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Her Elemental Dragons: Shake the Earth: Chapter 23

KIRA

Over the next few days we settled into a slower pace while staying in Clayridge that seemed to suit all of us. I practiced sword fighting with Reven, trained in magic with Auric and Jasin, and spent time with Slade and his family. After such a long time on the road, it was good for all of us to stop and breathe for a while. News had spread through the village about what we were, and people treated us with respect and awe, but otherwise little changed. Meanwhile, Brin and Leni got even closer—I caught sight of them kissing numerous times, and while their relationship seemed destined for heartbreak, none of us wanted to interfere with their happiness. But we all knew how hard it would be when it came time for us to leave.

We only had a few more days until we were supposed to meet the Resistance at the Earth Temple and I keenly felt our time running out with each minute. Once we left Clayridge we would have to face the Dragons again, and there was no guarantee any of us would survive the encounter. I pushed myself to train even harder, remembering Tash’s blackened bones and the ruins of my village.

It was while training with Jasin and Auric by the river that we heard a panicked shout ring out in town. We immediately stopped what we were doing and rushed back into the village, searching for the source of the trouble.

Brin rushed over to us as soon as we stepped through the gate. “One of the Dragons has been spotted heading this way!”

Jasin let out a growl. “Auric and I can take him.”

I shook my head, my heart clenching. “No, you’ll put the people here in danger. The Dragons can’t know we’ve been here.”

“Do we have time to escape?” Auric asked.

“I don’t think so,” Brin said. “We have to find somewhere for you to hide.”

“My old house,” Slade said, from behind us. “I used to hide Resistance members in a panel in the floor.”

Reven stepped out of the shadows. “How do you know the people in this village won’t turn us in?”

Slade leveled a steely gaze at him. “They won’t.”

I had to trust that the people in the town cared for Slade enough to be willing to hide our secret. There was no time to do anything else. “Let’s go.”

Our group hurried to Slade’s house, where a surprised Noren opened the door. Once Slade explained what was happening, Noren ushered us inside with a worried expression. As the door shut, I heard a deep screech outside along with the heavy flap of wings, and a chill went down my spine.

Slade took the lead as he rushed us through the house, and I barely had time to glimpse dark wood furnishings before we were taken into a back bedroom. Slade and Jasin shoved the bed aside, then threw open a panel in the floor. The space inside was small and dark, but I quickly hopped down into it, my feet landing on packed dirt. My mates followed me, but Auric and Slade both had to duck down since they were too tall to comfortably fit inside. It was a tight squeeze with the five of us and the air had an old, moldy smell, but I prayed we wouldn’t be stuck inside too long.

Brin and Noren helped lower the panel over us, trapping us inside, and then they shoved the bed back into place to cover it up. The cramped space instantly felt tighter, darker, and more suffocating. Auric gripped my hand tightly—he didn’t like being in enclosed places like this. Slade, on the other hand, probably felt right at home.

Footsteps sounded, and then Leni’s voice whispered, “Are they safe?”

“Yes,” Brin said.

“The Jade Dragon just landed,” Leni said. “He’s searching the village for five people—one woman and four men. What will we do when he comes here?”

“We’ll convince him there’s no one here but us.”

The Jade Dragon—here? I’d never seen Heldor in person before, even while living in the Earth Realm. He rarely left the capital of Soulspire or the Black Dragon’s side, and acted as both her guardian and her right hand man. The fact that he was here likely meant that all the Dragons were looking for us—and they were desperate to find us.

Slade took my elbow and moved me over by a few inches, placing me in front of a small crack that allowed me to see some of what was going on above us. Brin and Leni were embracing, while Noren had left the room at some point.

For some time we waited. My mates shifted around me, visibly uncomfortable and anxious, but remaining quiet as the heaviness of the situation pressed upon us. I strained to hear anything from outside the house, worried I would catch a scream or a shout, but if there were any they were muffled. I silently prayed to the Gods that the Jade Dragon wouldn’t find any reason to hurt the people of this town, who had shown us nothing but kind hospitality since we’d arrived. But with every second that passed, I grew more and more apprehensive.

Then I heard a low voice say, “What’s behind this door?”

“A bedroom,” Noren said. “Like I told you, there’s no one here.”

“Then why do I not believe you?”

The door to the bedroom banged open, and I couldn’t help but jump. Brin and Leni let out surprised gasps from the bed above us, where they must have been waiting. Heavy footsteps shook the floorboards above us as the Jade Dragon entered the room in his human form. I couldn’t see much of him, but I could tell he was a large, broad man from the way he moved. For a second I got a glimpse of dark, muscular skin decorated with tattoos, along with a shaved head.

“No one here?” Heldor asked. “Then who are these two?”

“My cousin and her girlfriend,” Noren said with a hint of annoyance. He moved to the bed and shooed them off it. “What have I told you before? I don’t care if your families don’t approve, you can’t use my room for your illicit encounters. Get out of here!”

“Sorry,” Leni and Brin muttered, and I caught a glimpse of their mostly naked bodies as they bent down and grabbed their clothes off the floor. They must have planned this with Noren as a distraction.

They hurried out of the room, and Noren sighed. “I apologize, my lord. They’ll find anywhere to sneak off together.”

Heldor let out a grunt, walked the length of the room, and then turned on his heel and stormed out without another word. I let out a relieved breath, and I sensed my mates calming too. Although none of us would be able to relax completely until the Jade Dragon had left the town and everyone was safe.

I wasn’t sure how long we waited until the bed over us was moved and the panel opened. Bright light blinded me for a moment, and then a hand reached down to help me climb out. Noren, Brin, and Leni waited for us at the top, and Leni threw her arms around her brother as he emerged.

“He’s gone,” Brin said.

“Did he hurt anyone?” Slade asked.

“No, he made a lot of threats and scared people pretty good, but that’s it,” Leni said. “I’m so glad he didn’t find you.”

“No one told him about us?” Reven asked, as he climbed out.

Noren puffed up his chest. “Of course not. We protect our own.”

“That’s very noble, especially since we’ve put you all at risk,” Auric said.

“I never should have brought us here,” Slade mumbled.

Reven brushed dust off himself. “Perhaps it’s time for us to leave.”

I reluctantly nodded. “Yes, with each minute we stay we put these people in greater danger.”

“But we don’t want you to go!” Leni said. “Having you here has been the best thing to happen to this boring town in years.”

“We don’t want to leave either,” I said with a sigh. “But it’s best for everyone if we go now, no matter how much we’d like to stay.”

“Come with us,” Brin said, taking Leni’s hand.

Her face fell. “Gods, I want to, but my mother would never let me leave. Let alone my overbearing brother.”

“I let my parents dictate my life for far too long and almost married a man I didn’t love because of it.” Brin glanced over at Auric apologetically, but he just shrugged. “It was hard to break free and do what I knew I needed, but it was worth it.”

“She is not coming with us,” Slade said. “End of discussion.”

“See?” Leni said, rolling her eyes. “I’ll never get out of this town.”

We left Noren’s house and returned to the inn to pack up our things. When we emerged, a large group waited for us with Yena at the front of it. She threw her arms around Slade, her eyes wet.

“Please be careful,” she said, as she pulled back to look at him. “Come back to us once this is all done.”

“I will, mother,” Slade said.

Yena turned to me next and enveloped me in a hug, her arms soft and comforting. For a few seconds it reminded me of what it was like to have a mother of my own. “You be safe as well. Slade needs you.”

I nodded, my throat closing up with emotion. Wrin handed us some food she had packed for us to eat on the road, while the rest of Slade’s family hugged him and said their goodbyes. Many of them wished me well too, and the tightening in my chest grew worse with each goodbye. I’d had no idea I would come to care for this village so much, or that I would have such a hard time leaving it.

Leni rushed down the road with a bag thrown over her shoulder and a sword at her waist. “Don’t leave without me!”

“Leni!” Yena cried out. “What do you think you are doing?”

“I’m going with them.” She moved to Brin’s side and stood tall. “I know you don’t approve, mother, but I have to do this. I feel it in my bones. This is my destiny.”

Yena pursed her lips, but then slowly nodded. “I always knew you would leave us. I only hoped I would have more time before then. Please be safe.”

“Thank you, mother,” Leni said, throwing her arms around Yena. “I promise I’ll be careful.”

“You’re letting her go?” Slade asked, his face incredulous.

“I am,” Yena said. “Leni is a grown woman and must make her own decisions, even if I will always worry for her. Please promise to watch over your sister, will you?”

“I’ll do my best,” he said with reluctance.

“More like I’ll be the one watching over him,” Leni said, nudging him in the side.

“We’re lucky to have you,” I said. “Are we ready?”

Jasin nodded, and he stepped back as his body began to change. There was no more hiding anymore, and the crowd gasped as Jasin shifted into a large red-scaled dragon before them. Some people shied back, fearing his new form, but others moved closer like they wanted a better look. Auric shifted into his own dragon form next, his golden wings bright and regal under the sun, and the crowd let out more impressed sounds.

I turned toward the crowd and raised my voice. “Thank you all for your hospitality. These past few days in your village have been some of the best of my life, and I’ll cherish them always. We apologize for any danger we may have put you in, but we’re impressed by your bravery and loyalty in the face of threat. We truly appreciate all you have done for us and hope to see you again one day.”

I gave a short bow and then climbed onto Auric’s back, while the crowd cheered and murmured behind us. Slade got on behind me, while the others clambered onto Jasin’s back. Leni grinned from ear to ear as she sat in front of Brin, and I hoped we were doing the right thing by taking her with us. I didn’t want any more lives on my hands, although I knew that was becoming inevitable. As the future Black Dragon, people would always follow me…and so would death.


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