Authors: S. E. Smith
“We want to be returned to our planet,” Ariel said taking a step forward.
“Yeah,” Carmen said moving up beside Ariel. “Now! I’ve got things to take care of and the sooner you return us the sooner you can get your ship back in shape.”
Jarak gritted his teeth. First the transporter room, then the tiny human female who was systematically destroying everything, now this! He wished he had never heard of these females. They were more trouble than they were worth. If it was not for the fact that three of them had been claimed by the royal family he would happily have dumped them back on their planet and made sure there was absolutely no record of the location anywhere in their data systems. Unfortunately, they were no longer near the females’ star system and it would be impossible to return them since at least three out of the five had been claimed.
Jarak took one more look around the room and released a deep sigh of resignation. “I will escort you to a room. You two will stay together. The other one…,” Jarak said nodding toward Trisha. “… will be escorted to a different one.” Jarak waved his hand when all three women started to protest. “The only rooms available are too small to accommodate all three of you. I have been given my orders. You will have to discuss your return to your planet with the commander of the
when he is available.”
Mandra Reykill moved through the thick forest easily. He, his younger brother, Creon, and two other warriors were doing a quick training exercise. Mandra didn’t want to admit he needed it to burn off some of the restless energy he was feeling since his older brother’s capture and subsequent rescue from a band of renegaded Curizan militants. Mandra swerved to miss a large branch on a tree keeping to the shadows so the light wouldn’t reflect off of the silver in his scales. His massive sapphire body blended well with the dapple shades of the woods. His huge wings barely made a sound as they swept up and down.
Want a mate,
his dragon growled out unexpectedly,
should be looking for mate, not playing.
We are not playing! We are training,
Mandra growled back.
What do you want me to do? Start looking under the rocks for a mate for us?
Mandra bit back a curse when his symbiot let images of rocks being flipped over so they could look under them appear in his mind. That was all he needed, his symbiot’s sense of humor added to his dragon’s irritation at not having a mate. Between the two of them, they were about ready to drive him crazy.
Why did the Gods and Goddesses have to bless me with a grouchy dragon and a symbiot with an immature sense of humor?
Mandra thought before releasing a deep groan. He should know by now payback was a bitch and his symbiot was a great one for paying him back whenever he got cranky with it.
Mandra thought as he felt the gold bands on his arms and legs and the gold armor protecting his body dissolve. Mandra’s dragon snapped its huge jaws as one of the bands of gold transformed into a tiny flying creature and flew in front of it causing the huge sapphire shape to roll in midair to avoid hitting it.
Mandra’s curse turned into a huge torrent of curses when the gold threads reformed between two huge trees into a type of netting. Before Mandra could pull up out of the turn he was in, he found himself tangled in it. His dragon roared out in rage at being caught so unexpectedly. What was worse, the harder he tried to escape the more tangled he became until he was forced to lie quietly in the golden web waiting for the damn thing to forgive him.
I’m sorry, alright! I didn’t mean it. You have a wonderful sense of humor. You are the light of my life. You …,
Mandra grimaced as more threads wrapped around the huge forearms of his dragon,
… are not going to forgive me this time very easily.
The gold threads shook in response. Mandra let his head fall back until it was cradled in the threads. He was there for almost thirty minutes when he saw his brother and two of their best trackers coming up under him laughing.
Mandra lifted his huge sapphire head and growled menacing at them. The muscles of his dragon rippled as he strained to break free so he could have the last laugh when he beat their asses into the ground. His golden eyes flared with flames of hostility and embarrassment at being caught by his own symbiot.
Creon stood under his older brother shaking his head. Creon wondered if his brother would ever learn. Mandra had very little patience when it came to losing. His big brother was the second oldest out of the five brothers and the most serious of them which was saying a lot considering how serious Zoran could be. Creon often thought Mandra needed to loosen up and enjoy life a little more. He took life way too seriously which was why Creon often picked on him.
Just as quickly as the golden netting appeared, it dissolved dropping Mandra unexpectedly to the forest floor. Mandra’s dragon grunted as it hit the soft ferns below on its back before rolling over onto its feet. It shook, causing bits of dirt and leaves to fly everywhere. The huge dragon turned with a snarl when it heard the men laughing again.
“Having a bad day with your symbiot?” Creon asked with a chuckle.
“Yeah, we were wondering what happened to you. I thought we were doing a training exercise. If I had known you just wanted to hang out, I wouldn’t have hidden so well,” Kor joked rocking back and forth on his heels looking up at the furious dragon.
“Maybe he is growing soft in his old age and needed a nap,” Jaguin added not bothering to hide the huge grin on his face.
Mandra had enough. It was bad enough his symbiot made him look like a fool in front of his brother and his men, now they were calling him an old man? He would show them who was old! He was going to kick their asses and send them home crying to their mommas!
Mandra moved with lightning speed wrapping his tail around Jaguin and tossing him a good fifteen feet into a nearby stream. His head swung around and he grinned at Kor who was now back-peddling as fast as he could while spewing expletives. Creon chuckled and quickly transformed into his dragon; a slick, coal black dragon with not another drop of color showing except for the golden flames of his eyes.
Kor jumped to the side as a brief burst of dragon fire flew toward him. He rolled several times coming up filthy from landing in a muddy pool of water on the last roll. He coughed mud out of his mouth as he looked down at himself in disgust. Jaguin was sitting in the stream shaking his long wet hair out of his eyes.
“At least I got the clean end of his temper,” Jaguin called out to Kor who was pulling a thick lump of mud out of his hair.
“Yeah, let’s see how well Creon does,” Kor said as he made a face as mud seeped into one of his boots. “This feels disgusting,” Kor complained as he made his way toward the stream.
“But just think of how nice your skin will feel afterwards,” Jaguin laughed, ducking as Kor threw a wad of mud at him.
Creon looked at his older brother. Now the fun would begin. The two dragons circled each other sizing the other up. They had fought together and against each other all their lives which had been a considerably long time. Creon was smaller and sleeker than his older brother. He had the advantage of being able to blend in with his surroundings to the point he was almost invisible at times. Mandra was fast, though. He could move with lightning quick reflexes and was strong and cunning. Creon came in under his brother trying to throw him over onto his back so he could pin him. Mandra let his brother come in close enough he could grab him with his front claws before turning at the last second. He let Creon’s momentum carry him pass him into a set of thick ferns. At the last minute, he flicked his tail letting it snap across Creon’s back just enough to draw a snarl of pain from his little brother. Mandra’s biggest advantage was he had spent a lifetime wrestling with his siblings. Zoran and Trelon were the two who often beat him but Creon was getting better. All his experience during the Great Wars had made him a cunning opponent. Mandra turned in a tight circle looking for Creon, his sharp eyes sought the place where Creon had been last.
Mandra sniffed the air trying to get a scent of his brother. He was using his ability to blend in with his natural surroundings to hide. Mandra would have to use his other senses to find him. His ears moved back and forth filtering out Jaguin and Kor who were having a water fight in the stream, the sounds of the wind rushing through the trees, even the insects that buzzed. One of his ears flickered as he caught the faint sound of a leaf crackling to his right. Mandra did not turn toward the sound. Creon was coming from up-wind of him and through a naturally dark shadow cast by two thick trees.
Mandra let his weight shift so he could be ready. The sound came again from his right and slightly behind him now. Mandra let his head swing to the opposite direction to where Jaguin and Kor were now talking as Kor cleaned the mud out of his boots. He relaxed his body; letting his tail twitch lightly back and forth in readiness.
Waiting was always the hardest part,
he thought vaguely.
Waiting for mate is the hardest. I want my mate, now! Brother have mate. Why can you not find one? Go to females’ world and take. I find mate for you,
Mandra’s dragon grumbled in discontent.
Mandra was so focused on his dragon that he forgot about his younger brother for a moment.
A moment he should have been ready for if he had not been distracted,
Mandra thought in resignation as Creon tackled him from behind and pinned him to the ground after an intense wrestling match.
Minutes later, both men were transformed back into their two-legged form. They were both breathing heavily after wrestling on the ground. Mandra sat up and rested his forearms on his knees as he drew in several deep, calming breaths. He closed his eyes and focused on slowing his respiration until he felt his pulse slowly return to normal.
“Are you alright?” Creon asked quietly sitting next to him. “You knew where I was, I could feel it but something happened. What is bothering you, brother?”
Mandra opened his eyes and stared into Creon’s for an instant before looking to where Kor and Jaguin were climbing out of the stream laughing together. How did he explain the relentless emptiness that was eating at him constantly? How did he explain the darkness in his soul that seemed to be growing? How did he explain the loneliness he felt pressing down on him and his dragon? Only his symbiot seemed optimistic that he would find a true mate.
“I want a mate,” Mandra said surprising himself and his dragon.
He glanced at Creon who was now staring straight ahead. His brother’s face held a sad resignation in it. He shouldn’t have said anything. It wouldn’t help wishing for a true mate when there were none available. The decline in the birth of females was at a critical level on the Valdier home world. Their scientists were not sure why there were fewer and fewer female births over the last several centuries but they speculated it was caused by the Great Wars and the knowledge that more males were needed to fight. Somehow, the dragon’s dominant personality combined with that of the Valdier warriors was enough to ensure only male children were born. Even though the wars ended well over a century ago, the births of females continued to be extremely low. It was one of the factors that lead to the end of the wars and a new treaty among the Sarafin and Curizan systems.
“I have all but given up hope of ever finding a true mate,” Creon said softly in response to his brother’s unexpected statement. “I am glad Zoran has found his true mate. From the brief conversations I’ve had with Kelan and Trelon it appears they have found theirs as well. Perhaps this new world will be what saves our people.”
Mandra shook his head. “I am not sure of that. You have seen how small and delicate Zoran’s mate is when we talked with him. Though she is very pleasing to the eye, her species is too fragile for our males. I would be surprised if they can even breed with us,” Mandra said gruffly picking up a leaf and crushing it between his fingers as if to demonstrate how fragile a human female was to the touch of a Valdier warrior.
Creon watched his brother crush the delicate leaf and nodded. “True. She is very beautiful. From her size and gentle manner, I am led to think her species must be more delicate than our own females,” Creon said with a sigh.
Mandra watched as his younger brother jumped to his feet and held out his hand to help him up. He grabbed it and smiled at the strength of his brother. He was glad Creon was on their side. He was a formidable opponent. His little brother deserved much of the credit for ending the wars. His intelligence, loyalty, and resourcefulness helped bring it to an end and his friendship with Ha’ven and Vox, the leaders of the Curizan and Sarafin, was proof of his ability to forge an alliance among former adversaries.
“Zoran should be back in a few days. Trelon’s work on the engines has improved the speed at which they can travel. I heard tell from one of the warriors something about one of the female’s getting more power out of the crystals, as well,” Creon said as they moved over to where Kor and Jaguin were laying in the sun.
“I heard as well. I also heard they have had problems with a couple of the females. Kelan would not say what but that he would be glad when he could finally get them off his ship. I suspect they are probably crying and whining in fear. You know how he is around crying females. They make him run in the opposite direction. I can imagine all of them are very scared at being taken from their world. I will speak with mother about trying to calm them when they get here,” Mandra said thinking with relief he could turn the responsibility for the fragile, crying women over to his mother’s gentle touch.
“That is an excellent idea. It will give mother something to do, as well,” Creon nodded in agreement. “Perhaps we can find them one of the farmers or a tradesman for a mate? They are not as intimidating as a warrior since they do not have to train as much,” Creon added with reflection.