Five hundred years might seem to some like a long time to sleep. To Aurin, it was maybe a little too short. Her consciousness roused for the first time in half a millennium, and her first thought was to hope it would go away and leave her be. Let her sleep and fall back into the endless dream of flying—of spreading her wings and casting her shadow across the earth for days without fatigue or hunger. She could happily fly forever. But the vibrations in the air around her conveyed the fact that it was time. A second later, her brother’s thoughts invaded her mind, echoing her own.
“It’s time, Sister.”
“Yes, Aurik. I sense it. Now we wait.”
“It won’t be long. Humans are impatient creatures.”
The velvet blanket of darkness still covered them. Until their part of the ritual began, she was still blind and paralyzed. She recalled the ritual to send them all to sleep. Each new generation of their race was sent into a magical stasis to mature while the prior generation lived out their long lives among humans. Five hundred years had passed in the blink of an eye. With a surge of sadness, she understood that their awakening meant the last of the prior generation had finally been committed to the skies for eternity. A dragon’s death was rare enough that it made the awakening bittersweet with the knowledge that she and the other members of the new generation would be cast into the world soon, with only the memories of their parents’ teachings to guide them.
Her brother was close enough to touch. They’d been frozen like statues, back-to-back with scant inches between them. Frozen in their human forms as the ritual dictated. Only the guardians and the Shadow were allowed to keep their dragon forms in sleep. Their defenders had to be ready to protect them. The other members of the dragon Court slept in their human forms, as did the dozens of other dragons that slumbered within the sanctuary of the temple along with her. Her brother didn’t mind it so much, but it made her itch.
“They’re taking too long,” she griped.
“They’ll take as long as they need to. Issa will know when to urge them on, though. We’re second.”
“Hmm … I wonder what he’ll be like. Remember Mother telling us how her first chosen had no idea what to do with her? He was a sultan, even. She said he was terrified when she changed. I hate coercing men into sex, even if they do love it. Sometimes they’re so needy afterward.”
“It may be a woman who comes in. Whoever it is, they will have to choose between us. You know this.”
She seethed inwardly at being reminded of the strict laws they had to adhere to, one of which was that no human should have dominance over two dragons. Except whoever awakened them would be their property, not the other way around. Added to that was the even more distressing law that dictated dragons must travel alone until the first of the new brood was born. Too many dragons sharing a border could cause conflict. The Council feared their competitive, greedy natures would result in wars. In spite of her certainty that she and Aurik would be well-behaved, she wondered if the laws would allow them to stay together.
“I’d rather share with you than be parted. I don’t want you to have to go find your own mate alone.”
“And what a hopeless search that would be, too. Women bore me. I’ll make you a promise, Sister. If it is a man and we both take to him, we make a pact to let him wake us both, and we share. If it is a woman, I’ll make do with her, but vow that I will stay as near to you as possible until you find your human mate.”
“But will the Council even allow it?”
“Every cycle presents new complications, Sister, resulting in new laws. Maybe we can make the argument and be heard. Patience.”
Bolstered by her brother’s certainty that sharing the man who awakened them would be possible, she turned her mind to contemplation of what he might be like. Different than the human men she’d known before sleeping, she hoped.
“Do you hear that?” Aurik asked, eagerness obvious in his voice.
She trained her ears to the sounds outside. Voices spoke beyond their door.
One insistent, accented voice said, “It’s my choice, Corey. I believe it. You saw the others with your own eyes.”
A gruffer voice replied, “Dimitri, there’s no proof. You’re a scientist. You know better.”
“No proof? They fucking changed right in front of you. Dragons! If you can’t believe your eyes, what can you believe?”
The other voice grumbled, “I believe we’ve been drugged and the rest of you are too in love with Erika’s fantasy to see the truth. It’s all one big hallucination.”
“Fine, you believe that if you want, but I have blue balls from hell right now so I’m willing to do just about anything to fix that.”
“Just find a dark corner. I’ll look the other way.”
“Christ, Corey! Don’t you think I’ve tried that? Something’s different about this place. You go find a dark corner and try it, why don’t you.”
“What are blue balls?” Aurin asked her brother.
“I can only guess, but I suspect he’s sexually frustrated.”
The air released in a sudden rush when the door opened, breaking the seal of the room they’d been contained in. If she’d been able to move, her skin would have quivered in response to the gust. She could smell him, at least—male musk and sweat and an underlying sweetness that she recognized as goat milk. But the aroma was subtle, like he’d been fed on it as a child. He smelled of the old world she was accustomed to. Was this really the time? Surely it couldn’t have been five hundred years already, if the man who came to wake them smelled so familiar.
“Do you smell him?” she asked her brother.
“Yes, Sister. If I weren’t already hard as polished jade, I would be now.”
She couldn’t laugh or roll her eyes at her brother, but knew exactly what he meant. She was aroused by this new man’s scent.
For the first time, she cursed the darkness that surrounded her. They could hear and smell, and they could communicate silently with each other as always. But they couldn’t see or touch or taste anything.
A few seconds later, she realized that was no longer true. The more the man neared her, the more her hard jade skin began to tingle, until it felt alive for the first time in centuries. He paused close enough for the heat radiating off his body to warm her. The temperature change in such close proximity sent invisible shivers through her and his alluring scent grew even stronger. Oh, sweet Mother, she wished she could see him.
The slow caress of a finger down her naked arm would’ve been enough to send her shattering to pieces, if she really were only polished jade and not a living thing inside a prison.
“Did he touch you, too?”
Then the most astounding thing happened. He started talking in a low, smooth voice. At first she didn’t understand the words as she had the ones he’d spoken earlier, but within a second or two, she caught up to the nuances and her mind filled in the rest. He spoke Greek, but a dialect far removed from the last time she’d heard it spoken. His cadence and inflections teased at her ears. When he finally stopped talking, she wished he would begin again.
“I wish I knew your names. You are too beautiful for words. I don’t quite know what I’m supposed to do, but it seems like such an intimate thing that I shouldn’t just start trying to fuck you.” He laughed, the sound as sweet as music. “Like that’s even possible … I mean, you’re statues. But you’re really more than that, aren’t you? Corey doesn’t believe in this supernatural nonsense. Neither do I, really, but evidence is evidence. And I don’t feel drugged. Fuck, you are both so beautiful.”
He paused and traced a finger down her cheek. Aurin could have wept from the tender contact, if she’d been able to. But the sensation was stark and jarring against stone skin that had been numb for centuries. She could feel him now.
“I want to wake you up,” he continued. “But I have no idea how. Camille’s notes say I need to give one of you my Nirvana. Is she right about the sexual aspect of it? Is that why you’re both naked and ready? Well, at least one of you is ready.”
He gave a frustrated huff, and a warm gust of air brushed past her face. His breath smelled of curry and dragon magic.
“In fairy tales, it works with just a kiss. Maybe that’s enough.”
She heard nothing but his heartbeat as close as he was, and the brush of skin against stone somewhere behind her.
“He’s kissing you, isn’t he?” she asked.
“Oh, yes. Sweet he is, Sister.” Her brother sounded elated.
But she didn’t carry her envy for long, because a moment later, the same lips pressed against her rigid, unresponsive ones. If any kiss could have awakened a sleeping princess, his would have done the trick. But she was no princess, nor was her brother. It took more than a kiss for them. Still, she strained within her prison to respond to the sweet, soft press of his mouth. The warmth of his flesh left her tingling even deeper when he pulled away with a sigh.
“Not enough, huh? I guess this is a different fairy tale.”
She heard soft swishing sounds. His movement pushed wafts of his scent to her nose. She guessed he was undressing, and oh how she wished she could see him. A man with a scent like that and lips that kissed so well must be lovely to look upon.
“I should tell you both something before I wake you up. I don’t know if you can even hear me … but I need to say this anyway. Kris said I had to choose between you. But there’s no way in hell I can do that. I don’t know how this … ritual works, but he’s told me enough. I know deep inside that you two are going to save my life. That’s why I’m doing this, in spite of my logic telling me it’s crazy. If you do wake up after this, then I’ll know the truth. If you don’t, then I guess I just hope I’ve found some peace to move on.”
The man brushed his fingertips around the heavy swell of one of Aurin’s breasts, curling up to trace the outline of her nipple. She felt every single increment of the contact, as though each of her cells was sending its own cries of gratitude at the contact to her soul.
Another part of her reacted to the contact, too, and it felt so real it ached. The tight bundle of nerves between her thighs contracted, and she wished she could touch it to see if it were awake. She needed to know whether they were just phantom sensations of wetness or if they were real. The sensation magnified when his touch grazed the tip of her other breast.
But he stopped touching her. She sensed him moving, facing away toward her brother. She wanted to cry out, but wasn’t yet able to speak. She could only listen to the brief sounds that her hyper-sensitive hearing picked up. Sounds like she’d heard when he touched her, skin on stone, caressing in adoration.
“Yes, he is the one,” Aurik said in a languid voice a moment later. “I almost regret my offer to share, but I will.”
“What did he do to you?”
“Enough to let me know.”