Authors: Jessie Donovan
Sacrificed to the Dragon
(Stonefire Dragons Story Arc #1)
To Anne McCaffrey
My teenage years would’ve been incomplete without her dragonrider stories. I also wouldn’t be a writer today without her; she was, and still is, the biggest single influence on my writing career.
Melanie Hall sat in the reception area of the Manchester Dragon Affairs office, tapping her finger against her arm, and wishing they’d hurry the hell up. She’d been sitting for nearly an hour, and with each minute that ticked by, she started to doubt her eligibility. If she didn’t qualify to sacrifice herself to one of the British dragon-shifter clans, her younger brother would die; only the blood of a dragon could cure her brother’s antibiotic-resistant CRE infection.
A woman dressed in a gray suit emerged from the far doorway and walked toward her. When she reached Mel, the woman said, “Are you Melanie Hall?” Mel nodded, and the woman turned. “Then follow me.”
This is it.
Mel rubbed her hands against her black trousers before she stood up and followed the woman. They went down one dull, poorly lit corridor and then turned left to go down another. The woman in the gray suit finally stopped in front of a door that read “Human Sacrifice Liaison” and turned the doorknob. Rather than enter, the middle-aged woman motioned for Mel to go inside. She obeyed, and as soon as she entered the room, the door slammed shut behind her.
A man not much older than her twenty-five years sat at a desk piled high with folders and papers. The room couldn’t be bigger than ten feet by ten feet, but it felt even smaller since every available space on the walls was decorated with different maps of the UK. Some were partitioned into five sections, while others had little pins pushed into them. She had no idea what the pins stood for, but the map divided into five represented the five dragon-shifter clans of the United Kingdom—two in England, one in Scotland, one in Northern Ireland, and one in Wales.
One of which might soon be her home for the next six months.
The man cleared his throat and she moved her attention from the walls to his face. When she met his blue eyes, he said, “Take a seat.”
Mel sat down in the faded plush chair in front of his desk and waited in silence. She had a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and while she usually didn’t mind, right now it could end up costing her brother his life.
The man picked up a file folder and scanned something inside with his eyes, and then set it down. She wanted to scream for him to tell her the results, but she bit the inside of her cheek to hold her tongue.
The man’s almost bored voice finally filled the room . “Ms. Hall, the genetic testing results say that you are compatible with dragon-shifter DNA and should have no problem conceiving one of their offspring. You also cleared all of the extensive psychological tests. If you’re still interested in sacrificing yourself, we can begin the final interview.”
Mel blinked. Despite her chances being one in a thousand that she could bear a dragon-shifter child, she qualified. Her younger brother would get the needed dragon’s blood and be able to live out a long life free of pain; he now had a future.
Tears pricked her eyes and she closed them to prevent herself from breaking down.
Pull yourself together, Hall.
Crying was the last thing she wanted to do right now. She couldn’t give the man any reason to dismiss her as a candidate.
Mel opened her eyes and gave a weak smile. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m just relieved that my brother will live.”
“Yes, yes, the exchange. But we have a lot to cover before we get to the contract specifics, so if you’re quite composed, I’ll carry on.” Mel sat up straight in her chair and nodded. The man continued. “Right. You are healthy, genetically compatible, fertile, unattached, and not a virgin, which are the five requirements needed to qualify. Sacrificing yourself means that you will go to live with Clan Stonefire for a period of six months, and be assigned a temporary male. You will consent to his sexual attentions, and if you become pregnant, you understand that your stay will be extended until after the child is born. If you have any questions, any at all, now is the time to ask them.”
She had heard the basics before, but now that she’d passed all of the tests, panic squeezed her heart. As much as she wanted to save her brother—and she would save him—being assigned to have sex with an unknown male dragon-shifter was more than a little scary. Especially since many human women died in the process of birthing half dragon-shifter babies.
If the death-by-baby aspect wasn’t bad enough, she was putting her life on hold to do this. Mel was one thesis away from earning her PhD in Social Anthropology. If she became pregnant and survived the delivery, she wasn’t sure she could just give up the child and walk away. Most of the women sacrifices who lived past the delivery did abandon their children, but no matter how different the dragon-shifters were from humans, Mel wouldn’t be one of them. Family meant everything to her.
And if she didn’t give up her child, she would have to give up her dreams in order to spend the rest of her life with Clan Stonefire.
She took a deep breath and remembered her brother Oliver, pale and thin in his sickbed, and her worry dissipated to a manageable level. Even if she became a mother before she’d planned, she would do it three times over to give Oliver a chance to see past his fifteenth birthday.
Still, she wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity to ask some questions. The dragon-shifters were extremely private, rarely sharing anything that happened on their land with the public. “I understand consenting to sexual activity, as my main purpose is to help repopulate the dragon-shifters, but what guarantees are in place to ensure I’m not abused or neglected?”
The man leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of him. “I understand your concern, but the UK Department of Dragon Affairs conducts routine inspections and interviews. Childbearing-related mortality aside, over the last ten years, only one sacrifice has ever reported harsh treatment out of hundreds.”
With colossal effort, she managed not to think about her fifty-fifty chance of surviving childbirth. “And what about my friends and family? Can I communicate with them?”
“Communication is forbidden for the first six weeks. After that, it is entirely up to your assigned male as to whether you can communicate or not. From experience, the women who made the greatest effort to conceive were awarded the most privileges.”
Right. So if she became a sex goddess, she could talk with her family. How she was going to accomplish that since her previous boyfriends had told her she was “good enough” but never fantastic, she had no idea. But she would cross that bridge when she came to it. “And lastly, when will my brother receive his treatment and when will I leave for the dragons’ compound?”
“Once our legal representative has gone through the contract with you and it’s been signed and witnessed, a copy will be sent to Clan Stonefire. They should approve it within a matter of days and deliver the vial of dragon’s blood to your brother’s physician. Normally, you’d be expected to arrive within a week. However, in the case of dying relatives, you’re given two weeks to set your affairs in order and to be assured that your brother is recovering. Our office will notify you of the particulars within the next five days.”
The man picked up a pen and signed something inside the manila folder on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper and held it out to her. “Since you’ve had a rational conversation without breaking down or bursting into tears, I think you’re mentally sound enough to be sacrificed. If you have no further questions, you can proceed to the legal department.”
Even at this late stage of the application process, she now understood how some candidates might be scared off. Hearing about no communication with the outside world as well as how giving birth to a half-dragon baby might kill you was a lot to take in. But Melanie wasn’t doing this for herself. Oliver had had a shitty last few years fighting off cancer only to beat it and end up with a drug-resistant infection that was slowly killing him.
Her funny, clever brother deserved a chance to live and enjoy life.
She reached out and took the paper. She said, “Thank you. I’m still interested. Please tell me where the legal department is located, and I’ll go there straightaway.”
He gave her the directions. Mel thanked the man before leaving his office and making the necessary turns. As she approached the last turn, she glanced down at the paper in her hands. Toward the bottom of the sheet, the man had checked “approved” and signed his name. Seeing it in black and white made her stomach flip.
In less than two weeks, she would go to live with the dragon-shifters and be expected to have sex with one of their males.
She took a deep breath and pushed back the sense of panic. While she didn’t know how her assigned dragonman would treat her, there was one thing she had to look forward to—the men were rumored to be fit and muscled. For once in her life, Melanie would get to sleep with a strong, hot man. She only hoped he wouldn’t be a complete bastard.
Tristan MacLeod knocked on the cottage door of Stonefire’s clan leader. When he heard a muffled, “Come in,” he twisted the knob and entered.
Bram Moore-Llewellyn, Stonefire’s clan leader and Tristan’s friend of nearly thirty years, sat behind the old, sturdy oak desk that had been used by leaders of the clan for over a hundred years. It was beat up with more than a few scratches from young dragon-shifters trying out their talons. Tristan thought it looked like shit, but dragons were big on tradition and Stonefire’s clan leader was no exception.
Bram motioned for Tristan to come in and sit in one of the wooden chairs in front of his desk. Shutting the door, Tristan complied.
While he had a feeling he knew what this meeting was about, he asked, “You wanted to see me?”
Bram put aside the papers he’d been reading and looked up at him. “It’s time, Tristan.”
“Can’t one of the volunteer males have another turn? Putting me together with a human is a bad idea, Bram, and you know it.”
Bram leaned back in his chair and shook his head. “No. I can’t risk the gene pool getting too small. Neither you nor your sister has had any young, and since you’re the elder, you’re first in line. I hate to be a hardass, but if you refuse to pair with the latest human sacrifice, I’ll have to kick you out of the clan.”
“Right, and put me at the mercy of the dragon hunters. I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“No. But since I’m more than just your leader, and I’m also your friend, I waited until a decent candidate came along before I chose you.” Bram shuffled through a stack of papers, found what he was looking for, and held it out to Tristan. “Read her mini-summary.”
As much as he didn’t want to do it, Tristan took the paper and read the one paragraph summary:
Melanie Hall is a twenty-five year old female. Her reason for volunteering as a sacrifice is to heal her brother from a life-threatening disease. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Her main interest is the history of human-dragon relations. Her psychological interview showed her to be a strong-willed, determined, and loyal individual who places family above all else. The Dragon Affairs office recommends pairing her with a likewise strong male to avoid unintended manipulation.