Chapter 23

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Jaceon

I pulled my wings close and shot through the air, somersaulting once before going into a spiral. The countryside below went from a patchwork of greens to forests and fields. I waited until the last possible moment to snap out my wings and veer into a thermal to carry me back up above the clouds.

The crisp cold drove the air from my lungs and cleared my mind. Blessed peace for the first time in too long. My dragon side had been howling for a flight and I was feeling itchy in my skin. My old training master would have rapped me with his fan if he'd known.

I tucked my head and dove again.

Brightest silver flared at the corner of my eye. Then a streak of sapphire.

I blew out a plume of flame in greeting before shooting past them, deliberately catching them in my wake.

We'd spent far too much time in our human form. Unavoidable while we were trying to establish the bonds and keep our mate safe, but so was the inevitable itchiness that came from avoiding our other sides for too long.

Perhaps legend had it right, that we were always first dragons before we were men. Certainly we always seemed to have less issue with remaining for long periods in our dragon skins than in our two-legged ones.

Three pumps of my wings and I broke through a cloud. I rolled, tearing it to shreds, whipping the last bits of into oblivion with the feathered end of my tail.

There was the barest hint of a breeze before a solid weight caught me from behind. Sapphire wings wrapped around me and a sinuous tail wound around my middle as we fell through the clouds. Then there was sunshine, the ground rushing toward us, and the warm chuckle of my mate in my ear.

I relaxed into Kieran's hold, trusting in him to keep us both safe.

The wind whistled past, its siren call soothing. Small dots of white below us grew until I could pick out the cows from the sheep. Still we fell.

Kieran snapped out his wings before I would have, his tail keeping me captive against him.

I laughed.

Not in mind for adventure today? I teased.

Not today and not any day soon, he returned. Our other mate is sufficient excitement all on her own.

The reminder dashed some of my enjoyment and I broke away from his grasp to climb toward the clouds again.

Sorry, he sent.

I trailed the tuft of my tail over his flank to let him know not to dwell, but flew on. Shoving all stray thoughts aside, I strained upward until the air froze ice crystals in my nostrils and my wings could barely keep me aloft.

I folded my wings and let myself fall.

There was a serenity that could only be found there in the highest reaches. When every breath was hard won and every beat of my wings was necessary to maintain altitude. There was no room for distraction; there was only the burn of skimming along the edges of my limits, a soul-cleansing clarity. Then there was the thrill of the fall. Weightless. The sensation was drugging, even as gravity proved that thought to be a delusion. So weightless that even thoughts found it hard to gain a claw-hold in my mind.

I unfurled my wings a split second ahead of disaster. I was about to reach for the heights again when unease crawled up my spine and lodged right under my heart. The temptation of the boundless sky dropped away, and that too-familiar dread resurfaced.

For the love of the Fates. If it wasn't one thing then it was another.

You're the one who was screaming for a flight, I reminded my other half.

And now, I want my mate, he returned, snippy.

I rolled my eyes before heading back towards the castle tower, but I wasn't nothing loath to return. We'd left Adora practicing her singing on a pile of gold. Fenrir was standing guard, but whereas I had my doubts about Adora being able to break through and drain Fenrir dry in the scant two hours we'd been gone, I wasn't putting anything past the Fates.

The unease coiled around my gut wound tighter. Did we truly want her to figure it out? What would that make her? Dragon, Desekthryn, or something more other? Not Desekthroi, not unless she killed one of us, but she definitely wasn't going to be garden variety anything if she managed to sing magic out of dragons.

The parallels were chilling if I thought too hard on it. The Desekthryn killed dragons and other magic users so they could hoard the power so they could breed. If we pushed Adora to harvest magic from us so she could sustain the babes, then the line between her and Desekthroi became far too thin for my liking. Unmistakable and unbreakable, but the circling dread refused to dissipate.

Just what did the Fates have in store for us? Why us? Why Adora? Why this? Why now?

The questions dove and swooped, like a flock of carrion birds and just as welcome.

If I were to believe that nothing happened without a reason, that the Fates knew exactly which strings they were pulling and why, then I also had to believe that there was something much greater than us hanging in the balance. That thought terrified me more than any other.

Every time the Fates played their hand so obviously, the world had gone through an Event, something that would reshape the universe as we knew it. I knew the unspoken hope in everyone's hearts. Some people liked the idea of being heroes, of being known, of being immortalized in history. Kieran, Lucas and I knew that too often saviors and messiahs died far too early for those who loved them.

There was a special sort of irony that I'd left the medusa, away from the people who I saw as Fate-chasers, only to be entangled far more securely than I ever had been.

You can't outrun Fate, little brother, so you might as well dance with her.

Xavier's words echoed through my mind, some of the last he'd gifted me. Before. Before he'd gone and been a hero.

Old grief threatened darkly at the thought of my elder brother. Xavier had been the best elder brother a dragon could have wanted. Strong, brave, clever, and with the gentlest touch for a younger sibling who was perpetually caught in hyper drive.

Only the good die young, and it was true. My brother had died fending off a nest of raiding Desekthroi, despite my pleas.

There were days when I thought I couldn't breathe for the guilt. He wouldn't have gone, wouldn't have put himself on the frontlines if I hadn't been there as well. Xavier wasn't a soldier or peacekeeper. No one would have thought it amiss if he'd remained hidden with the rest of us. But I had been there, so thrilled to be allowed on a trading mission with my older brother, and then the only remaining member of my blood-clan was dead.

How would my feelings for Adora change if she managed to sing magic from us? And did it matter, when the alternative could be her death?

Not could. Almost certainly would be. I was no healer, but even I could see how every minute strained her further, how the babes were pulling her life from her bones.

My beast had no answer for once, his silence sullen.

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