m/m urban fantasy
Chapter 1: Tribal Warfare
Luke shifted uncomfortably in the café seat and glanced again at the pet store across the street. No one had approached it. Yet. It seemed Daniel and the others were keeping the rival tribe far away from the nesting grounds. He knew he shouldn’t be here but the dragonlings had only been born days ago and he couldn’t bear to be too far away. Their mother was dying. All mother dragons were dying. No one knew why. And without a dragon tamer, any dragons that were born were doomed to die. He would not let these die, not when it was the mother’s last litter.
She was taking care of their physical needs and would for a while longer, but he was supporting them psychically and they needed that connection as well. He could go up to two miles away, he knew, but he didn’t like being further than he needed.
He got out his cell phone and traced his finger along the case. A waitress appeared at his side.
“Can I get you anything else, sweetie?”
“Another chai, please,” he said.
He wasn’t really taking up a table since the café hadn’t been full the entire time he’d been here, but he had been here most of the day now and she was probably getting tired of him. But she just smiled. He’d been trying to order something every hour to make her life easier. When she left, he turned on his cell phone again. He wasn’t supposed to contact Daniel. Ever. Daniel would always make the first contact. But it had been hours, nearly the whole day. He hadn’t heard a word. He had been wanting to contact Daniel for quite some time now.
He turned his phone off and pushed it just out of reach, then looked across the street again. Again, nothing. He knew that in some ways he was the least valuable member of the tribe, since he had such a limited role. It was a vital role, and the role that kept the tribe going, but he couldn’t help with anything besides raising and controlling the dragonlings. And the dragonlings were a secret that no one in the outside world could ever know. So for the most part, it was the other tribe members who were active while he stayed at the nesting grounds. They protected the territory, they fought other tribes, they negotiated deals, they did all the things that kept the tribe functioning. He was just a glorified babysitter.
There had never been an invasion like this before, though. An unknown tribe had swooped into their city with unexpected fierceness. For the first time, dragon tamers like Luke were at a premium and it was rumored that several tribes had lost their dragon tamers. Daniel had warned Luke to stay hidden. Daniel had technically warned Luke to stay in one of the safe houses, but they were all at the edge of Luke’s range, so Luke was here instead. Guarding the nest where he ought to be.
The waitress brought him his chai and as she set it down, his phone vibrated. He snatched it.
A grin broke across his face. The waitress laughed.
“Guy you’re waiting for finally showing?”
“Yes,” Luke said, not even caring that she assumed he was gay, or that she really thought he would wait over six hours for a guy.
He wondered briefly how Daniel had found him and if Daniel would be mad. Probably. But he didn’t care. He was mad, too, for not getting a single status update the entire day. Daniel never sent him long texts; in fact, he insisted on brevity in case anyone ever got hold of their phones. But he could have said something.
He drank his chai, paid his bill, and sat down again to wait with his phone on the table under his palm in case Daniel got delayed. He kept watching the pet store to see when everyone returned. He knew he wasn’t allowed to return until Daniel gave him permission even though he had the keys and now that he knew Daniel was safe, there was no reason not to go back.
Several men came into the café and talked to his waitress, and then to his surprise one of them came and sat across from him. He was extremely handsome, with thick ebony hair and eyes so dark they were nearly black. But he was also very unwelcome. Daniel had taught Luke how to deal with men like him.
“Back off,” Luke warned. “I’m waiting for someone.”
His phone vibrated and he flipped it to see the screen.
Luke was puzzled, then noticed a phone in the man’s hand. Daniel’s phone. His eyes went wide and he gasped, about to leap up when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder and kept him in place. He stared at the two men surrounding him, looking to the casual observer like they were having a chat but clearly preventing him from leaving or even getting up. Luke swallowed and licked his lips before looking at the man across from him again.
“Where is Daniel? Is he hurt?”
“He’ll be occupied for some time, but isn’t injured. I just took this when he wasn’t paying attention,” the man said, tapping the phone with his finger. “He’s a fool to leave you here, but then again, you’re not supposed to be here, are you?”
Luke blushed. He regretted more than ever not listening to Daniel.
His phone buzzed and he glanced down to see an emergency message from another tribe member when the man holding him snatched his phone and gave it to the man across from him. The man smiled.
“Looks like Daniel just figured out his phone is gone and wants to warn you. Will you unlock your phone for me?”
Luke crossed his arms and glared. The man laughed.
“Well, I don’t need your help. Let’s see what he has to say.”
Eric watched the boy as he took the phone. It was a cute phone, just as he was a cute boy, and Eric never would have believed it. His tribe’s dragon tamer had been an old woman, part of the tribe since before Eric’s birth. He never would have believed that such a powerful tamer could be so young, or so incredibly attractive.
The boy – Luke, he knew – had dusty blond hair that brushed past his ears and halfway down his neck in an enticingly casual style. Thick bangs brushed against his forehead. He had pale skin with just a hint of a tan and probably spent most of his time indoors. A sprinkling of freckles covered his nose and cheeks. His lips were full and naturally formed a heart and Eric felt an instinctive compulsion to kiss them. His eyes were sparkling green with flecks of brown, wide and innocent. He was young, and Eric could tell he was also very sheltered.
Eric turned his attention to the phone. He knew his tribe would be keeping Daniel and his tribe busy for several hours. He didn’t plan on killing any of them but he would if that’s what it took.
That was the first message from Daniel. Eric had been amused at how short the communications between Daniel and Luke were, especially compared to the messages between Daniel and the rest of the tribe. He hadn’t been able to figure out why, but now he suspected it was because Daniel didn’t want Luke to realize he was attracted to him.
That was the second message. Clearly Daniel was used to obedience. Eric decided to jump in.
I have him.
There was a long pause.
What do you want?
Eric smiled. He could practically hear the desperation through the letters. Daniel knew how rare a commodity Luke was even if Luke seemed oblivious. Eric looked at Luke, who was watching him with a similar desperation. Luke had no idea how precious he was, as a tamer and as a person. Maybe he’d toy with Daniel a little.
He’s quite beautiful.
Don’t lay a hand on him, Daniel replied immediately.
My hands should be the least of your concerns.
There was another pause and he knew Daniel was trying to figure out an answer that wouldn’t insult Eric to the point where it might put Luke’s life in danger.
“Stop it,” Luke said suddenly.
Eric looked up in surprise. “Stop what?”
“You’re threatening him. Stop it.”
Eric reached out and stroked Luke’s cheek. Luke looked surprised but didn’t pull away from the gesture.
“I’m not threatening him. I’m threatening you. There’s a difference.”
“You can’t threaten me. You need me. You don’t have a dragon tamer and if you don’t have my cooperation, your dragons will die.”
Eric reappraised him. More than just a pretty face, then.
“I do need you. And I would like your cooperation; it would make things easier. But if you see a dragon in pain, I have a feeling you’re going to help even if you want to kill me.”
Luke looked like he was going to protest but he didn’t. He just blushed again, that delightful pinking of his cheeks, and looked down. Eric returned his attention to his phone. Luke’s phone, where Daniel had left a surprisingly calm response.
Don’t hurt him. What do you want?
I’ll be in contact, Eric wrote.
He handed Daniel and Luke’s phones to Sam, his guard. “Destroy these.”
“What?” Luke nearly leapt up again. “You can’t destroy that, it’s mine!”
“And Daniel can track you through it. I’ll get you a new one.”
“I’m not going with you,” Luke warned.
“You can’t stop me, even if I have to take you by force.”
Luke gripped the edge of the table and leaned forward. Fire danced in his eyes and Eric recognized the bond of a tamer speaking. Luke was using dragongaze on him, but not at full strength and Eric knew how to get around it if he were careful.
“I will not leave.”
“I assume they’re across the street,” Eric said, knowing from the waitress that Luke had been watching across the street the entire time he’d been here.
“Yes,” Luke said, still in that fiery voice that Eric knew meant business.
“How far is your range?”
Eric was impressed. He’d never heard of anyone with a range that far. Most people could go half a mile at most. He had assumed that was why Luke was across the street.
“Do you have a key?”
“I’m not letting you in.”
“We’re taking you more than two miles away. You’re bringing them.”
Pain flashed across Luke’s face and the intensity of his dragongaze lessened. “Their mother is still feeding them. It’s her last litter and she deserves to keep them.”
“They’ll survive just as well with you feeding them. You know that. Their mother would rather have them alive and you know that too.”
The fire in his eyes vanished, replaced with fear. “Why are you doing this?” he whispered.
“Because there are other dragonlings who will die without you,” Eric said.
Luke’s hands loosened on the table and he looked on the brink of tears. Eric nodded to Denis, his other guard, who helped Luke to his feet. Luke seemed almost in a state of shock and Eric slid his arm around Luke’s waist as they left. Luke stiffened at the intimate touch but just like when Eric had stroked his cheek, he didn’t protest. This time, though, it seemed he actually needed the support as they walked across the street and Luke leaned into him. Eric could feel him trembling. He knew if he let Luke go, Luke would collapse. When they got to the door, Luke’s hands shook as he unlocked it.
The front was an ordinary pet store, but as they walked through every single animal turned to watch Luke’s progress. Eric hadn’t realized that other animals would be sensitive to a dragon tamer’s psychic touch but clearly they were. They went through three back rooms before finally reaching the nesting grounds, where a large crimson dragon curled around five very small dragonlings. They looked to be no more than three days old. No wonder Luke had stayed so close.
The mother dragon was dying, just like all the tamed female dragons. That was clear. But the young ones were healthy and strong and they chirped at Luke as he entered. When they saw Eric, though, they hissed and spread their wings. Luke pushed him away roughly and entered the nest alone. Only dragon tamers were ever allowed to enter the nest but he had never seen dragonlings react violently towards someone before. Then again, he was taking their tamer prisoner and separating them from their mother. Perhaps it wasn’t unreasonable.
Sam and Denis stayed well behind him. They rarely had anything to do with dragonlings and were here to help with Luke only. Luke didn’t say a word but Eric knew he was communicating with the dragonlings. The young ones cuddled with him sweetly and the mother nuzzled him as he caressed her. He had probably known her all his life. Eric glanced at his watch. They needed to hurry, but he wanted to give Luke time to say goodbye.
After only a few minutes, Luke stood. Leaving the dragonlings in the nest, he went to the shelves along the wall and began gathering things and piling them next to Eric. Food, milk, and bedding for the dragonlings. All good things to have since Eric hadn’t anticipated traveling with dragonlings. Eric gestured Sam and Denis to carry the items out to the waiting jet. Then it was time for Luke and the dragonlings.
Luke looked at him with pleading eyes.
“Please,” he whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Eric said gently. “You’ll understand in time.”
Luke closed his eyes, then entered the nest and helped the dragonlings climb onto him. It was a good thing they were so small because they were going to have to walk in public a short way and if they were much larger, they would be noticeable. Luke kissed the mother dragon and then climbed out of the nest.
“I hate you,” he said softly.
Eric ignored it. He expected as much. He led Luke down a few side streets until they reached a large office building with a landing pad on top. He had bribed the owner generously to give him access. Luke climbed into the plane and requested to sit with the dragonlings where the supplies had been put rather than in the cabin. Eric had suspected he would so the supplies were in a pressurized area with a bench, but not much else in the way of luxuries and Eric hoped he could lure Luke out for at least part of the trip.
“It’s a twelve-hour trip, Luke,” Eric said as Luke settled down and the dragonlings explored the area. “I’ll bring you food and you can leave whenever you want. The door isn’t locked. Bathrooms are on the left.”
“I’m not leaving and you’re not welcome,” Luke said, but without force. He seemed exhausted and was on the brink of tears again.
Eric nodded and left, closing the door gently.