Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chapter 4: Secrets

"I know not what they were," Shayeleigh explains once her wounds are healed and she's regained consciousness, "They looked like us, though coarser, and walked on two legs. They had no magic, I'm sure of that, but they are not like the other creatures."

"And they struck you at a distance, using weapons they must have crafted," Auberon muses, "No mere animal does that."

"How did you escape them?" Tania asks.

"I...I know not," Shayeleigh stammers, looking away. She saw him only briefly as her consciousness faded. He was not fae, but he was magic, and he fought off the creatures that wounded her. She awoke once again as he carried her in his arms, his warm, tender, strong arms, and she wanted to speak to him, ask his name and thank him, but she faded out again and when she next opened her eyes, she was with Tania and Auberon. And he, her savior, was gone. He must have brought her back to her kind, but he did not stay to make himself known to them. And perhaps he has a reason for that, Shayeleigh surmises. He rescued her, and she will not reveal his secret, she can do that much for him in her gratitude. "I lost consciousness when I fell, and did not wake until I was healed," she lies.

"Someone brought you here; surely not the creatures who struck you..." Auberon says.

"Could it have been a dragon?" Tania asks.

Auberon casts her a sharp glance. They had agreed to not speak of Ico's discovery about the nature of dragons until she returned from wherever she had gone in pursuit of the dragon she'd lain with. 

"D-dragon?" Shayeleigh stammers again, this time in awe and fear, "Surely not..." Dragons are great lizards, larger than anything that roams on the ground. But they have magic, making them more like her own kind than the beasts of land or air. And her rescuer had magic, yet was not fae...could he be a dragon, then? she wonders. She can take many forms, why shouldn't the dragons be able to do the same?

"You were in the form of a horse when you were wounded," Auberon says, "And you reverted to your natural form as you fell. Perhaps the creatures took pity on you when they found you were not the animal they thought they hunted." It's as likely an explanation as Tania's guess, he thinks, though it doesn't explain how the creatures found them to deliver Shayeleigh here. The dragons, however, might be able to sense their magic as the fae can sense theirs...What are these dragons up to, and what have they done with Ico?

Tearhne and Aymeri are away, taking council with the elders, so Riain must bring news of the strange new creatures to Seirian, the second of their nest.

"They were hunting with weapons," Riain explains, "They walk on two legs, and dress themselves in furs. They looked like us, but could never be mistaken for one of us, or a fairy. They have no magic."

"And you just attacked them?' Seirian asked, surprised at his brother's decision. From Brys, that is exactly what he'd expect, but Riain would normally just stay out of sight rather than provoke a fight.

"They saw me," Rian says, "I had no choice."

"They must be very adept hunters to find you out," Seirian says, sensing something amiss in Riain's story.

"I was clumsy, I made noise while moving, and they heard," Riain says, looking at the ground rather than meet his brother's eyes as he lies. But the lie is better than exposing the truth, admitting that he'd attacked these unknown creatures to save a fairy, and the risk he'd taken in bringing her back to her kind. Not to preserve himself, for he would endure any just punishment for his transgressions, but to spare her from dragon laws she has no part in.

"You? Clumsy?" Seirian asks in disbelief.

"What did you do with the meat?" Brys saves Riain from Seirian's interrogation with a question of his own.

"The meat?" Riain asks, "I killed them before they'd taken anything."

"But these creatures, they must be made of meat," Brys points out.

Riain's lip curls in disgust, "They look too much like us, brother," he says, "I would not stomach their meat."

"But they are not us," Brys insists, "And we have another form."

"If you want to fly out there and eat them, then do it," Seirian says with a shrug, "But don't bring them back to the nest. I'm with Riain, I don't want to eat something that looks like me. But be wary, there will surely be more of them about, looking for their lost brothers."

Aymeri told her she should wait here while he takes council with his elders. He said his brothers would protect her in his absence. She'd never needed protection before, the only time she'd ever felt in any danger was when Brys captured her spying on their nest. She told him this, and said she would wait for him among her own kind. He then insisted she stay, and she discovered that she was their prisoner now, that the dragons would not allow her to contact her kin until they'd conferred with their elders and decided whether or not to make war on her kind because she and Tania had seen Aymeri in his true form.

They have not let her out of their sight since Aymeri and Tearhne left the nest, but now they are distracted. She could take the opportunity to lose her form join these waters, and take her form again in the waters closer to her home, for that is how she came here. But to disappear now would only ensure the war that Aymeri is trying to prevent, and she would choose to remain hostage here rather than bring such destruction on the heels of her escape. But even though she loves her dragon and would die, if she had to, to save him, she will not see her people harmed because of her love. If these dragons choose to go to war on her kind, she will not see them unprepared.

As she submerges into the water, she thinks of Auberon. The dragons have laid a powerful magic over this place, hiding themselves from sight, and preventing fae magic from penetrating their shield. But their magic is not all powerful, they cannot stop her from becoming one with the waters, nor can they block Auberon completely. For he has a magic that transcends all the others, he exists, everywhere, in everything, and one need only to reach for him to touch him, to call on him to be heard.

This the place where Ico first met her dragon, the waterfall under which she made love to him, and the power of that union, the mingling of magics, still pervades the area. Ico is not lost, for Auberon still feels her, but she is surrounded by magic meant to hide her, and he has had difficulty connecting to her.

He enters the waters, her essence, to better feel her, and it is in the waters that he hears her call. She cannot speak directly to his mind, to tell him where she is or what her situation, but he can feel that she is unharmed, but frightened. Not for herself, for the dragons around her protect her, but for her kind. She wants, desperately, to speak with him, to tell him something she knows, something he must learn from her.

"You must find Ico, Moth," Auberon says.

Moth's wings tremble and flutter in fear.

"Yes, the dragons are frightening," Auberon agrees, "But Ico has an important message for me. You must go to her, and approach her when she is alone, out of hearing of her dragon companions, and tell her you will deliver her message to me." He touches Moth's head, transmitting the location of the water Ico bathed in when she called for him. "Only you can do this, Moth. Only you are small enough to pass the dragon's protective spell. I am counting on you."

"Will you tell us more about your kind?" Riain asks, glancing at Ico over his shoulder. He had thought all day about how to ask her about the fairy he'd rescued, without revealing the secret of their encounter, and decided finally to approach her with a general line of questions.

"If you like," Ico answers.

Riain puts Talfryn down and crouches by the fire next to where Seirian and Ico sit.

"Do you have only one form?" he starts with his first question.

"We are not like you dragons," Ico answers, "We have only one true form. Some of us can take another form, but it is an imitation of other creatures, not a form that is truly our own."

"Can you do that?' Brys asks.

"No," Ico shakes her head, "I am a sprite of the waters, and I can take no other shape."

"Water," Seirian muses, "Aymeri is a water dragon. That may explain your...affinity for each other. Are all fae creatures of the elements, as we are?"

"I didn't know you were creatures of the elements," Ico says.

"We are," Seirian says, "Tearhne is a fire dragon, fierce and powerful. Aymeri is water, deep as the ocean, Brys is lightning, flashing bright, striking fast, I am air," he says, not qualifying his own element, "And Riain is an earth dragon, slow to anger."

"That's why he's the gentlest of your nest," Ico surmises. 

"I am not gentle!" Riain protests.

"I didn't mean to offend," Ico retreats from her statement.

"Gentleness isn't a quality dragons prize," Seirian says with a laugh, "Though I suppose we are all capable of it," he continues with a nod toward Brys, comforting their young one, "Even him. But don't make the mistake of thinking any of us truly gentle. This nest is more peaceful than most, we don't fight amongst ourselves very much. That's Aymeri's influence, he demands our cooperation, or face his anger. But other nests..."

"Before I came of age, I saw the my mother's first kill three of his brothers in challenges laid against him. Until he was killed by one of his brothers, who took his place," Riain says.

Seirian nods, "My mother's nest was much the same."

Ico shudders at the thought, determined more than ever to protect her people from the wrath of these creatures. 

At dawn, Ico wakes before the dragons, hearing a tiny voice calling her name. She follows the call to the shore at the edge of the nest, and finds Moth.

"I am pleased to see you, Moth," Ico says with a smile as the timid fairy lights on her outstretched hand. "You must tell Auberon that the dragons are talking of war against the fae," she says, explaining about the secretive nature of the dragons, and their laws, and telling him also of Aymeri's attempt to stop this war before it happens.

"You should not stray so far from the nest," Seirian says, coming upon her. Moth flies away from the approaching dragon as quickly as possible.

Ico gestures at the tents, visible through the trees, "I haven't left your sight," she says.

"Still, it's best you stay close," Seirian says, the firmness of his tone seeming more threatening now than it would have before last night's conversation. She is a prisoner here, she thinks, and she'd do well not to forget that.

Riain watches the turtle make its slow way to whatever destination it heads toward. The shell protects it, but it didn't create its armor, Riain thinks as he turns his thoughts again to the strange new creatures he encountered and killed the other day. Before now, the only being he knew of that possessed intelligence also had magic. These new creatures seem to have the one, in a limited sort of way, and none of the other.

Magic. He feels her approach before he hears her hooves disturbing the ground beneath her.

She touches her nose to his hand, showing her recognition, and giving her thanks for his rescue. And so, she did see him, Riain thinks.

"I am happy to see you well and uninjured, fairy," he says to her, stroking her neck. Riain has no intention of carrying out dragon law today. He has been seen, and he does not care. He will not take this life, no matter the consequences.

"Do your kin know of me, now, too?" he asks, "Or did you keep me a secret?"

She nuzzles against him, and though she has no words in this form, he understands her meaning, she did not speak of him to the other fairies.

"It's against our laws to be seen," he explains to her as her rests against her, sitting together beneath the sheltering trees.

She tickles him with her nose, questioning.

"Well, it's an old law," he says, "I don't know why it is so, it just has always been so. And for all this time we have remain hidden, none of your kind has met with mine. You've seen us fly, and hunt, but never have seen what we are. I suppose it twas bound to happen someday."

Riain hopes that Tearhne and Aymeri are able to change the law and stop a war between their peoples, but what if they fail, he wonders? He doesn't speak to her of his fears, but he wraps his arms around her muzzle, and promises in a whisper to protect her from all harm.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chapter 3: Hunters

Tearhne asked three of the most powerful females to meet with her to discuss Aymeri's fairy. If she can get Aithne, Dechtire and Moryn on her side, other less powerful nests will follow along that much easier. The fact that Aithne is Aymeri's mother, Dechtire is her own and Moryn is Seirian's cannot hurt her cause, though Tearhne cannot count on it helping. The elder dragons have large nests and many children, and are not prone to that kind of favoritism when considering matters that concern the whole of dragonkind.

"Aymeri should have killed the fairy," Aithne says, anger in her voice, not pleased with her son's flouting of their laws.

"Aye, but it's too late for that now," Moryn points out,  "He was seen by the second fairy as well as they one Tearhne keeps at her nest. Killing that one alone would no longer be enough; we'd have to make war on all the fae kind."

"You are known for letting your males do as they please, daughter, and thus far it has served your nest well," Dechtire says, "But allowing your first to bring a fairy into your nest..."

"Aymeri made the choice to lay with the fairy rather than kill her, but bringing her into the nest was my decision," Tearhne explains, "There is greater benefit to keeping her than in losing her."

"Explain yourself," Dechtire says, "Tell us what benefit the fairy brings you."

"She has magic, different from ours, and powerful. Just as we strive to populate our nests with males of different strengths and temperaments, we should also make use of what the fae kind can give us."

"Well, perhaps every nest should capture a fairy," Dechtire says with a wry smile.

"Aymeri and his fairy share a bond of love," Tearhne says, "She is with us willingly, not a captive."

"If we change the law, allow fairies to see us in his form, how soon will it be before we lose all our males to them?" Aithne asks.

"They might seek out the fairies for affection, and even seduce some into the nest, but surely they wouldn't leave. A male without a nest is a still a child, or an outcast," Moryn says.

"There is no doubt, things will change if the law changes," Dechtire says, "But going to war with the fae kind will also bring change. Change and much death, for, pretty as they are, the fae are powerful and will not submit easily to death like dumb prey."

"You suggest we change our law out of fear of war?' Aithne asks.

"Not fear," Dechtire says, "But we must consider what we do. we are on the brink of great change, and  the decision we make will be one our kind will live with forever. I suggest only that we think before we act."

While Tearhne meets with the elder females, Aymeri speaks with his younger brother Kirwyn, who had been an infant when Aymeri left to join Tearhne's nest. Now the boy has come of age, and seeks advice from his elder kin.

"Moryn has asked me to join her nest," he tells him.

"That's a high honor," Aymeri says, "Her nest is old, and powerful."

"And I would be her seventh," Kirwyn says, "But Arienh has asked me to be her first..."

"But she has not yet come of age," Aymeri nods, "And you would remain a child in your mother's nest until she does."

"What would you do?"

"Well, you know what I did. Moryn asked for me as well, and I would have been her fifth. But I accepted Tearhne's offer."

"She had already come of age," Kirwyn points out.

"Aye, I didn't have to wait, and that made the choice clearer," Aymeri says, "But I would have waited if I had had to. Joining an old nest like Moryn's is a great honor, and gives you a high place in our society. But, to be first of a new nest, that's a challenge. You'll have to earn your honor and your place in society. It will be on you to strengthen the nest, help to choose your brothers, and keep them in line. You must be prepared to lead them to greatness, or else be known only for your failings."

"Honor earned is greater than honor bestowed," Kirwyn says.

"That's my opinion," Aymeri says.

Kirwyn nods, "I would be as great you someday, brother."

"Become the first of Arienh's nest, and you'll be my rival," Aymeri says, "Best be prepared."

 The hunters take aim; there will be meat tonight.

Unseen, Riain watches. Even from this distance, the dragon can sense that the prey is no mere animal. Like him, it is a creature of magic.

The arrows hits the fleeing animal.

Struck, she is no longer able to maintain her form, and falls to the ground wearing her true shape.

The hunters are stunned by the sudden transformation of their prey.

And they are even more surprised by the attack that follows.

Shayeleigh's last thought as she loses consciousness is to wonder who her rescuer is. Not a hunter, for she can feel his magic, yet he is not fae. What then? she wonders.

Even in this form, Riain has the strength of a dragon, and his blows fall hard on these hunters.

They are as weak as any prey animal, he thinks. Except for their weapons, they are weaker than most creatures Riain has taken down.

They have no magic, but they have weapons, and they dress themselves. What manner of creature are they, and where have they come from?

Whatever they are, Riain thinks as he chokes the life from the younger one, they have seen him, and they have to die.

The older hunter follows his son into death.

With the strange creatures dead, Riain approaches the fairy, lying unconscious and wounded on the bank.

He sighs in relief when he discovers that she yet lives.

Perhaps Seirian could help her if he brought her back to the nest. Seirian has a gift for healing. But to bring another fairy to their fire while Tearhne pleads Ico's case to the elders...Riain thinks better of that plan, and realizes his only option is to bring her to her own kind.

"Ico has gone somewhere beyond my magic," Tania whispers. She has told Auberon, and only Auberon, of Ico's encounter with the dragon, "I fear I may have sent her to her death."

"She is not dead, I can feel that much," Auberon assures her, "The dragons have magic that keeps us away, but Ico is with them, alive."

"But what do they mean to do with her? Why has she not returned?"

"Tania, did you not tell me she and her dragon were embraced when you came upon them? Perhaps she is taking pleasure in his company..."

"He said he should have killed her before he left us," Tania protests.

"And yet he has not," Auberon says, "Trust in her. Ico can take care of herself."

"Come, let me distract you from these thoughts," he says, taking hold of her and pulling her close.

Dragons know well the places the fairies favor, and make it a habit of avoiding them. Riain enters their territory cautiously, meaning not to be seen while he delivers their injured kin to them. As luck would have it, the first fairies he encounters are too distracted to notice his approach.

"Be well, fairy," he whispers as he lays his burden on a bed of clover. He makes a noise as he runs off, to attract the attention of her kin, and lead them to her.

"Shayeleigh!" Tania cries, taking the fallen fairy into her arms, "She is injured! Do you think it was the dragons who did this?"

"I think not," Auberon says, "I've seen dragons kill before, and it's far, far messier. Let's get her healed, so she may tell us herself what happened, and who brought her here."

Special thanks to Karima, Daijahv and Jillyson for helping me find CC for this story. You guys are the best!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chapter 2: A Fairy at Our Fire

While he was with her, making love to the fairy beneath the waterfall, everything seemed so right, like there was nothing in the world but himself and Ico. But it was wrong, and he endangered his nest.

"Seirian," he says, coming upon his second nest brother tending the flame fruits.

"You've been out all day," Seirian says, rising to greet him, "Have you seen Brys?"

"He hasn't come back?" 

Seirian shakes his head, "Not since he stormed off last night. Tearhne was pretty hard on him. You know how he gets when he's in a mood. I worry he'll be careless and get himself seen."

"He'll come back, he always does. I'll talk to Tearhne," Aymeri assures his brother, not mentioning his own incident. From Brys, they would expect this kind of indiscretion, but not from Aymeri. Of course, Brys would have killed the fairy on sight, solving the problem before it began. "She needs to take care of him before he starts challenging us all."

"Aye, let him wrestle with her," Seirian laughs, "What have you been doing? You smell...flowery."

Her scent. It clings to him, though he swam all the way back to his nest, her scent did not wash away. "I must speak with Tearhne," Aymeri says, avoiding his question.

Tearhne will have to be told, and he will have to face his brothers and stand judgment. They'll want to know why he didn't kill the fairy, how he could put his whole nest at risk for love of an outsider. 

On his way to Tearhne, Aymeri takes a moment to play with Talfryn. "Flower," the dragonling says, nuzzling his father's hair. Even the child can smell the fairy on him.

The nest comes first, every dragon learns this with his first steps, his first words. How could he have forgotten that, even in a moment of passion?

"Tearhne," he whispers her name as her wraps his arms around her,  "We're worried about Brys." The simple matters first, Aymeri decides. "When he returns, you should make it up to him."

"So now you're taking it on yourself to decide my bed partners for me?" she answers with a laugh.

"I'm giving you my advice, as your first," Aymeri says gently, "You hurt Brys' feelings, and he lashes out at us. If you do nothing, I'll keep him in line, as I always do. But it would be better for the nest if you made it up to him. He's your nest mate, he needs your love more than he needs my hand."

"You're right," Tearhne sighs, "When he comes back, send him to me. Why do you smell like flowers?"

Ico followed his trail through the streams boring under the mountains, to pool in the low grounds near the shore, and when her head rises back into the air, she sees he is not alone. Of course, she thinks, he went back to his home, to his kin. And she remembers the last words he spoke before Tania came upon them, that it would mean his life if his kin were to learn he had been with her. So Ico keeps out of sight, watching, waiting to catch him on his own.

"I allowed myself to become trapped by a fairy," Aymeri admits, no longer able to avoid it.

"You allowed...?" she asks, "How did it trap you? Did it see your true form?"

"She did. I had already transformed when she came upon me. She'd been tracking me. She said she wanted to ride a dragon," Aymeri smiles fondly as he speaks the words, despite his anger at her, and at himself for falling for her.

"She ensorcelled you somehow?"

"No," Aymeri admits, "I gave myself to her. I gave her my name, willingly." And they'd spent hours together, making love, whispering to each other about nothing, and not once did she attempt even the simplest magic. If that had been her intent, she'd had the opportunity, while his guard was down. Yet she did not, not even when the other fairy told her to bind him before he got away. Ico let him go rather than use her magic on him. He remembers her face as he left her, her tears and her desperation, and he realizes his mistake.

"So, you weren't really trapped," Tearhne says, perceiving the truth much quicker than he did.

"Another fairy came upon us, and I..."

"Made some rash assumptions and stormed off in anger?" Tearhne surmises, knowing the temperament of a male dragon very well, having four of them in her nest.

"Aye," Aymeri admits, remembering with the regret the last words he spoke to Ico in his rage, "That I did."

"You've been seen by two fairies, that still live with this knowledge," Tearhne says with a sigh.

"I could not kill her," Aymeri says, "I would not kill her now, even if it meant my life."

She didn't hear his approach or feel the disturbance in the water as he slipped behind her, unaware of him until his arms here around her, his hand covering her mouth.

"I've got you, fairy," he growls in her ear.

Ico struggles as he pulls her  from the water, and quickly discovers that she's unable to use her magic here. The dragons have a magic of their own in place, a protective ward that leaves her powerless.

"Let her go, Brys," Aymeri commands, "She's here for me."

"I caught her, that makes her mine," Brys snarls, throwing the fairy to the ground so he can take a swing at his elder nest brother.

Aymeri responds with a blow that sends Brys flying backwards. The rest of the nest gathers to witness the challenge, but do not interfere.

He lunges at Aymeri again only to be forced over his brother's knee.

"One day, you will learn not to challenge me," Aymeri growls as he pulls Brys' arm behind his back, "Until that day, you will be grateful that I'm able to restrain myself."

Having made his point, Aymeri helps Brys back up to his feet. "Tearhne wants to see you tonight," he says, smiling as he claps his youngest brother on the back.

"You've got fairy all over you," Brys observes, "What have you been doing?"

"Did he hurt you?" Aymeri asks, kneeling in font of her.

Ico shakes her head, terrified but unharmed.

"When we parted, I said things to you in anger that I now regret," he says gently.

"You said some things to me in passion, too," she answers, "Do you regret those words as well?"

"No, I don't regret what we shared, Ico. I only regret what this will mean for my nest. Your coming here was my doing, because I left you in a rage. And now you've seen us, all of us..."

Tearhne approaches, handing a length of fabric to Ico. "You'd best cover yourself," she says gently, "With four adult male dragons about..." Tearhne doesn't finish the thought, "We have to decide what to do about this," she says to Aymeri.

Tearhne's nest gathers around their fire, and Aymeri tells his brothers how a fairy happens to be among them.

"I wouldn't have killed her either," Riain admits when Aymeri's tale is done.

"And what of the other fairy?" Seirian asks, "By now she must have told her nest about us."

"We don't have nests," Ico says quietly, almost afraid to speak in their presence, "Tania will have told Auberon, I'm sure. We are curious about your kind. But we mean you no harm, truly."

"You have your curiosity, and we have our laws," Tearhne says, "None but a dragon can see our true form and live."

"We have to kill them all," Brys says, "The other nests would have to join us to go to war with the fairies."

"That's probably the worst idea you've ever had, Brys," Riain says, "There must be a way to resolve this without involving the other nests, and without resorting to violence."

"We have a fairy at our fire, Riain," Brys points out, "The other nests will find out eventually. If we let this one live, they'll come for us."

"I've taken you down once today, Brys, don't make me do it again. Ico is under my protection," Aymeri growls. "But you are right, about the other nests. I won't see our nest endangered because of what I've done. If I leave with Ico now, they'll never know she was among us. Cast me out as a lawbreaker, and the other nests won't turn on you."

"And where will you go, brother? To live with the fairies?" Seirian asks, "The other nests won't allow that; they'll come after you and make war on all of them. And they'll expect us to join with them. I won't do that. I'll stand with you and defend your fairy."

"Our nest should stand together," Riain agrees, "If you leave, I leave with you."

"The nest comes first," Brys agrees, and all three of them rise to stand with their brother.

"We stand together, Aymeri," Tearhne says, the final word on the matter. She often boasts to other females about her nest, how close they keep their bonds of brotherhood, how well they work together. It's no easy task, keeping the tempers of so many males in line, keeping their squabbles and challenges from turning fatal, keeping the nest from turning on itself. She knows well that she owes her nest's unity to Aymeri, her first. He inspires their loyalty in ways she's never seen another dragon accomplish, he keeps them in line without fostering resentment, and each of her subsequent mates had fought for a place in her nest as much to be lead by him as to be mated with her. Even Seirian, who turned down an offer to be another female's first so that he could be her second. "And your fairy can come and go among us as she pleases. The other nests will have to accept that, or fight us." Her nest is young and still low in the order of dragon society, but Tearhne has ambitions, to see her nest rise to the top. Defying the law this way could destroy them, if she let it, but if she means to lead, then she will do it by refusing to follow laws that get in the way of her nest's happiness. "I will call for a gathering," she decides, "We won't wait for the other nests to question us, we will come out fighting to change the law to allow us to keep our fairy."

"Walk with me," he says, wrapping his arm round her and leading her into the woods around their camp.

"Why are dragons so secretive?" Ico asks, "Why do you wish to hide from us?"

"That's the way it's always been," Aymeri answers, "Your kind must have laws you keep, traditions you'd kill to defend."

"Fairies have no laws," Ico says, "We do as we please."

Aymeri tries to imagine living without laws, and sees nothing but chaos and infighting, "I don't think dragons would survive without some form of restraint. Left to ourselves, we'd kill each other."

Ico shudders, thinking of the casual way Brys suggested they kill her and go to war on her kind. "What have we done?" she asks, her voice breaking, "I only wanted to love you, not bring the wrath of all dragons down on my kind."

"We couldn't have gone on unseen forever. It was bound to happen that a fairy would come upon a dragon in his true form. If it hadn't been me, and it hadn't been you, there would have been blood. A dragon like Brys would have killed you without thought. And your kind would have retaliated. What we've done with our love is give both our kinds a chance to make peace before we make war."

Aymeri unties the knot holding her simple dress around her and they sink down to the forest floor together, legs and arms wrapped around each other.

"We couldn't have done anything else," he says, kissing her neck, "I am your dragon, Ico, and will love and protect you through all eternity."