tagNonHumanWinter Passion Ch. 04

Winter Passion Ch. 04

bylostangelkira©

"I'm surprised that Nova let me come with you to see my family," Niri said as their carriage stopped in front of her house, her wearing a brand new, royal blue dress, a lovely set of sapphire earrings set in her earlobes and a modest necklace around her neck.

"He didn't want to freak out your family by just sending a messenger," he replied. "We've had a few...unpleasant experiences in the past with doing that."

He helped her down and out, offering his arm to her. She smiled, placing her arm through his. Stopping on the front step, Xander knocked twice quickly, as was his custom. Her mother opened the door.

"What brings you by today, Xander?" she asked as she opened the door. Her voice had little of her usual cheer.

When she really looked at who was in front of her, her jaw fell slack and her skin went white.

"Niri," she asked, her voice mostly gone from shock. "How..."

She didn't get to finish what she was saying; crumpling as her eyes rolled back into her head. Xander moved quickly, catching her effortlessly. Niri followed him in, guiding him to the back of the house, where the spare room was. He laid her out as she came to.

"Oh god, Niri, did they...did they send you back?" her mother asked fearfully.

"No," she answered, sitting next to her, "I'm here with Xander to invite you up to the Dragon's Keep for Christmas, so that we can spend the holidays together."

"Wait...Xander's one of the keep's couriers?" she asked.

"No. Xander is the son of the Sapphire Flight's lieutenant," Nina replied. "He's a dragon."

"There's no...." her mother started to say when Xander shifted partially.

"I tried to keep Niri from being summoned to the Keep," he told her. "My father forgot the promise he made to me to keep her off the list and that's why she received the summons." He smiled as he shifted back and pulled Niri to her feet, kissing her cheek. "But something good came from it. I finally got to show Niri the real me, not have to hide from her...or hide my feelings for her anymore."

"I knew it," her mother said, slowly sitting up. "I knew from the way you looked at her whenever you were here. It's good to see that you two are happy together."

"Honey, I'm back from the market!" her father yelled from the front of the house.

"You better have a seat, dear!" she shouted back.

2 hours later...

"Wow," her parents gasped as they stepped into the Keep's main hall. "This is amazing."

"Welcome to the Sapphire Flight's Keep!" a booming voice called from the other end of the hall.

She looked to see Nova with three of his women walking towards them.

"Mom, Dad...this is Nova, King of the Sapphire Flight," she introduced, Nova giving them a bow. "My lord, these are my parents; Joseph and Mina Carver."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," he said, reaching out to shake her father's hand and kissing her mother's hand. "Your daughter has won the hearts of the Keep's children and because of her home remedies and practices, she's kept infant and mother mortality rates down. Rest assured...your daughter is well loved here and will always be taken care of."

"Thank you, your Grace," her mother said, nearly about to burst into tears. "We've always wanted nothing but the best for her. She had her heart stomped on so many times by the village and she longed to have her own family... Thank you for giving her the one thing she's ever wanted."

"Come, let me show you around," she said with a smile. "Hey, how about after lunch, we go into the village on the northern side of the mountain to do a little Christmas shopping?"

"Sounds great to me," her mother said with a grin.

*****

That afternoon, as they walked out of a small candy shop, Niri laughed at a story her mother was telling about something that happened after she'd left. She stopped to hold the door open for Xander, who was carrying a mountain of packages.

"Thank you so much, Xander," she said as he unloaded their packages into a carriage. "What's next?"

Before he could answer her, there was a screeching roar from above, a wave of heat washing through the streets.

"Get back inside!" he shouted, guiding them back into the store.

"What's going on?" she asked him, scared as he looked out the windows of the shop.

"The Onyx Flight, they're raiding," he replied. "Damn, this is the third time this month. Something's up."

"I've heard the Onyx Flight is the toughest of the Dragon Flights," Niri said as Xander pulled her close. "They've produced some of the most powerful warriors in history."

"They are very formidable," Xander agreed. "But over the last few decades, their lands have been poisoned by waste from the sprawling human cities near them. Most of their young don't survive and those that do are sickly. It's tragic."

"Why don't the other Flights help or better...why not just move the whole Flight?" Niri asked.

"The King of their Flight is much too proud," Xander replied. "Sampson, the former King of the Onyx Flight stepped down, he's gotten very ill. His son, Brutoc, has taken charge and he's determined not to lose their ancient homelands. Even if it kills them with the poison leaking into the water and earth of their swamps."

Hearing quiet outside, they stepped out and got into their surprisingly untouched carriage.

"It's terrible," Niri thought as they passed by grieving families, young maidens like herself having been snatched by the raiding black dragons. "I hate to see what happens to those girls."

Xander pulled her up against him, comforting her with his touch. About five minutes from the ground entrance to the Keep, their carriage stopped suddenly.

"What the--," Niri started to say when the ground shook and a deafening roar sounded.

Xander jumped out of the carriage. Niri looked out to find a huge black dragon blocking the road.

"What do you want, Brutoc?!" he shouted at the massive form in their way. "Our Flight has honored our treaties and harbor no ill will towards you and your kin! Why do you raid our towns?"

"Our lands are failing more and more quickly by the day," Brutoc replied. "We are in need of new mates. All the females in our lands are unhealthy, unsuitable for giving us young."

"Then send an envoy to discuss having a representative of your Flight go with ours to view those brought to us by the laws of our lands," Xander replied. "It's at least better than what you've just done!"

"None of the other Flights have lifted a paw to help us save our home," Brutoc growled. "The treaties and laws give all of you an excuse to just leave my Flight to die. I won't allow it. My Father would want me to do everything I can to save what we have."

Niri had stepped out of the carriage for a little air and to stand with Xander, she just felt uncomfortable without him near. The other dragon stared at her as she moved towards Xander. Without warning, Brutoc took off, snatching her up in his forepaws before taking to the sky.

"Niri!" Xander shouted, changing and taking flight.

He caught up quickly, being that he was a smaller dragon than the massive black dragon carrying her. Brutoc lashed out with his tail, catching Xander in the shoulder with it. It hit with such force, it split his shoulder wide open, blood pouring from the wound. Xander hissed from the pain. Growling, he let loose with a rush of blue flame, the rush a bitter cold instead of heat. Brutoc managed to dodge it, getting a light burn to his right flank.

The black dragon then slowed. But her hope was dashed and her heart pounded when Xander went to strike Brutoc in his side. He quickly flipped, dropping her in order to latch onto Xander with all four sets of claws. As she fell to the earth, she watched helplessly as the black dragon shredded Xander's wings and clawed his sides until it started to rain with his blood. Brutoc tossed Xander and then swooped and caught her easily. She wept and struggled in the dragon's hold as she watched her love drop to the earth like a stone. Her anger had her lashing out at Brutoc to no effect, which fed her anger further.

"Stop your infernal squirming or I'll go back and make sure that he's dead," Brutoc snapped.

Her strength had flagged as she complied, but her tears would not.

They flew for hours and hours, the landscape changing below. She watched the mountains pass under them, giving way to sweeping plains before giving way to dark willow trees and dark, brakish water; swampland. The sun had fully set by the time they landed at the mouth of a huge cave. Brutoc placed her into one of several cages stacked outside the cave.

Once she was locked in, he took a large ring fastened to the top of the cage in his mouth and proceeded inside. The cavern spiraled down deep into the earth, the passage pitch black for several feet. Eventually, the darkness gave way to a soft glow. The glow proceeded to get brighter and brighter until the passage leveled out. Torches lined the walls down here every few feet. They passed by closed doors and open entrances to other caverns. Her heart broke as they passed what had to be the Onyx Flight's nursery.

There were only two clutches in the entire expanse; four eggs each. The eggs...they were only half the size of the eggs she cared for in the Sapphire Keep. At the back of the cavern, a male watched helplessly as a female laid only two eggs...and stopped breathing. He laid next to the female, curling his tail around the small eggs, his massive form trembling, no doubt from shedding tears. Brutoc kept going, a heavy sigh coming from him as they left the male to grieve in private. The next cavern they came to had about a dozen young dragons playing. The young ones were clearly suffering from malnourishment, their ribs clearly visible, even from a distance. A few sat along the edges of the cavern, clearly not strong enough to join in playing.

They kept going until they reached a huge set of double doors. Brutoc muscled one of them open. Inside was the entire Flight, enjoying a very slim meal. There were so few of them left.

"This is all that is left of our Flight that is well enough to do anything," Brutoc told her.

They went to the opposite end of the hall and through another door. This section of caves was very lavishly decorated, indicating this was the King's wing of their Keep. He finally set her cage down in what had to be the King's chamber. As she was let out of the cage, she slowly walked over to a huge depression towards the back of the cavern, filled with pillows.

There was a shifting amongst the pillows as the Onyx King moved to look at her. He was very sickly; his scales were falling off in places, his skin paling to gray instead of being black.

"Who have you brought to me, my son?" the king asked.

"This is Niriana," Brutoc replied. "I have brought her here to help us get better."

"Niriana...," the king said, clearly thinking. His head then snapped up and he snarled in anger. "You kidnapped a Sapphire Keep dragon's mate?! Are you still leading raid parties into their lands?!"

"Father...I had to...,"

"No you did not, Brutoc!" the king roared, followed by a fit of coughing. A human female around 30 years of age came rushing in, going to the King's side as he laid back down.

"Easy, Sampson," she murmured, pulling a large green and black jar from a bag at her hip. "Don't strain yourself. Brutoc is only doing what he can to save the Flight."

"At the cost of destroying our treaties and what few ties we have left to our bretheren," he sighed as she rubbed a dark green ointment along Sampson's throat and what she could reach of his massive chest. "We need to send representatives to request aid."

"Every time we've sent them, they never come back and when we ask what happened, the other Flights say they never had anyone from our Flight show up. Clearly, they're killing our envoys and denying they saw them because they want us dead."

"Brutoc, there has to be a reasonable explanation to all of this," Sampson replied. "Send someone you know and trust to go seek aid from the other Flights. And as for Niriana here, you need to send her home."

"Not until she helps us," he replied.

"You'll have the entire Sapphire Flight out for our blood. That will definitely have them set to destroy us. Don't be so foolish, boy."

"But...,"

"I volunteered, King Sampson," Niri interrupted. "He no doubt heard of me from some of the females from the nearest village to the Sapphire Keep and asked me to come help find the cause of the sickness spreading through your Flight and try to find ways to fight it. I did leave without telling anyone though. So if I can send a courier with a letter explaining why I left, they won't come here looking to fight."

"Oh," Sampson said, clearly a little surprised. "Very well. Brutoc, she'll stay with you and your mate while she's here. Give her anything she requests and take her where she wants to go. And thank you, young one."

"You're welcome, sir," she replied, bowing to him.

As she turned to leave, the female clearly wasn't thrilled with her being there and started talking to her mate in quiet tones. As they left and headed down the corridor, Brutoc changed into his human form. He was a giant of a man at seven feet tall. He was quite handsome, but no one would ever hold a candle to her Xander, to her anyway.

"Why did you lie?" Brutoc asked softly, leading her off to the right of the door leading to the dining hall, down a narrower corridor. "Especially after what I did to your mate."

"When I saw your nursery...your children," she replied, "It broke my heart. Your Flight is suffering and I want to find out why. I can't just sit by and watch innocents die from something that could be fixed."

"Thank you," the male said. "I'm sorry for what I did to your mate."

"You were only doing what you thought was right," she sighed. "I just hope he survived."

"Xander Frostrider has been through more pain and suffering than any dragon," Brutoc said, opening a door to their right. "He'll be ok."

A human female around her age turned as they walked in to what must be his private quarters. Leaving her spot in front of a small stove, she ran and hugged Brutoc tightly.

"I'm so relieved to see you come home ok," she sobbed. "Please don't do that to me again."

"I won't go anymore, Talia," he murmured, kissing the top of her head. "Father was cross when he found out I led another raid. I won't be going again."

Niri smiled at the affection the male showed to his mate, comforting her. When she was done, she pulled away and looked at her. "Who is this, Brutoc?"

"I'm Niriana," she told her, holding out her hand, "I've come to help the Onyx Flight with this issue of pollution in the swamps."

"You're...you're a mate to one of the Sapphire Flight, aren't you? The teacher and healer?"

Niri nodded. "I'm surprised that so many people have heard of me."

"News is spread through the Flights very quickly," Talia said. "I just wish there was better news to come out of our Flight. But enough about that for tonight. I've got dinner ready. We'll eat, then you can rest and we'll do what we can to help you with your investigation, Niriana."

"Ok," she agreed, "but please call me Niri."

They both nodded. After dinner, Niri took the time to write a letter home explaining what happened and not to worry about her or come after her for now. Brutoc rang for a courier and by the time she had the letter sealed and ready to deliver, a young dragon with a messenger satchel was waiting outside.

"Please get this to the Sapphire Keep as soon as you can," she told the messenger, placing the letter into his bag.

"As you wish," he replied, loping off once he had his parcel.

Niri felt much better knowing that her family wouldn't need to worry about her. Tired, she let Brutoc lead her to a spare room. There wasn't much to it, but that was fine with her. Flopping onto the bed, she fell asleep in her clothes.

*Messenger*

Just as he was about to head up the main entrance to the Keep, Miranda, the King's human mate and their queen, stopped him. She smiled at him.

"Sorry if I startled you," she told him. "I just need to give you a letter that's heading for the Sapphire Keep as well. Orders for imports."

"Of course, Your Grace," he replied, lying where she could easily reach his bag.

"Thank you," she said sweetly, snapping his bag closed.

He nodded and ran up the main passage, taking flight once he cleared the cavern.

*Miranda*

As the messenger took off up the main passageway out, she let the smile drop from her face, frowning as she headed for the Keep's kitchen. The smallest of the young dragons kept out of her way. She was glad the little whelps had learned from the last time they got in her way. Though she was tempted to go over and kick them anyway, see how far they went. Once in the kitchens, she went over to the main roasting pit, the fire blazing extra hot. She took out the letter that Niriana had written, opening it. After reading it, she grinned and tossed it into the fire, watching to ensure that the letter was nothing but ashes before heading back to her private chambers.

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