Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas) (2 page)

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
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Even though Drake had been determined to have whatever it was that he believed he was owed, he’d left. Had he gotten whatever he’d been promised, or had he changed his mind? Lorenzo couldn’t imagine that Drake surrendered a fight easily. It made no sense.

Unless someone else had summoned Drake.

Unless someone else had given Drake what had been promised.

Lorenzo eyed the window blind on the second floor. He shut and locked the door, then raced up the stairs and strode to the apartment in that corner. It was dark in the luxuriously appointed rooms, dark and still. He stood in the shadows of the doorway and listened to the long slow rhythm of his father’s sleep.

No, Salvatore was still hibernating. Lorenzo’s suspicions melted. His father was only the ghost of what he had been, his vitality having faded abruptly this last century. It was a miracle, truly, that he was still alive. Salvatore couldn’t be roused that quickly these days, was often confused, and took a long time to settle back to sleep again.

Salvatore’s days of making mischief were over.

Lorenzo was honest enough to admit to himself that he missed them.

He left his father’s apartment, still thinking. He was too suspicious. Drake must have simply given up. It was long odds but not impossible. Even
Pyr
could be less than perfectly predictable.

Lorenzo returned to his plans for the massive spectacle he was planning, vaguely disquieted and distracted.

It hadn’t just been Erik’s visit. It wasn’t just the firestorm burning in the distance. It was the prickle of darkfire. He shook his head, pitying the unfortunate
Pyr
who had been saddled with this particular firestorm and its complications. There couldn’t be a woman alive who was worth as much trouble as darkfire could create.

But what Lorenzo didn’t realize was the extent to which the darkfire would change the world of the
Pyr
. The fact that he even sensed its blue-green flicker meant that it was changing him, as well.

It would be months before he realized that the third darkfire crystal, the one he had kept secured in his hoard for centuries, had vanished without a trace.

 

Chapter One

 

Alexander winced when he smelled the darkfire crystal heating.

As the Dragon’s Teeth Warrior with the keenest sense of smell, he always knew the stone was warming, even before the strange light within it began to flicker. Sure enough, his leader Drake lifted the crystal and held it aloft.

That blue-green light flashed within the stone, like lightning trapped in a bottle.

“Yet again,” Drake said beneath his breath. If Alexander hadn’t been
Pyr
, he would not have heard the softly uttered words. “It’s relentless.”

Alexander could only agree with that. He was exhausted, like all of the others, terrified to wander away or risk sleep so long as they kept guard over the unpredictable stone.

Drake gave Alexander, his second in command, a sharp look. “Find the others.” His eyes flashed with a panic that Alexander shared. “
Now!

There was no telling how long it would take the stone to work its strange sorcery. Sometimes it flashed for hours before anything changed. Sometimes it lit to brilliance in seconds.

But when it flared its most brilliant light, the one that nearly blinded them all, the Dragon’s Teeth Warriors were hurled through space and time.

They would feel the rushing of the wind and feel the sensation of being transported.

And when they opened their eyes, their location would be changed.

It was a strange and unsettling sorcery.

And these warriors had seen their share of sorcery. They’d been beguiled by an ancient viper, enchanted to take the form of dragon’s teeth, trapped for millennia until they’d been set free in a future that defied expectation. Their leader, Drake, had changed his name, perhaps to indicate that he was no longer the
Pyr
he once had been. It was so apt that Alexander didn’t even think of Drake as Stephanos any more.

In contrast, Alexander felt he continued to survive an ordeal, one that only made him yearn more strongly for the wife and son he’d left behind, one that made him more of what he had always been.

The first time the darkfire had worked its magic had been immediately after Drake closed his hand over the stone, at Lorenzo’s home. Since then, it had occurred three more times. Alexander was not even certain where they had been.

The group of
Pyr
had almost immediately realized that only those within some measure of proximity to the crystal were carried along with the company,
 
and this was the cause of their concern. Who knew what had become of the others? Alexander doubted he was the only one haunted by the uncertainty.

With a single shout from Alexander, the other warriors raced closer. Alexander saw his own distrust of the crystal echoed in the wary expressions of his companions.

“Wonder where we’re going this time,” Peter muttered in his usual grim tone. Peter was the oldest of all of them, a ferocious warrior independent of his age. He tended to expect the worst, a perspective the darkfire crystal was unlikely to change.

His view, however, would do little to bolster the confidence of the team and Alexander wished he would be more optimistic.

“It’s not as if we have time to look around,” Iggy complained.

“Just make sure everyone is here,” Alexander commanded tersely.

Drake was regarding the stone with undisguised horror. Alexander knew it was because they’d lost five men already, thanks to the darkfire’s unpredictability. It was shocking that there were only twelve of them left, when their original company had numbered in the hundreds. Each curse upon them had taken its toll, but with fewer men, each new loss sickened Alexander. He and Drake had concluded that those men who hadn’t been in the immediate vicinity of the crystal when the light flared had been left behind.

Wherever they had been.

Could they ever be retrieved? Would the stone continue to flash until they were all dispersed? The last transition they’d managed to remain together, but Alexander couldn’t help wondering how long that would last. They were tired and becoming irritable. It was only a matter of time until one fell asleep, or wandered away to relieve himself at the wrong moment.

Alexander swallowed as the light within the crystal pulsed with greater speed, growing brighter with every beat. He felt his pulse accelerate and sensed the heightened awareness of his fellows. He could hear hearts racing, feel perspiration gathering, feel breathing quicken. They all stared fixedly at the stone.

“Here we go again,” Damien muttered. The most handsome of all the soldiers spoke lightly, in his usual manner, but Alexander noted how he licked his lips with trepidation. It was unlike Damien to show any emotion, so Alexander knew he was terrified.

“You just want to find more hearts to break,” Iggy said in a teasing tone. Tall, young and lanky, Iggy was often under-estimated in battle, but he was of a lean build with fierce power. Alexander always thought of Iggy as a finely honed steel blade. His manner was playful and he would even banter in battle, which also encouraged opponents to miscalculate his abilities.

“Not a lot of time to break hearts with this stone around,” Ashe said grimly, folding his arms across his chest. Ashe was stocky and practical, son of a blacksmith.

“That’s why it has to be Damien to do it,” Tyrone retorted. “The rest of us don’t have a chance.” Tyrone was youngest of them all, an orphan who had virtually raised himself. He wasn’t one for emotion or undue optimism—and virtually any optimism was undeserved in his thinking.

Teasing Damien about his succession of romantic conquests was a familiar ploy used by them all to defuse a tight situation. Alexander was certain that the joking of more than one of the men—particularly the younger ones—was tinged with both jealousy and respect. Damien was nearly legendary for his successes with women.

“We should challenge him to make a conquest wherever the stone takes us, without being left behind,” Iggy said.

Damien snorted. “No woman could be worth that risk.”

They were all trying to make light of their situation, but Alexander could smell their fear and uncertainty.

All twelve of them were present and accounted for. Alexander refused to think of them as survivors. The important thing was that the light was flickering more quickly. He doubted he was the only one afraid to breathe.

“We need a new name,” Alexander said, hoping to distract his companions from their situation and the fear it created in them.

“The Survivors,” Ty suggested.

“The Last
Pyr
Standing,” Iggy replied.

“Careful what ideas you put into the world,” Peter advised grimly. “There might only be one of us left at the end.”

They collectively stifled a shudder. “The Dragon Legion,” Alexander suggested and felt them consider it.

“A Roman legion had more than three thousand warriors,” Damien noted.

“We are older than the Roman legions,” Drake said tightly. “And we are the best of the best. The last of an elite corps, tested by the challenge of men and of magic.”

The men nodded, and Alexander liked how Drake’s assertion made them stand straighter.

“The Dragon Legion it shall be,” Drake said with authority.

The light flared brighter and pulsed more quickly, silencing them all.

Thaddeus swore softly under his breath, then began to pray. Thad was both the most likely to find a practical solution to a problem and the most likely to invoke divine assistance. Alexander wondered, not for the first time, whether the combination was responsible for his consistent success.

“Any chance we can control it?” Orion asked. Orion preferred to take action, and was inclined to be impulsive and outspoken. “Maybe direct ourselves back to the others?”

Drake shook his head. “Any key lies in understanding what the darkfire is doing.”

“And maybe why,” Alexander added.

“It’s a primal force,” Peter complained. “It has no logic or reason.”

“Then maybe we should toss it away,” Orion suggested. “We could set ourselves free of its power.”

“And be trapped wherever it left us,” Ashe retorted. “Where are we even now?”

No one knew the answer to that.

“It is our responsibility to bear the darkfire crystal!” Drake said, his tone imperious. “That we do not know the detail of our mission is no reason to abandon it.”

“How do we know it
is
a mission?” Peter asked, and Alexander wished the other man would leave it be. Sowing dissent never aided a cause or a company of warriors.

The light flashed with sudden brilliance and Alexander gritted his teeth as he was momentarily blinded. He felt the shift in the air around him and groaned inwardly. He felt a warm wind and guessed it was happening again. Thad swore once more, then prayed with greater fervor.

Abruptly Alexander was swept up by a wind, one that swirled around him with savage force. As each of the other three times, he was filled with terror at his powerlessness. He reached out and snatched for Thad, who had been beside him, but his hand closed on empty air. He didn’t dare to breathe, for he didn’t know what surrounded him. It seemed that he was swept in a whirlwind and buffeted by changing winds for an eternity. He couldn’t hear or sense the others and the sense of solitude was even more frightening than having no control.

Just when Alexander was certain he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, he was flung downward. He felt almost discarded by some superior force, though he shared Peter’s doubt that there was intelligence behind the mystery of the darkfire. He landed with a thud on his hands and knees, then greedily took a gulp of air. He knew he’d have bruises on his knees, but he was aware that the air was hot and dry. The dirt beneath his hands was sandy and arid, with no vegetation. He opened his eyes warily, then quickly counted his companions.

Still twelve. They’d mastered that detail, at least.

Then Alexander glanced around to see where they were. He couldn’t believe that he recognized the hills.

“Merciful Zeus,” he whispered, easing to his feet to stare.

“Zeus is anything but merciful,” Drake muttered, but Alexander ignored him.

It couldn’t be.

But he knew this village, knew it as surely as he knew the lines on his own palm. He knew the hills of Boeotia, the curve of the road, the fact that that the sea was just beyond the lip of that hill. He knew the village spread at his feet, the names of the occupants of each house, that a potter’s wheel stood in the courtyard of the one house that drew his eye.

Home!

Maybe there
was
intelligence guiding the sorcery of the darkfire crystal. Alexander had yearned to return to this place almost since his departure, all those years before, and here it was before his very eyes.

He blinked and rubbed his eyes, but the sight before him didn’t change.

“We’re home,” Alexander said with awe, gesturing to the village. His voice rose higher in jubilation and his heart clenched with unexpected joy. Katina would be here! “We’re home!”

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
8.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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