"I'm busting your balls."
Byron and Callum turned at the harsh words as they walked the winding steps up to the aviary platform where all dragon riders came to shift and take off into the night.
"What?" Byron stalled for time. After all, he knew what they were being busted for. They'd been flying under the radar for a while now. It was a wonder no one had called them out on it. He'd known who would call them out when the time came too, and he wasn't disappointed his guess had been right.
Geant gave them a finger that showed exactly what he thought of them. "Don't give me that innocent shit. You know what I'm talking about."
Geant, the leader of all the dragon riders of Eastania, was no dummy, nor was he a slouch. Not that he was chatty, only direct, but his human lover was said to be even quieter than he was. Byron had seen her a few times as she watched them take off from the aviary or greeted Geant when he came home. He lived by rules and regulations.
Which Callum and Byron had both been breaking. For months.
"Whatever do you mean?" Callum, ever the jokester, batted his lashes at Geant. Certainly not the way to win over the regimented commander. There was no way to win over their imposing leader, but that never stopped Callum from working his wiles. Wiles that would have worked on Byron in a heartbeat.
"You two are fucking."
Byron stole a look at Callum. Neither of them denied it. Why? The evidence was there for anyone to see--they hadn't tried to hide it. And it had been glorious fucking. Though, in a way, it was forbidden. So Geant had noticed their mating tattoos.
"Maaaayybeee." Callum drew out each syllable.
"You know the rules." Geant folded his arms across his broad chest.
"They don't say we can't fuck. Nowhere in dragon rider code does it say we can't fuck each other." Byron stopped walking, though they'd be cutting it close to change time if they stayed here too long. With anyone but Geant, pointing out this technicality would have bought them some time before they were confronted on the basic tenets of dragon rider law. He could hope Geant would accept his argument, but he didn't think things would be that easy.
Geant snorted at the pair. "You can fuck, but the rule--the code--that you two seem to follow only when it suits you says a human is needed, especially when two dragon riders form a mating bond. Usually dragon riders get the human in place first before they start fucking. That is the code, as you well know."
Byron pinched the bridge of his nose. "I know." He'd not thought about breaking the dragon rider code before he'd met Callum. Once he'd met the man, all his good sense and rule following seemed to have gone out the window. "But you can't mandate who we're attracted to first. We haven't met the right human yet." It would take a special human to be with the two of them. Another reason dragon riders usually met their human before they paired off with each other. Dragon riders pairing was becoming more and more rare. It was intimidating enough to become involved with one dragon, much less two. He'd stopped thinking about that when Callum had fallen into his bed, but now he couldn't think about anything else. Geant would see it stayed that way.
Byron's glance fell to Callum. The one who'd inspired him to do all this. The one who made his heart flutter. The one he'd already bonded to, despite the code. Callum had long blond hair he tied back in a ponytail and was muscular with rock-hard abs. He was a wet dream's dream. And Byron still couldn't believe he was fucking him. He had no idea what had attracted the newest dragon rider to him, but he thanked Gaia for it every day, human in their lives or not.
Geant grasped his arm and pushed him farther up the shoddy stairs that barely held them. "Hurry up and get up there. Before we turn scaly on this narrow band of shit, die, and you don't have to worry about securing a human lover."
No way would the steps take a couple of dragons weighing several stones apiece.
Byron walked quickly ahead with Geant on his tail. Callum loped along behind them.
"'Right human'? 'Right human' he says. If he or she exists, no one has told the likes of me." Geant walked quickly up the stairs, muttering all the while. "You need to find a human. Any human will do." The latter was directed at them.
Not as easy as it sounded, even disregarding their other issues of even finding a human to be with them. Most of the humans who wanted to be in with the dragon riders were already taken or they were creepy. The weird ones wanted to say they'd had a dragon in their business and didn't care what dragon rider they went with. Not that Byron had minded being a notch on a belt and had done the zipping-through-beds thing on several occasions, but once the human fucked a dragon rider, he or she moved on to other riders, which wasn't helpful to his needs. At this point in his life, Byron didn't want to move from human to human like so many of his kind did. He wanted someone...like Callum. Who he knew inside and out. It was time for something new. "It's not that easy. You know that." Not many humans wanted to bond with dragons, or at least not enough on a permanent basis. "You found the right human."
"I'm not the one disregarding code. I will make it easy, pissants." They reached the top, and Geant swung around to face them. His face turned as serious as a dragon wing hurt in flight. "You need a human. Now. Not later. Not down the road. Now."
"We know." Callum began to hyperventilate as his heart rate accelerated. The sun was low over the horizon. The change was already starting. They had little time to talk. Maybe they could distract Geant enough he wouldn't put out the ultimatum yet. That would give them another night's reprieve.
There was one human who had watched them for a while now. A woman. Byron didn't know much about her, and neither did Callum. Not even the newly installed head of the orphanage where they donated some of their hunting spoils knew much about her. They had bought vegetables from the beauty a time or two. Maybe she could be the answer to their problems if they could avoid her running every time he tried to speak to her about something other than produce.
"No, you don't know, pissants. But you will." Geant took deep measuring breaths as he gazed at them.
"Geant. We will try to find one soon. How about that?" Byron felt the wild blood racing through his veins. He tipped his head back. The change always swept in as if it were a stormy summer wind.
"How about you either find a human or multiples to be with you two or I ground you until you do." The last word was roared at them, or rather at Byron. So much for keeping Geant from issuing the ultimatum. Now they didn't have a choice.
Byron didn't take the roar or the order personally. The sun was now level with the horizon. The change would soon envelop them in its mighty fist. "Ground us? With Wardona breathing down our necks?" They had fought Wardona dragons most every night these past few weeks. "You'd ground us? With Eastania needing every dragon rider it can get?" Adrenaline began pumping through every part of his body. He could feel bones starting the process of elongating. His teeth felt funny in his mouth. His tongue started to tingle.
"You bet your arse I would. After all, dragons who can't control their fire aren't any good to me. Or fucking Eastania."
Callum snorted, loudly--worthy of a dragon even though you couldn't tell he was about to turn unless you knew the process, which Byron did. Intimately. "We can control our fire."
Byron rolled his eyes. Callum would have better luck arguing with the sky than with Geant right now, but he'd keep trying.
"For now you can. But you two don't let off any heat being with each other. You need a human to release you..." Geant twisted his head from side to side, stopping his speech. His neck muscles were elongating. Now the change was starting to show in all three of them.
Byron had heard the words before, when he'd been trained to exert human control over the beast who shared his body.
Dragon riders built up heat from the fire inside, especially after their twenty-fifth year, and Byron would be twenty-five in a week. Apparently after that age, the buildup of heat was ten times worse. Two dragon riders being together naturally increased their heat buildup that much more because they didn't release it during sex like they did with a human. Having sex with a human would let the powder from the keg, so to speak. If the heat energy wasn't released, a dragon rider could lose control of his or her fire when in dragon form and spontaneously combust.
Sex with any human often wasn't enough. One-night stands didn't release enough fire. They had to bond to a human to fully release enough fire that they weren't in any danger. There was a mating ritual that would help increase the amount of fire released when done with a human. It could be done between dragon riders--it was the one he and Callum had already performed with each other--but it didn't help a dragon rider release any fire. Geant had noticed the tattoos on their wrists connecting them. The tattoos appeared after bonding, and when Byron and Callum bonded with a human, the human would get the same tattoo on his or her matching wrist. Only so many of their kind bonded, but others moved from human to human. Some of the dragon riders didn't think much of humans, even though they needed them to stay alive.
The sun dipped below the horizon. The last of its light outlined the desert that surrounded their little oasis. Eastania. That was what Wardona wanted. Their land. Their water. Their culture. They'd been at war a year and neither side showed signs of negotiating, though there was talk of an alliance cemented by bonding the Lord of Eastania to the Lady of Wardona, which had made Wardona step up the odds. They now attacked most every night. Byron glanced at the lord, the first dragon rider ruler in a century. He couldn't picture the lanky man as a lord. He knew him more as Rogin, simple dragon rider, than as Lord Rogin.
"Think about it, cup..." The last of Geant's words descended from lips that were almost not human.
The three of them were the last to shed their clothes. It was almost too late. When dragon riders didn't get their clothes off fast enough, they wound up having to go home naked. The change was too far upon Byron for him to even appreciate the naked body of Callum. A shame, because it was a spectacle to behold.
The darkness was upon the land, and the change was upon its dragon riders. Bones popped. Muscles shifted. Skin grew into scales. Incisors became even more pointed. Wings sprouted from shoulders like ragged showstoppers. Words turned into roars and growls.
Exhilaration filled Byron as he shifted completely into dragon. His lip curled as he sniffed the air. Hundreds of different scents assailed him all at once. The dragon took over the man with a jump from the building into the sky, dodging other dragon riders doing the same thing.
He looked over the kingdom of Eastania. A fortress rested inside walls that spread out for miles. The fortress sections could be easily loaded with their people and contained. That was only in the case of direct attack, which Wardona would never try. Outlying buildings were protected by the wall. A stream ran through meadows. Gardens gleamed. Livestock bellowed. It was a feudal society run by a lord, who guided them all.
I wonder why we are called dragon riders when we are the dragons? A thought he'd had during his evening shift to dragon every time for the past five years. A thought he'd never completed in human form to remember to ask.
Tonight would be no different.
Callum tapped him midflight with a taloned foot, initiating some large game of tag before the Wardona dragons showed up for a fight. They would defend their land and people from the winged threat, playing in the time where there was no enemy. Up until a few weeks ago, all they'd done was play. Now all they did was fight.
All thought left him as he tapped Callum back and dipped down toward the land, pulling up at the last second.
Flying was the last coherent thing on his mind until the fight began.