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Authors: Joely Sue Burkhart

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BOOK: Survive My Fire
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He sat up, the better to gently stroke my back. His fingers long, powerful, his palms callused and harsh as the desert, but so tender. He touched me as though I would bruise. As if the blood of hundreds of warriors didn’t stain my teeth while the vicious heart of a dragon still beat in my chest.
 

Soft as the finest down in my wings, his hair was fragrant with oil, gleaming like dark, still waters in the light of the moon. Delicate and vulnerable, the paler skin of his abdomen and groin intoxicated me. His scent and heat rose as I slipped my hand inside his open trousers and wrapped my hand around him. He truly did want this, his girth too large for my fingers to meet, hardening even more at my touch.
 

Sands swallow me, I wanted him. I wanted him inside me, filling me up. Now.

 
Burning with need, I rose up and drew him into me. Too fast, too hard, I knew it. I cried out, stretched beyond bearing, but I didn’t care. It had been too long, and the pain increased my pleasure.
 

He gripped my hips and pressed deeper. Shuddering, I fisted my hands in his glorious hair and rode him hard, as though my body would die, as though I sought to crawl inside him, crack his ribs open and eat his heart.

His need was not quite as desperate as mine—until I bit him as I threatened. I couldn’t help it—the velvet temptation of his skin was too much to bear. I put human teeth marks inside the larger ring of the dragon bite and drew fresh blood.
 

His fingers dug into me, his body coiling beneath mine, his stone face tightening. Even then, he made no sound until I turned my head, presenting the curve of my throat, my shoulder, the round fullness of my breast, gleaming in the moonlight. And he took what I offered.
 

Teeth clamped high on my shoulder. I felt the moment my blood poured into his mouth. Hunger rose in him as sharp and vicious as mine. It rolled his body, tightened every muscle, flamed through the flat, hard planes of his face.
 

Guttural, he cried my name. Chanda—a curse to our people; a legend—forgotten, I hoped all these years. We were one, he and I, this stranger, this warrior who knew my face and my name and my moon-damned curse. We came together, bleeding, clawing and biting at each other, crying.
 

And for a moment, we no longer suffered alone in the barren wilds of Keldar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

We collapsed, exhausted, his arms still wrapped around me while my lust died and my anger returned. I glared up at the full moon while tears boiled in my heart like acid. “What is your name?”

“Jalan,” he repeated. His heart beat strong and steady against my ear. “My water is yours, Chanda. May the rivers fill the Wells once more.”

Choking on lies and dead hopes, I jerked out of his arms to sit beside him.
 
Unable to bear the beautiful shimmer of the silvered moon, I turned away.
 
Barren rock and sand stretched as far as I could see. “How long have the Keldari prayed thusly?”

His voice was as flat and dead as the land. “A thousand years and more.
 
Yet we hope. We must.”

“Why? Why such torture?”

He sat up beside me and crossed his legs. His back ramrod straight, one hand laid on the wicked scimitar beside him on the rock, he replied. “It is our punishment and our shame. Our blood demands nothing less.”

I couldn’t argue. Endless hope that my curse would someday be broken was indeed worse punishment than the hundreds of years I lay trapped beneath scale and wing. I would have surrendered my rage to the flames long ago if I had no hope.
 

“Hope is a cruel bitch.” My voice rang in my ears, lifting my curse to the heavens, to She Who Hung the Moon, She who punished me. “As cruel as Somma.”

Jalan took my hand in his, his long fingers curling around mine. A small touch, a precious comfort in this hard, unforgiving land of rock and heat and death.
 

“Tell me of your curse, Chanda.”

He must already know. How else could I sit here with him now as a woman, my thighs slick with our desire and already aching for more of his body, his touch? He knew enough to come beneath the light of the full moon. He knew to taste my blood and offer his own. Maybe—
 

No.
 
I refused to consider such foolish hope. “I loved a warrior, the
tal
of my tribe, but he was Given to another. I begged Somma to make me worthy of his love, to soften his heart to me.
 
He—”
 

Rage pulsed in my blood, jealousy burning, agonizing heartbreak. My heart was still Riven by his choice. “He would rather die than have me. I cursed our tribe, my beloved
tal,
the sons he would have with that hateful woman, and then I cursed Somma. For my blasphemy, She Who Hung the Moon bound me to Her form, the dragon, for all eternity.”

Until the Well of Tears reflects the light of the silvered moon and overflows to water a dry and thirsty land.
 

I squeezed my eyes shut, blocking out the image of the empty lake below, the cracks and fissures baked into the banks over the years. In a land cursed by the Gods long before my own failing, where rain never fell and the sun baked the earth unmercifully, no Keldari could remember when the Well of Tears held water, let alone was full to overflowing.

“Love.” I laughed bitterly.
 
“It murders and lies and betrays.” My voice broke.
 
“Love destroys.”

For awhile, we sat together in silence, sharing pain in the
hours. I felt the moon tracking across the sky and knew my time in human form was short. Only the full moon held the dragon at bay. Only the moon and the fragile blood bond this warrior forged in my black heart.

Curious, I wondered how he knew enough of my curse to brave my lair. He wasn’t even of my tribe, the Adders. They had died out long ago; I made sure of it.
 
Even my own blood, my own kin, my beloved
tal
dead in the war to keep his chosen Mamba mate rather than me.

I laughed harshly. And I wondered when my curse would be broken? Never, not for the likes of me. “Why did you come here? To me?”

Jalan didn’t answer immediately. I was in no hurry. Even stone would speak eventually or crack beneath the strain of my infinite patience. After centuries, I was content to sit and breathe his scent and wait for his explanation.
 

“Do you remember the Keldari saying about our enemies?”

I remembered. Every drop of blood in my body was Keldari Fire and rage, the very elements the Gods used to spawn us. “My brother is my enemy, unless my cousin threatens. The tribes are my tribe’s enemy, unless one not Keldari threatens.”

“Such warfare and killing has decimated our tribes. You’re not the only one cursed by the Gods, Chanda. All tribes suffer Despair until the price is paid. We... die.”

I turned and studied his face, the planes and chasms of shadow and rock carved by his life. He was older than I had been when the curse befell me. His eyes carried the shadow of death, betrayal, and lies. “The Gods decreed our punishment. We die at their whim.”

Our Gods are a brutal Trinity in Keldar:
Agni,
He Who Burns, the Red Dragon;
Somma,
She Who Hung the Moon, the White Dragon; and
Yama,
He Who Breathes Despair, the Black Dragon. We are all cursed to carry the Trinity’s blood to some degree. Dragon blood burns in our veins.
   

If we live long enough, we eventually succumb to the dragon blood and become mindless beasts, full of rage. My only brethren, my kin. I hear them calling in the desert reaches but I ignore them. They kill each other, or humans, endlessly. There is nothing left for them but killing. They can never go back. Me, well, I have my hatred but also the small, bitter hope that I will someday escape my dragon.

“We tried to kill a God, and all of Keldar suffers as a result. Only an entire people’s death will wipe away our
devalki.”
Jalan said nothing I didn’t know, nothing that hadn’t been true even in my time. Then, though, he raised shadowed eyes to mine. Unflinchingly, he said in that curiously flat voice, “Unless you die.”

“Me?” My voice cracked, my raspy throat as barren as the land about me. “I would have died ages ago if I could cleanse our
devalki.
Why now?”

“You’re the last White,” he whispered softly. No change in his face, but his eyes bled with emotion, with regret, even rage that this must be so. “You’re the last carrying Somma’s blood.”

Only one God would be pleased with all of Somma’s blood eliminated from Keldar. Not Agni, the God of Fire, who blasted our lands with heat to purify and cleanse us of our
devalki
against Her in the first place. Not Somma who dried the rivers to harden Her children and make us worthy of Her blessings. “Which God do you serve, Jalan?”

“You know the prophesy as well as I. The Red Dragon Comes to destroy us all.
 
I’ve seen the signs. Only a remnant will survive.” His granite face hardened even more, harsh with determination. “My tribe carries Yama’s blood. None will survive the Last Days unless—”

Shaking my head, I laughed. It was better than tears. “Unless you sacrifice me to Yama.”

“According to the priests, if you die, Yama will lift the curse of Despair poisoning my people.”

 

 

Jalan clenched his fist tighter on the scimitar but didn’t pick it up. He hadn’t planned to tell her the truth. Wells of sand, she would never help him, not now, knowing he planned to sacrifice her.

What possessed him to bare his soul, he, the
Krait dra’gwar?
   

He knew why, and the very answer fisted in his gut, shredding and tearing as if the White Dragon bit him in half. Fire pulsed in his blood. His beast rose inside him, his blood boiling with emotion. Soon, the Fire within would overwhelm him. This was the very reason he didn’t participate in battle any longer, the very reason he didn’t seriously try to wound or kill the White Dragon when he feared he wouldn’t survive until the full moon rose. He didn’t trust himself to remain human. His end had come.

After his people were spared, then, and only then, would he surrender his iron grip on this accursed beast and blaze with all the agony and rage in his heart until he joined Chanda in the afterlife. Perhaps she would kill him every day, and toss his remains at the feet of Somma in payment for his
devalki.

Fire blazed in her proud, fierce eyes. The tilt of her head, the jut of her breasts, the delicate curve of her hips enticed even while she glared at him in righteous fury. Ah, she was a sight to behold.

“So, should I kneel and present my neck for your blade? Do you want to take my head or simply cut out my heart? Or maybe...” She smiled, and sweat dripped down his spine. Involuntarily, his muscles tightened, bracing for battle. “Maybe you want to rut on me first? Do you want to take me from behind? I’m a dragon in heart after all. We enjoy mating like rutting beasts. And when I’m limp and trembling beneath you, you can sacrifice me to your dark God. Is that what you plan?”

“No!”
 

She stood, her body vibrating with tension. Power rolled from her, buffeting him as efficiently as her dragon wings. Somma’s blood gave her great magic. He mustn’t forget who she was. Chanda the White, the last White.
 

Tracking her movements, he held himself still, making no move lest he antagonize her further. Not yet. “I want you to help me fight the Red Dragon’s forerunner first.”

She smiled wider, a grim baring of teeth, but her rage and agony sliced his heart so fiercely he sucked in a hard breath. “Why should I help you when you plan to kill me in the end?”

“Tellan,
our neverending hope that someday our
devalki
will be paid. On the last Well, I will do all in my power to break your curse before I sacrifice you.”

“I have no hope,” Turning away, she stared at the empty Well. Her shoulders shook, whether with tears or bitter laughter he did not know. “No amount of tears will fill the Well again. I’ve tried, Somma help me, I’ve tried. Why promise to break my curse?
 
To make it easier to sacrifice me?”

“Tellan.
 
Hope for you, and hope for our people. That’s all I ask. You would die human, free of the Fire within.”

“Hope burns just as fiercely as love and destroys just as much. Don’t you understand? We Keldari will never be free of the Fire!” Shaking her head, she walked up the gravel slope to the black fissure in the cliff. So graceful, so lovely, her body carved of moonlight. “You ask too much, Jalan tal’Krait. Come back at your own risk.
 
I won’t play with you before eating you next time. “

 

 

Huddled in the darkness, I sat with my arms wrapped about my knees.
 
Watching him. Watching him leave.

Jalan didn’t bother dressing. Tucking the voluminous folds of the
taamid
beneath his arm, he went in search of his pants, boots, and knives. He gazed up at my cave, his face illuminated with moonlight. My heart thundered and tried to crawl up my throat.

BOOK: Survive My Fire
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