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Her Elemental Dragons: Stroke the Flame: Chapter 14

KIRA

We traveled along the road with the forest all around us, Jasin in the lead to make sure the way was clear, while Slade and Reven rode behind to guard our backs. On any other day I would be heading into the forest right now and trying to find some game for Roark to make sure that Tash would be safe and that I would be fed tonight. Now I was sitting behind this man I’d just met, with three other strange men around me, and together we were supposed to save the world. I still didn’t know how I had gotten involved in this, and wondered if it was all a big mistake. Maybe the men were supposed to find some other girl. Maybe the Gods chose wrong.

Even if I ignored the whole “overthrow the Black Dragon” goal, which was so far-fetched it was laughable, the thought of bonding with all the men was hard to swallow. We would be mated for the rest of our lives, with the four of them sharing me forever. It was hard to believe they would be okay with that. I could barely fathom it myself, although I had to admit I didn’t hate the idea either. I had to give the Gods credit, they’d certainly found me four men who made my mouth water.

I supposed the only thing to do now was to get to know my future mates better. I’d made some progress with Auric, and over the next few days I’d learn what I could about the other men as well. Especially Jasin. In less than two weeks I’d be expected to sleep with him, and I barely knew a thing about him.

At midday, we stopped beside a small stream for a break and to have a quick meal, but none of us felt like chatting much. I intended to ride with Jasin next, but then I caught him casting fire, moving it from hand to hand like a juggling ball, and fear crept down my spine. Even though he wasn’t the one who’d killed my family, I’d had a fear of fire ever since that day.

I decided to ride with Slade, whose solid, quiet presence soothed me as we rode east through the Earth Realm. He was so large and muscular it was a pleasure to hold onto him and feel all that contained strength under my arms, even if he had no interest in making conversation.

When the sun touched the horizon, Jasin called for us to halt. “This looks like a good place to camp for the evening.”

He’d chosen a spot in a small clearing near a freshwater stream. Thick trees sheltered us on either side, filled with the sounds of birds chirping as they found their resting spots for the night.

As I eased off Slade’s horse, I let out a pained groan. Every muscle in my body seemed to hurt, especially my thighs and back. If I was this sore after only a few hours of riding, how would I make it through nine or ten days of this?

“Are you all right?” Slade asked, resting one of his large hands lightly on my shoulder.

I stretched my back, trying to ease the aches in it. “Just sore. I haven’t ridden in some time.”

“You’ll get used to it,” Jasin said. “I’ve seen plenty of soldiers get broken in. Try to stretch and walk around, that will help.”

“Sitting behind one of us can’t be helping either,” Slade said.

Jasin nodded. “We should get her a horse when we can.”

“With what money?” I asked.

“Money isn’t an issue,” Auric said.

I blew out a long breath. “Maybe not at the moment, but we have a long journey ahead of us.”

Reven stayed silent the entire time, almost as if he wasn’t there at all. He removed his things from his horse, then spread his bedroll out on one side of the clearing. The rest of us followed his lead, quickly setting up camp while the sky darkened.

I grabbed my bow and headed into the forest before the men could stop me. Tash’s mother had been kind enough to pack us some rations, but they would only last so long if we didn’t supplement them with fresh food. Besides, we would need to keep our energy up for the journey ahead. We could stop in an inn every few days, but that wasn’t possible every night.

The Spirit Goddess must have been smiling upon me, because I managed to take down a large gray hare almost immediately. Maybe she had chosen me after all, although I didn’t remember a visit from her.

Wait. The old woman I’d found in the forest. Could that have been her? If so, why hadn’t she given me more information? Or some powers, like the guys had gotten from their Gods?

I pondered this as I made my way back to the clearing, where Jasin had started a small fire in the center. Slade and Reven were tending to the horses, while Auric was studying the map. I got to work skinning the hare, but then Jasin took over cooking duties.

“I’ve got this covered,” he said, with a cocky grin.

“Be my guest,” I said, stepping back.

He pulled out some herbs from his packs and tended to the hare, then strung it up over the fire. I moved my bedroll farther away from the flames, then sank down onto it, remembering the last time I’d traveled like this. Back then I’d been alone and terrified, searching for somewhere safe to lay low for a while. At least now I had four men with me who seemed like they could handle themselves in combat, even without their new powers.

When the food was ready, the others settled in around the fire. I pulled out some of the cheese and fruit from Tash’s mother, while Jasin sliced pieces of the hare and served it to us. The tempting aroma had all of us digging in immediately, and it didn’t disappoint.

“This is really good,” I told Jasin. “Where did you learn to cook?”

“From my mom, but also in the army. You pick up all sorts of skills there. I’m not bad with a sewing needle either. But food is my second love, so I made a point to learn to make some decent meals after choking down the other soldiers’ terrible grub.”

“What’s your first love?” Slade asked.

Jasin smirked. “Women, of course.”

“Of course.” I rolled my eyes, while Slade chuckled and Auric shook his head. Reven just looked bored, which seemed to be normal for him.

Once we finished eating, I leaned back on my bedroll and stretched my aching limbs, feeling exhausted but not yet tired enough to go to sleep. “I’d like to get to know you all a little better. Maybe you can each tell me something about yourselves, like where you’re from, or what your life was like before you met a God.”

“Makes sense,” Jasin said. “Guess we better get to know each other, since we’re going to be bound together for the rest of our lives. Not just Kira, but all of us.”

“Not me,” Reven said, his voice cold.

“What do you mean?” Auric asked.

“I’m not going to be one of you.”

Slade gave him a steely look. “We were selected for a purpose. The Water God chose you for a reason.”

Reven broke a branch in half with a sharp snap. “Then he can choose another.”

“Why are you even here then?” Jasin asked.

“I didn’t have much of a choice,” Reven said. “I couldn’t deny the urge to reach Kira, same as all of you. But as soon as I find a way out of this mess, I’m gone. I have no desire to be a Dragon or to be anyone’s mate.”

Jasin’s eyebrows drew together and he looked furious, and both Auric and Slade looked like they might respond, but I held up a hand.

“It’s fine,” I said. “None of us chose this. I understand if you don’t want to be here. Gods know I don’t want to be a part of this myself.” I glanced between all of them, watching the fire’s glow flicker on their masculine faces. “If there is a way out of this, you’re all welcome to take it. I won’t hold it against you. But at the moment we need to work together to get through this.” I turned to Reven. “Can you do that?”

He gave me a cold look. “For now.”

I supposed that was the best I’d get from him. “This isn’t easy for me either. I never expected to suddenly have four men show up in my village and claim me as their mate, but here we are. Right now we’re all strangers, but I’m hoping we can change that.”

For some time, the only sound was the popping of the fire, but then Slade spoke up. “I’m from Clayridge, a town on the western side of the Earth Realm. Lived there my entire life working as a blacksmith, like my father. Not much more to tell really.”

I was certain that wasn’t true, but I didn’t blame him for not wanting to spill all his secrets to what were effectively a bunch of strangers he’d only met yesterday. At least he was trying.

“Ever been in a fight?” Jasin asked him.

“A few,” Slade replied.

Jasin nodded, and everyone looked to him next. “My turn, I guess.” He gestured at his uniform. “Pretty sure you’ve all guessed what I did before this. I come from a military family actually. Everyone in my family has served at one time or another. Grew up in the Fire Realm, but I’ve been all over as part of the Onyx Army.”

“Are you still loyal to the Black Dragon?” Reven asked, his tone deceptively casual. I instantly tensed, worried the question might cause a problem, even if I’d been wondering the same thing. It was something no one would ever ask out loud, and something no one would ever deny. Of course we were all loyal to the Black Dragon. Everyone was, unless you wished to be cut down by her soldiers or her mates.

Jasin looked caught off guard, but then he stared into the flames with his jaw clenched. “I was, once. Not anymore.”

I wanted to ask him what occurred to make his loyalties shift, but I wasn’t sure now was the time. Was it being chosen by the Fire God? Or did something happen before that?

Auric cleared his throat. “Guess I’ll go next. I’m from Stormhaven. I’m a…scholar, I guess you could say. I have a special interest in history, culture, geography, and religion. All of which might come in handy now, I hope.”

Jasin snorted. “You’re a nobleman. That much is obvious.”

“Well, yes.” Auric straightened up, raising his chin. “Is that a problem? If you doubt my usefulness in combat, I’ve been trained in sword fighting since I was a child.”

“Ceremonial sword fighting, no doubt,” Jasin muttered. “Maybe we should be asking him about his loyalties. All the noble families serve the Black Dragon too.”

Auric narrowed his eyes at Jasin. “I’m loyal to this mission. Can the rest of you say the same?”

“That’s enough,” I said, feeling even more exhausted after listening to them bicker. It was a bad sign if they were fighting already. “No one is questioning anyone’s loyalty.” I turned toward Reven. “I assume you must be from the Water Realm then. What did you do before you were chosen?”

He leveled his dark gaze at me. “I killed people for money.”

We all froze, staring at him as if to check that he was serious. Yes, he definitely was. An assassin. I supposed that explained all the black clothing and the way he’d killed Roark with silence and ease. But why would the Water God choose such a man for me?

Jasin forced a grin and broke the awkward silence. “Well, at least we know he’ll be good in a fight.”


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