Shadows to the South

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Chapter 2-Kolir

Remind me again why we are here, Draeth rumbled, clearly disgruntled. Kolir’s lips twitched as he barely suppressed a smile. The Elder Dragon was prickly at best and enjoyed the comforts of home. The busy streets and gawking onlookers in Vorbanu always made him feel uncomfortable and out of his element. Dragons did not belong in man-made buildings, on paved ground, or surrounded by humans; something Draeth had reminded him most frequently of during their brief stay in the capital city of Silkamolus. The air was always warm in Vorbanu, which his cold-blooded companion didn’t mind, but the city always seemed to be blanketed by a veil of sooty smog from the nearby active volcanoes. At Drahonkal, the island off of the coast of the capital, the air was clear; still humid as a result of the nearby volcanic range, but with none of the ash and smoke that Draeth hated.

While the dragons of the Monarchs of Silkamolus seemed to have managed just fine within the city walls, Draeth’s bulk made it next to impossible for him to navigate the uneven and narrow streets, not to mention the palace buildings, despite them having been modified specifically for an adult dragon. Draeth was the firstborn of a clutch of eggs found centuries ago, hatched by Kolir himself. Kolir had gained notoriety with the royal family when, through some miracle, he was able to communicate with all of the dragons in the clutch through a mental link, and coax them into hatching and bonding.

Kolir knew nothing about his family, short of the fact that he had been abandoned at birth. His skill with fire magic had garnered some notice, which had led to him being introduced to the King himself. Vulcanus had taken him under his wing, and Kolir considered him the father figure that he had never had. Vulcanus had been gifted the eggs by a Lord, thinking that they were petrified pretty trinkets, and Kolir had been entranced by them. In a moment of weakness, he had touched one of their scaly surfaces, and Draeth’s thoughts had leaped into his mind with a ferocity that had almost killed him. Bonding to a dragon wasn’t easy; if you couldn’t prove yourself worthy, then you were liable to be crushed by their mere mental presence alone. After bonding to Draeth, Kolir had realized that he could link himself mentally with each of the dragons, though none of the connections were as intimate as the one that he shared with Draeth. In time, he had come to realize that all of the eggs were unrelated, gathered from various parts of Leriso, and thus they were not bonded to one another as siblings might be. Through trial and error, he had taught himself how to bridge the connection between an individual and their intended dragon to minimize the risk to either party. He had also learned that dragons would only show interest in someone if they were willing to consider them as a potential partner. Essentially, Kolir did not make a Dragon Lord or Lady; the dragons chose their bonded individuals and either ignored or killed the rest, as the fickle beasts were known to do.

While some of the other eggs had hatched shortly after Draeth, none of the other dragons rivaled him in size. That didn’t mean that the others were less formidable however; as a group, they were a force to be reckoned with. The Royal family of Silkamolus seemed to be the only individuals so far that Kolir was able to bond with the dragons. Prince Vau and Princess Lissa’s dragons, Raju and Shifra, were the youngest and thus smaller than most that had hatched. Bel’Tor, Vulcanus’ bonded, was the second to be hatched and was a massive spiteful scarlet beast that Draeth actively avoided. Bel’Tor’s temper could only be assuaged by that of his mate, Mezzanotte, an obsidian dragon whose cunning and speed made up for her slightly smaller stature. Iskassa bonded to Mezzanotte, surprising no one. It became apparent that once a Dragon Lord or Lady was made, the Lord or Lady’s true soul mate would also bond to a dragon. As tumultuous as Iskassa and Vulanus’ relationship was, they were a bonded pair, as were their dragons. Morganna was hatched shortly after their eldest daughter’s birth and bonded to the heir apparent, Siva Arundur. Morganna was a stunningly golden creature, whose intellect and intelligence rivaled that of Draeth and Mezzanotte.

While Shifra and Raju took little notice of Draeth when they visited, Bel’Tor had become increasingly aggressive. Mezzanotte and Morganna had always been civil with Draeth, but Draeth and Kolir both knew that if it were to ever come down to a fight for dominance between the two males, Mezza would protect and side with her mate, as much as it might pain her. Through the familial connections of their Lords and Ladies, Bel’Tor, Mezzanotte, Morganna, Shifra, and Raju often acted as a cohesive unit towards any threats. While Draeth wasn’t deliberately posing as a threat, he was most definitely an outsider, an unwelcome presence in their tight-knit circle. As a result, visits to the palace were often draining on both of them, both mentally and physically.

Kolir regarded his bonded with open affection and patted one of the giant silver beast’s haunches reassuringly. Plumes of smoke trailed out of Draeth’s nostrils as he rustled his massive wings in irritation, stirring up dirt and grit from the road with the smallest of movements. His maw was easily the size of Kolir, and though Kolir knew him to be quite docile, Draeth looked positively terrifying to the average individual. Wickedly sharp hooks and spikes lined his spine, and four curved horns adorned his head and jaws. His scales normally gleamed with a silvery iridescence that Kolir had only ever seen the likes of in the skies at night, but they were currently dulled by the muck of the roads. Claws the length of Kolir’s arms dug deep into the soil as they traversed the outskirts of town, where Kolir was currently dawdling.

Draeth growled again in exasperation, and Kolir raised an eyebrow. Does being here truly bother you that much?

Draeth snorted in derision as his reptilian eyes narrowed into slits. The air is suffocating, and I feel as if I haven’t seen the sun in days. How any self-respecting dragon could live in these conditions is beyond me.

Kolir nudged his snout and smiled at him fondly. Truthfully, as much as this had been his home for a time, Drahonkal was where his heart was and they both knew it. Kolir felt exhausted from the past few days of sitting on the council, and he too was uncomfortable. The arid earth had made its way under his armor, and he wanted nothing more than a hot bath and food. It was his fault, truly. He could have stayed longer and been fed before he departed, but he knew Draeth was uncomfortable and he wanted his solitude back as well. The people also made him uncomfortable. Having control over every dragon in the realm had labeled him as both dangerous and exceptionally powerful, and he hated how the people groveled before him and feared him without knowing the slightest bit about his character. Tales were told about the feral Dragon Lord that lived on the isle, who was beholden to no one, not even the King. The latter wasn’t true; Kolir owed his life to Vulcanus, but he did voluntarily choose to live out a more solitary existence. And he couldn’t entirely deny that he had what could be best described as more animalistic tendencies than most, thanks to his bond with Draeth. All of those bonded to a dragon experienced heightened emotions as well. They were typically fierce in battle when provoked and were notorious predators. Their appetites in all facets of life, whether it be for food, sex, or otherwise, were unmatched. Even though his heritage was unknown, it was also clear that he was at least, in part, an exceptionally skilled fire elemental. His prowess in battle and his skills in fire manipulation made him an imposing figure. Kolir was often misunderstood and scrutinized as a result.

The issue now was that he seemed incapable of leaving, despite his discomfort. His brain wanted nothing more than to leap onto Draeth’s back and take flight. He could have left at any time, once they had escaped the confines of the streets, but still, he had ventured even further out of town into an area he rarely frequented for reasons unknown. Kolir had long since learned to trust his instincts, however, and something out here was calling to him like his own personal siren song.

He wandered until the path grew larger and wilder, and settlements began to spread out into wider rural lots. There was a tantalizing smell in the air; cinnamon, and a cloying sweetness that beckoned to every one of his senses. Dragon Masters were known for their sharper senses, courtesy of their dragon counterparts, so he tried to dismiss the tantalizing scent as something trivial, but he found that he was unable to resist. Even Draeth had ceased complaining and was trailing him with evident curiosity.

When his feet finally stopped, he realized that he had stalled outside of an establishment, the Harpy’s Hall. The Harpy was a medium-sized two-story building, well kept but non-descript. It was warmly lit, and laughter trailed out from the open windows, beckoning him closer. A frown marred his features as he tried to discern what had led him here, aside from that irresistible scent that only seemed to grow stronger the closer he got to the building.

Draeth chuckled through their link and yawned widely, flashing him what could best be described as a toothy grin. If you wanted the company of a female, you could have just said so, he said dispelling another puff of smoke. Truly though, I didn’t think you were the brothel type, Kolir.

Kolir rubbed the back of his neck in discomfort, obviously agitated. Draeth regarded him with those deep, soulful eyes before he tilted his head in a vaguely cat-like gesture. Your eyes. They’ve changed color. The dragon blinked in confusion. Is something amiss?

Kolir regarded the Harpy once more before turning back to Draeth, a scowl firmly planted on his face. Draeth was right, he wasn’t the type to visit a brothel. In fact, Kolir was rarely ever with women intimately. It wasn’t that he disliked them; he found that he was simply… too savage for most. It came with the territory, all part and parcel of being a Dragon Lord. And Kolir was particularly wild, as he kept the emotions and thoughts of an entire clutch of dragons at bay. Years of communicating with the beasts, mentally challenging them, and suppressing their raw power during a bonding had taken its toll. He had somehow become more than what he once was; untamed, powerful, ferocious. Something closer to his draconic counterparts, even more so than the rest of the Lords and Ladies.

He had never been short on admirers. Every time he returned to Vorbanu, Vulcanus all but threw desperate women in his direction, urging him to marry and clapping him on the back like they were sharing in some sort of strange male bonding moment. It was clear that he wasn’t unattractive; he had stormy grey-blue eyes that were more than striking, and waist-length silvery blond hair that was so unlike that of most of the residents of Silkamolus that people never failed to acknowledge him. That aside, he was broad-shouldered, heavily muscled, and stood at least a head over the tallest person, a veritable fortress of a man. A warrior born and bred, with the largest living dragon on earth by his side. He never escaped notice.

That being said, being a Dragon Lord meant that he would only truly bond with one individual. Dragon Lords and Ladies mated for life, like their beastly companions. To put it simply, he just wasn’t interested in anyone else. There was no intimacy; sex was a means to an end, a way to scratch a slight itch, nothing more.

Something smells different, he said, shooting the Harpy a dark look like it had somehow offended him personally. He growled in discomfort and ran his fingers through his hair with another huff. It smells...heavenly. A shudder passed through his body, like an electrical current coursing through all of his nerve endings. He closed his eyes and breathed heavily before he regarded Draeth once more. What’s this about my eyes?

Draeth laughed through their link, a deep rumbling pulse of amusement. You look draconic. And they’re golden. He lashed his tail thoughtfully. I have a theory, but I would rather not divulge what I’m thinking quite yet. I would like to see if I’m right. He seemed almost smug, so much so that Kolir’s mood plummeted even more and he glowered at his companion.

“Useless lizard,” Kolir muttered darkly, and Draeth snapped his maw in his direction indignantly. Damn him and his supernatural hearing.

Lizards are unintelligent, he scolded. I resent the comparison.

Kolir tossed him a wicked smirk. I’m well aware.

That smell wafted ever closer, clinging to his senses, claiming all rational thought. Meet you out here later?

Draeth just curled up in response, a knowing look in those serpentine eyes.

As Kolir entered the Harpy he did his utmost to repress an anticipatory tremor. The building was lit from within by dim candlelight and gently flickering fireplaces. Quiet chatter, gentle laughter, and the occasional distant moan or cry infused the air, and it took all of Kolir’s self-control to remain centered when that cloying smell invaded all of his faculties. He inhaled deeply, rooted to the spot as its potency rendered him motionless. Whatever this was, it controlled him utterly; he had never felt so spellbound and so fascinated by something in his entire existence.

He was so enraptured and overwhelmed that he failed to notice the woman that approached him. With a gentle touch to his forearm, she brought his attention back to the present and she flashed him a sweet smile in greeting.

“Lord Kolir, it is an honor,” she said, as she averted her eyes for the briefest of moments in a demure gesture. He found that he was incapable of responding in any way that might be considered courteous; he knew that his expression had to be terrifying and predatory, for when she looked up at him from behind dark lashes her hand trembled ever so slightly against him. She inhaled sharply before she moved her hand to caress his brow. “Your eyes, my Lord… they’re golden!” she exclaimed softly, as she withdrew her hand.

Kolir tilted his head to the side as he observed her. Truly, she was a pretty thing. Bronzed skin with hair the color of warm chocolate, and beautiful doe eyes that were a striking amber color. She was scantily dressed like many of the women he could see, but this was a classy establishment; she still wore the finest clothing, even though the garments left little to the imagination. Under normal circumstances, she might have interested him, but tonight, she smelled sharply of prey and fear. And while the rest of the room was drenched in that absolutely glorious scent, she was not the source. Still, she tried her utmost to win him over with another dazzling smile, despite her apprehension.

She drew closer once more and ran her hand down his bicep and across his pectorals. “They say you’re more beast than man,” she murmured as she traced lazy circles across his chest and toyed with a lock of his silvery hair. “I think I’d like to see what that means exactly.”

Kolir grinned, a smile that was more teeth and intimidation than warmth. A low growl trickled from his throat as his draconic eyes pinned her with their intensity. He lowered his head so that his lips could almost graze her cheek and her hands stilled and began to tremble once more. “You’re brave sweetling, I’ll give you that, but I’m hunting for something that I have yet to find.” He withdrew, his face serious now as he added, “I am a beast, and I’m insatiable. You’d do well to remember that.”

When she had recovered slightly, the woman opened her mouth as if to respond, but she was cut off by a louder voice from the opposite end of the room.

“Kylene! You should have called for me the moment he stepped foot in the door.”

Multiple things happened at that moment. Kolir’s senses all but exploded into instant awareness. With the mere sound of that honeyed voice, the room and his vision narrowed until he couldn’t see or hear anything but her. He could hear her pulse in his ears, feel the fiery warmth of her skin from across the room as if it were pressed against his bare flesh. Her voice was smooth and cultured, and she projected it in a manner that demanded respect and appreciation, but he somehow knew that it would also be capable of bringing a man to his knees with hushed, whispered promises. She was magnetic, and he was instantly attracted, snared just as easily as he had entrapped Kylene just moments ago. He inhaled sharply, and the spice of that cinnamon scent hit the back of his nose and throat like a tempting perfume or an enticing dessert. All of this happened before he even caught sight of her, and after he did, he was even more consumed than he had been before.

Her hair was unbound and lay in loose waves that cascaded down to her mid-back in a sea of silky scarlet tresses. The dim candlelight played across her hair, making it seem like it was made of a living flame. She had porcelain skin, flawless and utterly perfect; or at least, if she had any flaws, he couldn’t see them, nor did he think he’d care if she did. Her eyes were an arresting shade of viridian, which stood out starkly against her creamy pale complexion, and were fringed by long, dark, sooty lashes. Her smile was breathtaking, and he had to mentally remind himself not to gape like an absolute idiot as she approached. She was draped in sheer fabrics and silks the same color as her eyes that flowed around her as she moved with cat-like grace. Long, trim legs peeked out from behind the sheer panels, as well as her bare stomach. The fabric hugged the gentle swell of her hips and the curves of her breasts, leaving very little to the imagination.

When she stood before them, she stared at Kylene with evident impatience as she gave her a brief dressing-down. “I need to be notified when guests of his importance walk through my doors Kylene. I won’t remind you again.”

Kylene barely suppressed a pout as she dipped her head in acknowledgment. It was clear that she was unhappy with the very public reprimand, but she wasn’t willing to risk the wrath of the woman before them. With that, the frown on the crimson beauty’s face smoothed and she moved to Kolir’s side, slipping her arm into his seamlessly. Even though clothing separated them, the act was enough to send a fresh shiver down his spine. He was completely enthralled; his eyes refused to leave hers as he took another deep inhale of that heady scent that had him so captivated. It surrounded her, it was her.

“Lord Kolirnirothil, a pleasure,” she said, her voice rich, warm, and full of promise. “I’m Salalali Shae. My apologies, Kylene seems to have forgotten her manners.”

His heart had all but sputtered and stalled when she spoke once more, and he had to urge himself to respond. When he did, his voice sounded rough and gravelly, even to his ears. “Please, Kolirnirothil is a mouthful. Kolir will do.”

She laughed then, and the sound was surprisingly spirited and sincere. He had long since grown accustomed to the deceptive tactics used at court, so much so that such genuine behavior never ceased to disarm him.

“Then please, call me Sala. I was never too keen on my full name either,” she replied with a brilliant smile. She let her arm drift out of his, but only long enough for her to thread her fingers through his. “I don’t think you’ve ever come through my doors Kolir. I own the Harpy, and I never forget a face. And yours is quite unforgettable.”

He felt his lips tug upwards into a slight smile. There was something so natural about the way that she touched him, the way that she held his hand. Even the way that his name fell from her lips felt so resoundingly… right. It was frightening and exhilarating all at once. Never had he felt so claimed.

She continued to lead him through the adjacent sitting room, but he couldn’t focus on his surroundings. His gaze was fixated on her face, and occasionally it ventured down her body to where the slit of her dress would flutter and gape to reveal the full length of her thighs. Never once did he question where they were headed, he just passively accompanied her to their eventual destination.

She finally reached an unmarked door and entered without knocking. He followed without a second thought, and she eased the door shut behind him before engaging the lock. When she finally turned to meet his gaze, her stare was curious and assessing.

“Kylene is… inexperienced. Lovely, but not really who I would typically recommend for you. I’d be happy to send another girl your way. Someone more suitable. Although if you had your sights set on Kylene, I won’t argue.”

He didn’t answer right away but instead took in his surroundings. He was in what appeared to be a bedchamber; it was richly appointed, with an overly large bed and a lit fireplace in the corner. An assortment of cushions and blankets were scattered about in front of the hearth over plush rugs. There was what appeared to be an adjoining bathing chamber, identifiable by what appeared to be the edge of a tub. He could only assume that she had brought him to her chambers so that he would be away from prying eyes.

She seemed to mistake his silence for uncertainty, as she interrupted his train of thought once more.

“Do you have a specific type? A preferred physical trait perh-”

His deep rumbling chuckle interrupted her, and she startled slightly as he drank her in once more. He knew without looking that his eyes were still a brilliant shade of gold. He felt like a man possessed, and it brought the beast in him to the surface.

“You,” he responded simply. “You’re my type. I think that you’re exactly what I need.”

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