England, Present Day
"So it's come down to this." Grania Burns stared at the man in front of her. She clasped her sword in her hands and tried to level her breathing. "Where did we go wrong? When did you decide to walk down the unforgivable path?"
"We're fighting a civil war, Grania. Trust me, I never thought in my wildest dreams that we of all people would end up on opposing sides. I hate having to fight you. I hate not having you with me, but we believe in different ideals, so, this is the only path I can be on."
"You believe in taking back the world from the mortals that wrenched it away from us thousands of years ago. We can't unleash our powers on the mortal world, not now. Why can't you just be happy with the lives we lead on Dragonia? Since the war began, I've had to live in this realm with the humans you seek to kill. They don't deserve our wrath. When the time was there for us to fight, we didn't. We allowed dragon slayers to kill us off until we were almost driven to extinction. As a result, we were forced to seek sanctuary in Dragonia. I think we've done pretty well for our kind considering the persecution we've suffered in the past. Please, Denys, you must rethink this--I won't let you continue on your killing spree. I'm here to stop you. I can't believe I once loved you, but perhaps we were never meant to be. Maybe that's why we never fully completed the Mating Ritual. Even though we never experienced the mating fire--we just couldn't allow ourselves to be bonded that way. You always knew you'd turn your heart away from me--I've heard the rumors that your high and exalted leader has been planning this insurrection for years now. My heart is breaking, but I will survive without you."
"You work for the traitors. The traitors of our kind." His voice turned cold, emotionless.
"How could you have changed so much? Whatever happened to the man I used to know?"
"He embraced his dragon side. I want to live as a dragon shifter. I want to live in the open as both man and dragon. You might think that hiding your second skin is the way to go, but I don't. I'm sick of living in the shadows, and I'm sick of living in the purgatory we call Dragonia."
"The Royal Family believes that we must fight our dragon side. They believe that we should only shift once with every moon passing ... to shift too much, is to lose our humanity. You forget, we are different from pureblooded dragons. We are ancient mystical creatures. Try as we might we can't deny what we are. We are half human and half dragon, and we all know what happened to our kind when they attempted to disrupt that harmonious balance. Their dragon side consumed them. They lost themselves in the passionate furious nature, and they became trapped within their second skin--only to die a horrible death. I, for one, don't want that to happen to me."
"You sound so single-minded. I must say your emerging selfish side is most unbecoming."
She glanced around the dusty shop. Ancient books lined the walls. Rolled up scrolls were stacked on one of the bookshelves. The wizard lay in a bloody heap on the floor. She wanted to get him to safety, but in order to do so she had to get past Denys.
"I don't want to kill you, but I will."
"Do you see this wizard? He is pathetic. He never saw me coming. The spell he's creating will never stop us. We will take back the lands that the humans robbed from us."
"If you haven't kept up on human history, they've robbed lands from other peoples. We weren't the only ones. Look at him!" She pointed to the motionless wizard. "His kind were driven from the mortal lands, as well. They are now forced to live in secrecy veiled in the mists, or as most have done, they've returned to their ancestral lands. This Earth will never belong to magic folk again. Our time is past. We must live with that. The Royal Family has sent me and many others here to protect this world from you and your kind. Dragonia might be split in half now, with war tearing our lands apart, but still, my King and Queen will not let you unleash your terror here."
"It's too late for them. We will defeat your precious monarchs, and when we do, you won't be able to protect Earth ... we will purify it with our fire ... and then, a new reign shall begin."
"I am sorry, Denys."
"Do not apologize to me, my love. I will be the one laying flowers on your grave." He moved toward her.
Their swords met. The sounds of steel clanging against steel made her ears ring. Everything seemed so surreal to her. It was as if she walked in a waking dream. She heard Denys's voice talking to her in the soft loving tone he used to use when they were together.
Then, in one blurring movement, she had to dodge another of his blows, and when she looked into his deep green eyes, she only saw ice. Hatred. He had already been consumed. The appalling sight shook her straight down to her core.
Somehow, she'd managed to turn them so that he now faced the door and she stood shielding the wizard she'd been sent to protect. She wouldn't let Denys kill Dylan Lightfoot. She'd been given strict instructions to make sure that he lived to see another hunter moon, and she would not fail.
Dylan groaned. She glanced quickly behind her, and in her brief moment of distraction, Denys moved into the second stage of his plan. Her eyes widened when she noticed him working to conjure a fireball. "It would be much easier to call on the power of fire in my dragon skin ... but I'm afraid I don't have enough room to shift in this dinky little excuse for a shop." He spoke as if he was going to throw a football at her rather than throwing a fireball at her.
"Oh, fuck it." She sheathed her sword in its scabbard and lunged toward Dylan. "We have to get out of here ... fast!"
"Wait ... my work ... my life ... most of it's in there!"
"Don't you make backup copies?" She hauled him to his feet. He swayed slightly. He looked like shit warmed over. By the looks of Denys, though, Dylan had attempted to give as good as he got ... too bad he'd been fighting a dragon shifter. The healing abilities of her kind were revered and most sought after in the magical world. One dragon shifter tear could cure an illness, heal an ailment and even bring the life back into the eyes of the aged.
He looked at her with a dazed expression in his bright blue eyes. Obviously, Denys had tried to work the mind wars on him ... and he'd fought back. Dragons were gifted with telepathy, and they usually used the gift as a harmless communication device, but Denys had tried to use his gift to harm Dylan. She admired Dylan's grit. He must have pure steel in his backbone in order to have withstood the mind wars.
"Come on." She gripped him by the arm. He closed his eyes and muttered a soft incantation. She was so preoccupied, she didn't even pay him any mind, pulling him behind her. They just made it out of the back entrance when fire engulfed the shop. She pushed him to the ground and landed on top of him.
"I think this is the best time I've had all night." His voice was muffled since she'd thrown herself on top of him to save him from the heat of the fire.
"Can you breathe?"
"Of course I can." He looked up at her.
Smoke billowed through the air. The sound of fire engine sirens blared through the still night.
"We have to get out of here before the police and the fire brigades get here."
"Fine. I don't need anything in there anyway."
She shook her head. "You just told me that your whole life's work was in there..."
"I cast a spell and I directed it all to another location."
"Well, cheers for that. Kudos for the quick thinking. I love that in a man." She stood up and brushed the dust off of her leather coat.
"They never told me they intended to send a woman to watch over me." The surprise in his voice grated on her raw nerves. After meeting Denys face to face under such emotional stress, she didn't need a man pulling the old chauvinist routine on her.
"I'm here to protect your sorry ass, so you can get off that bloody high horse of yours." She glared at him, holding back the fire in her eyes. If she let loose right now, he'd be smoking, literally. And as his protector she couldn't go and attack him just because he happened to be stuck in a bygone age when it came to women's rights.
"I don't need protecting, least of all from someone like you. I had Denys right where I wanted him, and you ruined it."
"When I charged into the shop it looked as if Denys had you right where he wanted you. I think he was in the mood for BBQ." She groaned. A headache was approaching. Soon, her head would be on fire. She looked at the night sky. She'd had her monthly shift two nights ago ... and yet she still felt as if she needed to transform. Denys must have given off some sort of pheromone to make her feel like this. Shaking her head, she started when she felt Dylan's touch on her skin. His touch was electric--and completely unsettling.
"You look worse than I feel. My apologies if I sounded a bit like a pratt. I'm not used to having someone of your impressive background come to my aid. You look like you need some rest. I think you've definitely earned some R&R time."
"Don't worry about me. I'm old enough to know how to survive another day."
He chuckled. "By the looks of you, you wouldn't know what old was. You don't have a wrinkle in that china doll face of yours."
She pursed her lips and patted her sword. "I'm old enough to have walked these lands when people still carried and fought with these in battle. I'm happy to say that in the last few hundred years they have lost some of their bloodlust. The humans have become less barbaric."
His eyes turned wistful. "Ah, those were the days." She stopped short. They never told her she'd be protecting an immortal wizard.
"How old are you?"