Before the birth of Shadowmere, at the dawn of time, when men and beast were one, a single, aged race ruled the land ... the dragons.
Magic flowed through their veins, their scarcity of numbers strengthened by their power, and the fear they invoked.
The race of man was not content with their lot. They craved the immortality of the beasts and dragons, and above that, their power. In great numbers, they swarmed their brethren born of magic, sweeping across the land as locusts, killing all who stood in the way of gaining that which they most coveted. Elusive was the beast’s secret, however, forever remaining out of man’s ken.
One by one the great dragon kings fell to the horde, betrayed by those they’d taught the essence of quickening to--their magic used against them.
Their kind overcome, the beasts fell back, until the edges of a dark land lay at their back, shielded by heavy mountain and desolate plains.
To survive, the ragged remains of these strange peoples banded together, led in force by a dragon king of immense power. There could be no other choice for freedom, for they would not be slaves.
In a final battle, the gods wept as their children lay dying, the sheer gray landscape awash with blood.
A tremulous peace was struck amid the deafening cries of the dying, and the beasts of magic retreated to a land they called their own.
And the last dragon withdrew to the raging sea of lost souls, alone, his brethren lost for all time.
Time had never been his enemy, until now.
Sleet pelted Balian of Memnon, driving against his hide at the altitude he flew, slashing against the thick, protective lids covering his eyes. He raised his shoulders, closing his wings slightly to duck beneath the cloud cover. There, above the pitch black landscape, he hovered. His wings lazily stirred the air, crystals of ice tinkling as they broke from his scales with each beat of his wings.
He blinked his lids back as he looked down on the castle. The sheer rock of the valley protected its flanks. Its spires seemed to grow from the very ground itself. From the land, the fortress below him was impregnable--immune to any force that dared to assault it. Many had tried ... and failed.
His keen eyes picked up the glow of fires, the faint, frosted breath of horses in the courtyard, traced the movement of guards watching the lay of the land. He could hear the boasting laughter of one guardsman to another, the quickened steps of a servant rushing down cobbled hallways. Unaware that their oldest enemy hovered above them, life carried on there as it always had.
None expected attack from above, nor had they reason to. They could not reach such heights themselves, their own abilities having deserted them in a long ago age, leaving them barely capable of flight at all, and his race had died long ago--though the loss felt as fresh now as if it had only been yesterday.
His lips pulled back in a semblance of a smile over jagged teeth the length and thickness of a man’s leg--razor sharp, designed for one thing alone ... rending a foe to pieces.
They had everything to fear ... they just didn’t know it.
Inside those stone depths, his bride awaited--in the tallest tower, in the land of Wyverns, at the stronghold of their domain ... so he’d been told. Here was a woman worthy of his claim, with a strength to match his own ... a mate for the last of the dragon kings.
He’d best not keep her waiting, he thought with a combination of amusement and anticipation.
Heaving a breath of thin air, he tilted and flattened his wings to his body, diving, his quarry in sight. He cloaked himself in darkness as he approached the tower, shifting into human form as he neared, landing with light feet upon the dark and lonely balcony. Fine glass doors opened with a soft push, and he was soon inside the black chamber.
The bed dominated the room, and his eyes were drawn instantly to its occupant.
With silent footfalls, he approached the bed, easing back the sheer drapery to better view her. She lay with an arm flung carelessly above her head, her fingers tangled in nut brown hair shot with streaks of gold. Silken sheets rode high upon her chest, obscuring the bounty of her figure but not wholly hiding her beauty.
His gut clenched with sudden, fierce desire, awakening the beast betwixt his legs with painful intensity. How long had it been since he’d lain with a woman, supped on the honey between her thighs, felt the heat of her body wrapped around him? Ages of abstinence had honed his need until it felt like the thrust of a blade in his belly with each beat of his heart.
He groaned under his breath, gritting his teeth against the pain, against the savage desire to take her and ravish her where she lay. He welcomed the agony as an old friend, knew its nature and how to control it. He slid his fingers through the ends of her hair, and up, across supple, pouting lips that begged a taste. How easy it would be to steal such treasures, but conquering her mind and body until she succumbed willingly? ‘Twas a test he was willing to engage.
She sighed and stirred in her bed, the sheets slipping down her body, constricting his strength of will. One taste would suffice, would tame the wild beast.
But no, it wouldn’t be enough. He closed his hands into fists and thrust away from her, moving across the room before he could make a mistake. His chest heaved, his nostrils flared as he breathed the cool air flowing through the window. Blood rushed to his clenched fingers, pulsing like heartbeats, prickling with awareness. The memory of silken skin against his fingers seduced, warred with his mind.
He couldn't leave without a sample of her delights.