Prologue: The Elder
The Elder sat weeping as he held the two collars and watched the blood trickle through the walls to collect in a pool at the base of the ancient volcano. The blood sizzled as it struck lava, sending out a mist that would protect the dragons for centuries to come. Most blood only lasted a decade, but this blood was different: centuries old, strengthened by dragon’s blood, it would eliminate the need for more sacrifices for a very long time. But still the Elder wept, for the owner of the blood had been like a son to him and the shock of Ashton’s death was like a fist to his gut.
He still remembered Ashton when he was a young man and the Elder had taken him as a pet, and how relieved both of them had been when the mountain chose not to take Ashton’s life and had taken a small blood sacrifice instead. He remembered the nights they had spent together, with Ashton panting under him begging for release. He remembered teaching Ashton the joys of drinking dragon blood and reclaiming his youth. Those days, once a fond memory, were dead now. Ashton’s blood seeped into the chamber until all the Elder could see was crimson.
No one knew the Elder was alive, not since he had found his way into Mount Tarragon over a century ago with Nieve, his beloved green dragon. Nieve’s talent of immortality was a gift, but a curse as well in many ways as the days stretched to years and decades and the Elder realized that death would never come, even without dragon blood. Death might not come, but old age had and the Elder knew he would have to kill a dozen dragons before he and Nieve were back to their full strength. He held up a withered hand and sighed. In his mind he was still the vibrant young man he had been for nearly three centuries at the height of his power, when killing dragons was a time-honored tradition and not something to be hidden, but only one century without dragon blood had turned him into a husk. Now that Ashton was gone, it was time to rejuvenate himself and choose a new disciple.
The Elder dried his tears and stood, reaching for his cane. Soon he wouldn’t need a cane. The blood had stopped running down the walls and the Elder trembled with rage. Whoever had killed Ashton was going to pay dearly. He would stop at nothing to see Ashton’s death avenged. He hobbled to Nieve’s side. The green dragon was nearly gray with age and had grown skeletal after a century of isolation within the mountain. He needed a fresh kill as badly as the Elder did, if not more.
They would leave the safety of the mountain, just long enough to find a meal. Even though they were weak, Nieve was still larger than any of the dragons nearby and that would make the difference in a fight. The Elder mounted Nieve, bones aching as he adopted the familiar pose. Nieve crawled through tunnels glowing crimson with lava and blood until a blinding rectangle appeared before them. They both covered their eyes, Nieve with his wing and the Elder with his arm. After several minutes, the light grew manageable and they continued, stopping every few feet for their eyes to adjust. When they finally emerged onto the mountainside, the Elder gasped.
A Queen dragon was having a mating flight and the familiar sight brought tears to his eyes. It was beautiful to watch her shimmering red scales glitter as she darted ahead of the emerald and cerulean splashes of the males. Then he noticed several dragons leaving the campus, heading his way. He leapt off Nieve and urged his dragon into the sky just as they flew by.
Nieve plucked one from the pack like a ripe apple from a bursting tree. He dragged the dragon and its partner to the ground as the dragon screeched and the others scattered. None of the other dragons came to the victim’s aid, instead fleeing as quickly as possible. Nieve knocked the great beast unconscious as he slammed it into the ground, making sure not to harm the human riding it. The human slid off the dragon’s back and ran towards the Elder, shouting for help. He approached the Elder, then recoiled as if the sight of the Elder was disgusting to him. The Elder wondered how age had deteriorated his once good looks; if the man’s reaction was any indication, his handsome face was now quite fearsome.
“Who are you?” the man asked warily, glancing between the Elder and the massive dragon perched atop his unconscious dragon.
“I am the Elder,” he replied.
The man laughed uneasily. “That’s a myth.”
The Elder wondered what he had heard about him, and where he had heard it. His lips stretched into a smile. He gestured for Nieve to kill the dragon. The man screamed and grabbed the Elder’s tattered robe.
“No, you can’t do this! I may have supported Ashton but I never supported this!”
The Elder paused. “You supported Ashton? Tell me, who killed him?”
The man’s eyes glittered. “If I tell you, you can’t kill my dragon. I’ll bring you other dragons to kill,” he added with a hint of desperation.
The Elder nodded. Knowledge was more important than a kill right now. After all, he had waited over a century for dragon blood; a day or two wouldn’t matter much. It was much better to get information from this man, especially if he had supported Ashton.
“Jamie killed him,” the man said. “He’s the Queen who just had the mating flight.”
The Elder pursed his cracked lips. Yes, Queens were often a problem. It would be difficult to kill one, but not impossible. And if he managed to drink her blood – he shivered in anticipation. He had never dreamed of drinking a Queen’s blood but the thought was intoxicating. He would gain more power and youth from her blood than several male dragons. He licked his lips. Then his attention returned to the man in front of him, the man who had promised dragons.
“Can you get me dragons that are loyal to Jamie to kill?”
“I can try,” the man said. “But I can get you dragons.”
“Good. What is your name?”
The Elder gestured to Nieve, who reluctantly got off the unconscious dragon. Nieve bared his teeth to show his displeasure at having to wait for a meal, but the Elder ignored him. There would be food later, if Alan kept his word. And if he didn’t, then Nieve would be allowed to hunt Alan freely until he got his meal.
“Well, Alan, I require a dragon. Today. Before the sun sets.”
Alan gulped. “Of course, Elder. Once my dragon wakes up I’ll bring you a dragon.”
The Elder reached out and grabbed Alan’s neck.
“You will bring a dragon back here before the sun sets or I will not rest until your dragon is dead, do you understand?”
Alan went white and trembled in his hand. He tried to speak but couldn’t, whether from fear or the Elder’s grip, the Elder didn’t know, but he was pleased with the man’s reaction. Perhaps looking like a walking corpse had some advantages after all. The Elder released him and Alan stumbled backwards, nearly falling to the ground.
“If you are loyal to Ashton, then Ashton taught you how to serve,” the Elder continued. “You serve me now.”
“Yes, Elder,” Alan whispered. “I will do as you ask.”
The Elder nodded and turned to Nieve. “Bring the dragon here and we will be waiting.”
Then he mounted Nieve and they flew a short distance away before hiding in the dense forest as the mist curled around them. When Alan brought the other dragon, the dragon wouldn’t suspect their presence at all and he would be able to attack freely. The Elder dismounted and held out his hand as mist twisted between his fingers. It was thick today, and seemed to be on his side. He had lived inside the mountain for over a century and still didn’t understand how the mist functioned, but he knew that the mountain often took sides in conflicts and could not always be counted on. Today, though, with Ashton’s blood running thick through the mountain, it was firmly on his side and he hoped it would remain like that at least until his strength and youth returned.
While he waited for Alan to bring him a dragon, he pondered the steps he needed to take to reintegrate himself in the Tarragon world. He had been driven out a century ago by fools who thought that his ways were outdated and corrupt, fools who thought that sacrificing dragons was a thing of the past. They didn’t understand the pleasures of dragon blood or the necessity of having a powerful leader to guide Tarragon society over the centuries. Only Ashton had understood, and he had filled the Elder’s shoes neatly when the Elder was forced to flee into the mountain. And now Ashton was gone, no doubt killed for the same reasons the Elder had been forced into hiding. Killed by a young, foolish Queen who didn’t understand how Tarragon society was supposed to work.
Well, there had to be another human who could understand. Alan was too weak; the Elder already knew. He was a servant, nothing more. The Elder needed someone strong, someone powerful, someone with a dragon that others would look up to. It was too bad the Queen was responsible, because having a Queen on his side was exactly what he needed. He had always dreamed of having a Queen dragon as an ally, to share in the true pleasures of being a dragon. Perhaps the Queen could be persuaded to join him, but he would never forgive this Jamie for killing Ashton. No, Jamie would die, and he would have to wait until another Queen was born.
Unless, of course, there were two Queen dragons, but that was highly unlikely. It was rare enough to have a single Queen dragon, having two would be a miracle. He dismissed the idea and his thoughts turned to his hunger. He hadn’t allowed himself to feel hunger for decades, but now that dragon blood was so close at hand he felt the ache in his bones and belly sharply. If Alan didn’t hurry up, he would find himself being served as dessert.
He heard a flapping of wings and Nieve’s ears perked up. Two dragons appeared and landed where the Elder had told Alan to meet. Nieve silently slid out of the mist and approached. In a few short minutes, the Elder heard a scream, then power filled him and he knew Nieve was drinking the dragon’s blood.
It filled his body entirely, washing through his veins and restoring his strength like ambrosia bringing immortality to a god. And he was a god, for all intents and purposes. He shut his eyes and focused on the sensation he had dreamed about for a century. Fiery hot pinpricks sparked across his skin and his hair stood on end. His cock grew hard as a fierce arousal consumed him, and his muscles tensed almost to the point of pain. Then they relaxed and as they relaxed he felt his skin tightening to conform to them, the wrinkles vanished ever so slightly, his youth showing through just a little. More dragons would be needed to restore him to his full youth; this was just an appetizer.
He walked to the clearing with the dead dragon and saw that Alan had killed the other dragon’s partner: a practical choice since the man would have likely attacked Alan once his dragon was killed. But Alan was smart enough not to kill the human until Nieve had fully drunk his blood. Alan would be a good servant, it seemed. Ashton must have trained him well. The Elder wondered idly if Alan had been one of Ashton’s pets or if he were simply a lackey. Alan was attractive, with hints of red in his hair that sparkled in the dying sun’s rays and clear, deceptive eyes, but he didn’t seem like Ashton’s usual type.
As the Elder entered the clearing, Alan turned to him and his eyes widened as if he were surprised to see the effect that one dragon’s blood had on the Elder. So Ashton had not shared the pleasures of dragon’s blood with him. He wasn’t likely a pet, then, but he would still make a good servant.
“You have done well,” the Elder said. “But I will require more dragons. Can you produce them?”
Alan trembled as if he knew that if he answered no, he and his dragon would be eaten on the spot.
“Of course, Great Elder,” he said, bowing. “Many dragons are fleeing the campus right now to escape Jamie’s notice and it isn’t hard to lure them here. But if you want more dragons, you may need to relocate. There is a new school being built in Spokane that will not be watched as carefully as this, and many of the dragons who are hiding from Jamie will be flying that direction. If you want dragons that won’t be missed by anyone, you would do well to head there as well.”
The Elder tapped his fingers against his lips. Alan was telling the truth, but he disliked the idea of leaving the mountain that had been his home for the past four centuries. It was be an enormous change and a dangerous flight across Washington. He vaguely remembered Spokane, which had been a small town when he had entered the mountain. If another school were being built there, however, that must have changed. What else had changed in the century when he was dormant in the mountain? Perhaps Alan would be even more useful by helping him adjust to the new century.
“Very well,” the Elder said. “We will remain here several more days, and then relocate to Spokane. I only hope you are telling the truth, because if you are lying to me…”
He let his voice trail off and Alan went pale. The Elder didn’t need to continue his threat; Alan already knew it. Losing one’s dragon was the most painful thing that could happen to someone in Tarragon society and the Elder knew Alan would do anything to keep his dragon alive. That would make him a very obedient servant and right now, that was just what he needed.
The Elder thought of Ashton’s blood dripping down the walls and meeting with the lava deep in the mountain below. The mountain would be able to sustain a second school, he knew, and when that school started, he would be there to guide it.