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Her Elemental Dragons: Stroke the Flame: Chapter 37

KIRA

I glanced behind us for the hundredth time, hoping to see Reven’s dark profile or his black horse, but he was never there.

“He’s not coming back,” Auric said. “I’m sorry, Kira.”

With a sigh, I tightened my arms around Auric and rested my head on his shoulder. “Maybe, but it’s hard to accept he’s truly gone.”

He guided the horse around a large boulder. “I know. But now you can find someone who really wants to be here.”

I tried to think of it that way, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Reven’s departure had left a huge hole in my heart. I’d thought we’d begun to develop something real, but clearly, I was wrong. Even though he’d kept his distance from me, I’d still felt the same connection with him that I did the other men. At first, we could pretend it was simply the magic drawing us together, but not anymore. The fact that Reven could leave proved there was no magic forcing him or the other men to stay with me.

As we approached Valefire, the volcano where the Fire Temple was located, the landscape became stark and ominous. The dense shrubs and scraggly trees began to thin out and the land became black from lava that had once spilled. Steam and boiling water kept bursting from holes in the ground, and we had to go around numerous deep craters the closer we got to the slope of the volcano.

I’d expected Valefire to look like a tall mountain, but instead it was more of a mound with a flat top, where a large plume of white smoke billowed into the bright blue sky. The ocean could be spotted behind it, along with more thick smoke.

Jasin stopped his horse suddenly, staring at the sky. “The volcano…it’s erupting.”

“That can’t be right,” Auric said. “The volcano is supposed to be dormant.”

“It was. People used to walk right up to the crater and drop offerings in for the Fire God.”

“Are we in any danger?” I asked.

“I doubt the Fire God would try to stop us now,” Slade said.

Auric peered at the volcano. “We should be safe, since it doesn’t appear to be too violent of an eruption.”

“Where is the Temple?” I asked.

“It’s at the top,” Jasin said, his face grim.

I nodded. “Then we keep going.”

The terrain became even rougher as we reached the base of the volcano. There was nothing living in sight, not even a weed. The blackened ground had strange rope-like patterns in it, which I realized were from a previous eruption where the flow of lava had hardened and solidified. The volcano rose high above us, under its swirling cloud of white smoke.

With great reluctance, we left our horses behind and took only what we needed for the climb. The slope up was full of black volcanic formations, mounds, and ridges, and we stumbled up it. More steam shot out in various places from vents in the earth, and the air grew heavy with heat and a smell like rotten eggs. I coughed and covered my mouth and nose with a cloth, while my eyes began to burn and sweat dripped down my forehead.

The climb was brutal, and at times I thought I might give up, but I kept going with encouragement from my three mates. We stopped for short water breaks and nothing more, even when our muscles began to ache and the sun slowly set behind us. Only a few more steps, I told myself over and over, until we finally reached the summit.

The ground was flat and smooth, before dropping suddenly into a crater in the center. An eerie orange glow rose up from the crater, illuminating an impressive building made of black glassy stone with tall, pointed towers.

A beautiful woman I guessed to be in her forties stood in front, wearing a red silk robe with black trim. She had pale blond hair and bowed low when we approached. “Greetings, ascendants.”

I glanced at the others warily. “Were you expecting us?”

“Yes. Ever since Valefire erupted a little over a month ago, we knew the Fire God was stirring and new Dragons were rising.” She swept her gaze across the men. “Which one of you has been chosen by the Fire God?”

“I was,” Jasin said, stepping forward.

“Show me his gift.”

Jasin spread his palm and summoned a ball of fire in the middle of it. The woman smiled and watched the flames flicker, then produced a matching one in her hand, making us gasp.

“How…?” he asked.

“My name is Calla, and I am the High Priestess of the Fire God.” She closed her hand and the flame vanished. “Like you, I’ve been gifted a touch of his power in order to serve him.”

“Does that mean you’re a Dragon also?” Auric asked.

“No, that is your destiny and not mine.” She frowned as she glanced between us again. “I expected four men, though.”

My throat clenched up at the reminder. “One of them didn’t want to be here.”

“No matter. You only need the Crimson Dragon’s ascendant today.” She gestured toward the tall door of the temple, her long sleeves flowing around her. “Please come inside.”

We followed her into a huge entry room with a large domed ceiling and dozens of torches, which seemed to flare brighter as we approached. I tried to ignore the flicker of fear inside me at the sight and kept walking toward a tall dragon statue made of the same smooth black stone as the rest of the Temple. Four older, handsome male priests waited for us in front of it, wearing similar robes to Calla’s. They all bowed low as we drew near.

“These are the Fire God’s priests,” Calla said, as she smiled at the four men. “And my mates.”

I’d heard that the High Priestesses followed the ways of the Spirit Goddess and the Black Dragon and took four mates in the same tradition, but I was never sure if it was true or simply rumors. Perhaps she’d be able to give me advice on managing four men with strong personalities.

We all exchanged names, while the priests stared at me and Jasin with both awe and curiosity.

“It is an honor to meet you,” Blane, the first priest said.

“We’ve been waiting for you for a very long time,” another priest named Derel said.

“You were?” I asked. “How?”

“It’s time you learned the truth about the Dragons,” Calla said. “But first, you’re probably in need of some refreshments.”

She led us into another large room with a long black table that was already prepared for a feast. Our exhaustion took over as we sank into the stone chairs, and two of the priests began pouring us red wine and cool water, while the others served us glazed beef with vegetables and pasta shells. I eagerly downed an entire glass of water before diving into my meal.

“What can you tell us about the Dragons?” I asked, once my weariness began to fade thanks to their delicious food.

Calla was sitting across from me and took a sip of wine. “The Black Dragon and her mates have ruled the world for the last six hundred and thirty years—but it was not always that way.”

Auric leaned forward, hungry for her knowledge. “What do you mean?”

“Thousands of years ago, the Gods created elementals and humans. They believed we could exist in harmony. They were wrong. When humans began expanding into elemental lands the elementals fought back and we were no match for their magic. The Gods created the five Dragons to be their representatives, blessing those chosen humans with the powers of the elementals in order to protect the world and keep the balance. The Dragons acted as intermediaries between the two groups, and for many years there was peace.”

Jasin paused between bites. “I thought the Dragons were supposed to rule us.”

“Not originally,” Blane said, as he refilled my water. “They were peacekeepers and protectors, not rulers. Instead, each Realm governed itself. Until Nysa.”

“The Black Dragon,” Slade said quietly, while a shiver ran down my spine at her name.

“What changed with her?” Auric asked.

Calla folded her hands in front of her. “Before Nysa, a new set of Dragons was chosen every fifty years. That way, none of the Dragons could gain too much power. But Nysa found a way to become immortal and stop new Dragons from being chosen.”

“How?” Slade asked.

“No one knows. At first, the priests thought the Gods had gifted her with a longer reign because they were pleased with her work. But then the Gods stopped speaking to their priests and seemed to vanish from the world completely. Some believed they’d forsaken us or passed control to the Dragons. Others thought they were sleeping or dead. But I was visited by the Fire God twenty years ago, and he told me to prepare for your arrival. He began stirring again forty days ago.”

“That was my birthday,” I said. “When all of this began.”

She nodded. “New Dragons were always chosen on the Black Dragon’s twentieth birthday. For whatever reason, the Gods have woken again and they have selected all of you.”

Jasin nodded slowly. “The Fire God came to me and told me to find Kira and bring her to this temple. Now what?”

Calla gave us both a knowing smile. “You and Kira must go into the altar room and bond, while the others wait here. Are you ready to begin?”

“I suppose so,” I said, suddenly nervous as I glanced over at Auric and Slade.

“Your other mates will be well attended to, so you do not need to worry,” Derel said.

“Thank you,” Auric said. “I’m wondering if you have any old texts about the Gods or the Dragons I could look at.”

“Certainly,” Blane replied.

I rose to my feet and my three mates immediately stood in response. I glanced over at Jasin, my heart pounding. It was time.

Auric wrapped his arms around me, before turning to Jasin and giving him a nod. “Good luck.”

“Treat her well,” Slade grumbled at Jasin, before giving me a short nod. The four priests led them into another room, leaving me and Jasin alone with Calla.

“Follow me,” Calla said, as she led us out of the dining hall and back to the main room. She took us to a tall black door with two dragons carved into it. “No one has used this room for about six hundred years, but we’ve prepared everything for you.” She stopped in front of it and smiled at both of us. “Take as much time as you need. Once you’ve bonded, go through the other door.”

Jasin reached out and took my hand. I held it tight and swallowed the lump in my throat as the door opened for us.


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