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Chapter Three

“You all right, man?”

Corey’s concern pulled Dimitri out of the depths of his memories. He’d managed to make a pot of coffee, but now sat in a canvas camp chair ignoring his luke-warm cup while he stared at the oddly glowing fireplace.

“I’m … yeah, I guess. Being here in this temple feels strange. I always expected if I ever made it to a place like this, my brother would be with me.”

“You two studied together, right?” Corey asked.

“Yep. He was in Erika’s program, but just missed having her for a TA, I guess.”

They’d done more than just study together. After that first night with Thea, their shared interests extended even to their sex lives. The overlap seemed completely natural once they started, and Thea was more than happy to accommodate both of them. Dimitri had even gone so far as to consider himself content—maybe even truly happy—after six months had passed with the three of them completely inseparable. She fit so well into their lives it was hard to imagine a time when she hadn’t been a part of them.

But like his life tended to do, it all fell apart. The glow of the embers in the fireplace became the flashing lights of an ambulance in his mind’s eye; the waning heat of his mug became the diminishing warmth as his brother’s life bled away in the mangled car they were both trapped in. He supposed he should be grateful Thea hadn’t been with them. The aftermath had left his soul as twisted and useless as the heap of metal the emergency crew had pulled him out of. They’d probably tested fate and lost, trying to share Thea’s love.

“What would he have said about the dragons, do you think?” Corey asked.

Dimitri took a deep breath and finally sipped at his tepid coffee. “Dragons …” He let out a low chuckle, glad for an excuse to picture the happier image of his brother’s enthusiasm over this find. “He’d have loved the dragons. Been totally on board with this whole fantasy world we’ve discovered down here.”

He swallowed his coffee in a series of quick gulps and poured another cup.

“Where is everyone?” he asked, realizing that most of the sleeping bags were empty. All but Hallie’s. She still lay snoring like the heavy sleeper she was. Must be nice to sleep with such a clear conscience.

He wondered what it was that had pulled Corey out of sleep. His older friend wasn’t exactly the sharing type, so he had no idea what made the man tick. Dimitri had only shared the details of his own life in an effort to try to purge the memories, yet they still haunted him.

That sharing, though—on his part, on many of their parts—had brought the team closer. They were almost a family now, if not quite the one he’d loved and lost. Everyone seemed to bear some kind of burden, spoken or unspoken. Still, knowing he wasn’t alone in carrying such pain was a comfort.

“Not sure, but I’m about to go look. Want to join me?” Corey picked up one of his small digital video cameras and set off around the corner. Dimitri followed, happy for the distraction.

Walking through the cavernous main room of the dragon temple, Dimitri thought the place seemed more brightly lit than it had when they’d first arrived. The glowing braziers behind the throne at the far end of the room pulsed in a slow rhythm he found almost hypnotic.

“Did you ever figure out how the lights work?” he asked.

Corey paused by the throne and glanced around, then stooped to pick up an abandoned notebook, studying it with furrowed brows for a long moment. Finally he shook his head. “Beats the shit outa me. It’s driving me nuts that I can’t figure it out, though. I was hoping to get Eben’s help cracking one open, but he’s disappeared along with Erika and Camille. Kris is MIA, too.”

Dimitri chuckled. “Are you sure you want to go looking? I’ll give you three guesses what he and Erika are up to, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Maybe Kris and Camille found a dark corner somewhere, too. If I had a willing partner, you can bet that’s what I’d be doing right now. A find like this definitely warrants a celebratory fuck.”

Corey shot Dimitri a critical look. “You guys are probably the most oversexed group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, you know that? Except for Camille, maybe.”

“Sometimes you just need human contact,” Dimitri said. “Helps you feel a little less alone in the world.”

Corey’s expression turned sympathetic. “Yeah, sorry, man. I understand that need, but it’s never really worked for me. I need more than just a warm, willing body. I’d rather be alone than screwing a woman I don’t feel a deep connection with.”

“It’s all right. Being here just brought back some old memories. I woke up horny as hell, and all I could think about was that first night Alex and I were both with Thea.”

“See, that’s not something I could ever see myself doing, either,” Corey said. “I guess I’m not the sharing type.”

“I didn’t think I was either, but it made so much sense once we’d started. I think we were both amazed we hadn’t done it before. But I suppose Thea was a special girl. It probably wouldn’t have worked with anyone other than her.”

It had worked, though. Before too long, he was as head over heels for her as his brother was. The strangest thing about their relationship was the fact that neither he nor his brother had any reservations about the other’s hold on Thea’s feelings. And she never once played favorites, which seemed odd to Dimitri since she’d been with Alex first. She became the fulcrum he and Alex balanced their lives upon. Except that after Alex’s death, suddenly they’d lost their counterbalance, and had ultimately spun off in different directions. He’d left finally, after a heart-wrenching argument in which it became apparent she couldn’t stand seeing him, an everyday reminder of what they’d both lost.

“Check this out,” Corey said, handing Dimitri the notebook, the top page halfway filled with Camille’s tiny, meticulous handwriting. Dimitri flipped back a few pages and read.

“What the hell?” He stared down at the characters carved into the floor around the base of the throne. “Do you think they’re crazy enough to try doing this … this ritual?”

“Knowing Erika, yeah,” Corey said. “Looks like someone managed to open one of the doors back there. Let’s go find them.”

Dimitri flipped to the next page and read, enthralled by the very idea that this was even possible. Six phases to the ritual, Camille’s translation said. Six members of their group, not counting their guide. Alex, you would have been all over this. He noted one of Camille’s tiny notes in the margin that said, “What if dragons are real?!” in one spot. When he reached the last page, he found an underlined section of text in a language he didn’t understand, with another note written in English off to the side, “No wonder we’re all so worked up in here. It’s by design. It takes Nirvana to wake one up. Nirvana equals orgasms?”

He tossed the notebook back down where Camille had left it and jogged to catch up with Corey. His mind processed the possibilities presented in Camille’s notes. The other man was probably too pragmatic to believe it, but Dimitri had a surge of hopeful excitement. This just confirmed what he and his brother had speculated. He’d accepted Erika’s invitation to join the expedition for the novelty more than anything, but now it seemed there were facets to this place that were beyond his wildest dreams.

The giant pair of carved jade doors loomed in front of him, one pushed open just far enough to allow a person to pass through. Corey, ever the diligent cameraman, hit the on switch and began recording as he went.

“You first,” he said, gesturing for Dimitri to enter.

The wide hallway curved around, mimicking the rear arc of the dais the throne sat upon in the main chamber. Five large doors were spaced at intervals along the apex of the arc, the central door much larger than the other four.

The door closest to them stood open, and judging by the sounds emanating from inside, Dimitri had the oddest sense that he was walking onto the set of a porn movie.

He glanced back at Corey, gave his friend a smirk, and opened his mouth to say, “I told you so.” Except the moment he turned, he found himself close enough to get a first peek into the room itself. His smirk disappeared and his words caught in his throat. He stopped dead in his tracks, his jaw dropping at the completely unexpected tableau that greeted him.

“What is it?” Corey asked, looking up from the digital display on the back of the camera.

“See for yourself,” Dimitri said.

He felt a little wrong watching them, but found it difficult to tear his eyes away. They were tangled up in groups of three. He recognized Camille and Eben in one trio. Their companion was a magnificent man with pale skin, long white hair, and horns. Camille straddled his lap, riding the man’s cock like she was born to fuck him in spite of her virginity, a confession Dimitri had pried out of her the week before. Eben knelt beside the couple, locked in a passionate kiss with the man.

Dimitri’s eyebrows shot up at this scene. He’d always suspected Eben harbored more universal sexual tendencies, but this was the first confirmation he’d had.

Across the room, a similar scene played out with Erika and two other unfamiliar figures, both with vibrant sheens to their skin and similar curved protrusions on their heads. Who the hell were these people? Creatures … Dragons … He could almost hear Alex’s voice rejoicing in his mind when the scope of what they had discovered down here occurred to him.

Erika lay cradled between the thighs of a red-haired man, his hands cupping her breasts and toying with her nipples while a violet-horned woman knelt between her legs, attending to her. Erika arched and writhed in obvious ecstasy, her breathy moans increasing in pitch and tempo until her climax shook her. The woman between her thighs eagerly lapped at her while she came. Then they changed places and Dimitri watched in fascination as Erika went down on the other woman while the red man positioned himself behind Erika and swiftly speared her with his huge cock.

In a previous life, Dimitri might have announced himself and asked to be included, but now he just stood enthralled. Alex would have loved the opportunity to be a part of this. The only thought in Dimitri’s mind was that this was only one room out of dozens. He wanted his own dragon.

He turned to express this thought to Corey, but shut his mouth before the words could sneak out. Corey stood completely rigid and not at all entertained by the scene. His jaw flexed, no doubt grinding his teeth hard enough to lose a layer of enamel … The man was too tense in general.

The sounds in the room escalated. Then before their eyes, the three exotic newcomers shifted almost in unison, as if they had some shared cue when they orgasmed. Suddenly the previously human-looking figures became mythical, beautiful beasts with wings flaring wide and elongated faces spouting colored smoke and resonant cries of pleasure. Red and white and lavender. Dimitri found it difficult to stop watching until Corey cursed and walked away, leaving Dimitri staring, wide-eyed. He thought the dragons would be bigger, but that didn’t mean they were any less impressive.

He wanted to be a part of this ritual so badly the wanting made him numb to the hard throb between his thighs. Logically it made no sense, but his compulsion spurred him on and he went with it, moving to the next door in the row. The closed door stood there, its gilt surface glowing with subtle, tantalizing pulses of light.

The door. Camille’s notes had detailed the importance of these particular doors. Each one represented a new phase of the ritual. Each one required a unique personality to open it, and her notes speculated that their group had the perfect combination to see the ritual through.

He stared at it. Tried to be analytical about it. From an anthropological standpoint, it was a curiosity. Dragon worship wasn’t unheard of, but what culture was so beast-centric as to depict humans in coitus with reptiles? Dragons, just like Alex and I always believed. The thought sent a thrill through him, but he tried to process the information objectively anyway. In the Western world, it would’ve been seen as Satan worship, no doubt. But in the context of what he’d witnessed a moment ago, he believed there had to be more to it than mere zealotry.

They’d looked human at first. Super-human, really, but still recognizable and articulate creatures. The red-haired one was particularly vocal, and there was no mistaking how much he’d been enjoying giving it to Erika for all he was worth. And she was every bit as vocal in reply. Fuck, had that been a turn-on.

But the more he stared at the golden image carved into the door, the less it mattered. He stepped closer and raised a hand to trace the figure of one of the two dragons that flanked the human. When his fingertips came into contact with the surface, a jolt of pure, electrical pleasure shot through him.

“Are you crazy?” Corey asked. Dimitri jerked back from the door as though he’d been caught with his hand in a cookie jar.

“I’m going in,” he said.

“The hell you are.” Corey gripped him by the shoulder. Dimitri pulled away, frustration churning in his stomach and beginning to condense in a hot ball of spite at being held back. Before he could retaliate, another figure joined them.

“Let him go in,” Kris said in a soft, measured voice. “He’s meant to open that door. You see the twins there?” Kris pointed at the raised figures on the door’s golden surface.

Corey gave the door a cursory glance. “I call bullshit,” he said. “You slipped some drug in our dinner last night. Now we’re all hallucinating.”

Kris shook his head. “I won’t deny this is a powerful place, but all I’ve done is help guide you all to where you already belong. Dimitri belongs inside that room.”

“What happens once I go in?” Dimitri asked.

“You’ll have a choice to make. One twin or the other. When you give your Nirvana to him or her, and the dragon returns the favor, you will be bonded to that dragon. The power of your union will help to fill the Queen’s well. Then, when the time comes, she will awaken and release that power, calling the rest of the brood to the skies.”

“And then what? They take over the world?” Corey asked in a bitter tone.

“No. Dragons have a symbiotic relationship with humans. Your kind is rarely aware of us. Only those bonded to us know.”

“What the fuck do you mean us? Are you one of them?”

Kris smiled and nodded. “I’m a pure blood. I’m the conduit through which they will feed all their collected power to the Queen.” He turned to look at Corey. “You should prepare yourself, my friend. There are only two of you left after Dimitri, and you’re the only one suitable to be the Queen’s mate.”

“Let me guess … she likes to bite off the heads of men after she’s done with us, right?”

“You know, Corey,” Dimitri interjected, “I liked you at first, but now you’re just being an obstinate asshole.”

“You’re the delusional one. I don’t know what Kris did to us, but I don’t believe this magical dragon bullshit.”

“Fine. You go on not believing it. I’m going to see for myself.”

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