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~ Previous Chapter ~
Dragongift to Dragongifted.
“GODS!” BOTH JAYMES and Corin leapt from the path, dragonets dropped and forgotten. The shadowy ground was rocky and uneven, but Jaymes managed to keep on his feet – only to thumped in the back by Reglian’s tail. Landing hard on his hands, he wheezed as Corin landed over the top of him, leaving his nose only inches away from the warm red road.
Something heavy crashed behind them.
Whirling, they stared over their shoulders as an enormous boulder thumped down and rolled over the exact spot where they’d been standing a heartbeat ago. Small chips of crushed stone pattered against their boots as the great rock rumbled away into the darkness.
Jaymes blinked at the crater that had almost been him, and cuddled a trembling Emberbright as she wriggled into his arms, cheeping anxiously. Clicking his tongue, Reglian scooped them all up between his sharp claws and dropped them back on the warm scarlet cobbles.
“Do not step off the path,” he said, voice deep with both disapproval and concern. “The Clans guard our secrets most ferociously.”
“So I see,” Corin murmured shakily, dabbing at a scrape on her cheek. Skybreeze uncoiled from his grip around her neck to lick her broken skin.
“I apologise for the force I used.” Reglian sounded gruff and a little embarrassed. “There was no time to moderate my strength.”
Offering up his bloodied hand for Emberbright to clean, Jaymes glanced at the crater again and shuddered. “Don’t apologise,” he said. “Better a tail in the back than a rock on my head.”
The dragonets trilled their agreement and Corin gave a rueful nod. “With all due respect to your ancestors, I’m in no rush to join them.” She patted the road gingerly. “Though a little warning before we entered would have been nice.”
Reglian scratched his black muzzle with a golden claw. “The thought did not occur to me.” The Archivist was definitely embarrassed now. “Few Dragongifted notice what they walk upon. Those that do rarely ask until later, when things become more obvious. You are quite observant, young Corin.”
“And well rewarded for it,” she grumbled, pushing Skybreeze away as he continued to lick her face.
“Are you badly injured?” Reglian asked, his tone remorseful. “Can you walk?”
“She’s fine,” Jaymes assured him, stretching his legs and standing. “She’s just whining.”
“I’m not whining,” Corin protested, popping to her feet and shaking out her dusty clothes. “If anything I was claiming responsibility. See if I bother next time.”
Chuckling, Reglian scooped them up and set them on his shoulders. “I’m pleased to hear you are not too damaged. Even so, I believe it best if I carry you from now on, so that no more accidents can occur. We will go faster too. Hold on.”
His first step nearly unseated them both, and Jaymes grabbed hold of Reglian’s spinal ridge, while Corin braced her feet on the dragon’s shoulder blade. Adjusting to the movement, they shifted to sit astride the ridge. It wasn’t precisely comfortable, but it was secure. As long as the dragon didn’t try anything more adventurous than a walk.
They moved much faster now that Reglian was no longer constrained to human-size strides. Pacing swiftly down the Clan Sunlord road, they passed through a shaft of light. The wash of the sun’s rays, distant and wintry though it was, was a welcome sensation for all and Reglian’s scales rippled under the warmth. The road beneath them turned to gold and Reglian walked through the next two squares of light before turning left again and leaving the path.
Jaymes tensed, waiting for another trap, but with a hop and a bound, the black dragon landed on a third road – a mixture of slate grey and twilight blue.
“My ancestors, Clan Skystorm,” Reglian introduced, then rumbled a warning as he picked up the pace. Trotting into the dark, with only the tiny glow globes he had made for them to see by, Jaymes and Corin spent more time holding on than looking around.
Which was why when Reglian stopped, Jaymes was startled enough to fall off.
“Careful!” Emberbright yelped too late inside his mind as she tumbled after him.
The quick-thinking Reglian stuck out his foreleg and Jaymes slithered down, his descent slowed enough for him to land on his feet.
He stumbled a little, but his dignity remained mostly intact. “Thank you,” he sighed, scooping Emberbright up from the golden claw she was draped around.
“You’re welcome,” Reglian said, plucking Corin off his back. “You are all welcome, in fact, to the Giftspring. Allow me show it to you.”
With his passengers safely on the ground, Reglian bent and blew a wide circle on the wall ahead of them. Wherever his breath touched, golden sparks flickered into life, gathering together to reveal a drinking fountain. Carved from a glittering green stone, it had been made on a human scale. A human face stared out at Jaymes, its eyes were two glimmering rainbow opals above a gaping mouth. The Giftspring poured out of the hole into a shallow basin that overflowed to form a pond beneath.
As the light grew around them, Jaymes realised that he and Corin were already in the pond. Reglian had placed them upon a giant, black marble lily pad, whose white veins looked like fossilised lightning.
“Beautiful,” Corin murmured, crouching to study a white marble frog statue perched on the edge of their pad. As she stroked down its back, the frog croaked and hopped into the water.
Yelping, she jerked backwards.
“Careful,” Reglian murmured, catching her before she fell into the pond. “It’s deeper than it looks.”
Silvery eyes popped above the surface, blinked twice, then vanished into the depths.
“Why am I even surprised?” Corin sighed, and Jaymes squeezed her hand.
“Now?” asked the dragonets, Jaymes hearing Skybreeze’s distinctive cool tones twining around Emberbright’s warmer voice for the first time.
Reglian lowered his head to look at them and nodded. “Now. If you would get down.”
They slithered from their shoulder perches and Jaymes shivered as Emberbright’s warmth left his back and neck. There was a definite chill rising from the pond and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
“Dragongifted, please kneel.”
There was such a regal command in the dragon’s voice that Jaymes found himself on his knees before he even considered it. Corin sank beside him with equal speed and they faced their dragonets, both of whom were sitting on their haunches, front paws spread for balance. When Jaymes settled back on his heels it brought him eye to eye with Emberbright.
He held out his hands, palms up, and Emberbright balanced her paws on top. Her warmth seeped into his bones and he shivered. Her amber eyes glowed in response.
“Human children, speak after me.
“I open myself, heart, mind and spirit to accept this gift.” Softly, feeling squeezed beneath the weight of expectation, tradition and unseen power, Jaymes spoke in time with Corin, echoing the Archivist’s solemn words. “Here, we are partners, from this day until we die. Let no secret nor shadow come between us, nor any truth lie hidden within. As you once heard my voice, I now have answered. Together we are reborn. With trust and love, let our partnership flourish. In the light we are bound, and in the dark the brave need not walk alone. My bond, my word, in blood be sealed. I am your Dragongifted.”
As they fell silent, a sharp pain stabbed the centre of Jaymes’ palms: Emberbright had sunk her claws into his hands.
“Drink,” Reglian commanded needlessly, since she was already nuzzling the wounds, her black tongue flicking out. The skin sealed beneath her licks and she straightened, placing her paws over his hands again. Her amber eyes glowed with an inner circle of blue, the same shade as his eyes. Dazed and awed, Jaymes stared in fascination.
“Dragonets, speak with me.
“I open myself, heart, mind and spirit to accept this gift.” The words were a whisper in his ears, head and blood, speaking in time with Reglian rather than afterwards. They had been waiting decades for this moment; it was nothing new to them. “We are partners, from this heartbeat onwards. No shadow nor secret will ever come between us. All truths will shine out from within. I stirred at your call, you answered mine, and in blood and strength we are reborn. With trust and love, let our partnership flourish. In the light we are bound, and in the dark the brave need not walk alone. My bond, my word, in blood be sealed. I am your Dragongift.”
Turning her paws over, Emberbright curled her claws in to sliced the tender pads before Jaymes could protest. Amber blood welled up and Emberbright lifted her paws.
“Drink,” Reglian commanded again, and Emberbright brushed her paw across his mouth.
Without thinking Jaymes licked his lips – a sharp, hot taste tickled his tongue like metal flavoured with spice. He kissed both paws gently and the skin healed beneath his touch. Heat spread from his mouth through his body and for a moment his awareness shifted, as though his mind was taking a deep breath. His heart sped up, his muscles shrank and heated, his shoulder blades itched, his skin rippled all over.
He blinked – and he was back inside his own skin. Only this time it felt like Emberbright was with him. He could feel her thoughts, feel the rush of blood through her veins, the itch of her undeveloped wings wanting so desperately to grow and fly.
And the fire, he felt the constant heat coiled deep within, the glowing embers in her heart and belly, waiting for the day they would ignite.
“By the Giftspring let the promise be sealed, Dragongift to Dragongifted. Drink the waters,” Reglian rumbled above their heads, his voice thrumming through Jaymes’ tender mind. He turned towards the edge of the lily pad without thought. Bending, he cupped his hands in the water and gasped at the icy sensation. The spring was colder than snow, yet it pooled in his hands like honey, falling away in thick, heavy blobs.
He did, cautiously at first, then more readily as the sweet, delicious nectar flooded his senses, quenching not only his thirst but his mind, hunger and curiosity as well.
When his hands were empty, he felt complete in a way he never knew could exist. There was no place in the world he would rather be at that moment, no questions he needed to ask. Everything was wholly and utterly perfect. He never wanted to move again.
The light around the Giftspring swelled into a golden burst, spreading a feeling of happiness throughout his body, healing all his hurts. Then it faded, leaving him cold and oddly bereft, as if he’d lost something he could never describe or find again.
“It is done,” Reglian intoned, breaking the moment, and Emberbright clambered up to Jaymes’ shoulders filling him with warmth again. Even though the feeling of perfection was gone, he was content, able to sense his dragonet inside his deepest thoughts.
Sighing heavily, he pushed to his feet and smiled at Corin, who looked every bit as dazed and awed as he felt. “Let’s go home.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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