Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 21

Rival

Rival

Roehn wandered downstairs, and what greeted her was the exact opposite of the morning before. The grand dining hall was filled with Dragons, alongside Ilydan, Rynd and Sajyn. All conversation dropped off the moment she entered the room. Trying not to be bothered by it, she made her way over to the serving table, which had the head chef jumping out of his chair.

“Miss Leontle, please, allow me,” he said.

“It’s fine, Sajyn, I can do it,” she waived him off. “Go back to your conversation, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

The Raccoon looked hesitant, glancing toward the Dragon Lords. “If it’s all the same to you, Miss, I’d rather not get fired,” he pleaded quietly.

Sighing in understanding, Roehn pointed to the heated carafe. “Coffee, too, please,” she instructed, while handing her plate over to him.

Arcylaen entered the room, as she was crossing to the table. “There are far too many Dragons under the same roof for it to be this quiet,” he commented, pulling Roehn’s chair out for her.

“That’s my fault,” she admitted, sitting down so he could scoot her in, before taking his own seat.

“Well, from what I hear, you did bite everyone’s head off the last time you were in here,” Arcylaen agreed.

Roehn’s mouth popped open, as she glared at him in surprise. “Not everyone’s,” she admonished. Looking across the table, she found Brej watching them with amused curiosity. “I am sorry, though, Brejeir. I was completely out of line taking my frustrations out on you, when this situation is far from being any fault of yours. Just like you have no control over the fact that your brother was a complete absentee jerk yesterday.”

Arcylaen’s expression fell. “I said I was sorry.”

“Not to Brejeir,” she pointed out sweetly.

The Dragon in question gave them both a wide, toothy grin, which had Arcylaen rolling his eyes and grumbling out an apology under his breath.

“Thank you, Sajyn,” Roehn smiled, when the Raccoon brought plates and coffee for both her and Arcylaen.

The conversations had just started to pick up again, when Emmon suddenly appeared from a mysterious entrance. “My Lord, Lady Turvo is here and requesting an immediate audience. She claims it’s an emergency.”

Roehn felt her shoulders stiffen, and she wasn’t the only one who seemed to grow a little tense at the announcement. Even Brejeir’s grin completely vanished.

“Of course, show her in,” Arcylaen replied.

Emmon bowed and then disappeared.

“No one will blame you, if you’d rather not be here,” Arcylaen said quietly, reaching out to squeeze Roehn’s forearm reassuringly.

Still not afraid of Dragons,” she stated.

His mouth quirked up in amusement, before he captured her hand and placed a kiss on her knuckles. That’s when Emmon returned with the perfectly polished Eleqwyn Turvo. Her red coils were wrapped up in a stylish do, her white and gold ensemble appeared more expensive than the subdued gems at her neck, wrist and ears. If Roehn didn’t know any better, she’d say the woman was trying to show off her ability to portray the perfect politician’s wife. Of course, she did know better, and didn’t doubt for a single second that was exactly what the woman was attempting to do.

Eleqwyn paused with unbidden displeasure at seeing the room full of people she apparently had no love for. Her gaze fell pointedly on Ilydan, Rynd, Sajyn, and finally on Roehn, where it lingered a bit longer than the others.

“Well, it’s nice to see you’ve opened your table to anyone willing to sit at it, Lords Draea,” she commented coolly.

“I doubt the dining habits of my household was the big emergency that brought you here this morning, Lady Turvo,” Arcylaen countered smoothly, his tone civil, yet devoid of feeling.

“You’re right,” she agreed. “I’m here, because my house was robbed last night.”

That got everyone’s attention, especially Roehn’s.

“What?” Arcylaen rose from his chair. “Was it the same as the others?”

“Yes, all of our Cayen relics and monies were stolen, no evidence was left behind,” the Lady answered, and despite what a haughty bitch she was, Roehn could see that she was genuinely shaken by it. “The alarms were never triggered.”

“Is your father with the authorities now?” Arclyaen asked.

“He is, but as you know, there’s very little that can be done,” she replied. “Which is why my father is calling for a meeting of the Thirteen Dragons. Consider this you summons and warning, my Lords. Things are going to change.”

“Good, they need to change,” Cylaen agreed, dismissing her threat. “Our modern world can no longer be run by archaic Rites. The old-fashioned traditions no longer have a place in today’s society.”

“Those traditions and Rites are sacred,” Eleqwyn gasped, appalled by his words.

“No, they’re narrow-minded and prejudiced,” he countered. “I will state as much at the meeting. For now, we need to focus on the robberies.”

“Why don’t you ask your Ward where she was last night?” Eleqwyn suggested snidely.

“Why would I ask her something I already know?” he returned calmly.

Arcylaen let the intended implication hang in the air long enough to have Roehn and Brej grinning like mischievous children at one another across the table. She didn’t feel a single shred of embarrassment that he’d just announced to the entire household they’d spent the night together, even if it had been mostly innocent. Then Arcylaen had to go and ruin it, by continuing with a more clinical explanation.

“For all your claim on how sacred the ancient Rites are, you apparently know nothing of how they work. I can feel Leandra all of the time and exactly where she is, that is the entire purpose of the Warden bond.”

Ah, yes. How could Roehn have forgotten? She truly had been outside of his study the night before, though he hadn’t been able to see her. She’d overheard the very same confession when he’d made it to Brejeir. The Warden bond was putting a stranglehold on her ability to finish what she’d come to accomplish. Apparently, she was no longer the only thief in town, either, but they hadn’t robbed the Turvo’s. Not really. They’d robbed her, and she would find them.

Sniffing, Eleqwyn lifted her chin, obviously displeased with that insight, because it gave Roehn an air-tight alibi. “Well, don’t blame me, I’m not the only one questioning her motives here in Skaulling, or why she would purchase the House of Cayen. Otherwise, the requests for the Warden Rites never would’ve been submitted to the Council in the first place.”

“Oh, I’m very aware of why the requests were submitted, Eleqwyn,” Arcylaen countered in a tone that clearly indicated it was not for the purpose she was suggesting. “Now, I am very sorry that your house was broken into last night. We have been following all leads that we come across, and I assure you, the investigation has not rested for even a second. We will find those responsible. That should be the main focus of the Thirteen Dragons, not the resurgence of ancient traditions no one has bothered with in over three decades.”

“There was never a need to bother with them before, Arcylaen, but apparently, that need is quite present now,” she returned heatedly.

“And a matter which I will discuss with the Heads of Houses at the meeting,” he stated firmly.

Ouch. Even Roehn felt the sting of that one, but it was obvious the woman would’ve continued her verbal campaign right into the ground, had Arcylaen not nipped it so cleanly in the bud. Lady Turvo stared him down with silent indignation for a moment, then turned on her heel and marched from the room. Emmon gracefully fell into line behind her, to see her out properly–or perhaps, make certain she left.

Cylaen sighed heavily and returned to the table. “And so it begins.”

“The meeting was unavoidable, even without the last two days’ events,” Grevys spoke up. “The fact that we’re no closer to catching the thieves now than we were after House Riescho was originally broken into, has been making the Heads antsy and questioning our ability to protect them.”

“That’s the problem,” Arcylaen fired darkly, rapping his knuckle on the table with an unexpected show of frustration. “It’s not our duty to protect them. It’s the duty of all Thirteen Dragons and their Houses to protect the combined cities of Skaulling! This lack of responsibility and ridiculous notion of entitlement the other Houses have fallen into needs to be put to a stop immediately!”

“Brother, we need to rally our allies before the meeting,” Ryver pointed out. “Find out if the other Heads of Houses are in line with your ideas beforehand, so you’re not blindsided by a twelve-to-one vote.”

“Thank you so much for the confidence, Ryv,” Cylaen remarked dryly, but nodded in agreement and finally sank back down into his chair. “That’s a good plan. Unfortunately, for all of Eleqwyn’s lack of personality, at least she’s always up front. The others may not be as forthcoming about their true thoughts or intentions.”

“Then we can’t afford to waste any time,” Brejeir said. “I’ll send our team to House Turvo to go over the crime scene and talk to the authorities. They might find something that was missed. In the meantime, I suggest you start making personal visits to the other Houses, brother, with your Ward.”

Roehn nearly choked on her eggs. “What?”

“What are you scheming?” Arcylaen asked at the same time, narrowing his eyes at his brother.

“Anyone who actually takes the time to meet and talk with Leandra would never be able to dislike her,” Brejeir stated confidently. “Except Eleqwyn, of course. Let them ask her their questions and hear her answers for themselves, so they no longer see her as an unknown foreigner and possible threat. Everyone knows her Echelonite has chosen you as its mate, so give them the respect and opportunity to put their fears at rest that she isn’t going to distract you from your duties as the Dragon’s Head, that she’s actually already on her way to making you a better leader.”

“He’s right, Cyl. Whether you like it or not, this is now a political campaign. You’re going to have to put yourself and Leandra in the public spotlight, so they can not only get to know her, but you and her as a team,” Daelyn finally spoke up. “The refurbishing projects in the abandoned neighborhoods are a great springboard, and the fact that you two began them prior to the Rites and the meeting being called, adds weight to your position.”

“I hate pageantry,” Arcylaen grumbled.

Roehn completely agreed with him on that, but the more her mind unraveled the pitfalls and outcomes of their situation, the more she realized they had very little choice. Besides, someone else had broken into House Turvo the night before, which meant there was an unknown element at play and until she could discover if they were friend or rival, she had to do everything in her power to ensure House Draea remained at the top of the food chain.

“Arcylaen, I’m not crazy about any of this,” Roehn said sincerely. “But I can’t be the reason why the other Houses turn on you. I’d rather be deported back to Meive, before I let that happen.”

The crimson underlining the gold in his eyes brightened with denial. “You’re not going anywhere,” he said with finality.

“Then, it’s settled,” Brejeir intervened, just as his phone chimed. Picking it up, he read the message and then leveled them both with a serious expression. “And so is the date for the meeting. We have seven days to convince the majority of twelve Houses that you’re still the best candidate for Dragon’s Head.”

©A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! Please check out The Wicked Web link above for previous episodes, if you’re just tuning in. You can also follow my blog via e-mail to ensure you never miss any free content. Until next time…

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 18

Astral

The Power of Spirit

The next morning, Roehn found the grand dining hall full of food, but empty of Dragons. Lifting covers off the trays, she made herself a plate and carried it into the kitchen. Rynd was sitting at the booth style table with Ilydan and Sajyn. They looked at her in surprise, but then the Hawk scooted over and patted the bench to his left. Grateful, she sat down. She was still nervous about facing Arcylaen, so was relieved he wasn’t there yet. They definitely needed to talk about what had happened the night before, she’d just prefer to get some coffee into her system first.

More than anything, Roehn hoped to get him to understand that he wasn’t to blame. She wanted to erase the memory of sheer horror that had crossed his features when he’d realized his own words had literally taken over all of her free will. Unfortunately, Rynd’s next words squashed any hope she’d get that chance before work.

“The Lords Draea were summoned to City Hall first thing this morning,” he informed her. “They won’t be able to make it to the museum before opening, so Lords Ryver and Grevys will be meeting us there for the authentication process.”

“Grievances have already been filed?” Roehn asked, glancing at her watch. It was only six-thirty!

“Word must’ve reached Haraj and Gwyn last night, undoubtedly from someone spotting you and Councilwoman Thaya arriving so close together at Draea Tower yesterday afternoon,” Rynd nodded. “They were waiting for the Council at dawn.”

The main floor lobby of Draea Tower had been rather busy, but Roehn’s suspicions fell to the busy little mice manning the large receptionist desk. Keeping that to herself, she shrugged a shoulder and started in on her breakfast.

“It’s nothing more than we were already expecting, right?”

Rynd gave her a wink. “Don’t worry, it will all blow over soon enough. Until then, guess who you get to hang out with all day?”

Roehn narrowed her eyes, while chewing on a strip of bacon. “You’re not going to follow me around the museum like some creepy lurker, are you?”

“Creepy?” he scoffed, feigning offense.

“I’d be creeped out,” Sajyn put in, causing Roehn to grin at him.

“That’s because you’re prey, chipmunk,” Rynd returned.

Even the racoon on Sajyn’s shoulder managed an unimpressed look at the insult.

“I’d just shoot him,” Ilydan supplied conversationally, while continuing to read the morning paper.

“So much love,” Rynd muttered back into his breakfast, while Roehn chuckled around hers.

*

Once again, the artifacts were conclusively authentic, but when Roehn asked Ryver if he’d heard anything about the Council session, his reply was negative.

“But, don’t worry,” he added. “I’m sure Cylaen will let you know the moment he and Brej have the final verdict.”

They didn’t. Word never came. Not a single phone call, text or appearance. Since Sajyn had been nice enough to pack her a lunch, there had been no need for Roehn to go outside during her break, yet she had. The sting of disappointment to see the curb devoid of Arcylaen’s all-black sedan stayed with her, despite Rynd’s continued vows of contact from the Dragon soon. Roehn tried consoling herself with reason. Most likely, the grievances had taken up time that Arcylaen had to make up at work, leaving him no time to contact anyone. He was just busy, that’s all. She had no idea what he did for a living, other than run the entire country of Skaulling in an unofficial capacity. That was bound to keep his plate excessively full.

At the end of the day, Ilydan appeared in an otherwise empty car to take her back to House Draea. Rynd was her only company for dinner. As much as she liked the Hawk, he was not the man she wanted to talk to. Finally, a Dragon entered the room as they were polishing off dessert. It just wasn’t the one she’d been hoping for.

“What’s for dinner? I’m starved,” Brejeir greeted, making his way to the covered trays on the serving buffet.

“Where’s Arcylaen?” Roehn asked.

“I’m sure he’ll be here shortly,” Brej answered. “The Council took longer than we’d anticipated. He’s probably still at the office working.”

She tried to settle with that, and couldn’t. “Why did it take longer? How did it go?”

“No worries, the Council stood by their choice, but to say the requesting Lords weren’t happy about it, is a slight understatement,” he replied, piling food onto his plate, before joining them at the table. Claiming the seat directly across from her again, he held Roehn’s gaze firmly. “Rynd will be your bodyguard for some time, so I hope you’re getting along okay.”

“She loves me,” the Hawk said confidently.

“What’s the threat?” Roehn asked.

“The word’s out now, that your Echelonite has chosen Arcylaen as its mate,” Brej answered soberly. “That makes you a target from many Houses, including some of our own.”

“I’m not afraid of Dragons,” she stated darkly, beyond irritated. “Especially, Eleqwyn Turvo.”

Bejeir smiled. “I see you’ve already had the pleasure,” he said. “Damn, I wish I could’ve been there. The problem is, she’s not the only Dragon who believes in the traditional uniting of Houses. There are older, more powerful members of our species that will do what they feel is necessary to preserve those traditions, even if it’s unlawful. Cylaen is deeply concerned for your safety now. I would advise not doing anything that will cause him more worry.”

“What can I do?” Roehn balked. “I have a babysitter and a driver. I can’t even go to my own house. I’m lucky I get to go to my job.”

“Leandra–”

“Don’t you dare say that you understand,” she cut him off viciously, pushing out of her chair. “Until you have been stripped of all your freedom and have someone with the power to physically make you do whatever they want with just their words, do not ever tell me that you understand!”

Though she instantly regretted losing her temper, Roehn felt every emotion behind her words. Unable to bear the weight of their pitying looks, she pivoted on her heels and retreated to her room. She hated the lack of outlet for her frustrations. She paced, wanting to rage, wishing she had the courage to pick up the priceless artifacts around her and throw them, but she didn’t. Being a conservationist wasn’t just for show, after all. Roehn could never live with herself if she purposely destroyed something with historical significance.

She wasn’t them. She wasn’t her family. Yet, once again, she found herself in the position of being utterly helpless because of their crimes! No one truly hated the Black Dogs of Cayen more than Roehn, but that hatred hurt. It cut away at her insides and messed with her head. There was something unnatural about despising your own flesh and blood, but how could she not? They’d abandoned her, shunned her, plotted to end her…and worst of all, had been so horrible they’d been destroyed before she’d gotten the chance to meet them. Before she could look them in the eyes and demand to know why!

They were just as much to blame for robbing her of that opportunity as the Dragons. But, Roehn was tired of blaming. She just wanted to move on and the only way to do that, was by completing her mission to take her rightful inheritance and turn it into something good. She wanted people to see that a daughter of the House of Cayen could be better. Could make better choices, and be a positive force for change, but that was mostly likely a pipe dream. In truth, they would never really knew who she was. Every time they would praise or compliment her accomplishments, though, Roehn would know they were really cheering on a Black Dog. That’s all that mattered.

It was time to bring balance back to the scales. Perhaps, Arcylaen’s absence was really a blessing in disguise. Decided, Roehn quickly got herself ready for bed. Once she was tucked in, she went right to work. Despite the success of her powers, it took time getting deep enough into the right kind of meditative state that allowed her to leave her body. The Dragons thought they were up against a group of thieves, because there was no way one person alone could pull off the heists, carry all the goods and bypass the alarms. They had no idea how right and wrong they were.

Roehn had split her astral self a thousand times in the past, but this night was different. There was a greater risk at getting caught, a much greater consequence if she were and an even greater necessity to do it, anyway. She needed her freedom back. Not just for herself, but Arcylaen, as well. It was obvious the responsibility was weighing on him heavier than they’d thought it would. They had to remove the Warden Rites out from between them, before it ruined whatever chance they might have at a normal, healthy relationship. Something she’d never imagined being concerned about with a Dragon, but Roehn was no longer in denial over her attraction to him. There was an unquestionable desire to see where it might lead.

First, she just needed to pull off a little spiritual cat burglary. Nothing her chosen Echelonite couldn’t handle…

Thank you for reading! If you’d like to start Thief of Dragons from the beginning, you can find all of the previous episodes under The Wicked Web link on the menu. Until next time… 🙂

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 17

words1

A Way With Words

Still using Roehn as an excuse to put on a show, Sajyn and his staff were gracefully efficient at getting the newly arrived Dragons set up with their meals. Brejeir scarcely waited for them to finish, before getting right down to business.

“So, what’s the verdict?” he asked Arcylaen.

“Lord Haraj’s request was first, and no surprise,” he answered around eating.

“I still say it was your phone call,” Rohen muttered between her own bites of soup.

“What phone call?” Brej asked, but wasn’t the only one who perked up, intrigued.

Arcylaen gave her an exasperated look, before telling them about the call he’d used as a ploy during the Gala to send the Griffin on an unnecessary errand. “That doesn’t change the fact that he was already interested and would’ve submitted a request with the Council, anyway.”

Daelyn snickered at Arcylaen’s defensiveness, who scowled in return.

“The other request was from Lord Gwyn of House Oryth,” Arcylaen continued, causing all of the Dragons to look at him in surprise.

Brejeir sat back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the side of his wine glass. “What interest would the Ravens have in this?” he wondered aloud. “The House of Cayen?”

“Possibly,” Arcylaen replied.

“What about it?” Roehn asked, displeased with the idea of them keeping pertinent information from her.

Especially, when it pertained to her own house. The two eldest Dragons appeared reluctant to share.

“Historically, the Ravens were always the most loyal to both the Black Dogs and the Wolves,” Ryver spoke up, looking at her from across the table. “About a quarter of a century ago, a falling out occurred and the Ravens removed themselves completely from any association with House Cayen. They remained quite detached from all the drama that followed, siding with no one during the struggle to remove the Cayens from power.”

“What if the Black Dogs took something that belonged to them and now they want it back?” Grevys asked.

“They would’ve filed a grievance with the Council just like everyone else did five years ago. There would be no need for them to invoke the Warden Rites over Leandra,” Arcylaen growled. “Please, look into it.”

“Of course, brother,” Ryver nodded.

“Speaking of grievances,” Brejeir interjected. “You know the two losing Lords are going to be filing their share first thing in the morning.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve already contacted Metka. At this very moment, he’s working up dismissal orders for anything the Lords could possibly attempt,” Arcylaen replied, speaking of his attorney, Roehn presumed, since he’d already mentioned taking that action to Councilwoman Thaya. “The Rite won’t be overturned.”

“Are you sure?” Daelyn questioned, looking between him and Roehn with concern. “The order of submission–”

“Doesn’t mean a thing when Leandra’s Echelonite has already made its choice,” Arcylaen cut him off, succeeding in shocking everyone at the table, except Brejeir.

Roehn’s cheeks reddened, dumbfounded at how easily Arcylaen could just blurt such a major incident like it was a common, every day occurrence.

Daelyn’s grin was slow and wide. “Well, okay then,” he celebrated.

Roehn offered him a weak smile, but couldn’t muster the same excitement. It was bad enough the situation made her feel grateful for Shursja’s rash behavior, knowing she very well could’ve ended up at a completely different table tonight.

The entire ordeal was infuriating, because Roehn didn’t want to feel grateful, anymore than she wanted to be bound to the Dragon’s Head. Her plans were edging toward complete ruin, thanks to some barbaric tradition!

“You know, you could just put a stop to all of these ridiculous laws, then no one would have to worry about rushed ceremonies, filed grievances or contacting attorneys,” she grit out.

When Arcylaen looked at her, she held his gaze with an arched brow, daring him to say she was wrong. He knew damn well she was right. They all did. Even the Council knew she was right!

“Those aren’t the only laws that need adjusting,” Daelyn added.

Arcylaen rolled his eyes. “We’re not turning dinner into a political campaign,” he stated with finality. “We have enough to worry about at the moment and by morning, those problems will undoubtedly be doubled. We need to stay focused on what can be handled right now, rather than in the future. Laws cannot be altered or eradicated overnight.”

“You’re the boss,” Daelyn sighed.

The rest of the meal was spent mostly with the others chatting amongst themselves about current events, while Roehn listened curiously and Arcylaen ate in silence, brooding.

Afterward, he led Roehn upstairs to the west tower, where her new room waited for its reluctant princess. It was another enchanting motif done in sunset shades of pinks, oranges and yellows with a touch of dusk blue. Arcylaen stood just inside the door, watching her inspect the hand carved furniture and fourposter bed. She lingered at the arched windows with stained glass depicting brilliant suns, dragons, castles and nature scenes. It was too dark to see what kind of view she had otherwise, but Roehn didn’t doubt it would be both breathtaking and of no consequence.

She would still feel like a prisoner.

“Since we’ll need to authenticate the artifacts again, we can all ride to the museum together in the morning,” Arcylaen said, when she faced him.

“Okay,” she accepted.

“The en-suite bath should be fully stocked with everything you need,” he said, as if searching for a reason to stay. “But if by some chance you need something, there’s a phone next to your bed that will connect you to Lyva or any of the household-”

“Arcylaen, I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time, I think I can manage,” she cut him off.

“Of course,” he smiled slightly. “Well, I’ll let you get some rest, then.”

Roehn nodded, wondering when their relationship had turned awkward. Suddenly they didn’t know how to be in the same space together? When he crossed to the door, she followed so she could close it behind him. It all felt so mechanical, yet neither of them seemed to know how to make it stop.

“Goodnight, Leandra,” he said, pausing with his hand on the knob.

“Goodnight.”

Holding her gaze for a moment longer, he finally released the handle and turned out of the room. Roehn exhaled a long sigh, then started closing the door, when Arcylaen’s hand stopped it and pushed it open again.

“Just one more thing,” he muttered.

She hadn’t realized how disappointed she’d been, until he crossed the threshold with golden eyes churning in desire. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her from the floor, bringing her mouth to his.

It shouldn’t keep getting better. Roehn’s mouth should be getting used to his kisses, not feeling them more vigorously. The texture of Arcylaen’s lips were more defined and persuasive against hers. His tongue hotter, stronger and more demanding. His confident fingers kneaded the tension from her muscles, while his mouth threatened to leave her in a puddle of melted, needy goo.

Roehn gasped into his hungry mouth, when he cupped her ass and pinned her even tighter against his body. The hard line of his arousal was clearly defined against her lower stomach, launching her desire into a whole new orbit. Heat fused with her cells, creating tiny solar flares all through her veins.

A tiny moan escaped her and Aryclaen devoured it, grew hungrier for more. Roehn’s mind spun happily, like a child making themselves dizzy just for the sensation of it. For the sheer free-fall joy of it. That’s what giving into her lust with the Dragon would be; Freeing. But at what cost?

They came back to their senses simultaneously, though neither were ready to break apart completely. The intensity was gradually reined in, the kisses melting into a smoldering warmth, edged with the promise of future combustion. It had to be enough. Roehn couldn’t allow herself to accept more yet. She still needed time to settle with the idea that it would happen. There was no point in denying it, she wasn’t that naïve or, apparently, strong-willed when it came to her desire for him.

There was too much riding on the present to be worried about the future, at any rate. Arcylaen’s hand slid into her hair, cradling the base of her skull and Roehn leaned into it. Reveled in the feel of his masculine strength, while he rested his forehead on hers.

“That’s how I meant to say goodnight the first time,” he smiled a little smugly.

“Definitely a better choice,” Roehn reciprocated. “Maybe you should practice, so you don’t forget next time.”

He chuckled, placed a soft kiss on her lips, then spanked her bottom playfully. “Go to bed, kitten, we have a busy day tomorrow.”

In a blink, Roehn forgot everything she’d been thinking or feeling, overcome with the singular need to obey Arcylaen’s words. Her arms fell from him and she stepped back, her entire body possessed by an invisible force. It might have stemmed from her bond with Shursja, since the panther woke with a start, fully alert.

Roehn turned and approached the side of the bed, her fingers working the buttons undone down the front of her blouse. She needed to get undressed and into her nightgown, so she could brush her teeth and hair. Afterward, she’d go through her nightly process of washing her face and applying an overnight moisturizer. Then she could go to bed. She needed to go to bed.

Right before she could peel the blouse from her arms, strong hands clamped around them to stop her. She had no idea who it was, nor did it matter. She only had one objective.

“Leandra, what are you doing?” A male voice asked, his tone both surprised and aroused.

“I have to go to bed,” she replied hollowly, the only thing she could think of, a single-minded obsession. “I can’t stop, until I go to bed.”

“Stop!” he demanded, his voice hard.

In a snap, Roehn felt the unknown force release her body and mind. Under the influence of the Warden power, she hadn’t been able to feel or think beyond Arcylaen’s command, but there was nothing stopping the shock from hitting her in the aftermath. Her mouth popped open, breath sucking in sharply.

Heart pounding, she looked down at her shirt hanging open, her black lace bra and cleavage fully exposed. It felt like someone punched her right in the gut, the air exploding from her lungs.

“Aaah!” she started, grabbing the material and quickly closing it over her chest.

Embarrassment, shock, fear…fear was the biggest, slammed into her like a bullet train.

“Fuck, I didn’t mean-,” Arcylaen roughed out, but Roehn instantly shied away from him when he tried to touch her.

The ramifications were instantaneous. She hadn’t even had the chance to process what had happened, yet her first reaction was mistrust and it effected them both horribly.

“You need to leave,” she whispered, unable to look him directly in the eye. “Please…get out.”

“Leandra,” he held his hand up, as if he wanted to touch her, but he didn’t. He backed away from her slowly, his expression dark and horrified. “I’m so sorry.”

He was out of the room before Roehn could even clear her vision. She sank down onto the bed in a daze of confusion, as the hurt began seeping through the filter of shock. Still clutching her shirt closed, Roehn curled into herself as tightly as possible, because she started trembling uncontrollably.

Betrayal sliced through her, tears filling her eyes. Her mind simply couldn’t accept the truth and the more it tried, the more it hurt. She never would’ve expected to get her first taste of the Rite’s real potential from Arcylaen, himself. Not physically. She’d chosen him, because she’d trusted him with her body. Had known that he’d never make her do anything against her will.

The worst part was knowing it had been completely unintentional, because that left no one to blame. No outlet for the anger that quickly rose up to outmatch the heartache. For hours, Roehn worked through a gamut of emotions. All of the reactions she’d been forced to keep bottled up since leaving work to find Ilydan waiting for her. The apprehension, fear, outrageous disbelief over being forced to enter into a binding ritual she’d never wanted, the injustice, being denied her own home and privacy.

The more she relived the events which had unfolded over the course of a single evening, the angrier Roehn became, until it was the only thing left. She grabbed hold of it, because anger was better than heartache in so many ways. It allowed her to view Arcylaen as her equal in the incident, rather than the antagonist. The Rite had victimized both of them, created an outcome against both their wills and no amount of knowledge or understanding could erase that. Nothing could take it away. The traumatizing moment was forever etched into her brain, her soul and it was a fate she wouldn’t wish upon her worst enemy. No one should ever have to endure having all control of their own thoughts and body taken away like that!

Cauldex desperately needed a complete overhaul of their outdated traditions and laws. There was only one surefire way she could see that happening. Arcylaen needed to step up,  become the official leader of Skaulling, and Roehn needed to put her position as his unofficial business partner to much better use. She couldn’t be just a conservationist and thief anymore. Those were only bandage solutions, she understood that now.

The world needed an engineer of change.

© A.C. Melody

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 16

housedraea2

House Draea

The drive across the city was a study in silence, though Arcylaen had set his phone aside once the House of Cayen was behind them.

He gently lifted Roehn’s fingertips with his own and studied her, when Ilydan turned down a narrow lane where a small castle stood like an ancient sentry amid modern day mansions. Roehn’s gaze drank in the gold-hued stone decorated with red and green lichen. It was a giant square, the corners made of towers with open battlements. Lead-pane windows were tall and arched with flower boxes nestled at their sills. All, save the giant stained glass window crowning the front entrance, glowing with the Draea Family Crest, just like his skyscraper downtown.

Well, at least their pride is consistent.

At the end of the drive, Ilydan stopped the car and waited for the security gates to slowly swing inward, before pulling into a narrow way. Tall hedges flanked the pavement like walls, until the right side curved away from them, revealing a large parking area complete with a guard tower. A Bear stood on the small stoop outside the arched wooden door, smoking a cigarette. He saluted a wave at the car, as Ilydan passed the garage and continued toward the main entrance. Ground lighting was cleverly tucked into bordering plants, granting plenty of illumination to the cobblestone courtyard, but most were arranged to set the castle aglow in the darkness.

“What, no moat?” Roehn asked.

Arcylaen smirked, yet continued to watch her, as if wanting to gauge her reaction to his home. It was gorgeous, of course, and no less than she’d expect from the oldest Royal family on the planet. The Dragon was just lucky Roehn wasn’t the spiteful type, or she might’ve shown his house the same respect he’d shown hers.

Unfortunately, Rynd’s words kept circling in her mind, tugging at her empathy. The blasted Hawk had nailed it; Roehn was completely ignorant when it came to the history of her own house. She hadn’t dug into any of the reports or articles pertaining to it, because she’d been leery of finding reasons to sympathize with the Dragons. After all, when one was intending to rob someone, it wasn’t a good idea to grow a soft spot for them.

She glanced at Arcylaen and practically rolled her eyes. Who was she kidding? Soft spot was an understatement for what was growing between them. In such a short time, she’d gone from never meeting a Dragon, to being the Ward of one, and somewhere in between an undeniable attraction had taken root. Yet, Roehn didn’t feel swayed from her plans. If anything, her time with Arcylaen had only served to reinforce them. Especially with the ridiculous Rites binding her to his complete control.

After climbing out, Arcylaen ordered Ilydan to assist Rynd with all of Roehn’s luggage, so he could be the one to offer his hand for her to take. She gave him a bemused smile, as she slid to her feet.

“Are you trying to be a gentleman?” She teased mildly.

“I am a gentleman,” he countered confidently.

The undercurrent of lust in his every nuance said otherwise, but who was she to argue when both sides of the man sparked a degeneration of her own ladylike qualities?

To prove himself, Arcylaen kissed the back of her hand–and then ‘gentleman’ took a backseat to Dragon, when rather than placing it on his arm, he entwined his fingers with hers and held tight. At the top of the stairs, the doors opened for them, but Roehn scarcely noticed the Bears on either side of the armored wood. Her eyes widened in awe over the splendor of the grand foyer.

“Arcylaen, this is breathtaking,” she whispered sincerely, her neck craning in attempt to see everything at once.

“Thank you,” he accepted, his smile genuinely pleased.

A grand staircase swept across the space from the right, creating a balcony across the back of the foyer, before curving down the left wall and finishing in a wide, angled welcome. Maplevine was woven through the decorative balustrades, sprinkled with the soft glow of fairy lights. An enormous chandelier hung level with the second story, the very light source behind the stained glass Crest visible from outside. It looked exactly like the fiery bloom of a Dragon’s Breath flower. The chain was molded into the same twisting, vine-like stem, the frosted glass stained sunset orange and crimson for the petals that curved up and then out at the very tips. The stamen spiraled down from the center, each holding a glowing orb of light. The stigma was capped with a multifaceted sconce of crystalline amber, the light dancing in simulation of an actual flame.

A small group of household staff silently gathered, while Roehn took in the décor. She supposed Arcylaen had probably called ahead to let them know about her new–Please be temporary–living arrangements.

“Leandra, this is Emmon, Head of Household staff,” he gestured to the older male Badger first, before moving onto a female Swallow, then a male Raccoon. “Prelei is Head of the Housekeeping staff and Sajyn is the Head Chef in charge of all kitchen staff.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Roehn greeted.

“And this is Lyva,” he saved the Dove for last. “She will be your personal attendant.”

Attendant or babysitter? Roehn forced a polite smile for the slightly younger woman. She knew a lot of prominent families still kept personal servants, but Roehn had no need for one. She couldn’t very well say that without hurting the Dove’s feelings, though. To garner a job at House Draea was undoubtedly a coveted position the girl was proud to have.

“My Lord, dinner is ready and awaiting your approval,” Sajyn announced.

“Good, I’m famished,” Arcylaen replied. “Emmon, Lyva, please see to Miss Leontle’s belongings. She can take the Sunset Suite in the west tower.”

“Shouldn’t I go with them?” Roehn wondered quietly, watching the virtual strangers gather her bags and cart them up the stairs. She’d never had someone else tend to her things before and wasn’t exactly comfortable with it.

“Don’t worry, your belongings are in safe, capable hands,” Arcylaen answered. “Besides, you’re hungry, because you haven’t eaten a single bite since Daelyn showed off his culinary skills at lunch.”

Roehn scowled at him. “Do I need to start looking over my shoulder for spies, L-”

His brow rose quickly and a look of challenge crossed his features, daring her to finish that sentence. When she clamped her mouth shut and glared, he chuckled. “Shame,” he mused, his gaze sweeping across her mouth briefly. “Once again, I don’t need to be your Warden to pick up on your more obvious traits, Leandra. You are a workaholic.”

Roehn countered with her own arched brow. “Says the man running an entire country with all the stress and none of the vetoing benefits.”

With an exasperated sigh, he shook his head and led her through the foyer. They had to step down into a hallway that started from under the staircase and continued to their right, ending in an arched doorway framed with more Maplevine and fairy lights. The same bold red carpeting that filled his office started as a runner from the other side of the threshold, leading them into the largest formal dining room Roehn had ever seen outside of a history book. Though it could never take the place of a King’s Great Hall, it was definitely big enough to fit his entire family plus half their neighbors.

Where the left wall ended, the room expanded into a more intimate alcove where a long banquet table of dark wood stood surrounded by no less than fifty throne backed chairs. Miniature Dragon’s Breath chandeliers hung at varying heights, creating a draping appearance over the table, which was adorned with glowing candelabras and fluted vases overflowing with fresh green foliage rather than flowers. Crystal figurines sparkled under the lights, tucked into the center pieces down the middle of an embroidered tablecloth.

Across the other side of the table, heavy drapes were tied back from the four wide and two-story high arched windows in the outer wall, but that wasn’t as mesmerizing as all of the things hanging around the room. Tapestries, swords, shields and the kind of standards one would see flying atop long poles. Roehn bypassed the carved serving cabinet laden with covered dishes, where Sajyn and his staff waited to serve their meal.

She approached the nearest hanging relics and marveled at the dirt stains, the wear of the fabric and frayed stitching. Her fingers yearned to trace the dents and scratches in the shields, smooth over the worn paint. Some held the Draea Coat of Arms, others just depicted a golden dragon. They were all real, well used, had never been crafted for their current decorative purpose. The swords were the only items still in immaculate condition, but that wasn’t surprising. Swords had long been a symbol of one’s status, since only the wealthy had been able to afford the best.

Roehn studied the enormous tapestries, trying to imagine how long and how many people it had taken to complete just one. The first depicted an ancient royal procession with gilded carriages and armored knights on horseback traveling to what appeared to be the very castle keep she was now standing inside of. In the scene, it stood like a stone giant surrounded by meadows and forests, rather than a ritzy, city neighborhood. The other was a well known battle scene between all the Dragon Houses and the Minotaurs, an extinct race.

“Leandra?”

Roehn turned to find that she’d wandered during her historian daze, drawn further away from the table where Arcylaen waited, holding a chair out for her.

“Sorry,” she blushed slightly. “I can’t help it.”

“I know,” he smiled. “But if you don’t eat soon, I’m worried you’ll fall over.”

As if to verify his concern, her stomach grumbled loudly and her face reddened with embarrassment. “Ugh, it’s pretty bad when you out-vote yourself,” she muttered under her breath.

Arcylaen laughed in a way she was coming to crave. Almost as if her smart mouth had the ability to take him by surprise. He scooted her chair in, then seated himself at the head of the table to her immediate left. Sajyn and his staff moved into action. Some carried dishes to set before them, uncovering them in a flourish of practiced grace, while others filled their crystal goblets with wine. The delicious aromas filled Roehn’s nostrils, triggering her saliva glands and another rumble from her empty stomach.

When the show was complete, Sajyn hustled the staff back into the kitchens to prepare for the next course.

“You know, they’re only doing this for you,” Arcylaen smiled at her in amusement. “We don’t get new guests very often, so they’re taking advantage of this rare opportunity to show off.”

“Oh,” she chuckled, flattered. “Well, I won’t disappoint them. I’m starving.”

“You don’t have to tell me something I already know, kitten,” he sighed, and dug into his own meal.

Heat spread up Roehn’s neck to gather in her cheeks again, only this time it was over the unexpected way his little pet name made her feel. It effected her on a more intimate level than his previous Kitty Cat nickname, though she couldn’t say why.

Rich barley soup was their first course, and Roehn had managed two delicious spoonfuls before the kitchen doors swung open and swished aggressively behind the Dragon who’d stormed into the room with a gruff attitude.

“Well, that happened,” Brejeir huffed, gesturing to Roehn and Arcylaen with a lifted hand.

Roehn watched Daelyn and two more male Dragons file into the room, stalking around Brej for the table. One of them was as golden as Arcylaen and the other was a dark brunette, though he still had the same gold-dusted eyes and matching Echelonite perched on his shoulder.

“Unfortunately,” Arcylaen replied darkly.

Roehn knew they were speaking of the Warden Rites. Arcylaen had most likely texted them while waiting for her to pack. He seemed the type to want to keep his most trusted apprised of every given situation, and there was no one Dragons trusted more than their own blood.

“Leandra, it’s good to see you again,” Daelyn said, before seating himself beside her and pouring his own wine. “Though, I wish it were under better circumstances.”

Roehn lifted her glass. “I’ll toast to that.”

Brejeir grabbed the bottle and lifted it. “Here, here,” he seconded, then poured a glass and downed half the contents. The staff had hurried out of the kitchen to serve the new arrivals, working around the Dragons as they meandered to their seats. “Can’t complain about finally having someone better to look at during meals than this lot, though.”

Roehn’s grin grew brighter, when Arcylan shot him a dark look. Unaffected, Brej claimed the chair directly across from her, and jerked his thumb at the two younger Dragons she’d yet to meet. “This is our second youngest brother, Ryver, and our cousin, Grevys.”

“Nice to meet you,” she greeted.

“Welcome to House Draea, Miss Leontle,” Ryver toasted. “It only gets crazier from here.”

Though Roehn reciprocated, clanking her glass to his, she had a sinking feeling his words rang with more truth than humor.

© A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! Check out the Wicked Web on the menu above for all previous episodes.

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 15

perspective2

Perspective

Arcylaen closed the door and ran a hand through his hair roughly. His steps toward Roehn were measured. Aggravation and anger came off him in waves, as he wrenched at the tie knotted against his throat.

“I don’t want this,” he said aloud to the room, breaking the intense silence. Another moment passed, before he looked at her. “I don’t want to be your Warden, Leandra. This is not how I wanted our relationship to progress, please believe that.”

It wasn’t a question of belief; the slight to his male pride was quite apparent. Unfortunately, intent meant nothing in the aftermath of what was already done. They’d both been backed into a corner, there was no undoing it.

“Perhaps, you should get on that law changing bandwagon, then,” she suggested.

He frowned even deeper. “I’m not sure I’m even fit to be a leader anymore,” he said. “But I promise I’ll do my best to make this as painless as possible.”

Roehn opened her mouth to question his leader comment, but Arcylaen cupped her cheek and placed his thumb over her lips. “I know you won’t hesitate to let me know when I’m messing up,” he added.

She closed her mouth and narrowed her eyes. “Buttering me up isn’t going to stop my questions, Arcylaen,” she warned. “No matter how astute you are.”

His mouth quirked up in the corner, appreciation for her wit dancing through the storm clouds in his eyes. “I’m just angry right now, Leandra,” he replied, silently asking for her not to press the issue.

“What are we going to do?” she asked, relenting for the time being.

He brushed a few wayward locks from her temple, and contemplated the answer, then smiled a little. “We’re going to treat this like a business partnership,” he declared. “We already joined forces over the restaurant project, this is just an extension of that, because it can’t be apart of anything else. However our relationship develops, it will not be from this.”

Roehn decided she liked that idea a lot better than just ‘winging it’ or something as equally indecisive. Since leaving the space station, her entire life had revolved around prudent planning, so she was very uncomfortable in situations where nothing was outlined. The Warden Rites were already a huge risk to her life, she couldn’t abide by leaving everything else to chance.

“I can agree to that,” she nodded.

Relief crossed his features, but he turned brooding again. “To say thank you for choosing me feels like a horrible joke. Yet, that’s what I’m reduced to, because I can’t stop from feeling that gratitude,” he seethed quietly. “The thought of another man having complete control over you…”

Roehn covered his hand with her own and held it to her cheek. “I’m glad you offered,” she cut him off. “I hate it, but I’m also grateful and relieved. I suppose that makes us both horrible jokes.”

Arcylaen shook his head slightly. It was obvious he didn’t fully understand how she could be so calm and rational. In truth, she was anything but. She was mostly still in shock, and already knew once she was alone it was going to hit her. Hard.

His gaze dropped to her mouth, the desire to kiss her burning bright, until it consumed all else. He leaned toward her, and Roehn’s insides rapidly heated with more longing than she could’ve anticipated. Aryclaen abruptly stopped and his face darkened again, as he straightened. Roehn’s lips were tingling with anticipation, so when he tried to remove his hand from her cheek, she tightened her grip.

“You know, I did call you Lord Draea-” she goaded.

His fingers curled into her cheek and his mouth descended upon hers. The reminder was all the invitation he needed to take what he wanted, while unknowingly scratching Roehn’s needy itch. Silly Dragon, already thinks he’s the one in charge.

The kiss was dangerously passionate. Far more potent than she’d been expecting, backed by all the emotions he was still battling from their ordeal. By the time he was easing back, Roehn felt a little buzzed from the hot need swimming through her system. He nibbled at her lips, as if stopping was the last thing he really wanted to do, fueling an all-too familiar ache in her core.

“There you go wanting me to kiss you again, Leandra,” he moaned miserably. “Keep that up and I might actually start thinking you like me.”

“Don’t think, Arcylaen, just kiss me,” she tossed his earlier words back in his face.

He chuckled softly, but merely placed a chaste kiss to the corner of her mouth. “I don’t think that’s a good idea right now,” he admitted. “I’m not exactly…settled.”

She blew out a sulking breath, knowing he was right. High-strung emotions could be just as judgment-impairing as alcohol. “Neither am I,” she confessed.

“I know,” he smirked. “I don’t need to be your Warden to see that much, Kitty Cat. Come on, we still have a few things to take care of before dinner and I suspect this won’t be one of our easiest nights.”

Because, I can’t go home.

Roehn was startled by that reminder. The full impact of her verbal agreement during the Rites sank in. She was going to Arcylaen’s house tonight. There would be no retreating to the sanctuary of her own space, losing her shit in the privacy of her own house. Her last moment of freedom had already passed, and she’d missed it! Regret and loss forged a tight knot in her chest, as he led her from the office.

His words rang truer still, when Ilydan pulled the car up in front of the House of Cayen twenty minutes later and Arcylaen made no move to get out.

“Rynd will help you gather your things,” he said hollowly, keeping his attention on his phone where it had been since they’d turned onto her street.

Resigned, Roehn climbed out and fished her keys from her purse, leaving the Hawk to follow. In the foyer, her heels clicked across the hardwood floors, echoing in the mostly empty interior. Boxes she’d yet to unpack stood in random stacks throughout the main rooms, but anyone could see the mansion held far too many for her to ever fill on her own. It was a fortress designed to impress outsiders, intimidate enemies and protect an entire brood of kin, not be the dwelling of a single woman.

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Rynd remarked dryly, looking around at the sparseness. “Might I suggest a little fuel and a match? It would help.”

Roehn paused and leveled him with a stern look over her shoulder. “Careful, Hawk, I can always find another favorite,” she warned. “Give me five minutes–and don’t touch anything.”

Of course, he didn’t listen. Apparently ‘favorite’ translated to ‘don’t have to listen’ in his mind. With arms crossed over his chest, Rynd leaned against the doorjamb of the room Roehn had chosen for herself. It definitely wasn’t the master suite. It resided on the main floor, closest to the entrance, but it had its own bath. Truthfully, she just hadn’t worked up the nerve to explore any further yet.

“Why would you buy this place, Miss Leontle?” Rynd asked, while watching her collect clothes and fold them into suitcases.

The genuine puzzlement in his tone put her on the defense. “Because, I’m a Conservationist, Rynd,” she replied. “I can’t stand by and watch history fall into dust like it doesn’t matter, when something can be done to preserve it.”

“Some things should never be preserved,” he stated, a hint of darkness slipping through his controlled demeanor. “Some things should be demolished, until even its dust no longer exists.”

“I’m sure many Skaullings feel that way,” she sighed. “Even Arcylaen, but at least he’s open minded enough to see it from another point of view.”

Rynd reached up and scratched the back of his head, while she continued packing, but it was obvious he was struggling with things Roehn couldn’t even begin to guess at.

“Yeah, you might want to read up on the actual historical events you’re trying so hard to preserve, puss puss. I doubt you’d be able to sleep here at night, if you knew half the horrors that took place within these walls,” he remarked, as he gathered most of her luggage. With hands finally full, he paused long enough to look her right in the eye. “Why do you think he’s waiting in the car? He will never step foot in this house, because no amount of perspective has the power to change the truth.”

Roehn bit down on her tongue hard, as the Hawk pivoted on his heels and walked out. He had no idea how true that statement was, because not a single citizen on Cauldex knew what it was like to sleep on a tattered rice mat on the freezing metal floor of a space station with scarcely an inch of breathing room on either side! She doubted Rynd would be so worried about the haunted memories in the House of Cayen, if he’d spent nineteen years crammed in a sardine can without a single possession, ounce of self-worth, privacy or identity!

Arcylaen preached about living in the absence of hope, and perhaps he’d witnessed his people suffering from that for many years, but the Dragon had never actually lived it. Had never wondered where his next scrap of food was going to come from, or how many assaults he would have to fend off every single day. He’d never had to watch the only person he loved die from a common and curable illness, simply because there was no medicine and no way to procure it!

Roehn covered her face with her hands and forced herself to breathe, until she was able to rein it all back in. Bury it deep. She’d made the choice long ago, that she would not allow herself to fall into the poisonous well of bitterness. Vengeance was not her objective. Change was. Cauldex needed to open its eyes to the truth with a new perspective, and she planned on giving it to them one rescued outcast at a time.

Shit. Her hands fell away, as another critical problem dawned on her. If she didn’t steal anything while under Arcylaen’s Ward, then everyone would know she was the thief. Thus, the very Rites invoked to prove her innocence, would be the very thing forcing her to commit a crime. Dammit! 

“Here kitty, kitty…” Rynd’s teasing voice echoed from the foyer.

Roehn’s eyes narrowed, as she grabbed the last of her things and left the room. Pausing in the entrance of the foyer, she called on more of her feline power, until it emanated from her like an assault. She knew her eyes were pure panther when they pinned him from across the room.

“I don’t know about you, Shursja, but fowl sounds absolutely ideal for dinner tonight.”

Rawr.

© A.C. Melody

If you’re just tuning in, you can find all of the previous episodes under the Wicked Web link on the menu above. Thanks for reading!

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 14

warden

Warden

“Leandra?”

Arcylaen’s voice penetrated the rush of blood in Roehn’s ears, giving her pause. If he used her borrowed name, maybe she’d been mistaken and they hadn’t found her out? With hope as her anchor, she forced herself to remain calm, breathe steadily and look the Dragon in the eye.

“What’s going on?” She asked.

His dark, unreadable expression didn’t help combat her overall sense of foreboding. His stiff body language emanated displeasure and concern.

“I think it would be best to let the Councilwoman explain,” he answered.

Roehn didn’t like that response. She didn’t want to talk to any member of the Council. Especially, the one who obviously had bad news. The weight of it hung oppressively in the air; unmistakable.

Arcylaen led her to the large, oval conference table where no one had taken a seat yet. She wondered absently about why the Hawk was still there, standing on the other side with his hands folded behind his back. The Councilwoman stood near the opposite end from where the Dragon’s Head undoubtedly conducted all of his business meetings.

“Miss Leontle, I’m Councilwoman Thaya for the City of Lonnex,” the Golden Eagle greeted, offering her hand.

“Your Honor,” Roehn accepted, her throat drying.

“Since this morning, the Council has received two requests to invoke the Warden Rites over you,” Honor Thaya dropped the bomb without ceremony.

Stunned, Roehn’s head actually jerked back from the force of her surprise. In no galaxy could she ever have guessed at that news!

“Me? Why?” she stammered. “Who would request such a thing in this day and age?”

“I agree, it’s a rather outdated practice, Miss Leontle, but unfortunately it’s still quite legal,” the Councilwoman replied. “And it’s not required that a reason be given for a request, in order for the Council to grant approval-”

“That’s barbaric!” Roehn erupted, looking between her and Arcylaen with utter disbelief. “The Warden Rites were used in cases where foreign dignitaries were suspected of intending harm to a noble born native or their House. I’m just a Conservationist here on a work grant.”

“I’m well aware of the purpose for the Rites, Miss Leontle, and be that as it may, I have no choice but to approve one of the requests by morning session,” the Eagle informed her.

“This can’t be happening,” Roehn denied, turning away. She pressed her hands to her forehead, like that could relieve the insanity of their words. “This is a complete invasion of my privacy! Of my life!”

Honor Thaya sighed quietly, though her expression was sympathetic. “The requests were made by Lord Haraj of House Havirace-”

Roehn’s teeth gnashed, as she whirled on Aryclaen. “No thanks to your phone call, I’m sure!”

Mouth agape, the Eagle’s eyes darted to Arcylaen, surprised by the outburst.

“Continue,” he prompted grimly, not surprised in the least.

“And by Lord Gwyn of House Oryth,” Honor Thaya finished.

“Who in the Ten Stars of Premyss is that?” Roehn demanded, her emotions running too high to remain calm for any reason. Denial was a greasy bile rolling in her stomach, feeding too much adrenaline through her veins.

“He’s a Raven,” Arcylaen frowned.

Brows creased in confusion, Roehn shook her head. “I don’t remember seeing any Ravens at the Gala, and I’ve only been working behind the scenes at the museum since.”

“There weren’t any Ravens at the Gala, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have allies there,” Arcylaen noted, sharing some kind of hidden message with the Hawk.

Before Roehn could demand an explanation, the Eagle interrupted. “Lord Draea has offered a third option. Should you choose, he’s willing to invoke the Warden Rites, himself. Though he hasn’t filed a formal request with the Council, we can have one drawn up immediately and approved tonight. Normally, requests are approved by order of submission if there’s no contest, but given your particular circumstances, the Council won’t hesitate to override that order.”

“What particular circumstances?” Roehn questioned with narrowed eyes.

A battle waged inside her. Undeniable relief came hard and fast at the mention of Arcylaen being an option, instead of the other two. She knew that stemmed from already being halfway crazy in lust for the Dragon. Rationally, that made him the worst candidate for her survival.

The Councilwoman looked puzzled. “Lord Draea informed me that your Echelonite has already chosen him as its Matebond,” she answered hesitantly.

With a heavy sigh, Roehn crossed her arms stubbornly and gave Shursja a reprimanding glance. “Be that as it may, your Honor, it doesn’t change the fact that I just met Lord Draea, that I barely said two words to Lord Haraj and have never even heard of the Raven! Am I the only one here who sees how seriously unjust and archaic all of this is?”

“Your only other option is to have your work grant revoked and get deported back to Meive immediately,” Arcylaen cut her off sternly, his expression growing darker by the second. “After which, you would never be allowed to enter Skaulling again, Leandra.”

What?! Roehn’s heart dropped and the blood drained too quickly from her face, leaving her dizzy. The mangle of injustice and fear was like acid in her throat. “But…I just bought a house here, and started my new job! Arcylaen!”

He crossed to her, something in her tone softening his features minutely. He gripped her hands in his, held them to his chest and gave her an imploring look. “I know, Leandra, I know. That’s why I made the offer. I want you to be able to keep those things,” he said sincerely, pleading with her to believe him. “I don’t want this between us, but it’s the only way I can help you and-”

He cut himself off. Molten lava churned violently under the gold of his irises, fueling the darkness she’d watched him battle all the while. He seemed to struggle for the right words, and when they finally emerged, it was through a tightly clenched jaw.

“-to keep you safely out from under their complete control. Do you understand, Leandra? Complete control.”

Roehn inhaled sharply, as his meaning struck home. They would. Whoever invoked the Warden Rites would have total control over her life, her body…her choices. With a single issued command, they could make Roehn do whatever they wanted and she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from obeying.

Another harrowing thought crossed her mind. What if Arcylaen invoked the Rites and asked her straight out about her connection to the robberies? He’d suspected her all along, so wouldn’t he be tempted to take advantage of knowing she couldn’t lie?

As if sensing her indecision, he added in a desperate whisper, “I have to at least be the lesser of three evils.”

Indeed, he was. Even with the risk of interrogation, Roehn felt she stood a far greater chance retaining choices and a say over her own life with Arcylaen. He was already angry with the situation, and too damn proud to accept her affection any other way but willingly. She didn’t know Lord Oryth, but doubted Haraj’s intentions would never be so noble and more than anything, she trusted Shursja. None of Roehn’s denial could change the fact that deep down, she knew her Echelonite never would’ve chosen the Dragon if he wasn’t worthy of it.

“Arcylaen,” she croaked, her throat full of so many opposing emotions. “I choose Arcylaen, your Honor.”

Though relief washed over his features, the darkness didn’t wane. The Rite would be between them now, where neither of them wanted it to be.

“I have the paperwork right here,” the Eagle nodded, pulling the stack from her briefcase. “Lord Arcylaen Draea of House Draea, do you understand your responsibility as Warden over Miss Leandra Leontle of Meive?”

“Aye,” he nodded, still clutching Roehn’s hands in his.

“Do you understand that from this day until the moment the Trust Bond is forged, Miss Leontle is solely your responsibility? That you will be held accountable for any crimes or offenses committed by Miss Leontle while under your Ward? That such crimes or offenses can and will result in immediate reconciliation from fines all the way up to time in the off-planet prison colony of Holdax Five, depending on their severity?”

“Aye.”

“Do you understand that if you fail as the Warden of Miss Leontle, you forfeit your right to ever invoke the Warden Rites over any other individual for the remainder of your days?”

“Aye.”

“Lastly, Lord Draea, do you understand the sacrifice for invoking the Warden Rites over another, is the loss of your Echelnoite’s ability to choose its Matebond, until a Trust Bond has been established and the Warden Rites relinquished?”

That was news to Roehn, and she wasn’t exactly sure how she felt about it. About any of it, really. Arcylaen’s fingers flinched a little tighter over hers, before he answered.

“Aye.”

“Miss Leandra Leontle of Meive, do you understand that from this day, until the Trust Bond is forged, you are wholly under the sole Wardship of Lord Arcylaen Draea of House Draea?”

“Aye.”

“Do you understand that any and all crimes or offenses committed by yourself while under Lord Draea’s Ward will immediately result in reconciliation from fines all the way up to the Rite being dissolved, your work grant being revoked and your immediate deportation back to Meive following any and all jail time befitting your crimes?”

“Aye,” she swallowed, though it didn’t ease the burn of injustice in her throat.

When Honor Thaya spoke again, her tone was a bit gentler. “Lastly, Miss Leontle, do you understand that as Lord Draea’s Ward, you relinquish all rights and control of your life to him? That you will be expected to live under the same roof as your Warden so that he may be accountable for your whereabouts at all times. That you will not be able to refute any request made by your Warden, unless deemed harmful to yourself or others?”

Roehn’s breath rushed out audibly, both her lungs and heart conspiring against her. Live with him! I have to live with him?! She couldn’t stop the tears from stinging her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. Arcylaen’s gaze zeroed in on hers and his unbidden displeasure increased.

“Miss Leontle?” The Eagle prompted.

What choice do I have? She wanted to scream!

“Aye,” Roehn forced out weakly, instead.

“Very well, please sign and initial where indicated,” the Councilwoman laid the forms out for them.

Once they were finished, they were directed to stand facing each other in front of the Councilwoman. It dawned on Roehn then, that only an hour ago, having her hands entwined with Arcylaen’s for so long would have effected her in so many ways. Yet, the act had been reduced to a mundane form of contact under the civil rituals of an outdated society. Precious experiences stolen by a barbaric, invasive Rite that shouldn’t even exist anymore!

The worst part was knowing all she had to do was open her mouth and reveal her true identity. Roehn Cayen of House Cayen was a native-born citizen of Skaulling whom the Warden Rites could never be invoked upon. Unfortunately, the consequences of that would be far more severe, if not fatal.

“Echelonites, please face one another and remain still,” the Councilwoman commanded.

Shursja sat up and faced the miniature dragon on Arcylaen’s shoulder. Honor Thaya touched a finger to each of the Echelonite’s heads and began invoking the Warden Rites. It was all in Ryttian, the dead language once spoken all over Cauldex thousands of years ago. It was still used in official documents and Rite invocations.

Roehn expected to feel something profound. Something more powerful to signify that she was handing complete control of her life over to another, but there was only a mild connection tightening in her chest. It felt similar to the magnetic pull of Arcylaen’s gaze from across a room.

“The Warden Rite is now in effect and will remain, until such time when your Echelonites have forged the Trust Bond,” Honor Thaya stated, after lowering her hands. “I will get the official request and approval filed with the Council tonight, but it will be on the morning session docket for all the members to review. Lord Draea, I assume you’re prepared for the grievance reports that will be filed thereafter.”

“Yes,” he replied. “I will notify my lawyers first thing.”

“Good,” the Eagle nodded. “For what it’s worth, Miss Leontle, I am in complete agreement with your view on the ancient Rites. Perhaps during your Wardship you’ll be able to convince your Warden to finally take his rightful place as the leader of Skaulling, so he can make some much needed adjustments to the old laws.”

“Thank you, Honor Thaya,” Arcylaen remarked dryly, before Roehn could reply.

Sighing, the woman pointed at the Hawk still standing on the other side of the table. “If you would please sign the witness statement, I’ll be on my way,” she directed.

That explained why the Hawk had stayed. Arcylaen must have asked him to, when Roehn had been momentarily riddled with panic. After all of the documents were finally signed, Arcylaen walked the Councilwoman out, then pointed at the door he was still holding open.

“Wait for us by the elevator,” he ordered their witness.

The Hawk nodded in acceptance and stalked out, leaving Roehn completely alone with her new Warden and the burdened silence that instantly fell between them.

Great. Now what?

© A.C. Melody

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 13

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Friends of Yours?

“Big mistake.”

It hadn’t been a warning, alone. It had been a prophetic insight on how Roehn would feel once the regret started sinking in, and Arcylaen’s promise that it would change nothing.

Smug, arrogant, imposing Dragon!

All throughout the delicious lunch Daelyn had prepared for them, Arcylaen had given her little smirks while eating in smug silence and she had no one to blame, but herself. With one lousy lapse in sanity, she’d handed him the very key to her undoing. What part of “I think we should keep this professional” hadn’t she understood about her own speech?

Hours had passed, yet she could still taste him. Arcylaen’s flavor was permanently branded in every corner of her mouth, just as immovable as the man, himself. In the museum staff room, Roehn clocked out for the day and paused in the process of gathering her things, as the memory of that burning kiss filled her mind for the millionth time.

Dammit, she was smarter than that! She’d known from the beginning that getting involved with him could potentially derail her plans. And it would be one thing if she only had the Dragon to contend with, but Shursja had been purring all day, sending feelings of contentment through their bond. She felt uncomfortably outnumbered.

A sense of déjà vu struck Roehn, when she stepped outside and found the all black sedan waiting for her at the curb. Only, it wasn’t Arcylaen waiting for her this time, but his driver. He opened the back door for her, as she slowly descended the steps.

“Miss Leontle, my name is Ilydan,” he greeted. “Lord Draea has requested that I bring you to his office for a matter of utmost importance, and apologizes that he could not be here, himself.”

A peek into the backseat confirmed that it was indeed empty. Roehn eyed the Steed suspiciously. “Is everything okay?”

“I was given only my orders, Miss,” he replied. “Nothing more.”

Oh sure, that’s not ominous at all. Trepidation quickened her pulse, as Roehn climbed into the backseat. The door closed, resonating through her anxiety like the bars of a cell. Was she overreacting? There could be a hundred different reasons why Arcylaen was having her brought to his office. They’d never gone over his ideas for the restaurant at lunch, the topic momentarily forgotten in the wake of her stupidity and his gluttonous reaction to it. The Dragon could merely have presumptuous and imposing plans, assuming–albeit, correctly–that she had no life and would be free to keep him company for dinner or something.

Roehn forced herself to relax and watched the city pass by in a blur of lights just beginning to glow in the early evening. It wasn’t quite dusk yet, but the remaining daylight held that tint of slate-blue that normally accompanied rain. When Ilydan steered the car downtown, she forgot her worries for a moment and plastered her face to the glass in awe.

Spires pierced the skyline, modern towers battling for most uniquely designed and impossibly tall. Skyways arched over the busy avenues, while glass elevators soared up and down gilded, mirrored facades. A giant, octagonal tower crowned a bend in the road, rising into the clouds with gold filigree trim curving down over the sides like a giant claw from the pointed roof. More gilded metals framed the elevators working at various levels up and down the tinted glass. Due to the curve in the road, it held the largest entrance of all the other buildings, fifteen yards of decorative stonework holding park benches, long planters with flowering shrubs and a fountain people could actually walk through if they wanted.

Toward the top of the building, and on every facet, was the Draea Coat of Arms glowing in colorful display for all the city to see. Even without it, Roehn would’ve known that was where the car was going to stop.

With a steadying breath, she took the hand Ilydan offered when he opened her door and then swallowed to see a Hawk coming right toward her with a stringent stride.

“Miss Leontle?” He inquired. She nodded, unable to speak. He touched something at his ear and issued a command for Arcylaen to be notified of her arrival, before looking to her again.”Welcome to Draea Tower. Please follow me.”

Roehn fell into step just behind him, unsure if she should be panicking or plotting the early demise of a certain Dragon. Was there really a matter serious enough to necessitate such an official atmosphere, or was Arcylaen merely trying to impress her?

The glass doors slid open as they neared the grand entrance, and they stepped into the atrium style lobby. Toffee veined marble reflected the crystalline amber scones and chandeliers, subdued by hand carved walnut trim along the walls. Employees and clients rushed about, completing their end of day business, while strategically placed Bears surveyed their comings and goings. Brass staircases with scrolling balustrades zigzagged along the left and right walls, for those who didn’t want to wait for an elevator.

A large desk manned by six receptionists sat in the center of the floor, designed to mimic the shape of the building. The Hawk bypassed it, ignoring the flirtatious smiles he got from half the occupants, and approached the single elevator in the back wall. Unlike those being frequently emptied at the front of the lobby, he had to enter an access code to activate the doors, indicating it was a private lift.

The moment they stepped inside and the doors closed, Roehn pounced. She couldn’t take the stony silence any longer. “Are you allowed to talk? Can you tell me what this is all about, please? I feel like I’m being escorted to my own execution here.”

He looked over at her, but his expression remained passive. “All guests of Lord Draea’s are escorted, Miss Leontle,” he informed her. “It is for both of your protection.”

“That doesn’t answer the question,” she snipped mildly, her nerves fraying.

“It’s my job to make sure Lord Draea’s guests arrive safely to his office, just as it’s my job to protect him at whatever cost,” he elaborated. “It is not my job to know why you were summoned, unless my Lord decides to tell me.”

Roehn’s eyes narrowed slightly and she couldn’t help but smirk in slight amusement. “Clever Hawk. Give me just enough information to answer my question, without outright admitting or denying what Lord Draea told you,” she caught on.

The very slightest tick in the corner of his mouth was the only indication that he was either amused or surprised by her astute observation. “Well, you might want to escort me all of the way into his office, Hawk,” she added. “Because if I find out this was all for some stupid show of male pride, I am going to hurt your boss.”

More stifled amusement flickered in his fractured amber eyes and a the small twitch in his lips increased. “I don’t think the Dragon’s Head is afraid of a little pussy…Miss.”

Roehn’s mouth popped open in disbelief for a full second, before she burst into laughter. Her cheeks pinched and were undoubtedly flushed, but the laughter just kept rolling out. More than that, it brought a familiar element from her life aboard the space stations she hadn’t realized she missed, and she appreciated him for giving her that, no matter how unintentional. His stony facade failed and he grinned at her, shaking his head. Something kindred passing between them in that brief moment. When the elevator slowed to a stop at last, Roehn was finally able to reel it back in and exhale on a final chuckle.

“So far, you’re my favorite,” she commented, as the doors slid open.

The first thing to greet them were two giant Wolves guarding the columns flanking a short walkway into the receptionist area with their arms crossed over massive chests. Shursja’s tail flicked, the only outward appearance that she’d gone on alert. Wolves had been the Generals over royal armies in the past, because they were natural leaders and their pack-mentality kept soldiers motivated, loyal and focused. Nowadays, they made up most of the policing units and special tactical teams, but some did work in private security like the Bears.

“Friends of yours?” Roehn asked the Hawk quietly.

“No,” he answered, all humor gone now, as he took her elbow protectively.

He kept a steady eye on the Wolves, as they passed between them and beyond. Even though he gave a short nod to the single receptionist behind an impressive desk, he didn’t relax. Unlike the Mice in the lobby, she was another Dragon. Her pure white Echelonite, hair and eyes of crystalline blue put her in the House Bowen bloodline.

“Amrya,” the Hawk greeted her.

“He’s waiting,” she said in a tone that, along with the presence of the Wolves, had all of Roehn’s previous nerves rushing back to the surface.

Anxiety had all but clenched her throat shut, by the time her escort opened the next set of doors. Then the world seemed to stop spinning on its axis, altogether. She stared, unblinking, at Arcylaen standing in the center of the most elaborate, luxurious office space in the world…speaking to an older, female Eagle.

Roehn’s heart pounded deafeningly in her ears, muffling everything Arcylaen said while he crossed the bold red carpeting toward her and the Hawk. She felt dizzy, motes of black dancing around the edges of her vision. She was going to pass out. The Hawk replied to whatever Arcylaen had said, but it didn’t matter. Roehn had reached the end of her game. Somehow, they’d found her out and now her life was over.

Why else would a Council Elder be there?

© A.C. Melody

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