We were brought before Ryujin, our hands bound behind our backs. I could smell dragon power on the air, like desert winds and spice, and my nerves danced in time with unknown music. The sense of peace and belonging that had filled me grew stronger as were escorted into the lord's sitting room.
The walls were hardwood, a deep red color, hung with paintings of dragons in various poses. There were no windows here, but I could feel a breeze coming through a door to my left. The wood support beams were exposed, carved to be part of the design, meant to be admired. Rugs and furs were thrown haphazardly across the polished floors, divans and cushions gathered in clusters, but randomly arrayed. Censers trickled fragrant smoke into the air, causing me to relax despite being held prisoner with my two friends.
One of Ryujin's guards announced us, and a shadow stirred. I hadn't been aware of the dragon lord in the room, and my heart started racing at the rustle of silk a Ryujin came to us. Our eyes met briefly, and my mouth immediately went dry.
Seeing his unearthly good looks, the elegant way he walked, and the richly embroidered robes he wore made me feel shabby, almost ugly. Thick black hair was pulled into a sever top knot, the tail hanging heavy nearly to his knees. His skin was like ivory, with silvery highlights, slightly weathered and lined. His eyes were shaped like almonds, with deep folds over the upper eyelid, his eyelashes a thick fringe around the haunted depths of his irises. Ryujin smiled at each of us, a triumphant twist of his sensuous lips.
As he approached our group, the guards retreated, leaving the four of us alone. My heart started to calm, but my skin felt flushed and too tight. Rarck was breathing heavily at my side, straining at his bonds now that a blade didn't rest at his spine. Shiogi was quiet, but I felt his restlessness, knew he was as dry mouthed as myself. He'd shared my reaction at the sight of the dragon overhead. Rarck still saw only a beast to be slain, but Shiogi and I had our doubts.
Gazing longingly at the exquisite man pacing before us, my doubts continued to grow.
"It's pleasant to meet the three of you. Your reputations proceed you." Ryujin's voice resonated, like a brass bell, raising the hairs along my arms. There was power in even a few spoken words, and I was filled with awe. Shiogi trembled, edging toward our captor, and I knew something wonderful was about to happen.
Rarck snorted in derision, still struggling, not disguising his actions. "So why aren't you scared of us? We're your doom, buddy boy."
The dragon lord chuckled, approaching my broad shouldered friend. "You are of minotaur descent," Ryujin said, his nostrils flaring like he was scenting the fighter. I trembled, biting my tongue, fearing what he would find if he scented me. "Prey animals can be so aggressive when confronted by predators."
Shiogi and I shivered at the disdainful tone in Ryujin's voice, wondering what he meant, yet subconsciously drawn to everything he said. Rarck snorted, drawing himself up, topping Ryujin by a full head. "Monsters are meant to be destroyed. You're just another trophy."
"Really?" He arched one delicate eyebrow, his eyes gleaming as he glanced at Shiogi. "Do your friends feel the same way?"
The air grew thicker, choking me, the incense giving everything a dreamy quality. I shivered, watching Ryujin approach Shiogi. My fellow hunter groaned low in his throat, pulling at his bonds, seemingly entranced by the dragon lord. "Well, dear boy? Do you want to kill me?"
Shiogi shook, and I watched him as he struggled to breathe. The strange draw we'd been feeling for weeks was coming to a head, burning its way through us. This was destiny. This was where our power lay, where we were meant to be.
With a man who could control dragons.
"I don't know," Shiogi whispered, his voice tortured. He was leaning toward our captor, straining to touch him. Rarck made a crude comment, but I barely heard him as I watched Ryujin intently.
The dragon lord smiled, flashing sharp white teeth, and reached for Shiogi. The dark haired youth moaned as strong fingers cupped his scarred cheek, drawing him into a silken embrace. Ryujin tipped the hunter off balance, wrapping an arm around his head and shoulders, bringing his other hand up to caress Shiogi's cheek. Smiling triumphantly, Ryujin kissed him.
Rarck gave a strangled cry, but he seemed unable to move. I stared in awe, knowing the dragon lord was bonding with my friend. Shiogi moaned, struggling only briefly, then relenting to Ryujin's demands.
I saw a flash of black tongue as they parted, and was reminded of a reptile. I wasn't aware of moving, but I found myself staring up in awe as Ryujin freed Shiogi of his bonds, draping the youth across a nearby divan. I'd never seen him so out of it, even when drunk, and my heart raced. What had Ryujin done to him?
Heavy eyes turned to me, and I gazed up as the elegant lord approached me. He licked his lower lip with a forked tongue, and my skin crawled, revelation filling me. "You're the dragon we saw overhead." Ryujin nodded, slowly closing the gap between us.
"Beast! Monster!" Rarck shouted, charging Ryujin. The dragon lord - no, the dragon - backhanded the big man effortlessly, sending Rarck sprawling, all without taking his eyes off me. He came to a stop just before my kneeling form, enveloped in the scent of spice and heat.
"Yes, I am. Is that a problem?"
I shook my head. Seeing Ryujin's triumphant smile, I reacted to an impulsive desire. I leaned forward, pressing my face against his leg, lowering my gaze. "Please, Lord Ryujin, accept my fealty. Take me under your wing. Let me serve-"
He cut me off by kneeling, cupping my face with gentle hands. Our eyes met, and I felt tears rising in mine. "Sweet Moirna, I will gladly take you in." His power brushed against my mind, causing my skin to pebble pleasantly. "But are you sure this is what you want?"
I nodded vigorously, tears spilling from my eyes. Ryujin smiled gently, then pulled me into a kiss, sealing our deal. I trembled, relenting, feeling complete at last.