I twirl the knife around in my hand, admiring the craftsmanship. The blade and handle are one solid piece of carved obsidian. It is so sharp, it can cut through armor as easily as flesh.
"I still can't believe you beat me."
I roll my eyes. Here it comes. "And why is that?" I sigh.
"You're fucking the dragon hunter," he growls and I raise my eyebrow.
"Would you like me to fuck you instead?"
His eyes fly wide and he clenches his jaw before quickly turning away to pick up his sword and fix his armor. I chuckle as I turn to Ash beside me. "I bet he'd enjoy it."
He shakes his head. "He wouldn't be able to take it."
I grin before turning back to Lance. "Please explain to me how who I sleep with makes any difference in whether or not I can beat you."
"Well uh―I don't uh―I guess it uh, it doesn't really," he mumbles.
"Then why would you say something like that?" I ask. I can see Ash trying not to laugh out of the corner of my eye.
"I don't know," he murmurs.
"Come on Lance tell me. Why would you say something like that?"
"Well everyone else says it."
"What do they say?"
"They say having a male mate makes you weak. And the fact that your mate is the dragon hunter makes you weaker because you let an enemy into your bed," he mutters, staring at the ground.
"Well maybe we should get them out here so they can see exactly how weak I am?" I smirk, glancing over at Ash.
You're being awfully witty this morning, he remarks.
I shrug. I'm in a good mood.
I sit down on the stone wall and watch Lance disappear into the trainees' quarters. He returns a few minutes later followed by the four other juveniles.
They move to stand in front of me, most of them look annoyed but two―Lance and Nathan―look scared shitless.
"I heard you guys think I'm weak."
Fara rolls her eyes while the others immediately shoot accusatory glances at Lance. "You pussy! I can't believe you told on us," one hisses angrily.
"Yes he did tell me and if someone tries to punish him for it they will answer to me. Now someone explain to me why you guys think I'm weak," I sigh in irritation.
They remain silent. "Really now you guys don't want to talk?" They shift uneasily and glance at each other but stay quiet. I roll my eyes. "Who's weak now? You can't even gather up enough courage to tell me to my face," I snort.
"Go clean the dining hall, if we hear about this again you five are going to be sitting in the cages," Ash growls.
"Won't that be fun in the snow?" I mutter.
The five grumble and shove each other as they make their way to the dining hall. I breathe a sigh of relief when they're finally out of sight.
"How the hell did they deal with little shits before the cages were built?" Ash asks.
"They locked them in the cold iron cells under the palace. It wasn't as effective though since these cold iron cells are in the middle of the clearing for everyone to see. It's more about shaming than physical punishment," I tell him.
"How long do you think it will take for them actually listen to and respect you?"
"Well first of all they have to listen to and respect both of us, not just me. And considering the shits barely respected my mother," I sigh, "it could take a very long time."
"Gross," he mutters.
I chuckle. "Yeah little bit."
He sighs. "Okay let's go get something to eat, we should probably keep an eye on those idiots anyway."
"Seriously mom this thing is so uncomfortable," I mutter, shifting in the throne.
She chuckles. "You get used to it I promise."
I look over at Ash but he is lounging sideways in it, a pillow shoved behind his back. "That's cheating."
He glances at me. "You're just mad that I was smart enough to grab a pillow," he snorts.
I make a face at him before turning back to my mother. "Where are Kaine and Syrra?" I ask.
"Last I saw Kaine was taking her to the other side of the territory to see the springs," she shrugs.
"That sounds like fun," Ash grins.
"Yeah it does," I mumble.
"I can take care of things for a few days, you two go have fun."
My eyebrows shoot up. "Really?"
She nods. "Yeah. The dragons don't need a king here all the time. Mika would take care of things while I was at the wolf pack and there were never really any problems."
"Oh thank the gods, I need a break. If I knew being king would be this much work I would've let Kaine have the throne," I mutter.
"I'm glad you said yes though," my mother says as I stand.
"For the same reason I'm glad you chose a dragon for a mate. Interspecies relationships are difficult when you both have your own homes to take care of," she mutters, staring down at her hands.
I nod a little and hug her. She squeezes me tight before pushing me away. She shakes her head and takes a deep breath, wiping her eyes. "Go pack you two, it's not far but you want to get over there before the sun goes down," she tells me.
I frown. "Are you sure? We don't have to leave―"
She shakes her head. "You two deserve a vacation, it can be your honeymoon―I think that's what it's called," she chuckles.
Ash's growl echoes in my mind. Let's go before she changes her mind.
The fiery landscape rushes past me in a blur. There are no more volcanoes here, only slick black rock with a few streams of lava. I can almost see the waves of heat rising from the ground to meet the cold winds in the sky.
I have always wondered how wolves and other creatures relax. They can't do what we do. We can let our dragons take over and just watch life go by. We can completely let go of everything while still trusting that we are safe.
The ground starts to move closer and it is only a few minutes before I see my brother's blood red wolf bounding across the rock, Syrra on his back.
Azazel takes us past them though, leading Cassiel towards the far edge of the territory. The rock turns to hills and then to mountains of black dirt. The trees and brush are sparse at first but quickly grow more dense until they cover the mountains.
We reach the springs too soon. Pools of milky blue water are scattered around the valley along with small stone buildings. It's been decades since they were occupied but they still stand, tall and unbroken.
Azazel drops a backpack before landing in a large field beside the springs. I grit my teeth at the pain that shoots through my body as I shift. When my bones finish rearranging themselves I pull on the clothes from my backpack.
I feel a sudden gust of wind and look up. Cassiel lights down, her wings beating slower as she gets closer to the ground.
She is a beautiful dragon, small and slender like Azazel but completely black instead of red. She is definitely an odd one though, her scales aren't shiny like other dragons; the scales are black like charcoal and so are the horns on her head and spikes on her spine. From a distance she could easily be mistaken for a shadow.
"How long are you going to keep staring?"
I shake my head a little. I didn't even realize Ash had shifted until he spoke. "Sorry I'm tired," I sigh, swinging my backpack over my shoulder.
He smiles and grabs his own pack before coming to stand beside me. He slips his hand into mine and tugs me towards the springs.
I follow with a small half-smile. We walk into the nearest stone building, just barely big enough to have a common area and a bedroom inside. My eyebrows furrow a little as I notice that the place looks like it was just built.
"Did you guys ever come this far?" I ask.
Ash shakes his head. "No and that's probably why the dragons survived. I bet they hid here until we left the Circle," he says.
I plop down on the bed, groaning at the feeling of the soft furs piled on top of a plush mattress. Ash rolls his eyes at me but there is a smile on his lips as he unpacks his bag.
"Why didn't you go out here?" I ask.
"I convinced the hunters not to. I told them the dragons would escape to witch territory and that there was nothing past the volcanoes but dirt."
"So you knew about this place before they took you?"
He nods. I smile as I watch him unpack our bags. For someone who has had such a rough life he is such an amazing person.
"How old were you?" I ask.
"10 months," he sighs. "My mother died giving birth and so my father took care of me. He was a warrior, he actually fought for your grandfather. They sent him on a scouting mission to check on the rumors of dragon hunters and he had no choice but to bring me with him. The hunters ended up taking my father and the rest of his party by surprise."
"How do you remember all of that if you weren't even a year old?"
He sits down on the bed beside me. "Cassie told me some of it, other dragons told me the rest when I returned to the Circle a few years ago. Some of them knew my father and remembered me as a baby.
"Anyway the hunters didn't see me as a threat and thought it would be useful to have a dragon with them so they kept me. They started training me how to kill as soon as I could walk. I killed the first dragon when I was six years old," he murmurs, lying down next to me.
He stares at the ceiling as he talks. "It wasn't until I was about eight years old that I really realized what I was doing. I tried to run but they caught me. I tried to refuse but they beat me until I ceded. And then we attacked the Circle when I was nine."
It pains me to hear him talk about his past, and I can tell it hurts him too. But each time he recovers quicker and it seems to get easier the more he tells me.
"I've heard your archery skills are legendary."
He shrugs. "They were, I haven't touched a bow since I was like 16 or 17," he admits.
I frown, propping myself up on my elbows. "How old are you Ash?"
"I honestly don't know. I stopped trying to keep track after I shifted."
"Because it doesn't matter. Dragons can easily live until they are 200 or 300 years old if they don't get sick or severely injured. Most forget their age after a few decades anyway. The only age that really matters is 14 because that's when you shift, that's when you become an adult. But after that who cares?" he sighs.
"Yeah I guess that's true," I mutter, moving so that my back rests against the headboard.
Ash moves beside me and flicks his hand so that a small fire blazes in the hearth.
I find myself staring into the red flames. My mind wanders back to our mating ceremony and I take a deep breath when I see a red flame above the fireplace. It crawls across the stone, forming intricate designs all over the wall. I close my eyes and breathe for a few seconds; the flames are gone when I open them again.
"Are you okay?" Ash asks.
I shake my head. "I can still hear him screaming."
Ash looks at me and then to the fire. "I still don't know how we did that."
I sigh. "My mother and I had a theory. It's the only thing that would explain it. Our souls are bound together, that means we can speak in each other's mind and feel each other's pain. It only makes sense that our power is also combined. And apparently two bonded fury dragons are powerful enough to burn a fire dragon."
"That's a terrifying thought," Ash murmurs.
I nod numbly, watching the fire spark and pop. "If it's true then we really have to be careful," I mutter. "If it's true then that means we could do it again. All it would take is for one of us to lose our temper . . ."
Ash's head falls onto my shoulder and he lets out a shaky breath. "I'm already responsible for hundreds of dead dragons, I will not be responsible for any more," he whispers.
I let my head rest on top of his and sigh heavily. "I know."