Chapter 4

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As the soldiers finally pass and move on down the road, I begin to breathe again. Thunder rolls overhead, threatening a summer storm. I should find shelter, but on the other hand, it probably won't matter. Why care about rain when I'll never see my sisters again.

My foul mood seems to have affected the fire in my belly. Soft wisps of smoke and spark drift up from my nose every time I breathe out. I should put my anger to use in finding the wizard and forcing him to release me from this curse, but I just can't gather enough energy to try. Not yet anyway. I've just met the man I'm supposed to marry and he's trying to kill me.

The first rain drops sizzle as they hit my scales, evaporating as if they were in a fireplace.

In the midst of the falling rain, a single rose sprouts and blooms, glittering sparks rolling off its petals as it forms.

Magic.

I lift myself up and search the surrounding forestry. More roses appear in shades of red, purple and white, all of them unaffected by the storm. Vines start to grow next, curling around the trees, twisting along the forest floor toward me. I swipe at one when it dares get to close and it vanishes in a flash of sparks.

"Princess Dragonheart..." a voice whispers through the shifting leaves, delicate, but definitely male. I don't have to concentrate to understand it like I do with others.

I recognise the wizard, Rodan as soon as he steps from the trees, seemingly from nowhere. One minute just a bank of shadow and starlight, the next corporeal and smirking. I tuck my tail around myself and settle down against the damp undergrowth.

I wanted to find him. I want him to release me. But now that he's hear, I find myself too afraid to actually move. I'm too weak...

"You've taken to your true form quite well." He's strolling toward me now, his hands in his pockets and his cloud of shadow trailing along behind him like a loyal hound attached to his dark cloak and pants.

I snort, a cloud of smoke and spark rising to meet him. A smile gathers at the corner of his mouth and he stops only a few feet away. I could reach out and swipe at him with my claws if I felt so inclined.

"Now, now. I didn't choose this form. If it were me, I would have liked to spell you into a beautiful hawk, but alas, the curse only reveals who you truly are inside. What your heart really belongs to."

So, he's saying that my true heart is one of an ugly, uncoordinated, menacing beast? A small growl curls through my belly.

He laughs, soft and sure of himself. Then he crouches down so we are eye to eye where I lay my head. "I have something for you. A gift."

I turn my gaze away, uninterested. He moves until he's in front of me again and holds out a thin, black leather collar with a stud of milky grey and blue swirls set in the center.

"It's a moonstone," he says, proud of himself. "I'm going to put it on you now, and I warn you, if you strike at me, you will be stuck like this forever. Death will not be a kind release that you are able to reach. I promise you."

With a rumble, I lift my head so that he can reach my neck and buckle the collar. It's cool and wet against my scales, like the drenched scarf my mother wrapped around me the night she died. A shiver runs across my muscles at the memory.

"It won't work tonight because there is no moon." He tilts his head to look up at the rolling storm clouds above. "So I'll have to give it a boost, but just this once, and only because I'm feeling particularly nice." His dark gaze meets mine once more. "It would be a shame to miss your reply to my next question."

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