, twirling his quill again as the next course was brought in and Estenarven had to step away and serve his elder. By the time he returned, the Thunderwing actually appeared to be doing some work, so he rested his hip against the desk and tried some more upside down reading.

“You missed a bit,” he said, indicating a few runes that had only been half-completed, changing their meaning completely. “Unless you meant to compare Elder Cloudflight to a bat, in which case carry on.”

Reglian growled softly, making the correction and tucking the page out of sight. “Have you exchanged your sixth gifts yet?” he asked, changing the subject before Estenarven could ask about the interesting notes he’d just glimpsed on Elder Blazeborn’s attempts to turn back the Cloud Curse – and the lack of help he’d received so far from his fellow elders.

The subject of his courtship with Mastekh was something which Estenarven was more than happy to be diverted onto and he felt another soppy smile creep over his face. Thank the Family Jesral wasn’t around to see it.

“We have,” he admitted, fully aware that he sounded besotted but not caring because he was. The look of awe on Mastekh’s face when Estenarven had presented him with the gold-veined quartz would remain one of his favourite memories for the rest of his life. His dear Puddle had literally melted over the gift, unable to believe that anyone would give him something so beautiful. Estenarven felt the same way about everything Mastekh had given him, so he knew they were even.

“And the seventh? Have you fetched it yet?”

Estenarven scowled at having his happy memories interrupted again and rubbed his neck. “When would I have had the time?”

“You had yesterday off,” Reglian pointed out. “Surely it didn’t take you all day to exchange your sixth gifts.”

“Not all day, no.” Estenarven sighed, sinking back into memories of what had led up to the gift giving and all the gratitude that had followed. Sibling Stone, if only all free days could be so wonderful…

“So when?” Reglian once more prodded him back to the present.

“I don’t know,” Estenarven growled. “When these meetings end or Elder Blazeborn takes pity on us again, I suppose. Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Ah, but it is, remember.” Reglian raised an eyebrow and tapped a golden claw against the pocket where his little betting book resided.

Estenarven narrowed his eyes. “You shouldn’t remind me about that,” he warned. “I’m still angry with you and Goryal.”

“If you’re truly angry with Goryal then you’d best speed things up. You know they’ve bet on your courtship wrapping up on the twenty-fourth of this month. No one else has gone longer, so even if you and Mastekh exchange your seventh gifts after that, they’ll still win the pot.”

Estenarven growled again.

Reglian smiled. “Better get a move on then, hadn’t you.”

Estenarven gave a sharp nod and plotted how he might convince Elder Blazeborn to give them another day off, preferably tomorrow. He was so preoccupied, in fact, that he forgot to ask Reglian who would win if Goryal was thwarted.

Still, as he curled up with Mastekh in his narrow bed that night, smiling at Khennik’s promise not to need either of them on the morrow, he decided he didn’t care. All that really mattered was securing his seventh gift so that he could make Mastekh his forever.

And if they happened to ruin Goryal’s win along the way, that was just a bonus.


Courtship 7~ Next chapter ~Courtship 7

If, like Reglian, you’re impatient to reach the end, you can download the ebook now – it’s free!

Whatever you choose to do, take care, my lovelies.

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Dragongift: Chapter 19, Part 3

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There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Now what?



Cleansed Lands

CHAOS, THAT WAS the only way to describe the uproar that followed. Ordering Cumulo to stay with Hurricane, Mhysra hauled herself off the ground and ran towards the fallen lieutenant as dragons converged on the combat site. Dhori, Jaymes and Corin kept pace alongside her, and she was never more grateful in her life than when Reglian appeared. Even in his human form, he was plenty strong enough to pick Lyrai up with ease.

“Back!” the archivist ordered. “Get back to the cliff.”

With a sky and sea filled with overexcited and irate dragons, Mhysra and her friends were only too happy to obey. Scrambling back to their miryhls, they found Rhiddyl already there, shielding Hurricane from curious eyes.

“Good, good, bring him to me, that’s right.”

Running between the bristling miryhls, Mhysra and Corin cleared a space on the rough beach for Lyrai to be placed. Which was when she noticed a strange woman had joined them. Like Goryal she was slender and fragile looking, even shorter than Corin, with hair of pure silver. As if sensing Mhysra’s scrutiny, the stranger turned, revealing bright eyes and pearly skin.

She smiled, showing teeth of the same glimmering shade. “Did I not tell you all is not decided yet?”

Recognising the voice of her comforter – and possible restrainer – Mhysra scowled. The stranger laughed. “Humans. How I have missed them. You did well to bring them through the barrier, young Rhidystel. I have not had this much fun in an age.” Waving her hand at the other dragons around her, she focused on the two bodies. “See that we are not disturbed.”

“Guard duties,” Reglian rumbled as he stomped past the miryhls, Rhiddyl on his heels. “Have I lived this long just for this. I feel like a hatchling.”

Rhiddyl and the dragonets chuckled as he vanished in a shower of sparks, expanding back to his natural form. “You do not resemble one,” Rhiddyl fluted, looking almost small beside the archivist’s massive bulk.

“Such flattery, Rhidystel. I may swoon.”

With two dragons at their backs, the miryhls abandoned all pretence of protection and huddled against their Riders, peering at the stranger tampering with their friends.

“Should you be doing that?” Jaymes asked anxiously, when the dragon rolled Lyrai onto his back and began prodding his burned skin.

“I don’t think it’ll help,” Corin added.

“Deeds and words, deeds and words,” the woman muttered, touching Lyrai with a silver glowing finger. Starting at his forehead, she stroked down his nose, and soon his entire face was covered in a thick silver glow. “Anger never prospers.”

“Huh,” Corin remarked, determinedly unimpressed. “Do you do resurrections too, or are pretty lights all you can manage?”

Pushing her short hair behind her ears, the stranger looked up, eyes aglow. “You are worried, little one, so I shall forgive your flippancy. When you have lived as long as I, then you may make jokes and criticise. As for resurrections, no. There are none who can restore the dead to the living, not even Ancestor Night. Well, perhaps they might, but they would not choose to. There is always a price to be paid for tampering in such things, and the penalties are always too high.” As she spoke, she stroked Hurricane’s creamy feathers with a silver glowing hand. “Such beauty.”

Tears stung Mhysra’s eyes, grief a heavy weight on her chest. Not even Corin could find something to say as they stared at their fallen comrade. They had lost so many friends of late; one more seemed too much to bear. As for Lyrai, Mhysra knew it would break him.

Hurricane groaned.

They all jumped.

“But you said -?” Corin started, before running out of words. Even Cumulo was speechless as the marble miryhl twitched his wings, tried to raise his head and gave up. He groaned again.

“Such beauty deserves a second chance,” the silvery stranger told them, smiling beatifically at their confusion. “I thought it best Ancestor Night caught no glimpse of this treasure. They would have kept him for themself. It is better this way.”

They gaped at her.

Hurricane groaned again. “Hurt.”

“Yes, yes,” crooned the stranger. “I know. I am sorry. It has been so long that I am out of practise at catching. You are bruised, you are stunned, but you are neither broken nor dead. It is a good trade, I think.”

“Lyrai,” croaked the miryhl.

“He lives. He hurts, but he breathes. He won.”

With a sigh, Hurricane shut his eyes again and fell silent.

Leaving all the questions to the others. Even Dhori seemed beyond speech.

Looking up at their faces, the silvery woman laughed and rose to her feet. “Oh dear, Reglian, I seem to have stolen your friends’ tongues. Do instruct me how to get them back again.”

The big black dragon peered down at them and shook his head. “It is better this way, my lady. Once they start asking questions, they will forget to stop.”

“And we have other business to attend to,” she agreed with a nod. “Stand aside if you will, good friends. I must find Goryal. It is time this foolishness was ended.” And with an imperious wave of her tiny hand, they parted to let her walk away.

“My head hurts,” Mhysra announced, as the dragons closed ranks again to protect them from the rest of the Moot. “I’m too confused for this.” Her knees collapsed and she sat on the beach, her friends dropping down around her. It seemed the only thing they could do.

* * *

Aquila

AT THE BASE of the west tower Imaino and Dean Marshall held a whispered consultation, then led their group away from the bridge. They had come in from the east, Greig told Mouse as he helped him along, but so far they had seen no one. This was thanks to a diversion being staged on the mountainside by the rest of the resistance. They’d still had a few close calls, according to Silveo, who was propping up Mouse’s other side, and it would be too risky to head back through the eastern citadel now. Luck, whether one believed in it or not, could only hold for so long.

“We’ll find a way out. There are tunnels everywhere,” Greig muttered, as Haelle paused ahead, tilting her head to listen. Tugging her ear, she walked on again. “Sometimes I think Aquila’s more tunnel than mountain.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Rider Ieryth murmured behind them. “So long as the one we take is the one the kaz-naghkt don’t, it doesn’t much matter to me.”

As if called, a chilling cry rose from inside the citadel. A high wail that started as a scream but went on too long, ending in a shuddering cackle.

Dean Marshall stopped, his foot on the first stair leading to the classrooms. His hand reached for the blade he no longer carried. “They know.”

Imaino gripped his own sword and turned down the tunnel to Buteo. “Let’s go,” he ordered, sending Haelle, Greig and Ieryth first, with Silveo and Mouse to follow, and the dean, Rider Mallow and himself at the rear.

Another cackle came from the halls above their heads: the sound of a kaz-naghkt on the hunt.

“Run!”


~ Next Chapter ~

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Dragongift: Chapter 19, Part 2

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Well…?



Cleansed Lands

EVERYTHING STOPPED WHEN Hurricane flopped onto the beach. Cumulo’s wings ceased to beat; Mhysra stopped breathing. The Moot was silenced.

Lyrai’s anguished cry was taken up by the distant seabirds, wailing on the winds, and the tide tried to hush him with its sighs.

“No, no, no,” the lieutenant gasped, scrambling over the shale to where his miryhl lay in a heap of cream and brown. “Hurricane, no. Move for me. Look at me. Breathe, please, breathe.”

One by one the miryhls dropped back to the beach. Cumulo even forgot to lower a wing for Mhysra, just sagged where he landed, his strength gone. She tumbled from the saddle, not knowing what to do, desperate to help, but hadn’t staggered more than three steps when Lyrai stood.

Pebbles cracked beneath his boots when he turned, steel singing as his blade was drawn from its sheath.

Behind the stricken miryhls, Jarvenerald hissed, his once beautiful face now a wreck of gouges and golden blood. “Come, little human. Just you and me now.”

Raising his sword, Lyrai narrowed his eyes and charged.

* * *

Aquila

IT WAS LIKE something from a dream, Mouse decided, still woozy from his head knock. First there was Silveo, saving the day and collapsing in a heap. Then Lieutenant Imaino, Greig, Haelle and two Riders swept into the room, checking for threats, weapons bristling. Blood splattered their clothing, both red and black, but they all seemed whole.

While Haelle and Greig tended to Silveo, the lieutenant stared at the dean. “Sir,” he whispered, wide-eyed and disbelieving. “We thought you were dead.”

Smiling, Dean Marshall gripped Imaino’s forearm. “There were times I wished I was, but by Maegla, it’s good to see you.”

“And you, sir. If we’d known…” He trailed off when the dean shook his head. “We came for Mouse and Nehtl.” Looking around, he frowned. “Where -?”

Mouse hung his head, unable to speak.

“He stayed brave to the end,” Dean Marshall explained briefly.

Their silence was filled with grief, and Mouse felt every moment of it like a knife in the chest.

Imaino cleared his throat and tightened his grip on his sword. “Then we do this for him. Let’s move, before someone comes looking for the source of those screams.”

No one argued, and with the help of an embarrassed but recovered Silveo, Mouse limped from his comfortable prison, wondering and fearing what twist of fate might befall him next.

* * *

Cleansed Lands

“NO!” MHYSRA WASN’T the only one to lunge forward to stop Lyrai, but her friends hit the beach as hard as she did. Sprawled on her chest, she was forced down by an invisible hand.

“The challenge was for single combat,” a voice containing many speakers boomed across the cove; the Elders reacting at last. “And so the fight shall be.”

Struggling against her invisible restraints, Mhysra thrashed, digging great furrows from the pebbles, but to no avail. The pressure remained and there was no getting free.

“Peace, child,” a gentle voice murmured. “Nothing is yet decided.”

Lyrai reached Jarvenerald just as the coiled dragon struck. This time he was ready, and dodged aside with a flash of his blade. The steel hummed against the shining scales, the runes along its length flashing bright.

Jarvenerald hissed, flinching away as the blade sliced across his nose, leaving an oozing gash behind.

Taking advantage of his opponent’s surprise, Lyrai ran beneath the dripping fangs and scored his sword down the length of Jarvenerald’s neck. Golden blood followed his every move, the wounds shallow but undeniable.

Spitting with pain and rage, Jarvenerald twisted, but Lyrai was already beneath his chest. The dragon reared up, using his wings to lift his vulnerable underside out of reach. Craning his head back, he opened his mouth and snapped forward, spraying venom.

Lyrai turned aside, raising his arm to protect his face. The drops burned wherever they landed, singeing holes through his clothes. Jarvenerald pounced, but Lyrai was already moving, dropping and rolling forward. Before the dragon realised his prey had escaped, Lyrai lunged to his feet, leading with his sword.

The blade flashed, blood spurted, and both combatants screamed.

Clothes smoking, Lyrai dropped to the ground, clutching his sword hand, while Jarvenerald whimpered and tottered away. Half-embedded in the dragon’s chest, the sword shuddered with every beat of Jarvenerald’s heart as he sank slowly onto his side. Mewing like a distressed kitten, he rolled onto his back, wings outspread and twitching. He tried to draw the blade out  with his claws, but the runes blazed and he stopped with an agonised shriek.

No one dared to move as Jarvenerald dropped his head, defeated and despairing.

No one spoke as the bloodied, battered Lyrai dragged himself to his feet and limped across to the stricken dragon.

Jarvenerald barely even twitched as Lyrai climbed onto his chest and grasped the sword.

“You deserve to die,” the lieutenant growled, voice low and husky. “Those who show no mercy deserve none.”

Jarvenerald shuddered, his body lying battered and unhealed while his heart bled. He mewed.

“If you were me, you’d be dead by now.”

The Moot watched as Lyrai wrapped both hands around the pommel, blood-stained fingers flexing over the grip.

He looked over at where Hurricane lay, limp and unmoving – and pulled out his sword.

“I am not you,” he whispered. “Live with this shame.”

The lieutenant jumped off the dragon’s chest and stumbled on the uneven ground. Staggering a few paces away from his defeated foe, the sword dropped from his lax fingers, clanging against the pebbles.

“Hurricane,” he whispered, and collapsed.

* * *

Aquila

“THINGS CANNOT GO on like this. They will not.”

Admiral Akavia had worked herself up into a fine state, Yullik thought, as he lounged behind the desk in one of the old teaching rooms. If he hadn’t been so bored, he might have been amusing at the sight of so many pirates and captains crammed onto the dusty student benches, watching their leader attempt to berate him. They stared at her with a mixture of awe, impatience, annoyance and fear. And not one of them seemed happy.

As if he cared. “If I might interrupt,” he said softly, cutting through the admiral’s tirade. Not that he was listening; he’d heard it all before. “You are complaining, yes?”

Akavia stopped pacing and narrowed her eyes, but a pirate rose before she could speak.

“Complaining!” the man snarled. “You make us sound like children.”

Yullik raised an eyebrow, staring at the unwashed, scraggly-bearded fool until he sat down again. “I do not make you sound like anything. You are eminently capable of doing that yourselves.”

They fidgeted as the insult spread through the room, but no one dared speak again. Sadly.

He turned back to Akavia. “Have any of your people been taken from the town?”

Her jaw clenched and her nostrils flared, restraining her temper as she shook her head.

“Then it is only in the citadel that these disappearances occur?”

Disappearances,” she sneered. “You make it sound so innocent. They are murders, each and every one. They have been eaten!”

Yullik tipped his head to one side, studying her curiously. She’d lost weight and looked tired, harassed and worn. The conquest of Aquila hadn’t brought the pirates the ease and riches they’d anticipated. How sad.

He rested his hands on the desk. “We had an arrangement, did we not?”

“To combine our forces to take Aquila,” she agreed with a curt nod. “An alliance against the Rift Riders.”

“And in the event of success…” he began, rolling his hand in an invitation for her to continue.

“We were to be given the town to do with as we willed.”

Though the pirates behind her nodded in firm agreement, Akavia’s jaw remained tight, her eyes narrowing as understanding slowly dawned.

He smiled, teasing out the game. “The town, yes, that was to be yours. And the citadel…?”

“Yours,” she ground out between teeth so tightly clenched he was amazed they didn’t crack.

“Yes,” he agreed, standing slowly and letting his languid air drop. “Mine.”

“But we are allies,” another fool protested from the benches.

Mine,” Yullik repeated. “To do with as I willed. To house my kaz-naghkt. To keep them as I would.”

“Allies do not eat one another,” Akavia growled, reiterating an old point with the tenacity of a rat terrier.

“We have been through this,” he reminded her, sitting down and regaining his languid mood. “Our agreement was to rid Aquila of those troublesome Riders. Which we have done. There was no alliance regarding the aftermath.”

“So you would turn on us now?” Akavia demanded, pacing again and playing one of her many knives over her fingers. “Now that the task is done our arrangement is over? With no thoughts of what we once achieved together?”

“My dear Akavia, don’t tell me you’re feeling sentimental?”

The knife flew across the room in a flash of silver, heading for his face. Yullik raised his hand and caught the blade through the flat of his palm with a bite of exquisite pain.

Blood dribbled down both sides of his forearm and the whole room stared.

“You’re fast,” he acknowledged, using his right hand to free the knife from his left. The blade smoked, the metal corroding as he tossed it on the desk. “But speed isn’t everything.” Smiling, he staunched the wound on the back of his hand with his tongue. Blood dripped from his palm, hissing as it splashed the desktop. He turned his hand over and licked the dark trail from his elbow to his hand, then closed his fist about the wound. Golden light hummed into life and every last drop of his blood staining the room vanished in a spiral of heat.

“I would think very carefully before crossing me, my friends.” The pirates stared, Akavia’s eyes the widest of all. “You didn’t think just anyone could control the kaz-naghkt, did you?”

“You bleed black.” A fearful whisper from the stunned crowd. “Like them.”

“Of course I do.” Yullik smiled. “I created them.”

The expressions of horror and the scent of fear rising in the room were most gratifying, but that didn’t stop his senses from telling him something was amiss.

He frowned, expanding his awareness and stood so fast his chair clattered to the floor, making the pirates flinch. Ignoring them, he strode to the door and snapped his fingers at the waiting guards.

“The prisoners have escaped.” He said to the leader of his kaz-naghkt horde. “Find them.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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Storm Rising Price Rise

This will be the last time I talk about this for a while, I promise. But!

Storm Rising 5 A quick and final reminder that the price is going up today from 0.99 to 2.99 (£1.99 GBP/AU$3.99). It will take a little while for it to filter through all the various retailers, so you can probably still grab it at the lower price if you’re quick.

Amazon: US || UK || AUS || DE || CAN
Smashwords || B&N || iBooks || Kobo

Cheers!

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 42

Courtship Banner 1

A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

Finally, a little private time together.


42
Scales

19th Storm Month

MASTEKH WOKE FROM the most wonderful dream, where he’d slept the whole night in Estenarven’s arms, dozing against that strong, broad chest.

Sibling Water, what he wouldn’t give for that to be true, he thought, stretching and yawning, opening his eyes —

And finding that it was true.

“Whuh?” His arms shot out, lifting him above Estenarven’s rock solid chest.

Rock solid, bare chest.

On which he’d been sleeping and… drooling?

Mastekh closed his eyes against the glistening patch on Estenarven’s superbly muscled chest and prepared to move. It would be a struggle, but by the Family, the poor dragon had been used as a pillow all night. He deserved a little consideration.

Before Mastekh could talk himself into doing what he really didn’t want to, strong hands curled around his elbows, drawing him down again.

Mastekh’s eyes shot open and found a sleepy smile awaiting him.

“Morning, Puddle,” Estenarven rasped, his voice rough with slumber. He pressed firm lips against Mastekh’s, drawing the affection out into a long, easy kiss that ended with Mastekh once more sprawled all over him. When Estenarven finally released him, the Boulderforce’s smile was a smug as the Jewelwing who got the diamond. “What a way to wake up.”

Mastekh could only nod in agreement, his hands busy petting their way across Estenarven’s granite hard muscles, enjoying the vital warmth beneath his cool palms. Such a delicious contrast, like the places where Estenarven’s hands had snuck inside Mastekh’s own loosened robe and were resting against his back.

When one of Mastekh’s wandering hands slid along Estenarven’s side and found an unexpectedly ticklish spot, the Boulderforce made a sound of surprise. When Mastekh returned to that same spot, he breathed in deep, arched his hips ever so slightly and flexed his hands. Those same hands that were big enough to span from Mastekh’s waist all the way down to a sensitive patch of his own.

“Ah,” Estenarven chuckled, his left hand rubbing down from the base of Mastekh’s ribs to the top of his backside, pausing to circle over a particularly smooth patch. “There they are.”

As the Boulderforce ran his thumb over the sinuous spiral of scales, Mastekh shuddered from head to toe. No one had ever touched his scale patches before and he’d had no idea how wonderful it would feel.

“Sensitive?” Estenarven murmured, blowing a teasing stream of warm air against Mastekh’s flushed face.

“V-v-very.”

“Good.” He played with the scale patch until Mastekh was a trembling puddle of desire, his claws digging ever-so-slightly into the muscles of Estenarven’s chest.

Then the infuriating Boulderforce stopped.

“I’ll keep it in mind for later. Please tell me you have another patch somewhere else.” Estenarven sat up, chuckling as Mastekh slid off him like melting ice.

Sprawled on his back in the covers, Mastekh stared as his Boulderforce leant over and stole a kiss.

“Puddle?” he murmured, stroking his nose over Mastekh’s burning face, which was no doubt currently a deep green shade. “Scales?”

Sensations running too high to form words, Mastekh took hold of Estenarven’s hand and placed it where his robe gaped widely open. There on his rather less than spectacular chest, slightly to the left of centre, a ragged-edged area just a little smaller than palm-sized formed a silky patch on his cool skin.

Estenarven’s smile turned tender as his fingertips traced the edges of the scales before he flattened his hand over the top. “May I?” he asked, touching the edge of Mastekh’s robe.

He swallowed hard, but nodded permission. Nudity wasn’t a taboo amongst dragons, who only wore robes to protect their frail human skins rather than because of any sense of modesty, but Estenarven had always made him feel shy. The Boulderforce was so beautiful and striking and strong, while Mastekh was… not. Just a skinny streak of human skin. His dragon form was sleek and swift, especially when he was in the water, but his human shape was underwhelming in all ways. He really didn’t want to disappoint Estenarven, but with his Boulderforce being so generous with his own body, Mastekh didn’t think it fair to keep hiding. Nor did he want to, not really. He wanted to be touched, even if he would never be admired. He wanted to press his skin against Estenarven’s, to feel his heat everywhere. So he held still when Estenarven brushed aside the edge of his robe and tried not to cringe when those dark eyes roamed all over him.

“Oh, Puddle,” Estenarven breathed, staring down at his pale, skinny, slightly clammy chest.

Mastekh peered down himself, wondering what it was the Boulderforce could possibly be taking so long to look at. His scale patch did look rather nice, actually, shimmering with iridescent hues beneath the golden light of the globe. Mastekh had never spent much time looking at it, but the blues and greens were quite pretty, shifting and shining as he breathed.

“Beautiful,” the Boulderforce sighed, pressing his lips right on the scale patch.

“Oh!” Mastekh arched at the unexpected jolt of sensation. “I – I -” His chest heaved as he tried to breathe after electricity had zapped through every part of his body.

“Very sensitive,” Estenarven purred, licking the scales and chuckling deeply as Mastekh whimpered with pleasure. “Excellent.”

“Sh-shouldn’t we be g-g-getting up?” Mastekh asked weakly, chest heaving, a fine sheen of moisture breaking out across his entire body as he tried to process all that he was feeling. It didn’t help that Estenarven was stroking teasing fingers across his whole chest now and slowly peeling the edges of his robe apart so that he could explore further – and lower. “Esten!”

Estenarven waited for him to collapse back against the covers before nuzzling the opposite side of Mastekh’s chest from the scale patch he’d just licked. Again.

“Not today,” he murmured. “We don’t have anywhere to be today.” He tested Mastekh’s thin layer of muscle with his teeth, nipped a little harder and licked away the sting. Then he looked up to grin. “Elder Blazeborn has given us all the day off.”

“Oooooh,” Mastekh sighed, while Estenarven returned to his explorations. “That’s… that’s very k-k-kind of him.”

“Isn’t it?” Estenarven chuckled, shifting to make himself more comfortable as he moved a little further down Mastekh’s body. “Now all we have to do is find a way to amuse ourselves. Any ideas?”

Mastekh’s reply was a squeak, followed by a moan, followed by a sigh as he surrendered to his delicious fate.


Courtship 7~ Next Chapter ~Courtship 7

If, like Estenarven, you want more, then you can get the ebook – it’s free!

Whatever you choose to do, take care, my lovelies.

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