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Her Elemental Dragons: Embrace the Dark: Chapter 17

When we returned to the palace, Varek was nowhere to be found. His things were still there, his bags half unpacked, but there was no sign of him.

We’d gathered up the few prisoners at the barn, but there were more dead than captured. The rest had fled. The cultists the Silver Guard imprisoned would be questioned, but we already knew from previous attempts that they wouldn’t talk. They were too devoted to their cause.

My parents returned that afternoon from Divine Isle, and I was forced to explain everything that had happened while they were gone. Getting the words out was difficult. I felt like the biggest failure ever. How was I supposed to take over for my Mom when I couldn’t even protect a few elementals?

When I’d finished, Mom surprised me with a tight hug. “You’ve done the best you could in a difficult situation,” she said. “I’m proud of you.”

“There’s nothing to be proud of,” I said, bowing my head.

“Of course there is,” Slade said, resting a hand on my back. “You handled everything that happened just as we would have done.”

I wasn’t sure I believed that, but it didn’t matter, because they were back now. It was such a relief to know they’d returned and could help with this problem. And to think only weeks ago I’d been eager to be the Ascendant, and believed I was more than ready to take on any challenge. Now I realized how foolish I’d been.

I wasn’t ready. Not even close.

We were in my parents’ living room, where I’d spent many days and nights with them before. Mom sat beside me on a sofa, with Slade standing beside us. Reven leaned against the nearest wall, while Auric sat in a nearby chair and Jasin paced restlessly.

“I’ll have my spies try to uncover more information about the Unseen,” Reven said.

Auric rubbed his chin. “We can’t let those cultists murder any more elementals. Tensions are already high with the elementals at the moment.”

“I’ll set up extra guards around the city,” Jasin said.

Kira nodded. “I’ll speak with the elemental ambassadors and advise them to be especially cautious due to a radical human group.”

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked. “Or my mates?”

Mom offered me a warm smile. “Thank you for the offer, but I think it’s best if you continue your training and focus on growing closer with your mates. How are things going with them?”

“Things are good with Erroh, Carth, and Zain. I bonded with them at their temples and feel confident about them as my mates.” I hesitated. “The other two…are more complicated.”

“That’s why it’s especially important to spend some time with them now.” She kissed my cheek. “Go and be with them. We’ll take care of everything else.”

“Thank you, Mom.”

When I returned to my quarters, it was time for supper, but I found my three dragons passed out in exhaustion. They’d been doing a lot of flying and fighting, so I guess I couldn’t blame them. I hoped to spend some time with Parin instead, but a member of the staff informed me he’d gone to visit his sister and her baby. I took supper alone in my room and went over some of the books we had about the Death Goddess, looking for any information that might help us.

A knock on my door made me jump, and I realized I’d fallen asleep with my face in a book. I quickly tamped down my unruly curls and went to open the door. “Yes?”

To my surprise, Varek stood on the other side. His long black hair was wet, as was his clothing, due to the soft rain outside. “May I come in?”

His unexpected politeness left me speechless, but I nodded and stood back. He swept into my room, his large masculine presence filling it completely.

“I wasn’t sure if you were going to return,” I said softly, surprised at how relieved I felt to have him here again.

“We made a deal, and despite what you think, I am a man of my word.”

“I’m pleased to hear it.”

He gave me a short nod. “I’ve been out searching for answers. I know your mates—and you, probably—don’t trust me, but I have nothing to do with the Unseen.”

I stepped closer to him, unable to stop myself. “I believe you. Do you know how their leader is using death magic?”

“I have my suspicions, but I’m not ready to share them yet. Not until I’m sure.”

I bit my lip and considered pressing the issue, but then decided not to push him. We were already in an awkward place with each other, and I didn’t want to make things worse. I needed him to become part of the team.

“All right,” I said. “In the morning, we’re going to begin training together. If we can’t fight as a group, we’re not going to be able to defeat the Unseen, and that includes you too. We can’t always rely on the shades to give us an edge.’

He arched a dark eyebrow. “I’m fine with that, but are your other mates?”

“They don’t get a choice in the matter.”

A wry grin split across his lush lips. “I like a woman who’s not afraid to boss her men around. Just as long as you realize that won’t work on me.”

“Won’t it?” I asked, with a challenge in my eyes.

“A king doesn’t take commands, he gives them.” He took my chin and kissed me hard, plundering my mouth with his tongue, until I was gasping with desire. Then he stepped back and headed to the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow for training.”

And just like that, he’d left me speechless again.

Training with all five of my mates began the next morning. As we stood out in the field, under a sky taunting us with the chance of rain, I sensed my bonded mates’ apprehension. Now that we were mated, I could feel some emotions from Erroh, Carth, and Zain. It would only grow stronger in time, but for now it was more of a tingle and a clear sense they weren’t all that happy about Varek being among us. I couldn’t feel emotions from Varek or Parin yet, but their crossed arms, scowls, and stiff body language said they weren’t best pleased either.

“I’m not sure how exactly you’d like me to train with the others,” Varek said, gesturing at my mates. “If I use my magic on them, they’ll die. That’s the nature of it.”

“Is there anything you can do that isn’t, well…deadly?” I asked.

“No. Is there anything you can do with life magic that isn’t healing?”

I sighed, but he had a fair point. “Fine, then you’ll focus on combat training and deflecting the others’ magic. Later, we can run the Gauntlet too.”

We split up into pairs, with plans to rotate throughout the day. I was especially keen to work on my fire magic, but Zain was still a beginner too. If we weren’t careful, we’d burn the palace down. I’d have to ask my fathers to join us tomorrow.

Instead, I practiced air against Parin and water against Zain. I’d grown up watching my dads using their powers, and even though I hadn’t had any magic of my own yet, I’d studied every movement they made. Maybe it was because of that subconscious training that I picked up magic easily once I actually gained it. I felt like I’d been using it my entire life, and had only now unlocked my full potential.

Or almost full, anyway. I wouldn’t be a dragon until I bonded with my other mates and gained their powers too.

Parin was next. I watched him spar with Varek, using his weapon of choice, a staff. He had been trained in combat, like we all had, but he was a diplomat, not a real fighter. Varek took him down easily, but as I watched, he reached out and shook Parin’s hand after the match. Maybe there was some hope for them yet.

Erroh stood beside me as we watched them start another match. “I notice you haven’t been pushing to go to the Earth Temple,” he said.

“No, I thought we could all use some time together first.” I turned toward him. “Plus, I needed to get used to the idea of Parin as my mate. Are you still upset he was chosen?”

“A little.” Erroh rubbed the back of his neck. “Is it strange that my brother will share your bed, as I do? Yes. But I’ve started to accept it. I can tell he cares about you, in his own rigid way. It could be much worse.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “High praise there.”

He took my hand. “I want whatever makes you happy. If that’s my brother, then that’s fine. If that’s Varek… well, I’ll accept that too.”

I pressed a kiss to his lips. “Thank you.”

He grinned and stepped back, then created a tornado between us. “Now, back to work. See if you can dissolve this.”

We continued practicing every day for a week against each other, trying to hone our skills so we could go up against the Unseen again. Next time we would be better prepared. My fathers came out to the field and gave us tips too, and by the end of the week, I could use fire without being a hazard to myself and others.

During meals, Erroh, Carth, and Zain joked around like the friends they were. Varek and Parin were still separate from them, not joining in on the fun, except one time I caught them rolling their eyes in unison when the other three were being particularly ridiculous. Progress.

In the evenings, one of my bonded mates came to my bed. It was nice not sleeping alone anymore, and I began to wonder what it would be like to have multiple men in my bed too. Would that ever happen?

On the last night of the week, Parin cleared his throat and said, ‘Now that we are confident about working together and your parents are here to continue the investigations into the Unseen, I think it’s an appropriate time to make our way to the Earth Temple.”

Carth nudged Zain with a huge grin. “I told you he’d bring it up first.”

Zain grumbled and pulled out a coin, slamming it on the table. “Fine.”

“You were betting on this?” I asked, my eyebrows jumping up.

“Just a bit of fun.” Carth shoved the coin in his pocket, his eyes dancing. “I bet he’d crack by the end of the week, unable to resist Sora any longer. Zain thought Sora would demand to go first.”

Parin looked away at that, as did Erroh. I wasn’t sure how to respond either. Yes, I wanted to bond with Parin. I’d always been attracted to him. Plus I wanted to gain my powers and unlock Parin’s true potential as a dragon. But I’d been waiting because I wasn’t sure how he felt about me and didn’t want to rush things.

Varek leaned forward with a grin and broke the awkward silence. “You made a bet and didn’t include me? For shame.”

The tension broke and Zain said, “Next time.”

“None of you should be making bets,” I said, rolling my eyes. “But yes, I do agree it’s time to go to the Earth Temple. The Unseen could attack again at any moment, and it’s best if we’re better prepared for them.”

I’d put off the next journey as long as I could. We’d hurt The Unseen with our attack, but as much as Reven’s spies searched, not another whisper was heard about the cultists. If Varek knew anything, he was keeping silent.

But bonding with Parin meant bonding with Varek next. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be ready for that.


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