Chapter 5

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Prince Dax Purgenigh and his company of soldiers squat in a clearing a few feet from the road, a small fire glowing in the center of their group. I've tracked them past three villages and part of the Jambur Range by now. They move swifter than I expected.

The wizard told me that the only other way to break the curse is to convince Dax to profess his love to me.

And that's exactly what I'm going to do.

I just don't know how. Won't he grow suspicious of a girl showing up every night as if she were following them across the queendom? I would.

It's less than an hour until moon rise. Hardly enough time to come up with a feasible plan tonight. If I don't get this right the first time, I may never get another chance.

Their chatter reaches me on the soft breeze circling overhead. My tongue flicks out without thought, tasting the tangy off-sweat that comes from their dirty bodies, making me gag.

I start with large circles, carefully picking my way through the underbrush around the camp. Each time I complete a circle, I create a smaller one, until finally I'm a little more than one hundred feet from the nearest tent. My claws curl over in excitement, the swift crack of a stick underfoot scaring me.

"Go check it out," one of the female soldiers order.

I back up, realising my mistake. My overeagerness might get me killed. My rump hits a thick trunked arrow tree and I let out a soft growl. The soldier hears me and calls for more people. Before I can right myself and get away, I'm being surrounded by the Prince's guard.

A chain flies through the air, its deadly, hooked end catching on the scales of my ridged back and pulling tight.

Then another.

Suddenly, I'm being wrestled from the tree's and into the small clearing they've created for themselves.

More soldiers come.

More chains.

My wings crack as they pull tight over my back. I try to take a step and another chain wraps around my front legs, dropping me to the ground in a cloud of brown dust and dead leaves. I open my mouth only to have it slammed shut again by a soldier's elbow. With a heavy shake, I push sparks up through my nose to warn them off. It works. Sort of. They back away enough that I can lift my head again, even with a rope wrapped tight around my muzzle.

Their chains press against my scales like stinging nettles. Spears come within a finger's breadth of my eyes and nose. I try to rear back, to pull away, but the chains keep me in place and I can't get my feet out from under me.

I just have to hold out a few moments longer. When the moon rises they will all see what a mistake they're making. This isn't how I planned it, but it hardly matters now. Struggling makes no difference against their steal. I know how to be patient. I've spent years roaming the castle, waiting to speak to my father or sisters. So, I sit still keeping an eye on the pointed sticks they poke at me while they speak amongst each other.

The darkness of night descends on the camp, the soldiers hardly noticing.

I tip my head back to watch the sky, but no moon rises. Panic curls through my belly. Where is the moon? I rack my brain for the answer and then it hits me with the quick efficiency of a blade.

It's a new moon.

I've screwed up. Every month for three days the moon goes dark. Why didn't I think of this before? How could I be so stupid?

A growl of frustration pushes its way up my throat, startling the men surrounding me. They start jabbing at me again, harder. Faster. As if my growl was meant for them. I rage against the restraints, swiping my claws and tail at the men and women who dare poke at me. What's the point if I can't turn human again and speak to Dax?

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