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BRAXTON

 

“Thank you for distracting the highly coveted Skyborne Princess, stranger. I owe you a great debt…”

The man’s words echoed in my mind, as his grey smoke reappeared on top of the four-headed beast—a moment before it flew into the sky.

No!

“Evie!!” I roared, heart pounding against my ribs while the monster began to fly away.

My wild eyes slowly glanced all around me, seeing more mountains shift and lunge into the clouds—Dragons escaping the beast they feared more than anything. Desperation sliced my chest as I understood it had been my fault. Because of me, Evie was captured.

Raspy screeches and growls suddenly reached me, snapping me out of my shock. My head spun towards Vyper and Draco, seeing them restlessly stomp and jump on the sand. They wanted to go after her, but they were just kids. They were too afraid to fight that thing.

Too bad.

I wasn’t letting the man in the demon mask take her away from me.

Running towards Vyper, I leapt onto his wing, scrambling my way to his neck. “Let’s go!” I ordered without thinking, it wasn’t the time to question my sanity.

To my relief, he jumped into the air eagerly, his growls increasing—preparing for war. Tenacity and power engulfed my chest, and I suddenly felt connected to the punk Dragon in a way I couldn’t describe. Except, it wasn’t coming from me.

Looking beside me, I realized the bluish-grey Dragon wasn’t flying with us. My gaze found him still on the beach while he cried after us. “Draco, come! Fly to us!”

Another whiny screech left him, and he scrambled around the sand, as though trying to fight his own feelings. He seemed rooted in place by fear. Damn it! It wasn’t the time to hesitate. That thing was four times bigger and more dangerous than any Dragon now escaping from its path, but I still needed Draco and Vyper if I had any chance of taking Evie back from the evil Sorcerer.

Come on Draco, please. Evie needs you. I need you. Help me get her back…

A prickly feeling rushed over my chest the next moment, and a new determination flowed into me. Running along the sand, Draco extended his wings and leapt into the sky after us. His form slightly wobbled as the fear he felt remained present, but he flapped his wings as fast as he could to catch up with us.

It was as though he had heard my silent plea. Like he could feel me.

“I won’t let that thing hurt you!” I swore to them over the wind, thankful they were going along with my crazy stunt.

Both Vyper and Draco nodded, confirming they believed me, although small whines still escaped the bluish-grey kid. He was crying.

“Go invisible!” I called to them, noticing the other creatures in the distance mimic the sky colors and briefly disappear from my sight. Just like it happened when Evie and I first rode the kids in San Francisco, their forms reappeared, the magic allowing me to see them because I was on Vyper.

When my gaze returned to the four-headed beast, I saw he hadn’t camouflaged like the others, could he not do that? Neither had he disappeared in the Sorcerer’s smoke, for which I was grateful. Perhaps he was too big, or he didn’t possess the ability. Hope captured my chest when I realized that gave us an advantage.

“Faster! Go as fast as you can!” I yelled to the kids. “We need to catch up with Evie.”

Their forms kind of bounced in the sky, and I looked back to find their tails curling up behind them. The flaps on the ends twisted. When they released, we lunged forwards and they used the momentum to soar the rest of the way. Paired with the fact that the beast was flying slower than they were, it helped us reach them in time. Perhaps being so massive and heavy was a disadvantage for the four-headed Dragon, or it could be that the kids were far smaller and more agile. Either way, I was taking advantage of that.

Unfortunately, it became harder for us to glide through the air due to the wild winds the monster’s wings stirred with each flap. It was like flying through a hurricane. “Hold on!”

With my voice, the kids pushed forward. Their heads lowered as though their horns guided the way, arms and legs closing around their body until they resembled bullets, and our flight through the harsh current became smother. I was briefly amazed by the complexity of these magnificent creatures, but reaching the colossal tail of the beast snapped me out of my reverence.

What the fuck did I do now?

My eyes swiftly searched ahead, seeing all four heads of the monster focused on its new path. He didn’t seem aware we were tailing him, literally. Couldn’t he sense us? Snapping sounds suddenly reached me, and I looked down to find Vyper trying to snatch one of the flaps on the monster’s tail with his sharp, fang looking teeth that might as well have been swords.

“Stop that!” I shouted, and two of the heads of the Dragon before us lifted, slowing turning to search the area around him. Fuck. He hadn’t sensed us yet, but he heard us.

Draco and Vyper immediately dropped in the air, hiding behind the monster’s rear. Every muscle in my form became rigid while we watched him search wide and high for the origin of the sound, but, thankfully, he didn’t see us. Okay, we needed to be far more careful next time, but what exactly was my plan?

When the kids hovered up once more, my eyes fell on long, golden hair swaying in the breeze and I was relieved to see that Evie hadn’t been harmed. However, the man in the demon mask still held her flushed against his body, one arm around her chest while the sharp end of his staff pressed against her neck. Anger swiftly replaced the relief I felt, and I wanted to rip the fucking mask off the man’s head and punch his lights out.

A simple idea formed in my mind. One of the kids just needed to distract the Sorcerer on one side as I went onto the other, somehow freed Evie, and got her on my Dragon. All while flying basically onto the monster’s back, hoping for him not to see us and attack, and for the evil dude not to shoot at us with his dark magic.

Fine. Maybe it wasn’t that easy, and it was going to take all of us to make it happen. I knew Vyper would go along with my crazy plan, he had so far, but that meant Draco would have to be the one to distract the Sorcerer and possibly the beast while I got Evie. Considering he was still slightly trembling from fear as he followed my instructions, I didn’t see that happening. I couldn’t blame him, though. Tens of full-grown Dragons had fled at the mere sight of the four-headed beast.

Dragging myself closer to Vyper’s ear, and praying with everything I had that he understood, I gripped one of the punk fin-looking flaps on his upper neck.

“Okay, here is what we are going to do!” I had to speak loudly for my voice to still reach him, yet I did it as carefully as possible. “You are going to distract the man in the demon mask on the left, while Draco and I fly to the right and try to reach Evie. But, we have to be careful not to alert the monster, so he won’t attack us. If we are lucky, we can take advantage of his blind spots. Nod if you understand.”

Vyper snorted, half insulted, like my last statement was the stupidest thing he’d heard. Of course he understood.

Fine, I guess that was as close a confirmation as I was going to get.

Holy hell. My gut tightened as I realized that for my plan to work, I pretty much needed to change Dragons, without landing, because we couldn’t waste any time. Maybe I was, in fact, crazy. “I need you to fly me as close to Draco as you can. I need to leave your back and get on top of his.”

Yep. Insane.

Vyper’s head turned to his bluish brother—or friend, or cousin, I had no idea how that worked for his kind—and he stared at him until Draco nodded. Had they mentally communicated? The next moment they glided towards the other. After they had gotten as close as they could, Vyper glanced back at me, and motioned me to jump over with his arm.

What in the actual fuck?

“I’m not going to jump from your back to his mid-air, while we fly who knows how many thousand feet over the sea. Are you crazy?!”

Glaring at me, he bounced, trying to propel me from his back. Now he was plain trying to kill me.

“No!” I shouted in his ear and he grumbled under his breath.

Pulling slightly apart again, his left wing extended, overlapping with Draco’s right wing as he followed his lead, and creating a sort of platform or bridge for me to cross. Their other wings continued to flap while they remained connected, keeping us in the sky. I guessed that was as good as it was going to get for me. Lifting my right arm, I touched my forehead with my fingers, my chest, and then my left and right shoulders, placing a kiss over my thumb once finished.

I had never been truly religious, more of a spiritual person, but if there was ever a time to make the sign of the cross and pray not to die a horrible death, this was definitely it.

On all fours, I made my way in a weird, half-walk, half-crawl to Vyper’s wing, and without another thought, I stepped onto the made-up bridge. Their skin was leathery, firm but soft under my hands as I pushed myself to stand on them. Heart thundering so fiercely it almost broke out of my chest, I carefully but steadily walked, reaching the middle of the way just to lose my balance when their wings disconnected. The wild current coming from the giant beast’s flaps had forced the kids to sway.

Sidestepping not to fall, I crouched on the tip of Vyper’s wing, seeing the kids connect once more. Damn it. My heart was now in my throat, but hey, at least it was still beating, and I was not a splat on the ground. That was always a plus. Feeling them stabilize under me, I stood and ran the rest of the way, spewing every curse word I’d ever heard under my breath.

The moment I dropped onto Draco’s back, they disconnected, and Vyper shot up, swerving to take the left side like I had asked. He was brave, but too impetuous for his own good.

“To the right!” I immediately shouted in Draco’s ear, and swiftly held onto the harness while he too swerved, wasting no time.

A wave of relief rushed through my chest, and my new ride flew us onto the beast's back, heading towards the place where Evie and the Sorcerer stood.

“Think about it, Princess. If you accept my proposal, your people will stop dying, and you can leave in peace again.” The voice of the man in the demon’s mask reached me a moment before Evie sneered.

“That isn’t a proposal. It’s a sentence. There is no peace in a life of forced servitude. My people would gladly die with honor, fighting for what they believe in, before becoming your slaves again.” Her body slightly jerked, trying to free herself from him, but he yanked her closer.

“I would much rather make a deal with you than kill you, insolent girl,” he spat. “Do you not know the power I wield? Aren’t you afraid of me?”

“I could never be scared of such a filthy criminal. Someone who uses their power to kill and torture the very people of his realm, and the creatures that would give their lives for us without second thought isn’t a ruler. It’s a coward,” Evie declared; her voice rang with conviction.

“Careful, little princess. In case you haven’t noticed, I hold your life in my hands,” he sneered, rattled by her insult, and the sharp tips of his staff pierced her skin.

A strangled gasp left her lips, hands flying to the weapon to try to ease it away from her bleeding skin, but it was futile. “If you think killing me today will make my people stop fighting to reclaim what is theirs by birthright, you are sadly mistaken. My death will not stop them, Raithian. It will fuel them until they drive a spear through your head and our Dragons roast it in celebration.”

The sight of her blood made rage like I had never felt slam into my chest, coursing in waves of vengeance. Not once, not twice, but three times the emotion coursed through me, igniting invisible fire inside me. And still, it was the echo of her words that drove me forwards.

“Raithian…”

The name she had called him mixed with my mother’s voice in my mind.

“Raithian… He murdered your father.”

Draco and I shot towards Evie just as Vyper spit a blazing sphere at the Sorcerer. It exploded at his feet, the flames licking up his legs and singeing the scales where it crashed.

So much for not alerting the four-headed beast of our presence.

All hell broke loose.

The monster’s heads turned back while the Sorcerer cried out in both ire and pain, long necks turning fully like they were possessed, and four streams of fire burst towards us. Draco swerved to the left, avoiding the scorching attack, and so did Vyper—before shooting another blaze at the man in the demon mask.

Instantly taking advantage, Evie yanked the staff from him at the same time that she slammed her hips with force against Raithian, pushing him off her. Whirling around, she swung the weapon at him, ramming the top against the back of his head. The Sorcerer fell to his knees, wrenching the demon mask off his face with urgency. The iron was red and sweltering with the heat that engulfed it from Vyper’s attacks.

“Evie!” I yelled while she smacked his chest next, sending him crashing on his back, then slammed the staff against the Dragon’s body. The weapon’s crystal shattered. “Run!” I added while we dove and shot up again, escaping the monster’s attacks as best we could, and flew to her side.

“Braxton?!” Her head snapped up in our direction even though she couldn’t see us, and she began to run away from the Sorcerer—on her way to me.

Another shot left Vyper’s mouth, his fiery breath catching on the man’s clothes, while he crawled along the beast’s back, reaching for the staff. Raithian swung it towards the direction the attack came from, but he couldn’t see anything. My mouth opened to scream at Vyper to move, but nothing happened. Raithian’s staff appeared to have no power without the crystal.

Enraged, two of the heads fired at Vyper while the rest aimed at Draco and me, but they shot right past us. When only the heat reached us, the sharp pain engulfed my left eye again, and my horizon suddenly changed, seeing the scene from a different perspective.

The body of the beast became visible from front to back, and the sea and beach where we had landed became smaller and smaller in the distance. The Sorcerer shouted in ire and pain, dragging himself over the scales, but the sky above the monster was empty.

He spewed his fiery breath at the void space as the scene disappeared, and my eyes widened with the realization. The four-headed Dragon couldn’t see us either. He was shooting blindly.

Why couldn’t he see the others of his own race? There was no time to figure that out.

“Let’s go!” I shouted at Vyper while I pulled Draco towards the direction Evie was headed—wherever the hell that was. She was running towards the edge of the beast’s back, like she was going to jump off him.

No.

She wouldn’t.

She wouldn’t jump.

Right?

Her golden hair whipped all around her as she frantically searched the sky, trying to pinpoint my location, but unable to find us.

“Catch me!” Evie ordered and… Yep, she jumped.

There was something seriously wrong with that woman.

“Go!” I yelled hysterically at Draco, and we dove for her faster than he had flown before.

Closing his wings, he blasted forwards like an arrow, twirling in the air to achieve unimaginable speed. My thighs clamped harshly around his neck, and I gripped the hardness with all my strength, feeling a rush of—what I could only describe as magic—course through the arm shield Evie had placed on me. The feeling intensified, engulfing my arm fully and making it powerful enough to hold on without it ripping from my body.

“There!” I yelled at Draco, when his wings opened again, pointing to where she was falling. He bounced in the sky an instant before swooping under her.

Evie’s body fell harshly on Draco’s back, landing on her side, and a pain-filled scream burst from her throat. Without thinking, I let go of the harness and lunged towards her, pulling her into my arms.

“You came for me?” Evie breathed, blue eyes filled with shock. She reached for me as desperately as I did for her, wrapping her arms and legs around me.

“Of course I did…” I whispered in her ear. “I had to.”

Without another word, she just clung to me.

Hearts thundering in our chests, we held each other fiercely, my hand cradling her head while my face plunged into her hair. I couldn’t believe that had actually worked and she was in my arms again, but I was glad she was safe. Vyper screeched next to us, announcing he had joined us, and I lifted my head to see the four-headed beast turning. It was coming after us even though he couldn’t see us… His other senses had locked onto us.

We needed to get out of there as soon as possible.

For a moment, I thought Evie would crawl off me and climb on Vyper somehow so we could fly to a secure place, but her arms and legs only tightened around me. I suddenly felt the tremors running through her. She seemed frozen in place, anchored to me, and I couldn’t blame her. A part of me had been petrified by horror and fear since she was taken by that man, but the need to save her had been my driving force.

Without letting her go, I crawled my way back to Draco’s neck and secured my legs around him, retaking the harness. Vyper and Draco exchanged a glance, and they whined as though they could feel Evie’s distress. Perhaps they could.

I searched the horizon for a way out, noticing a large formation of connected mountains that spanned across the land. What looked like a vast tunnel appeared to run through them. It was almost as tall as a building, but definitely not enough for the monster to fit through it. He was larger than any of the Dragons I’d seen since I arrived here. I wasn’t sure if it was an actual tunnel with an outlet to a safe place, or a cave where we would be stuck until the beast got tired of waiting and we could come out, but it was the only thing I could see that might help us.

When the left side of my head began to tingle, and a sharp pain went through my eye, I got my answer. I wasn’t sure how, but my surroundings changed. My vision zoomed into the opening as though I had gone through it many times, and I saw myself dive into it. It wasn’t just one tunnel, it was a network of them inside the mountains, running for what seemed like forever. I soared through them, turning, dipping, and rising as I flew, my body that of a Dragon, not a man, until a pin of light appeared in front of me.

There was an exit.

The sight disappeared, replaced by the vast mountains once more, and I turned to look at Vyper beside us. “Fast, to the tunnel!”

Nodding, both Vyper and Draco burst towards it, promptly entering the large cave.

CHAPTER 2

Darkness engulfed us instantly, and an eerie cold captured my being when I looked behind us, finding the four-headed beast rearing back. He halted his advance in front of the entrance of the tunnel, unable to enter. His roar made the cave tremble around us.

Soon, the sight of him vanished behind me, but the image of the evil Sorcerer remained. He stood on the monster’s back. His eyes still glowed green like I had seen before, but hatred contorted his features. One of his hands held the broken staff, while the other gripped the demon mask. His bald head was fully visible, but it was the true sight of him that shocked me even more than his horrid mask had.

Half his face was disfigured by fire. Not the one Vyper had inflicted on him—as the searing along his arms showed—but one that had receded long ago. It reminded me of my scars.

I feared the image of him like that would never leave my mind.

A cooling breeze swirled around Evie and I, and my attention returned to the front.

“It’s over. We are safe,” I whispered against her ear while soothingly caressing her back. I had no notion of how I knew that Raithian and his monster couldn’t somehow follow us another way, or end up on the other end of the tunnel, but I was certain of it.

Gentle fingers reached for her temple, and I brushed her hair back to uncover her cheek, placing a kiss on it. My lips continued along her jaw, and I felt her stir in my arms, leaning away enough to look at me, except it was so dark we couldn’t really see each other. Our foreheads rested against the other, seeking comfort.

“I can’t believe you came for me,” Evie breathed, her heart still slamming against her chest so harshly that I could feel it on my skin. “You went against the Warlock King, against Azazel all on your own, without weapons, without army, not even knowing—”

My mouth closed over hers, swallowing her words, and she eagerly responded to me. Our lips danced together urgently. A hand cradled the back of her neck, my fingers tangling in her luscious strands as I deepened the kiss, needing to convince myself that she was indeed okay, and safe in my embrace.

“I wasn’t alone,” I whispered once the kiss ended. “I had Draco and Vyper with me.”

The kids yelped, as though saying ‘That’s right!’ and we both smiled. Brushing our noses together, I kissed her once more, enjoying the taste of her on my tongue. She was intoxicating.

I loved that she was straddling me and holding onto me like I was her hero. Although, the way she had fought the Warlock King—as she called him—said she needed everything but that. Evie was more than capable of defending herself, but I would take this moment anyway and enjoy it, because never in my life had I imagined that when faced with such danger, I would risk so much for someone.

Yet, I had done that for her.

Perhaps it was stupid of me to even think so, but I was proud of myself for helping her escape.

The more I kissed her, the deeper she seeped into my being, but then she was pulling away, and rearranging her position.

“Aah!” Evie squealed when Draco took a sharp turn, tensing in my arms while we swayed to one side. Her hand went to her side.

“Does it hurt?” I asked, remembering her harsh landing.

“A little, but I’m fine.”

I could sense the pain in her voice, so I carefully brought her closer to me after she settled sideways on Draco’s neck, nestling between my legs as she leaned fully into me. Her face hid in my neck, and I hugged her to my chest, holding the harness and allowing the kids to guide us out of the tunnel.

What felt like hours later, the pin of light appeared before us, growing the closer we got, until we came out to an open landscape. Unlike my vision had shown, the light of day didn’t fully illuminate the landscape before me, but the moon glowed so powerfully in the clear sky above us that it might as well have been morning.

I had never in my life seen a moon shine so brightly.

Millions of stars shimmered in the night sky, not a single cloud to be found. That should have been enough to capture my amazement… and then I looked down.

Crystal clear waters that allowed me to see through their depths even in the night, extended as far as my eyes could see. What seemed like prehistoric coral reefs, as giant as the Dragons in this world sprinkled the sea in a multitude of majestic colors. Some rose above the surface like trees, but instead of leaves, sea flowers adorned their multi-leveled tops. In bluish and purplish tones, their thick, hair-like petals swayed in the breeze as though they were still under water.

“Wow,” I whispered, truly taken aback by its beauty. I was certain that writers or poets would have done this place far more justice than I with their words, but wow was pretty much all I was able to say.

Evie stirred against my chest in that moment, and my gaze lowered to see her on the brink of waking up. She had fallen asleep in my arms while we flew through the network of underground tunnels. My arms tightened around her, not wanting to let her go, and a slow and indulgent hum rumbled through Draco’s body. It was as though he could sense my emotions, and was as pleased as I was in that moment.

My body protested once more and I adjusted my position on his neck, but it didn’t really help. The aches travelled up my spine to weigh down on my shoulders and the back of my neck. I had been sitting like this for too long; I needed to stand and stretch my legs. We all did.

Leaning forwards as close as I could to Draco’s ears, without waking up Evie, I prepared to ask him if there was a place around here where we could rest for an hour or so before continuing to where their home was. My mouth opened to speak, but before I could, he swerved to the right—his wings starting to descend. Vyper followed.

Okay, that confirmed it. They could actually feel my emotions and needs. How?

Sighing, a disconcerting feeling filled me. There was so much I needed to learn about this world that was somehow mine too. So much I still had to uncover about my parents after Evie confessed they were from here too. And yet, my every instinct told me that I had everything except the time needed to do that.

I’d crossed into this realm in the middle of a war, and what happened with the four-headed beast made that unquestionably real for me.

Another fact entered my mind and my breathing faltered. Evie was a princess. Raithian had called her the Skyborne Princess. I realized there were many things I didn't know about her either. Had to add that to the list.

Blinking out of my stupor, I noticed a small island stretched before us on the right side of the sea, and the kids’ wings slowly tilted, aiming to land among its sandy and earthy terrain. With a slight hop, the kids touched land, and we bounced as they walked to a complete stop. The island was much bigger than it seemed from above, showing a tropical jungle of sorts that spilled onto the curvy and long, but narrow beach.

Our landing caused Evie to fully awaken, and her hand flew to her side, a small pain-filled moan escaping her.

“Are you okay?” Concerned, I reached for her while Vyper created a bonfire close to the greenery.

Her eyes lifted to mine, and she slightly cringed. “I think I severely bruised my side when I fell on Draco. Help me get down, please.”

Nodding, I slid my arms under her knees and back, lifting her onto my lap and turned to see Draco extending his wing to the sand, so we could slide off it. After we did, I carefully stood, taking her to the shrubberies that curved around the fire. I crouched to lay her on the grass that extended underneath the canopy of trees, but she lowered her legs, standing instead. The movement caused her to cringe.

“I need to remove this body suit; it hurts when I breathe,” Evie confessed in a quiet voice, her eyes evading mine as she turned and silently asked for my help.

My fingers reached for the miniature clasps that extended along her back, almost resembling buttons, holding the corset-looking suit together. When I unhooked the last one, pulling it open along her torso, her body relaxed a bit, but the moment she tried to inhale a deep breath, every inch of her tensed. Another moan left her, and she clung to me for support, her fingers digging into my muscles.

“Gods!” she breathed, her face contorting in pain. “I think my ribs are broken.”

Dread and worry slammed against my chest, and I carefully held her hips. “I am so sorry. It’s my fault, I didn’t know what to do after you jumped, and Draco—”

“No, it isn’t your fault. This is normal,” she explained, holding my shoulders to fix her stance.

“Normal??”

“Yes. I couldn’t see Draco as you flew to catch me, so I was unable to prepare, or land properly on him. These kinds of things are common when you ride Dragons. Call it an occupational hazard, as you’ll soon learn.” Her lips slightly twitched when I glared at her statement, but the chuckle that escaped her only made her moan in pain again.

“Careful.” I held her against my chest, but she shook her head, pulling away once more.

“Finish taking this thing off me.” She gestured to the stiff leather suit she wore. “It held my ribs in place while it was closed, but now its weight is adding pressure, and I can’t fasten it again.”

With a nod, I helped her grip my shoulders and proceeded to remove her Dragon wing belt and the long straps of leather that hung from it. Then, I slowly tugged the bodysuit down her hips and legs, leaving her completely bare to my eyes. My pulse couldn’t help but accelerate at the sight of her beauty on full display, yet as I stood, my chest constricted with the sight of the purple and blue hematoma along her ribs.

“I think you are right; they might be broken.”

“Hold me firmly, my legs might give out,” Evie ordered without explanation, and poked at her side with both caution and purpose—like a doctor would. Her hand moved along the length of her side, trying to identify which or how many ribs had fractured. “Aah!” The hoarse shout left her with the action, and just as she said, her legs gave out on her.

Her body sagged against me, but my arms were locked around her, preventing her from falling. “How bad is it?”

“Two broken, but not too severely, and none seemed to be poking at my organs or the pain would be unbearable,” she explained. “We’ll stay the night, and fly home at first light. I can’t travel like this.”

My gaze suddenly fell on the side of her neck where the sharp staff had pierced. I urgently checked her skin to see the four tiny holes, and the trails of blood they left behind it. Thankfully, they were superficial, but they were dangerously close to her jugular. One wrong move and she could have—

“I’m fine,” Evie assured, pulling my worried gaze to her eyes. “He wasn’t going to kill me. He just wanted to scare me. Having me in his clutches would have given him an incredible advantage, he would never jeopardize that by ending my life.”

Unfortunately, her explanation didn’t bring me any comfort.

“You can lay me on the sand now. Carefully,” she instructed, and I nodded once more, but before I did, my gaze searched the area for something to use on the ground. She was naked and I didn’t want her to be more uncomfortable than she already was, especially while being hurt.

“Vyper,” I called after I found him eating from a plant with leaves as large as a blanket. “Bring me two of those so Evie can lay on them.”

His eyes shifted from the plant to me, and back, and he reached for it with his hands—or  paws, I had no idea what they were supposed to be for his kind, but they looked almost like a human extremity, except for the talons and claws. One of his claws sliced the stem of the giant leaves and he walked to our side, laying them both on the ground side by side.

Draco emerged from the other side of the beach, bringing our attention to him when he dropped a large, dried out sea sponge the size of a sofa cushion on the top of the leaves, for us to use as a pillow.

“Thank you,” Evie cooed, lifting a hand towards him while balancing against me, and caressed his forehead. “He’s a nurturer,” she informed me, smiling at him. “He loves taking care of people, and notices everything that is happening around him. He’s very keen on his surroundings.”

A raspy bark came from Vyper, and we turned to find him lowering his head too so Evie could caress him.

“Thank you for the leaves. I appreciate you too,” she admitted, stroking his forehead like she had Draco, who was now walking into the sea, happy with her praise. I wasn’t sure how I knew he was happy, but that brought a feeling of happiness to my chest too.

Vyper remained before us, waiting for Evie to say more. When she didn’t, he made his discontent known by stomping on the sand, face scrunched up in disapproval.

Evie rolled her eyes. “Stop being a brat, Vyper. I don’t have to praise you every time I recognize something good your brother did. He thought about helping before we even asked him, you however, were busy stuffing your belly. If you want us to praise you more, then think of others too, not just yourself.”

Huffing, he stomped while turning to give us his back. His body slumped on the ground, lifting his tail to us as a retort. Humor travelled through me when he looked at us over his shoulder, narrowing yellow eyes, then continued eating the green leaves.

“He did fly to save you without hesitation when I asked for his help,” I vouched for the green Dragon and Evie smiled, nodding.

“Yes, he’s fearless,” she admitted, and Vyper looked back at us again, that time pleased by her words, though he didn’t fully show it. He was standing his ground. “Because he never thinks of the consequences,” she whispered the last part to me, shaking her head as though he still had much to learn. “And he believes he can take on anything and anyone. He always jumps headfirst into things.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Can you help me lay down now?” Evie’s distressed tone brought my attention back to the present.

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Carefully carrying her, I knelt on the makeshift bed and gently lay her on her back. Small whimpers left her, but she rearranged her body so she wouldn’t feel so much pressure on her ribs. Unfastening the armor from my arm, I pulled the belts that held it together off my body, and placed it on the rock behind me. “I’m going to see if there is anything around here that we can eat. You need food, and so do I.”

“Thank you. Those trees give an oval, yellow and green-colored fruit that is edible. You’ll also see a round white one that is bigger. It appears harsh but it’s actually soft. It contains sweet water we can drink.”

Standing, I walked to where she had pointed, entering the small jungle that bled onto the beach. Maybe it wasn’t her first time on this island. Immediately, I saw the trees she spoke about and my mouth curved into a pleased smirk. Mangos. The oval fruit she had described were mangos. After collecting a few of those, I brought them back to her side and walked towards the palms that lined the shore, stopping on a couple next to where Vyper sat.

They bore large, round white balls where the coconuts should be. Unfortunately, I was going to have to climb them to get the water, so I gripped the tall trunk, and began to climb, getting nasty flashbacks to PE class. Snickering, after the third time I slipped and fell on my ass, Vyper lifted a fist to the trunk and punched it. His side-glare said it all as the water fruit fell from the palm, one of them landing on my head.

“Ouch!” Asshole. Mumbling the curse under my breath, I picked up the strange coconuts and headed back to Evie. I found her biting her lip as she tried not to laugh, a hand holding her injured side. “Sorry,” I mumbled again, but she just shook her head.

“He’s such an ass,” she croaked, clearly in pain.

Kneeling close to her, but facing a cluster of flat rocks behind us, I ripped apart the mangos to find that instead of a large seed covered by the meaty fruit, those actually held several bulbous bits inside—as a tangerine normally would. Popping one into my mouth, the sweet and slightly tangy flavor of the mango inundated my tongue and I hummed in pleasure. It was plump, seedless, and delicious.

Tearing at the soft coconut’s top next, I opened a hole big enough for us to drink, realizing the inside was exactly like the ones we had on earth—with refreshing water and white meat around the husk. Why couldn’t these fruits be like that in my world?

Gently lifting Evie’s head, I fed her a few mango bulbs, and then gave her some of the water. Draco surfaced from the ocean then, holding something between his fists and made his way to us, throwing it on the rocks near me. A long fish that resembled a salmon jerked against the rocks for a few moments, finally becoming still. I felt bad for the fish, but I was glad Draco had brought it to us. It was a great source of Omega-3 and vitamins, so it would nurture us more than the fruit alone.

Reaching for a long and sharp shell I had seen near, I began to slice the belly of the fish and pulled all the gross stuff out of it. My face scrunched up at the idea of eating it raw, but it was better than nothing. Fruity sushi anyone? Opening it wide, I squeezed some juice out of the mango bulbs and threw them on top, then poured some of the coconut water on it too.

Before I could slice a piece of meat, Draco’s hand lifted, shielding me from something. He spewed fire at the rocks, engulfing the fish for several seconds. When flames stopped and his hand fell, I found the fish had cooked over the rock, its skin crispy but the meat inside seemed golden and even a bit creamy with the juicy and now roasted fruit on top.

A full smile captured my features. Evie was right, he was very thoughtful.

Turning away, he returned to the water, coming out a few moments later with both fists packed with fishes and threw them between Vyper and himself, taking the spot across from him on the grass. They began to eat the fish together.

Glancing at Evie, I found her smiling too. I picked up a piece of the cooked fish and fruit, feeding it to her, then took a full bite myself. Holy hell, that was so good.

We became quiet as we ate, until there was nothing left of the large meal, but the scattered bones on the rocks. My gaze once more searched the beach, trying to find something to cover her. As stunning as she was naked, it bothered me that she was bare to the elements, and I didn’t even have a T-shirt she could wear. Though, it didn’t seem to be a nuisance for her. Then something else occurred to me.

“Are there any predators on this island I should be aware of?”

Evie shook her head. “Not on land, but don’t get in the water just in case. It’s dark and certain sea creatures might confuse you with food.”

My eyes went to the crystal-clear sea. There was nothing under the water from what I could see, but I wasn’t going to risk it. Helping her drink some more from the coconut, I placed the husk within her reach. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to see what else I can find for us to shelter for the night.”

With her nod, I stood, and began to walk along the shore, scanning the area for anything that might help us. A pearlescent bunched up material called my attention near some washed-out trunks, and I reached for it, realizing it was some sort of fabric. No. It wasn’t fabric. Yet, I couldn’t really decipher what it was. It was soft but resilient, not ripping when I tugged at it. One side was almost leathery, but silky smooth on the other. It resembled fish skin somewhat, in a white pearlescent hue, but with a color changing shimmer under the moonlight.

I didn’t have the slightest clue of what it could be, but as I stood and shook it in the wind, it uncurled to reveal a substantial length. That would work perfectly to cover us both tonight.

When I returned, her eyelids were fighting to stay open, though her face still showed the grimace of pain. Cleaning everything out of the way, I pulled off my jeans, and placed them with the armor and my shoes. Remaining only in my boxer briefs, I lay next to her, covering us both with the makeshift blanket I had found.

“Hold me…” she murmured with her eyes closed, and leaned into me, cringing with the movement.

More than happy to oblige, I carefully brought her into my side, shifting her a bit so she rested more on me than on her own body. Hopefully, that would relieve some of the pressure off her ribs.

“Thank you.” A tiny smile curved her lips with relief, and I brushed my mouth over hers, kissing her softly.

“Goodnight, baby…” The endearment left me before I realized it, and the smile grew on her lips.

Without another word, she rested her cheek on my chest, finally letting sleep sweep her away in my embrace.

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