Chapter 9

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My nails dug into the palms of my hands as I stared at my Sleeping mate.

The tank hadn't worked as well as expected. Although it did slow things down, she'd needed to be naked and the loss of the magicked gold had proven to be too detrimental. I'd stuffed the tank with enough statuary that she'd teased me about feeling like a goldfish, but skin to skin contact was still best. The liquid had soaked up too much magic and surrendered it far too unwillingly.

So now my mate was curled up on golden sheets, clothed in gold, and draped with as much gold as I could persuade her to Sleep in. She'd wrapped herself around a pillow, her face half-buried in the gold satin, her long hair braided into a sleek black rope. Her breath came slow and even, that rosebud mouth half-parted as if expecting a kiss.

I sat down beside her and stroked a finger down the line of her shoulder to her arm and then to the finger that wore my ring. Tension eased out of me with each smooth breath she took. Towards the end of the tank experiment, her breath had sawed in and out, audible even from outside the tank, as if carrying too heavy a burden.

Not as if. She was carrying too heavy a burden, precious as it was.

Slender still, her waist and belly gave no hint that our child grew within her. Not for months, even years more, at a guess. A pang arrowed into my gut.

Legends said that once upon a time, when the earth was young and magic flowed through the world, dragon women could take on their four-legged shape and present their mates with an egg a mere ten months after their first mating. Now, when magic was bound up in flesh and blood and hoarded more jealously than gold, a dragon female could brood for years, depending on how powerful her family was.

My mate...

I wouldn't be surprised if it took decades before she grew round with our child.

"She Sleeps deep." A soft voice came from the doorway.

I turned and looked. Adora's parents stood a foot away from the nest I'd built for my mate, a shallow cradle woven with out of boughs of gold.

Her father bent and fingered the chain that connected a bracelet around her wrist to the nest.

"Interesting," he said. A wry smile twisted his mouth. "I never thought to see my daughter thus."

His wife grinned, her eyes lighting with the same rueful mischief so often seen in her daughter. "She does look rather like one of those captive maidens in the legends, doesn't she?"

I couldn't help an answering smirk. "As with my forebears, I do what I must to keep what I hold."

The chain linked her to a greater mass of gold and magic, and it wouldn't irritate her in her Sleep the way the other jewelry had.

Yelan bent to smooth a hand over her daughter's hair. "I can't but think that we've failed her. Nearly a century and a half and still, nothing."

Xiuyi shook his head and tugged his wife into his arms. "She's Asleep, not dead, and the babe is safe. In the meantime, we still have time to find a better solution. That's better news than any other has had before."

Her eyes filled with tears and I looked away, unable to bear the sight. Mother and daughter looked too similar and to see her weep made my heart ache, especially since it was also my failure as well.

"I just always thought that she would be happy when she was carrying, that we would have found a solution and she would be as unreservedly ecstatic as I was when bearing her. I wanted that for her. So much."

Xiuyi's eyes closed as he held her closer.

"She was happy," I said softly. "Adora didn't regret a thing and in fact," I sighed, remembering her mischievous smile, "she said that she'd spent so much of her adult life worrying over the prophecy that this was going to be a welcome vacation."

Yelan dabbed her tears away, a rueful smile curving her mouth as she shook her head in exasperation. "That child." Her gaze softened and she sighed lightly. "But perhaps she has the right idea. She was always on the move, always chasing after something or the other. Seeing her so still is... unsettling."

"I always thought that the reason she was such a butterfly was because she insisted on packing as much living into what time she had as she could. Adora was never one to put joy off for another day and she could always find the best way through regardless of where she was," her father mused, his gaze tender. "Perhaps she's right, and this is a welcome respite for her rather than the tragedy we see for her."

Perhaps. But the beast in me roared for his mate and refused to be placated.

If only...

My head snapped up at the thought.

"Lord Xiuyi, do you know when the Wanderers will visit Earth next?"

Yelan's eyes widened for a split second before narrowing. "The Wanderers? Why do you want to know?"

Xiuyi's expression was thoughtful. "In fact, they're due any day now. They've been coming more and more frequently in recent years. I hear the younglings have been most appreciative of the large amount of entertainment available."

His wife slid him a sideways glance before fixing me with a contemplative look. "There's also been a corresponding rise in those who chooses to remain with each successive visit."

I tried the most guileless smile I had, painfully aware how short it fell. Guileless was simply not a word that had ever been associated with Fenrir Black. "It was just a thought."

Her eyes narrowed to slits. "Just so we're all aware, I would prefer my daughter remain on Earth and Asleep rather than lose her to the Wanderers."

"The Desekthroi are too great a threat," I agreed mildly. Even if traveling with the Wanderers would bring us in contact with more magic, it wasn't worth the risk of running into the magic eaters. Whereas the Wanderers chose to peregrinate the universe chasing rumors of magic and capturing what they could as they roamed, the Desekthroi hunted other magic users to reproduce. It would be a special kind of irony to lose my mate to the Desekthroi. A special kind of irony that I would never allow.

"I'm not sure the alternative I have in mind is truly preferable," Yelan said faintly.

Xiuyi chuckled. "What are the odds, mate? A dragon is lucky and beyond blessed to find one mate."

"Adora has always been beyond blessed, as you well know."

It was her mate's turn to look faint. "Surely not."

I didn't care for their parental sensibilities. I just wanted my mate safe. And preferably awake.

"Who is hosting them next?" I asked.

They exchanged a look. Then Yelan straightened her shoulders. "We are."

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