As Axin approached, Sarah couldn’t catch her breath, her skin feeling like a million needles stabbed her, and the dark view of the field swam in her vision.
“Sarah?” Axin’s concerned voice called to her, and he began moving faster to her.
She crawled away from him on the grass, shaking her head as her thoughts couldn’t string themselves together.
“Easy, Sarah,” he said, kneeling next to her, “Breathe. It’s okay. It’s just me.”
“What… What the fuck was that?”
He sighed. “Dammit! I’m such an idiot. You weren’t ready for that. Listen to me Sarah, it’s okay. You’re safe.”
With a shake of her head, she met his flame-filled eyes. “You’re… You’re…”
“A dragon, yes.”
“No! No! How the fuck? No! I need to go home! Take me home, Axin! Now!”
He lowered his gaze to the grass with a nod. “I’m sorry. You wanted to know, and you deserve to know the truth, but I should have taken my time with all this. I forget that the living no longer know about the linked. It’s been a very long time since I spoke to someone living.”
“Knew about you? When did the living ever know about dragons? They are just stories. Legends and bedtime stories we tell kids.”
He reached a hand out to her, but Sarah jerked back, sliding farther away from him on the damp grass.
He dropped his hand, sitting down on the grass in front of her, “A long time ago, the living knew. It’s a part of your history if you look close enough. Dragons, werewolves, witches, vampires, mermaids... Those stories all came from somewhere.”
Her mind remained blank with what to say, yet a million questions gnawed at her at the same time. She couldn’t focus on one, so she just stared at him, waiting.
“Will you come back inside? Please? There is still so much to tell you.”
Finally, her brain began to work and she shook her head. “No, I’m good right here.”
He grinned. “On the wet grass in the middle of the night? What will the neighbors say?”
Her eyes moved from his and briefly scanned the field. No sight of any other lights at all and she met his eyes again with a raised brow.
He chuckled. “There is no one around for miles.”
His lighthearted comment didn’t make her feel any better. She was totally alone with him, and if she hadn’t lost her mind completely, then she was stranded in a place she didn’t know with a man that could change into a massive, fire breathing dragon.
Finally, she found her voice. “What does any of this have to do with me? With my parents?”
“You said that something really big had to have hit that truck in order for it to jump the divider. It did.”
Realization dawned on her, and she frowned. “You were… like that, when you hit the truck?”
He nodded, all trace of the gorgeous smile gone. “Yes. I was in the middle of a battle with a vile monster. Half witch, half dragon. Very powerful. He attacked me, and at the same time, pushed us both through the veil, into the living world. He has magic, so he managed to vanish as soon as we passed through, but I was still mid-flight when I hit that truck.” He didn’t look at her as he spoke, but Sarah could sense the pain in his voice.
As tears rolled from her eyes, she cleared her throat. “It was an accident,” she whispered.
His gaze shot up to hers. “No, it wasn’t. I should have been stronger. I should have been able to stop myself, or change direction. I could have-”
“Axin,” Sarah said, reaching out for his hand. “It was an accident. It wasn’t your fault.”
He met her eyes, the rage boiling in a glowing red blaze in his eyes, “How can you forgive me for that? I heard the pain in your cries almost every night for them. I was there when your mother begged for someone to save your life. I watched your father pass, knowing there was nothing I could do to help him. You almost died in my arms that night.”
She frowned. “In your arms?”
“I pulled you out of the car and healed you. I went back for your mother, but it was too late. She was already gone. I stayed with you until help arrived, and I have watched over you since then. I… connected with you somehow that night. I can feel your emotions. Your pain, anger, fear… joy. That is why you only ever saw me at night. Your dreams haunted you so much. They caused you pain, even while you slept, and I had to go check on you. To make sure you were okay.”
Sarah tried to sit as gracefully as she could on the grass, but the short black dress rode up her thighs. She settled with her legs tucked at her side and processed what she heard.
“That’s how I survived that accident. The doctors couldn’t figure it out. But it was you. You helped me that night. Thank you.”
He shook his head. “Please don’t thank me, Sarah. If it wasn’t for me, none of that would have happened.”
His voice broke, and Sarah recognized the pain and guilt in his eyes. He blamed himself for their deaths, and no matter what she said, it wouldn’t change that. She decided to change the subject for now, leaving that tragedy for later, when she was alone.
“Who were you fighting that night? You said you were in the middle of a battle.”
He nodded, taking a breath and cleared his throat. “Yes. I told you about the original witches that placed a curse on the living. The ones that started all of this. Nilu’s sister, the first to die, had a son in Purgatory. Something that was meant to be impossible, but she had dark magic, unlike anything Nilu had ever seen. She tapped into the darkest parts of the world and managed to give birth to a child. His father was a Dragoran, like me. This child was raised in a place worse than hell, by a woman that hated everything about the living. She trained him and taught him to use both sides of his link. When he was old enough, she sent him to the living world, with a one-way spell. I intercepted him here before he could get to the living world and a fight broke out. We both took our other forms, and a battle began. He used magic to push us both through the veil, and no one has seen him since. I have been searching, but with his kind of magic, no one will find him unless he wants to be found.”
“He came through the same day of the accident? And what, just vanished into thin air?”
Axin nodded. “Yes, he used a cloaking spell to hide himself. I could have gone after him that night, but I chose to save you. My job is to protect the living.”
“Why would he want to go to the living world?”
Axin shrugged, getting comfortable on the grass. “We don’t know. We’ve heard a rumor that his mother sent him there to find a few items to help her cast another link spell. To release the linked again.”
Sarah frowned. “Explain the linked to me again. They are normal people who have no idea what they are until they die?”
“Yes. That is how it is now. Nilu knew the risk of someone becoming their linked side in the modern world, so he blocked that side of people until death.”
“How many linked are there?”
Axin smiled, making her heart skip a beat. “Many. At this point, Nilu thinks that there are about four, maybe four and a half million. It’s hard to know exactly, but we suspect that many. If Jaridan helps his mother get the spell unleashed again, you can imagine what would happen.”
She nodded, picturing the chaos and panic at the sight of even just one dragon in the skies over New York, let alone a million of them.
“And you have no way of finding him?”
“Nilu would sense his nephew’s magic if he uses it, but he hasn’t yet.”
“So.” Sarah shifted her legs again, wrapping her arms around her chilled body. “You just spend eternity making sure nothing gets out of Purgatory? Like a security guard?”
Axin chuckled. “Not quite. That is what I do, but I also keep the peace in Purgatory. Shit sometimes gets a bit out of hand there, and it’s up to me to make sure everyone keeps the peace. It’s a shit hole, worse than anything you can imagine, but it’s still the only place that many of the linked can go. Chaos and lawlessness would only cause more problems.”
She nodded, staring at the grass as more questions raced through her mind. Her body felt tired, and she was getting a headache.
Axin frowned, not understanding her.
“Why tell me all of this now? It’s been so many years since we first met, but you chose to tell me. Why?”
Axin stiffened, his eyes glowing brighter as he looked away.
“Tell me, Axin. The truth.”
He met her gaze, the bright glow making her breaths hitch.
“About a year ago, Nilu sensed a darkness around you. Not all the time, but it began to follow you. I kept a close eye on you, but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Everyone in Nilu’s army knows how I feel about you, and if word got to Purgatory about you…”
“I can’t die, Sarah. I can’t really be hurt, and any family I had died a very long time ago. There is only one thing that could hurt me. That could cause me real pain.”
“You. If someone hurts you, I don’t know how I would react. I care about my comrades and Nilu, and the people I live with here, but it’s different with you.”
Sarah’s heart raced, and her stomach fluttered with butterflies as his burning red gaze watched her.
“It’s weird, I know,” Axin said, moving his eyes away. “Having some creepy smoky dragon man fall for you, without ever meeting him. You asked for the truth, and I am giving it to you.”
She bit her lip, a small smile playing on her lips.
“Axin,” she said, getting his attention.
He looked up at her, his cheeks a rosy shade and he raised a brow. “Yeah?”
A blush heated her cheeks. “It’s a little weird,” she said with a shy smile.