“Great. First royal dragon egg stolen from Chalvaren in ten thousand years and the damn thing’s already hatched.” Kort Elias grimaced and stared at the remnants of the Aurora eggshell. When he crouched down and touched the enormous object—he could have easily crawled inside—it crumbled to dust in his hands. “Worse, it’s been at least a day, maybe two.”
A thieving mercenary had brought the egg here to this planet of humans, one dimension hop away from Chalvaren, and Kort had required a wizard’s help to teleport in pursuit. The queen his mother forbade him to give chase, but when Kort discovered the double-crosser took the egg from the royal hatchery, Queen Elissabet’s edict paled before the need to recover the dragonlet. Also, ignoring his mother’s wishes was a lifelong sport at which Kort particularly excelled.
He picked up three black dragon scales, smelled them, manipulated them in his fingers then held the fragile scales up to the sunlight. They were translucent, iridescent…baby dragon scales. His grimace became a frown. Poor thing. All alone in a strange world with no other dragons to coach him, to show him what to eat, how to fly, how to roar, how to be what he was. Kort’s heart hitched. He’d tracked the thief for well over a week, but he was clearly too late. He was seeing the fallout of his mother’s bad decision-making.
“Damn you, Elissabet!” He shook his fist at the sky. “Look at what you’ve conjured up with your ridiculous legend, mother.” No treasure, just a lost little dragon.
“At least he’s eaten.” Kort’s eyes ranged to the remains of the mercenary. Without proper handling, without a first feast available right outside his eggshell, the hatchling had devoured his abductor. Served the bastard right. Before stealing the egg, the larcenous mercenary had filled the queen’s head with stories and romantic notions, claimed he had intelligence on the whereabouts of Chalvaren’s mythological treasure, the Dragonstone. The fist-sized amethyst was valuable beyond means, and a prophecy of peace accompanied it. Kort doubted the thing existed, but even if it did, the mercenary wasn’t man enough to return it. Clearly.
Kort stood up and surveyed the scene, fingering the dragon scales, noticing their smooth texture. “Where’d you go little one?”
The wooded forest around him held similarities to his home world in the types of trees, brush and rocks. Kort heard water running somewhere off in the distance. Good. The dragon would find it and drink. Small winged fowl fluttered about the sky, in the bushes, searching for food, calling to their kind. Insects hummed and a breeze blew. The sun shone brightly in the midmorning sky. The major difference here? No dragons.
When his mother paid the mercenary to locate the Dragonstone of Chalvaren she’d surely had no idea he would double-cross her, but really, how better to find a treasure than with a dragon? Dragons had affinity for all things valuable. Unfortunately for the mercenary, the only treasure here was the one he’d brought with him…and that treasure had turned on him.
Kort shook his head and laughed wryly. Dragon-wrangling took a special touch. Most men failed because they had no idea what the hell they were doing. He knew dragons, and dragons responded to his gentle, firm hand. It was women who were dangerous, women like his mother, what with their manipulations and imaginations. He did his best to stay away from them, though that drove Queen Elissabet insane. He preferred the company of dragons. No deception, no worries. Just straightforward danger.
Ruling Chalvaren meant danger, too, or at the very least the hard life of a soldier, a warrior, a dragon wrangler. Though the palace was his for the taking, Kort had focused on building up his kingdom’s defenses. He left the gold brocade suits and comforts to his younger brothers, and while his father King Elias insisted Kort attend his mother’s parties on major holidays—something he tried his best to get out of—Kort had no heart for softness. He had yet even to choose a future queen. Perhaps he never would. His heart belonged to dragons, and he only felt at home with his bow strapped to his back, a quiver full of arrows, and a mighty beast flying beneath him.
Magnus. That was this dragon’s name, or it would be when the beast was found. Recovering the Aurora was imperative. Prophecy foretold of a dragon named Magnus leading the winged guard on Chalvaren, and if the beast remained missing the other dragons would surely revolt. Lucan Brix the wizard had told Kort as much.
Kort’s aura flared blue around him, and he began tracking the Aurora through the forest. As he walked he recalled more of what the wizard said. After a half-mile, he smirked down at the tracks. “Magnus. Sworn protector of Chalvaren, an Aurora-class dragon gifted with the ability to breathe both fire and acid at maturity—and with flight from birth. So, why is he walking?”
He laughed, but then sadness gripped Kort. The dragon was only a few days old. The little guy was lost, wandering all alone, and he hadn’t figured things out yet. Kort would not rest until he had the dragonlet safe beside him.
He knelt down and placed his hand beside the dragon tracks. Three times the spread of his large hand, the youngling’s print indicated he’d already grown. A new worry flooded Kort’s heart. He had to find Magnus, but he also had to figure out a way to get them both back home. The wizard’s teleportation amulet had disintegrated along with half his clothes. But, surely magic existed on this plane; the wizard had alluded to it. If not, Kort would be stranded.
In time, he supposed, Magnus could help him find that magic, as dragons were attuned to the arcane. But Kort didn’t want to spend years waiting for the creature to develop that ability, and this was all predicated on the possibility he could find the beast, keep him safe, hidden and fed. A tall task.
The ring on his third finger glinted in the sunlight, casting his family’s royal crest back at him, and Kort glowered at it. Getting back to Chalvaren and his adoring mother would prove an interesting task. But as he rose and strode forward in pursuit of his charge, Kort remembered one last point that lifted his heart.
“Speech. This dragon will be gifted with the power of speech.”
Ha. That would be the day. A talking dragon would be rare indeed. Almost as rare as one who demonstrated loyalty without being broken. Or a woman who demonstrated as much. When he found that, perhaps he’d let his mother marry him off.
“Dragons do exist…?” Mia Ansgar stared at the horse-sized creature. He slept peacefully just outside her cottage door under a protective spell of magic that she’d just helped conjure. She edged around Kort Elias, the strange but beautiful elf with whom she’d cast the spell, the first of her kind she’d seen who was not her family, to get a better look and satisfy her curiosity. “He’s awfully small. I thought they were bigger.”
“He’s only three days old, Mia,” Kort said, and joined her inspection. “Trust me. They get bigger. This little guy’s egg was stolen, and I’m here to see him returned to be with others of his kind on Chalvaren.”
The dragonlet’s wings were iridescent black like the rest of his hide, but their tips were swirled with purple and teal. His head was rather equine, Mia decided, with rounded bony horns.
She peeked up into Kort’s sapphire blue eyes. His magnificent face, his pointed ears intrigued her, set her heartbeat racing. She pointed at the beast. “What’s his name?”
“This dragon’s name is Magnus.”
“So, there are truly more dragons? My father always said so. But…how did you both get here? To Earth.”
“That’s another story for another day. The main question is how we are all going to get back to Chalvaren.” Kort pointed at the dragonlet. “That containment spell we cast over him won’t last for long. I need your help to get Magnus home.”
Mia stood bolt upright. “I cast the containment spell by melding my aura with yours when we touched, for the good of the dragonlet, but I don’t know how to work that kind of magic. Do you?”
He clearly knew how to work many kinds of magic. Kort clasped her hand in his, then lifted it to his lips for a kiss. Mia’s belly flipped, warm and low, and her body flooded with desire. It was new for her, this physical reaction if not the reason. Mia wanted a family more than anything else, more sometimes even than she wanted sunshine to warm her skin or air to sustain her life. After years of loneliness by a human village that reviled and misunderstood her…
A violet aura, her magic signature, cascaded across her skin. Kort’s aura spiked, too. His was royal blue.
Handsome, six-foot-something and covered with hard muscle, and magical, this elf just might be the perfect male for her. Mia blinked several times, trying to take it all in, to reconcile this sudden change to her overly quiet and lonesome life. For twenty-one years she’d been hidden here on Earth, alone, friendless, with only her parents for company until their death. Now this. Him. Out of nowhere.
To mask her discomfort she said, “My mother taught me magic auras are tied to our gods. Yours is blue. Your deity must be Marineth, the demigoddess of peace, unity, and trust.” Indeed, Kort had those very words tattooed on his arms in elven runes. She could see them clearly as he pulled her close.
“And your violet aura ties you to Varik. You know about our people, Mia? About our ways?”
She gripped his hand tighter. “Before my parents died they told me other elves would come for me someday. My father didn’t say I’d get to rescue a dragon.”
“Did your father say why he stole the Dragonstone and hid you away for twenty years?”
Mia flinched. Defending her father’s decision might prove difficult to Kort Elias, Prince of Chalvaren and next in line to the throne. It was his family that had been deprived of the artifact.
“He did it to prevent a war. A holy war, I think…” Mia glanced down at the sleeping dragonlet and tried to remember all the details. “He said there was a struggle between heaven and hell, like the humans believe…or good versus evil, if you want to think of it that way. A wizard who practiced black magic was killed for tapping unsanctioned power, and his wife went crazy. Her actions threatened to tear the seven kingdoms of Chalvaren apart. My father took the Dragonstone so she couldn’t use it.”
Kort nodded then sighed. “He did the right thing, I think. Magic should be used to sustain life, not take it—and she would have gotten hold of the stone. Our allied kingdoms are at peace now…for the most part.”
Mia lifted her brows. “Go on.”
Kort pointed to Magnus. “That dragonlet fits into the prophecy your father made before he vanished. Magnus is an Aurora-class dragon, tied to the element of Spirit.”
“Ah, yes. The elements tie all of us together…,” Mia said dutifully, smiling. “Fire. Air. Water. Earth. And Spirit unites them all. That’s the basis of all things, the way our universe is made up. My father told me he bred a Spirit Dragon once. Of course, he was always telling tales.” She looked back at the dragon and swallowed hard. If Magnus was real, as real as Kort Elias, then the concept that all her father’s tales of magic and adventure might be true as well flooded Mia’s mind with possibilities. “I never believed him. Not really. He had a penchant for dramatic flair.…”
Kort gently cradled her face between his hands. He stared at her, and a thousand words seemed to pass through his blue eyes. Flutters of trepidation strummed her belly.
“Mia. Listen to me. Magnus is the dragon your father created.”
She shook her head. “Those were just stories.”
Kort turned her to face the dragonlet. “He’s as real as you and me, Mia. Look. He’s the most magnificent dragon ever born to Chalvaren. One day he’ll reunite his brethren, dragons that want to protect Castle Elias, but who are reluctant, afraid and scattered because of the witch and her black magic. Magnus can bring them together again—if we see him safely home.”
Mia recalled the part of the prophecy she’d been forced to memorize as a child. “‘Destined to wield the Dragonstone at maturity, a force of magic made real by the blessing of our chief deity, Varik.’” She hesitated and trembled before she went on, glancing into Kort’s eyes again. He finished speaking the legend along with her. “‘Destined to end a reign of darkness in all the allied lands of Chalvaren.’”
The sudden connection she felt to Kort was too intense. Especially since her father had not been the only one to predict the future. Before she died, her mother Melia had told her things, too.
“One day your One True Love will come for you, Mia, and you’ll be honor-bound to help in his quest. How will you know him? Only your True Love can help you reverse the spell your father put on the Dragonstone. But if the two of you fail in his quest, you will end forever alone.”
Mia pulled away from Kort and turned to stomp off into her cottage.
He pursued. “Wait!”
She threw up a hand to stop him once they were inside. “You said the seven kingdoms are at peace.”
“We are, but not everyone agreed with what your father did. Some are loyal to the witch. She uses black magic against us. Killing dragons. Sacrificing wizards. Gathering so much elemental power that even I don’t understand what is intended. We have to get Magnus back to Chalvaren. Now, Mia. He’s our only hope against h—”
“He’s three days old! You must have this all wrong.”
“He can’t stay on Earth, Mia, and neither can we.”
She wheeled on him. “We? You keep saying we like I’m supposed to believe all this, Kort. That I’m supposed to believe you want me to accompany you back to my homeland…” And do what there after our arrival? Rear dragons to fight witches? She did not ask. This elf seemed in many ways a perfect match, her One True Love. But was that what he was proposing? She feared she was being naïve.
She turned back and stared at the hearth in the central room of her cottage. Kort saw and guided her over to it.
“Ah. The answer.”
The keystone held a fist-sized amethyst embedded in the rock. Kort twined their hands together and touched it, and the jewel lit up, glowing violet with their combined magic.
Mia gasped. Kort chuckled.
“We can do this together,” he said. “With the right kind of magic we can blend our auras and blast that artifact out of the stone then use it to open a portal back home. Yes, Mia, I want you to come with me, with us. You’re obviously fond of the dragonlet, and he’s displayed an affinity for you. He led me straight to you.”
Should she do it? It wasn’t like she had much choice now. Once the humans in the nearby village realized Magnus had eaten their vicar as one of his first meals, the whole vicious lot of them would come after him with pitchforks and axes. She simply couldn’t stay here anymore…but did she want to go with Kort?
“You said we could unite our auras and free the Dragonstone from my father’s protections…?”
Kort’s smile broadened. “That amethyst is the largest chunk of dragon ore ever known to the elves of Chalvaren. The legend around it, if you go in for that sort of thing, is that dragons themselves tore it from the Drahkos Mountains.”
It was luminescent, the most beautiful jewel Mia had ever seen. She blinked, her mother’s words pouring through her mind. Your One True Love… If she was willing to risk being forever alone.
Kort whispered close in her ear, “It’s a conduit for energy of all kinds, Mia. Plus it has a special attunement to…” He eyed her meaningfully. “The physical.”
She gulped. “So…? How, exactly…? I mean…” She searched Kort’s eyes and smoothed her other hand down the skirt of her purple dress to dry her palm. “What are you proposing we do to liberate the thing?”
Kort pulled her into a kiss.
Mia let him.
Their magic auras mingled, and she nearly lost her breath. She trembled in his arms and arched her chest into his. Kort held her tight, his hands drifting down her back. She let the warmth of his body flush through her, and the spark of desire she’d felt earlier when they melded their auras to cast the spell over Magnus burst into full flame. His touch destroyed her with need, and she pressed closer, mindless, reveling in the first kiss she’d ever experienced.
He plundered her mouth with his tongue, and Mia reveled in his mastery. When Kort broke away, she arched her neck so he could kiss her neck and he trailed hot moist kisses up to the crest of one pointed ear.
“Let me love you, Mia. You don’t belong here. You belong with me. Let’s use the power of our auras at the height of ecstasy to release the Dragonstone and go home.”
At the height of ecstasy? Was he saying they would make love?
Whatever this magic was—whatever its intent and whatever its danger—Mia wanted more. All of this had been foretold by her parents. Magnus had led Kort to find her.
She was ready to see where he led.