Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas) (14 page)

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
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She shrugged one shoulder. “I can only assume so. No one would talk to me directly about it, but the whispers began. No woman would let her husband or son come near us. Most wouldn’t talk to us. They whispered about the gods and their influence. I was never certain whether more people feared the favor of the gods—because they are so capricious—or their wrath. Lysander was told stories about naiads and their insatiable desires for men. He repeated them to me without any understanding of why he was being told them.” She met Alexander’s gaze. “I had to do something so that he wouldn’t be damaged by what I am. I had to protect him. No man would have me, so I sent word to Cetos, asking if he still wished to marry me. He did.”

“I’m sorry I was gone,” Alexander said.

“I have no regrets in my choices. It was always said that my kind would be unhappy in marriage, and I’d been lucky for a year, at least.”

“It’s not enough.”

“It had to be enough.” She looked at him with all the light of the stars in her eyes and he ached that he couldn’t make her the promise they both wanted to hear.

“I wish we had been honest with each other sooner,” he said and meant it.

Katina smiled and curled her fingers around his. “What’s important is that we’re honest with each other now.”

“You only know part of the truth, Katina, and the rest isn’t good.”

His bold wife didn’t flinch or avert her gaze. “Tell me,” she urged.

Alexander stared at the ground, uncertain where to start, but once he did start, the words flowed more easily. He wondered, even as he spoke, whether that, too, was part of her gift. He told her of marching away with Drake and the company of
Pyr
, of their sworn task to hunt those of their kind who had turned against mankind and silence them forever.

“We called them vipers.”

“But what do vipers do?”

“They bury themselves deep in the earth and whisper a spell of evil. Their songs aren’t discerned by men on a conscious level, but they enchant those men within their range. They fill the hearts of those men with wickedness and incite them to violence.”

Katina shivered. “Like old-speak. We can’t hear it clearly, but it can influence us.”

Alexander nodded. “And like beguiling.” At her questioning glance, he continued. “A
Pyr
can enthrall a mortal, by lighting flames in his eyes. The mortal stares and is entranced, at which point he can be told what to believe or what to think.”

Katina frowned, as Alexander had known she would. “Have you done this?”

“I don’t have the skill and don’t wish to learn it.”

She looked away from him, clearly thinking. “Maybe that’s what happened to Cetos.” At Alexander’s frown, she held up a finger. “He was never violent before or so filled with rage. And it makes no sense to me that he would agree to send Lysander away. He wasn’t happy that I had a son, but there was never such a desire to be rid of him, much less entrust his welfare to a stranger. He was like a different man. What if he was enchanted? What if the merchant who wanted to buy Lysander was Jorge?”

Alexander was startled by the idea, but the more he considered it, the more sense it made. Trust Katina to see what he’d overlooked. He squeezed her hand. “You’re right, it could have been. Jorge could have smelled
Pyr
on Cetos and pursued him. I smelled
Slayer
when Cetos came home.”

“But I’ve interrupted your story,” Katina said, smiling at him. “Tell me.”

He told her of their company hunting a viper to its lair and their attack upon that fiend. He cast a glance at her, knowing that few other women would believe this part of the story. “We thought we had defeated him, but that was part of his spell. In fact, we were enchanted ourselves and captured by the viper.”

“How?”

“Each warrior snared by a viper becomes another of his teeth, a weapon that can be used against mankind against his own will.”

“You became teeth?”

“All of us. In time, the viper aged and grew soft, more like a worm. His teeth fell out, although we were still enchanted. The teeth were discovered, collected, even coveted by men who sensed there was something potent about them. We were trapped in that form until we were sown in the earth and given release.” He ran his thumb across Katina’s hand. “And when that finally occurred, more than two thousand years had passed.

She stared at him in astonishment.

“I thought to never see you again. I thought all of this was as dust, and lost to me forever, but then something strange happened.”

Katina bit back a smile. “Only the first strange thing?” she teased.

Alexander couldn’t smile because the next part of the story troubled him deeply. “My kind know of a special kind of flame, called darkfire. I don’t know its origins, but it burns with a blue-green light. Some wizard had locked this force into three quartz crystals, but a
Slayer
broke one of them in those future times, releasing it.” Alexander sighed. “Its talent is in introducing unpredictability. Strange things become possible when the darkfire burns, and assumptions are challenged if not overturned.”

“That’s how you got back,” Katina guessed. “That’s what the light was that glittered when Jorge disappeared.”

“Drake, our leader, believed we had to take custody of one of the remaining darkfire crystals, and so we did.”

“Why?”

“He heard a summons and took it as a command. I don’t know if the crystal commanded him or another
Pyr
, but with Drake, there was no question but to obey.”

“Drake is the commander you knew here as Stephanos? The father of Theo?”

Alexander nodded. “He believed his past was lost beyond retrieval, we all did, so he chose to take a new name. The enchantment changed us, all of us.”

“Yes,” Katina said quietly, then reached to kiss his cheek. “How could it not?”

Alexander looked at her, needing to know if she preferred him now or before.

Katina smiled a little, affection in her eyes. “Your emotions are easier to read now. Maybe I’ve changed, too, but I feel closer to you now, not just when we’re making love.”

A lump rose in Alexander’s throat. Could the darkfire give him a gift? He knew it could, just as he knew it could snatch away any delight for some caprice of its own.

He cleared his throat, knowing that Katina waited for the rest of the tale. “But as soon as Drake had the crystal in his hand, the light of the darkfire within it began to brighten and pulse. It would flare to brilliance and when its light faded, we would find ourselves transported, through space and perhaps through time. We weren’t sure what was happening, but we lost many men along the way. On the fourth incident, it deposited us near the village and I knew where we were.” He frowned, staring at her hand, and his voice dropped low. “Drake said they would wait, but the crystal lit once again.” He glanced up at Katina. “I ran away from them, to ensure that I was left behind. I had to see you.”

He saw immediately that she understood. “You think it will collect you again. You think you will be taken back with your company again. It’s not just the Pythia’ judgment that concerns you.”

Alexander took a breath and said his fear aloud. “I fear the price of my transgression will be losing you all over again.” He tightened his grip on her hand. “I don’t know how to endure it.”

To Alexander’s surprise, Katina framed his face in her hands and smiled at him. Her eyes shone brightly, as if she might cry, but still she smiled. “Then let’s make every moment count, Alexander. I’ve waited eight years to feel your body against mine again, and once was never enough for either of us.” She brushed her lips across his and her voice turned husky. “Love me, Alexander,” she urged. “Love me as if we could be parted at any time. Love me with a vigor that will give both of us something to remember.”

And Alexander couldn’t argue with that.

 

* * *

 

They came to Delphi three days later, Katina’s love for her husband bolstered by three nights of thorough loving. Katina walked beside Alexander, her hand clasped in his. She felt closer to him than ever and more in love than she could have imagined. They whispered to each other at night, exchanging secrets and confessions, learning more about each other and their powers. He’d told her stories of all he’d seen and she’d told him of all the gossip from the village. They explored ideas of what they might achieve together, as well as exploring the pleasure they could give each other. Katina didn’t want this interval to end.

But all the same, she wanted to know Alexander’s fate.

She could feel his strength returning and his body healing, but worried about the spot on his chest that was missing a scale. Even in human form, it was red and angry-looking. Worse, it didn’t seem to heal. She didn’t like the possibility that he was uncertain about the yellow dragon, either.

And she wasn’t looking forward to the Pythia’s pronouncement. That one woman could hold their entire future in her hands seemed unfair, but Katina knew Alexander would do whatever the Pythia demanded of him.

She dreaded the reappearance of the darkfire, too.

Theo had awakened on the second day and walked a bit more each day. He was clearly still weak, but made steady improvement.

They reached Delphi late in the evening and should have waited until the next morning to visit the shrine. Katina couldn’t imagine how she would sleep, knowing that judgment was so close.

“Let’s go now,” Alexander said. “In case we aren’t too late.”

As soon as he made the suggestion, Katina was in full agreement. They immediately began the ascent to the shrine, Lysander walking ahead of them and Alexander carrying Theo.

Katina glanced up the hill at the white columns on the sanctuary of Apollo’s shrine and felt Alexander’s grip tighten on her hand.

They climbed to the shrine of Athena Pronaia at Marmaria first, giving honor to the goddess even as they marveled at the beauty and ancient power of the place. High above them towered the twin peaks of Mount Parnassus. The land spilled below them, dropping steeply to the Gulf of Corinth. It felt, on this journey just as on the last one, to be a place outside of time, a place where gods might walk alongside one.

Or maybe where two beings with unusual powers might find a way to make a future. Katina stood with Alexander in the round Tholos temple, with its three circles of columns and looked over the site with awe. She felt a serenity well within her, a confidence that all would come right and that the gods would hold her and Alexander in their palms of their hands. There must be a reason for them to have their abilities and to be together. There must be a way they could aid the future.

She remembered the Pythia’s prophecy and wondered how Lysander might save the earth.

“My pottery,” she said, stopping for a second in her surprise that they’d missed the obvious.

Of course, she hadn’t known his secret then.

“Your fire and earth, like the prophecy,” Alexander said.

“But what if that’s not it?” Katina said, her excitement rising. “What if there’s a reason I was never any good at it?” She tightened her grip on his hand. “What if you’re the fire I need?”

Alexander looked at her for a long moment. “In the future, the
Pyr
are each said to have an affinity with two elements. Each mate has an affinity to the two elements her
Pyr
lacks.”

“So, together, they create a united whole!” Katina said with delight. “I’m water. You’re fire.”

“One of us must have earth and the other, air.” He squeezed her fingers as they walked more quickly. “The future
Pyr
associate air with ideas and dreams and prophecies. That’s you.”

“And what about earth?”

“They associate it with practicality and reliability.”

Katina laughed. “That would be you.”

They continued in thoughtful silence to the Kastalian spring and Katina wondered if she were the only one feeling a tentative hope for the future. “We wash ourselves here,” she told the boys. “To purify our bodies before we enter the temple.”

“Isn’t Kastalia a naiad?” Alexander asked quietly and Katina nodded. “Maybe she’s the forebear of your kind.”

Katina didn’t know. It was difficult to learn much about her powers, since revealing her nature usually meant being ostracized by others and she’d been rejected at the shrine.

But when she reached for the water of the spring that had gathered in the pool there, the water surged toward her like a tide of greeting. The water splashed high, sprinkling over her, as if greeting her home.

“Did you do that?” Lysander asked, but Katina could only shake her head.

“The water recognized you,” Alexander murmured and Katina thought he was probably right, even though nothing like that had ever happened to her before.

She reached into the water as if to embrace it and was startled to see a dozen women’s faces in the water. They smiled at her, their hair streaming back over their shoulders and their voices as light as a rippling stream. “Welcome, sister,” they said, and Katina realized that her companions hadn’t heard them.

Welcome, sister.

When she raised handfuls of water to her face, the water caressed her skin like a thousand kisses.

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
13.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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