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Her Elemental Dragons: Embrace the Dark: Chapter 2

Finally, it was time.

I made my way to my mother’s garden, which she’d created before I was born in honor of the Life Goddess. As I walked along the path, I noticed a white rose had been trampled into the stone, and bent down beside it. I brushed my fingers across the wilted petals and gave a little push, and the flower lifted up and healed thanks to the energy I gave it. Once the rose was as good as new, I continued into the garden.

My parents were all waiting there among the verdant leaves and colorful flowers, but otherwise we were alone. I stepped toward them as storm clouds gathered overhead, threatening rain at any moment. One by one my fathers gave me a hug and wished me a happy birthday. Slade, my father by blood, came to me first, his dark eyes proud as he gave me a big bear hug. He was a very large man, and as a kid there was nowhere safer than on his lap, especially when he’d read me a book in his deep voice. Jasin was next, and he lifted me up and spun me around like I was still his little girl. He’d always been the fun dad who used to make messy art with me out in the courtyard with paint and pastels, although he’d been serious about my combat and military training. Then came Auric, who rested his hands on my shoulders and gave me a kiss on the cheeks, before wiping a tear from the corner of his wise gray eyes. Auric always encouraged my imagination with dolls and miniature horses and dress-up parties, and at night he would read me stories until his voice was hoarse. Finally came Reven, whose face showed no emotion until he pulled me against him and whispered in my ear, “Good luck, kid.” The sentiment in his voice made my chest tighten as I hugged him back. Sometimes I felt I was more like Reven than anyone else, even though we shared no common blood. He’d taught me all my favorite things, from lock picking to throwing knives to parkour, and he always gave me space to be myself.

My four fathers stepped back, and my mother, Kira, moved closer and embraced me. She smelled like fresh jasmine and her hug was warm and comforting as I buried my face in her red hair. As I pulled back, the sky darkened, the clouds blocking the sun.

‘Your twentieth year is finally here.” Mom smiled wistfully and glanced at her mates. ‘I don’t think any of us are ready.’

‘I am.” I straightened my shoulders. As of today I was an adult, and soon I would be mated with four men so I could begin to take my mother’s place as guardian of the world. I’d prepared for this moment my entire life and I was ready for it…wasn’t I? A flicker of doubt made my stomach churn. “Will it hurt?”

‘Only a little,’ Mom said.

I nodded. Kira had gone through this without any training. She’d had no idea she was the Ascendant, and had been shocked and confused by what had happened to her—what was about to happen to me. Unlike her, I’d had five people prepare me for this moment, and I was going to face it bravely.

“Don’t worry. You can handle it.” Mom smoothed back my wild curls as she gazed into my hazel eyes, which mirrored her own. “I’m so proud of you. I know you’re going to do great things.”

I drew in a breath and stood a little taller. “Thanks, Mom. I have a big legacy to live up to, but I’ll do my best.”

“I know you will.” She kissed my forehead, and then returned to stand with my fathers a short distance away. There was nothing more they could do for me now. I was on my own.

Slade began pacing back and forth, and I heard my parents start to murmur quietly to each other, no doubt fussing over me in their own way. I could only make out a few words, but it sounded like they were plotting to deal with my mates if they ever hurt me. I pitied my future mates a little—they had no idea what was about to happen to them, or that they’d have to live with my four overprotective fathers. At least Mom never had to deal with that.

As I waited and nothing happened, I started to wonder if we’d gotten the time wrong. Auric had unearthed an old book in the palace from back before the Black Dragon—my grandmother—had ruled, and it had laid out the basics for the Ascension. It would occur exactly twenty years after the moment of the Ascendant’s birth, which should be right now. And yet…nothing.

Hurry up already, I told the Gods.

I crossed my arms and called out, “How long am I supposed to wait?”

“I’m sure it will be soon,” Mom said.

I huffed and raised my eyes to the sky, just as rain began to pour down on me, as if the Gods had heard my plea. Within seconds, I was soaked. I started to call out again, and that’s when the lightning bolt shot down from the clouds and hit me.

The words in my throat turned to a silent scream as my whole body stiffened. Energy coursed through me, crackling with power, and I spread my arms wide as if it might shoot out of me and relieve the pressure—but that didn’t help. Wind swirled around me and lifted me into the air, embracing me with its magic, and then I dropped down hard into the mud. I was covered from head to toe in it, and all I could do was kneel as the magic overwhelmed me. Slowly it receded and the rain slowed to a light drizzle.

I lifted my head. As I did, I felt a strange unease in my stomach, and darkness spread out from me in a circle, turning the grass and plants brown. Leaves and petals fell and shriveled up into dust, leaving only hard branches behind. The circle of death stopped just before it hit my parents, and then the magic disappeared and the sun peeked through the clouds again.

“What was that?” I asked, as I rose to my feet. My limbs felt weak, like I’d just run for miles, and something wasn’t right. Mom had never mentioned a ring of death when she told me the story of her own Ascension.

“I don’t know,” Kira said, her face troubled. “Auric?”

He shook his head. “I’ve never read about anything like that happening before.”

Reven’s fists clenched. “It has to be the Death Goddess.”

“You think she’s making her presence known?” Jasin asked.

Slade growled. “Is she tries to harm Sora, we will defeat her again.”

Mom bent down and touched the ground, and the grass and plants all returned to life, as if it had never happened. “It’s probably nothing,” she said, as she brushed dirt off her hands. “However, we will send out extra patrols tonight in case more shades return, to be safe.”

I nodded, though I had a feeling she was only saying that to keep me calm. Something wasn’t right and we all knew it, but we weren’t sure exactly how bad it was yet. All I knew was that my family would be with me to face whatever the problem was…along with my new mates, who I should be meeting soon.

That night there was a banquet in my honor celebrating my twentieth birthday and my Ascension. The day marked the beginning of my parents’ retirement, and the start of the next dragon cycle. Important people from all four Realms, plus the elementals’ home Divine Isle, all came to give me gifts and wish me a happy birthday, either to size me up or try to earn my favor. It should have been a joyous occasion for me, but I found myself distracted all evening as I thought about what happened during my Ascension.

It didn’t help that Erroh was missing from the banquet either, along with Carth and Zain. I knew things would change between us after this day, but I still hoped we could all be friends. Perhaps knowing my mates had been chosen for me was too hard for them. I understood that, but I still felt like a part of me was missing all evening, and every time I glanced at their empty seats my chest ached. Whatever happened to Erroh getting me drunk tonight?

I made an excuse to head to bed as soon as I could without being rude. Mom gave me a knowing smile. “Ready to dream of your mates?” she asked, as she kissed me on the cheek.

I nodded. It was time to move on to the men who would be there for me. “I’m anxious to meet them.”

She smoothed a wayward piece of curly hair on my head. “Me too. I’m sure the Gods have chosen well.”

I could only hope she was right, even as I wondered what the Death Goddess could be planning. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

It took me forever to fall asleep, but once I did, the dream came, just as Mom told me it would. She’d seen Jasin first, and since he was the first of her mates to arrive and the first she bonded with, I had to assume the man I dreamed of would be my first as well.

The man in my dream had straight black hair that hung past his shoulders and shone like ink, and a face that looked familiar, though I couldn’t place it. He wore no shirt, and I admired his impressive broad shoulders and muscular chest. Tattoos ran down both his arms, and though I couldn’t make them out too well in the dream, I spotted one with a skull.

A wicked grin spread across his handsome face, and I only saw cruelty in his pale eyes. He looked down at a man kneeling before him, and then grabbed him by the neck and lifted him up in the air. The poor man flailed and kicked, while my future mate laughed and held him with one hand—an impressive show of strength. All the life drained out of the man, and the black-haired fiend dropped the body to the floor with a smirk. He brushed off his hands, as if wiping off a bit of dust on them, and then turned away.

I woke with a start and a lump of dread in my stomach. How could that man—that murderer—be one of my mates?

Who had the Gods chosen for me?


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