She tilted her face up towards to the sun, inhaling the crisp morning air. A soft breeze played with the loose strands of her braided ponytail, the feathery whisps tickling her cheeks.
Ren sighed and opened her eyes, gazing out across the grand mountains before her. The Dúndan Mountains stretched far and wide, traveling as far as the eye could see. They reached up into the sky, their tips covered in snow and ice.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Ren’s dragon, Nyra, asked her. Ren smiled.
Yes, it is, Ren replied. She turned her head, squinting against the sun as she gazed up at the huge black dragon that hovered above her. Nyra had gone through a growth spurt since arriving in Lostea, only a mere month ago. When they left Earth, she had been twice the size of a woolly mammoth. Now, she was larger than a humpback whale, with a wingspan that covered seventy yards from one tip to the other.
The sound of heavy wingbeats in the air drew Ren’s attention. She looked up, smiling widely as the huge red dragon approached. As he came closer to the mountain peak, he angled his body backwards and flapped furiously so he didn’t crash. A moment later he landed on the peak, the mountain shaking underneath his weight.
Ren pushed herself to her feet, smiling as a figure climbed off from the atop the dragon’s back. As the man landed silently on the rocky ground, four smaller figures appeared in the air. Ren’s smile grew as her four hatchlings approached, each of them screeching in delight.
Rhaegin reached her first, his snout coated in blood. He landed on the peak, less graceful than the red dragon. He grunted and shook his head, then happily padded over to Ren’s outstretched hand. He rubbed his head against her head, rumbling softly in his chest. His silvery scales glinted in the light of the sun, sending sparks of light dancing across the mountain.
Her other dragons—Verinia, Kai, and Brenn—approached her one by one, greeting her happily. Then they moved a distance away to curl up next to each other and nap in the warm sun.
Ren laughed softly, turning to face the red dragon’s rider. Her heart rate picked up at the sight of him, and she smiled as he approached. The red dragon followed close behind.
“I can only assume the hunt went well?” she asked.
Kieran shrugged, crossing his arms and leaning against his dragon’s leg. “I suppose so,” he said. “There was a mountain lion not too far from here, but they refused to hunt it. So we had to fly farther south until we found a herd of gazelle.”
Ren nodded. “I see,” she said. “That’s why it took so long.”
He laughed. “Pretty much,” he said. His smile faded somewhat as he stared down at Ren, a dark expression crossing his face.
“So…” Ren murmured, looking away from his gaze. She stared at the ground beneath her, playing with a small rock with the toe of her boot.
“So,” Kieran said. The air suddenly became thick and heavy with tension.
Ren peeked up at Kieran through her lashes. “I guess this is it, then,” she said.
He nodded, his gaze never leaving hers. “I suppose it is,” he said.
She didn’t want to go. She didn’t want him to leave. She wished she could stay on this mountain with him, forever. Here, the world was still. They weren’t the heirs to their respective kingdoms, and they didn’t have responsibilities. Ren wasn’t the reincarnation of the goddess Aren, whose godly powers would awaken any day now.
We have to leave, Nyra gently reminded Ren. And you need to let him go.
Ren’s gut twisted. Aréndíl, the first Fireborn and previous incarnation of Aren, had instructed her to travel south, to Yidda. She was supposed to find a powerful ally against Borryn that needed her help. At the time, she hadn’t thought anything of it. Now, as she stared past Kieran at the huge, towering mountains before her, she couldn’t help but feel frightened. How was she supposed to do what Aréndíl wanted?
And then there was Kieran. He had only just discovered his father was not Marjhen, but rather King Nathair, the previous king. Marjhen was his uncle, and he had killed Nathair and his wife in order to take the throne. Rather than kill Kieran, Marjhen had decided to claim him as his bastard son. That was before Kieran and his dragon, Maximus, turned sixteen, when Marjhen still didn’t know that Kieran was a Fireborn.
When they were at the Keeper’s Watch, Ren had spoken with Aréndíl’s spirit, and Kieran found a letter and document where Nathair claimed him as his son. In the letter, Kieran had been directed to travel to the Alebourne Mountains, to find a man named Alistair, Nathair’s previous friend and advisor. Alistair was supposed to help Kieran, to help him proclaim his title as King of Azkadia.
Neither of them could stray from their duties. Ren wished she could go with Kieran, or that Kieran could go with her. But neither of them could. It was here, now, that they were to go their separate ways. It was why she had sent the hatchlings to go on their first hunt with Kieran and Max. They were a large part in the hatchlings lives, and none of them knew when they would see each other again.
“I don’t want you to go,” Ren whispered as she stared up at him.
He smiled sadly. “Then let’s wait another moment. Enjoy each other’s company one final time before we leave.”
She nodded. “I can live with that.”
His smile grew. Ren grinned in return, her eyes running over his body, his face. She allowed her vision to slip into Dragon Sight, gazing at his aura. It was multi-colored, just like his fire, and it shrouded his body in tight flames.
Her vision returned to normal, and she reached a hand out to rest against his cheek. He leaned into her touch, his eyes drifting closed halfway. She memorized his features, his high cheekbones, his strong, shaven jaw, and his straight, strong nose. She let her hand drift down, stroking his neck, then resting against his chest. He shivered under her touch, his nearly black eyes blazing. The flecks of gold, copper, and orange seemed to glow, and his skin seemed to grow hotter.
Ren let her other hand dig through the strands of his hair, now cut short. His soft, dark brown hair tickled her fingers. Due to the recent trim, his pointed ears were easily visible.
“Be careful with those,” Ren whispered, her voice thick.
He chuckled. “I’m not too worried about my ears,” he said.
She smiled. Kieran didn’t seem to worry about much anymore. His newfound confidence was alluring. He held his broad, muscled shoulders high, his back strong with pride and dignity. Ever since leaving the Watch, he seemed to walk taller, his head held higher.
“Ren,” he groaned, his hand coming up to cover the one she held over his chest. He shut his eyes and swallowed thickly, emotions twisting his face in agony.
“I want to try something,” she said, stepping closer. There was barely any space between them now, and though the peak of the mountain was chilly, they were surrounded by a haze of heat.
She reached up towards him, standing on her toes. His eyes flew open, watching her as she came closer. Then, before she could talk herself out of it, she tipped her chin up and kissed him.
Kieran responded immediately to her touch. He inhaled deeply, one hand holding her tightly to his chest while the other flew to the small of her back. He held her closer, refusing to let go. Ren sighed and closed her eyes, the hand she held in his hair gripping onto the short locks tightly.
All too soon, they let go. They stared at each other, gasping for breath. Ren was about to step away when Kieran gripped her waist with both hands and pulled her close, kissing her again. She wrapped her arms around his neck, refusing to let go.
The kiss ended, leaving them both breathless again. Kieran sighed and leaned his head forward, resting his forehead against hers.
“I’ve wanted to do that since I first met you,” he murmured.
She chuckled. “I probably wouldn’t have stopped you,” she said.
Kieran glared at her mockingly. “You would have set me on fire,” he said.
Ren shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “Who know? That’s all in the past, in a different world.”
He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “It is.” He growled in frustration, then hugged her close to him. Ren pressed her ear against his chest, listening to his heart beat.
“Promise me you’ll be careful,” he whispered. “Promise me we’ll see each other again.”
She grinned. “I promise to be as careful as I possibly can,” she said. “And I promise that we will see each other again.”
He nodded, his chin rubbing the top of her head. “Good,” he said. “Because I don’t know how long I can stand to be away from you.”
They continued to hold each other, the sun rising to its peak in the sky before it began to lower itself into the west. It wasn’t until the hatchlings began to stir, rested from their hunt, before Ren and Kieran released each other and stepped back.
They secured the saddles on their dragons, checking their saddlebags to ensure that nothing would come loose. Then Ren and Kieran climbed into the saddles. Ren gazed over at Kieran, her heart aching for him. He smiled and raised a hand in farewell, then Max beat his wings and threw himself into the empty air before him. Ren watched them fly east, and she refused to turn her gaze away until they had disappeared in the distance.
You’ll see him again, Nyra murmured, comforting Ren. It’s only a matter of time.
Ren sighed. I know, she said. Then she gazed down at her hatchlings, who were all staring up at her with wide, expectant eyes. She smiled at them. They had grown more since they left the Watch. Brenn was now the size of a clydesdale mare, and spikes were now beginning to grow on her bottom jaw. Kai was the size of an Arabian, though he was growing faster still. Rhaegin was the size of a small calf, and Verinia was now as big as a dog. By the time their sizes had caught up to their true age, Brenn and Kai would be bigger than Nyra.Let’s get going, Ren said. Nyra rumbled in agreement, then spread her wings wide. She stepped to the edge of the peak, then threw herself into the air, her wings flapping in a steady beat. The young dragons chirped and followed, soaring in a jagged formation around Nyra. The black dragon angled herself southwest, then flew in a straight line.